Daniel Cavanagh (Anathema): A Sad Optimist
Июнь 2, 2017
Александра Афонина (4 статей)

Daniel Cavanagh (Anathema): A Sad Optimist

From doom death metal to progressive rock and who knows what else – a musical journey of this kind would be hard to follow for fans of any band… except Anathema. What they do now is easy to appreciate, as it is obvious that this band stays open, honest and creative instead of trying to just please the fans.

The huge tour in support of the upcoming album «The Optimist» starts with Russia this time, with two concerts scheduled for the 8th of June (Moscow) and the 9th of June (St. Petersburg). However, our rather lengthy talk was not only focused on the upcoming gigs and the new album, but on the life of a struggling independent musician trying to make the ends meet and stay creative and honest to himself at the same time, too. So far so good.

© Scarlet Page

Hello, and greetings from Russia!
Hello, thanks. It’s going to be interesting – first concerts after quite a while. It would be nice to do what I usually do. I find some kind of personal space which belongs to me, and I can go there even when I’m playing the piano in front of a thousand people in Moscow. I’m able to engage with the audience and be my own bubble at the same time.

They say many introverted people do this, looking for an opportunity to communicate but stay separated from the audience at the same time.
I don’t think my friends or family ever would have called me introverted. To me, it is possible that I’m a little introverted in a sense that there is a lot about me that people don’t get to see, and that’s because I have a lot going on in my mind and in my life. But it’s in the music, a lot of it is in the music. I think maybe I have given enough already. I am an open person if I meet people I like talking to. I suppose it’s the number of people that changes things and also the rapid movement: wake up at this time, get on this bus, get on this flight, and suddenly I’m surrounded by 10 people…

How do you survive this? You perform, which obviously is not something everybody could do, and you have to do it all on this insane schedule.
Survival is a necessity. It’s not easy. I’m not young anymore, and I don’t drink alcohol. Actually, I drink a lot of coffee and I try to sleep as much as I can. It’s not always easy or possible, and I think it’s this lack of sleep that makes me slightly antisocial. I can be very social in these situations, but it just depends on what kind of day I’m having.
One thing I do like about touring, particularly touring on a tour bus is the opportunity to have something positive to do each evening, and that’s a concert.


So it’s like creating your own amusements, in a way?
I suppose I’m a bit like my own master on tour, there’s only a few things I have to do, although it’s a difficult job only because of how exhausting it is. I mean, people come along and are amazed. Like journalists getting on a tour for a week, they are absolutely dead by the end of it. And we do 8 weeks of that, and 20 or 30 weeks of that a year… But it’s a necessary part of what we do as musicians, particularly now, when you have perform a lot to make money, because you can’t really survive if you don’t, unless you are really famous or something. But we don’t have a celebrity status. That’s fine.

Who needs that, though? The fans love you, and as for the general crowd, who cares?
I don’t need that, but it would be nice to just not need to worry about money anymore, and to reach more people, in a nice way. I’m sure it has a lot of downsides, but financial security must be good.

Many musicians now blame online streaming services for killing the opportunity of actually making a living with music. On the other hand, the industry experts claim that the trend is changing and people are actually starting to pay for music… Vinyl has made a comeback, too. Looks like you think this is not helping at all.
I don’t see how they pay for it. Most people use Spotify and so on, and nobody gets paid for Spotify. The only people who get paid for Spotify are the shareholders, musicians don’t get anything.

Well, they say online streaming services have algorithms that recommend exactly what fits the user’s taste… They mimic the way people shared music before this «revolution», and this provides more exposure to the bands and works like an additional distribution channel, especially for alternative music. So it could be a way to make more fans, and some claim that streaming actually makes people buy music eventually. Although it can turn into something Orwellian and they would just try to keep us on a diet of pop music instead…


Although they are not making money now. Spotify itself doesn’t make profit, it goes straight to the record labels, while streaming services concentrate on building a customer base and recommendation algorithms.
So they are losing money?

At least they are not making much.
Great! Can you believe it’s the Scandinavian people who made it? I thought they were nice!

Russia is behind this trend with streaming services anyway. And if it’s not streaming, then it’s getting music from pirates, which is even worse. And now it’s all online and… who’s even profiting from it now?
I don’t think anybody’s profiting, I think their idea is that there should be no profit. Do they think it costs nothing to make it?

So nice of them.
I don’t think the system in Russia is honest. It’s just, well, it is what it is. What can you do?

You say you have a lot of things going on with you personally, but don’t really share it and it gets reflected in the music instead… The promo for the new album says: «Anathema returns with darkest material to date on new album ‘The Optimist'». Easy to assume that it would be somehow related to what’s going on in the world, with it getting stranger and more scary each day, and not about the internal things…
No, it’s not about what’s going on in the world. I mean, those things affect you on the personal level, but it’s not a political album.

Not even about the political things, just with the world currently getting «darker». I thought it would be about the darkness outside, but you actually talk about the darkness within.
To be honest, the last two years… It’s been a tough time, and that’s why most of the stuff I wrote on the album is dark piano-based music, that was the material that I had. I don’t know what’s going to happen in future, but that’s what I had over the last two years. Let’s see how the next album turns out…


How long did it take to create «The Optimist»?
It took was most of 2016, particularly from about April until… It started in December, but the writing process didn’t really finish until the very last day. So, 10 months.

Of course, the fans will see something of their own, and some of them already read the darker sound as a hint to what you did in the beginning as a doom metal band…
Well, yeah… that’s because of their musical attitude is locked in that era. I wouldn’t call it doom metal…
No, we could have had a different band name many years ago, but… that’s the end of it. But they can look for hints if they like, I don’t care anymore what anybody thinks.

I quite like it when I piss them off, it makes me laugh. If people give me shit online, that makes me laugh. I don’t care anymore what they think, it’s funny.

That’s nice, actually. Laughing is much better. 2015-2016 were pretty bad for so many people. Musicians were dying. And now again, it’s Chris Cornell this time…
Yeah, I know. His friends are probably devastated right now.

Very sad. You sound sad, too…
I never knew him. That doesn’t make me all that sad, really, suffering makes me sad. Suffering I think it the tough one, death – not so much.

And it comes out through music. And especially on this album.
Well, people will see what they want to see. The album is an interesting animal.

I read «The Optimist» was recorded live in the studio, in one go…
No, it wasn’t like that. It was just basic tracks, like the drums. We played the drums with the drummer, but a lot – most – was recorded after that, we did the initial tracking because it creates an atmosphere, and if you play together it creates an atmosphere, and even if you only use the drums and record everything else afterwards, it still keeps that atmosphere.

If «The Optimist» is based on a story from 2001, is it likely that you use another album from the past as a starting point to build a new story on again in the future?
I have no plans to do that. It would be interesting to see what else we can come up with. I don’t have any plans to make another story, there’s nothing for me in that. But I have no idea what the next album will sound like.


I know you’ve heard it many times before that you create this unique atmosphere, and people unite at gigs and it looks more like a family. I’ve witnessed the audience reacting in the same way in different countries. One can feel it through the live recordings, too. And the performances are always outstanding. How do you do this?
It depends on who you talk to. You say something positive, and somebody else will say: «Well when I saw them, Danny was really pissed off on stage». So it just depends.

Photo – Gerianne Brenters (at Night of the Prog festival’2014).

So I was just lucky and got to the right gigs?
No, I mean, I don’t put on a mask before the audience, I connect with them, but… Just because I have this bubble, it doesn’t mean I’m not myself with them. If I don’t feel good on stage, you can see it. And it’s a difficult place to feel like that in, because you get no time to clear your mind. Most of the time it’s good, and not like that. I don’t know how I will feel next time, I just have to wait and see. It’s interesting for me.

Well, but anyway, there’s some sort of feedback, and if the audience is embracing and positive, perhaps it’s easier for you then. I mean, if you go to say, Finland, and people don’t smile at all…
Actually, Finnish audience is great! Every time I’ve been there, it’s been fantastic. I don’t know what it’s like for the other bands, but for us it’s always good.

Any other places for you where the feedback is awesome?
It’s always good or great to us. Fans are very loyal. Sometimes they are a bit quiet. Generally, they are quite good. I don’t even think about what is going to happen until the day before the gig, so I haven’t even started to think about what the audience will be. South America is really good, it’s wild! I like going to North America, Europe, Far East, I like Australia… it’s just very far away. Japan is fantastic. I just like countries that are civilized.


And what if fans bug you? If there would be some very old fan sitting in my chair now, they would just squeak and scream «Oh my God, it’s you!», this happens.
This is the thing. What do you say to somebody like that?

They don’t keep the distance. And I guess it burns you out as well.
This is the thing. What do you say to somebody like that? I could have waited for Sigur Ros outside the show in Finland, they would have come out of side entrance, I could have said hello, we could have gotten a selfie, and I just thought – they’ve heard it all before, what can I possibly say that they haven’t heard a thousand times? So I just let it go and went for a cup of tea.
Or Radiohead… I mean, what are you going to say? You got two minutes in the presence of Tom Yorke, what are you going to say to him? Unless you sit down and start talking at a bar or something, that would be different. But with these super fans, what do you do?

In Moscow with Anneke van Giersbergen, 2012. Photo – Olga Shatalina (с) Headbanger.ru.

Well, if you like the music, you can bring flowers to express this. That’s how they do it here. I don’t know if they ever bring flowers to your gigs here…
I don’t remember. I know the audience is always good. It’s a hard work because of the travel and the size of the country, and the distance… it’s exhausting. But the people you meet at the concerts, they are great.

Are you planning anything special for your Russian gigs? We don’t know what to expect.
To be honest, I don’t know what to expect either. These are the first concerts of the new album, so it will be very special. It’s new songs and a new album, it will be a new thing and it will be interesting.

So it will be a surprise. How is the reaction so far?
I was just reading the review of the album actually, a very kind review – by one of the main magazines here in the UK that’s been supportive towards us, «Prog» magazine. They give us a very good review, I think they said it might be our best album, which is a lot from them, because they give a lot of praise to the previous albums, especially «Weather Systems» and «We Are Here Because We Are Here». But this one they say is the most consistent and probably could be our best.
It’s interesting how different people read different things to it, that aren’t intended by us. I find that quite interesting and fascinating, how different people take on different things from music. If they are really wrong, I point them out, but if it’s just the interpretation that they have, I have no problem with it. And this guy interpreted it as if it could have been the story of «A Fine Day to Exit», but played backwards. It was an interesting idea.
Often journalists are looking for an angle, «maybe this is the reason why that is happening», and «this is the reason he did this»… Mostly they are wrong, but I don’t mind. I don’t mind if it’s about musical stuff, because it’s people enjoying themselves, but when it gets into the personal realm, then I don’t love that. I’m not a massive fan of too much personal information unless I want to give it out myself, you know. Luckily, we’re not that famous.

Well, if to focus on the positive side, the album’s name is «The Optimist», there must be a reason for it…
No, it’s semi-ironic, it’s about the hidden optimism that’s underneath it all. What did you think of it?

I even thought it was sarcastic, maybe, when it was named «The Optimist» but the album is dark and the songs start playing with each other in such a way that you can’t understand what the overall message is as you listen to it. It plays with you, as if trolling.
And the interesting thing is that there isn’t really a message, but you’re right, the music doesn’t sound very optimistic, again, that’s not intentional, that’s just how it happened. It was just the songs that we had… But your interpretation is interesting. What do you think that happens in the end?


Perhaps he dies in the end. Or maybe he went through the purgatory, whatever it is, and cleared himself, so he’s free to have another life, and is reborn. And then, the album is versatile, the songs are all different, there’s a jazzy song that is so beautiful, and then «Ghosts», but you have heavy and dark songs as well, like, «The Optimist» and «Springfield», and it all creates something like a puzzle. It’s like a movie and a puzzle at the same time, and you try to crack it and try to understand what’s going on there, but it’s as if the scenes are in the wrong order, or something’s missing, and that’s what makes it so addictive. Seems like it ends in a positive way with «Back to the Start», but then again, who knows?
I couldn’t stop listening to it, tried to crack it, went to re-listen to «A Fine Day To Exit», looking for clues. It seems as if the songs from there are somehow mirrored in «The Optimist», as if the new album answers something in the previous one.
That’s interesting, because I didn’t listen to «A Fine Day to Exit» before we did this one, and I never took it as a reference. You’re the first person to describe the album as a puzzle, I like this description.

Yes, it’s a puzzle and it’s addictive as you can’t stop listening to crack it.
Yes, like, «what’s going on here?» And you said about the order of things, it’s like putting together a jigsaw…

Where the pieces don’t fit together so it gets stuck in your head…
That is if you like it. Some people just think, «well it’s a pop album» or attribute this to that and so on.
I don’t know how positive it really is. We don’t know what happened, we don’t know if he died on the beach in the beginning. This all could be the last five seconds of his life, like a near death experience or something like that. We just don’t know. And we don’t tell anybody, it’s up to them.
Yeah, it can be taken as positive, I can see why people think it ends positively, but just because it sounds in a major key, so people will think it sounds happy.

On the 9th of June, the day of the official release, you’re supposed to be in Saint Petersburg. That’s how the tour starts, first Moscow on the 8th of June, then St. Petersburg. The tour itself is huge, and two shows in Russia are before it and before all the summer festivals even… so maybe it’s the only time slot that you had for us. Was there some special plan to start here, or is it a coincidence and we are just incredibly lucky?
No it wasn’t planned at all. I’ve always loved Russian architecture and some Russian writers. We’ve been to Russia several times now, it has always been a blast, it’s always been fantastic and we’ve always been very well received, and I know there are a lot of fans in that part of the world that want to be liberated from their own «leather jackets». I’m very happy that we were able to give our voice to progressive metal, doom metal and to bring this music to the people. But I don’t book the concerts. You’ve seen how many shows there is, it’s an enormous amount…


Yes, first Latin America and North America in August, then Europe in autumn, then Australia… and you will have a support band for the European part of the tour, Alcest… Why them?
I like them, we’ve talked with them before, and their music is really nice. I’m happy about that, and it’s also good to have a band that’s very liked, respected and popular to also play, because it helps the whole evening. It’s not just on our shoulders, what we have to follow is something very good and popular, and at least I hope it goes very well.
I know we’re playing at «Bataclan» again, and that’s one concert that I have thought about because… you know…

If I’d known, I probably would have said I can’t do it, because we played there twice before and I was really devastated with what happened, and… that’s when terrorism really starts to affect me. So that night is going to be be difficult.

I got a bit scared when I spotted «Bataclan» on the tour schedule…
We’re going to be all right, everybody’s played there. Lightning doesn’t strike twice.

Anathema, Moscow, 2010., photo – Dmitry Kulikov (с) Headbanger.Ru

Still scary. You know, Alcest played in Saint Petersburg this year on the 3rd of April, when our subway got bombed, they were at the same venue you play soon…
Oh God. I remember that. Well… you just have to try to keep it out of your mind, because it’s too horrific to think about, and of course it’s a very difficult subject. I’m not afraid to talk about that subject and to say exactly what I think.
The world as it is, I think religion works for some people, if it brings them towards connection to other people, to love, to compassion, to forgiveness, understanding, tolerance…

Not always…
Well, some of it does, for some people it works, because it brings them closer to love, and that’s the point. You can find a spiritual person who is a much nicer person than an atheist, and you will find an atheist who is a much nicer person than a spiritual person. So it can work on individual basis as an individual way of your connection to humanity. I think that religion only works for certain individuals if it brings them closer to love, because love is beautiful, love does not judge, love heals, helps and builds bridges, love is powerful, beautiful, incredible, amazing. It is our deepest nature; it is our truest reality, and the highest place in our consciousness is connected to love, all love, every love, together, always. And when religion brings a person – any person – closer to that, it’s OK for them. But as soon as a religion takes you away from that, to fear, which is an opposite feeling to love, and when it takes people closer to fear, and when it takes people into «I’m right and you are wrong», then it causes problems.
The belief system is really the weak point for religion. The strength of religion is in love – that’s where it can be b and be a force for good, for some people, for individuals, for community – it can be a force for good. Where it falls down is in logic and reason. And it needs the belief system, and the problem is that the belief system is flawed.


That doesn’t mean I think that god is a fantasy, I think there is something really amazing about the universe and possibly something we just don’t understand scientifically and maybe won’t understand for hundreds of years scientifically. But the question to me isn’t about the religious, it’s about the nature of consciousness. And research into near-death experiences and altered states of consciousness shows that there is a certain thread running through this evidence, which points to something that is deeper than we understand right now.
I don’t think atheism is the answer, personally. The atheists, even the best ones, can’t explain consciousness, and a number of them don’t even look at the question properly. There was one guy who said that people like Richard Dawkins who say that the whole thing is rubbish don’t know what the question means, and that’s the real point, something I agree with. It’s the nature of the question of god that they misunderstand, and for religion this question is easy.
Some very mysterious elements of consciousness cannot be explained by science. And it’s the nature of reality that’s the question. The point of our life is that we cannot separate ourselves from it, we cannot look at life in a microscope, because it’s like a goldfish trying to analyze water… we are the very thing that we are examining.

There’s no wall and there shouldn’t be…
No it’s just the walls fall away and you see further and in a different way. That’s the area of research that I like.

Solo in Moscow, 2007. Photo – Dmitry Kulikov (c) Headbanger.Ru

Atheists plainly reject it, which is also not right.
We are the very thing we’re examining. Science is good, it’s done so much, and it has achieved a lot and it will go on to achieve much more, and that’s absolutely wonderful. I must respect science and the scientific method. They don’t try to colour the results with their own consciousness and thinking… and that’s the true scientific method.

That’s how it’s supposed to be, remove your perception from it, be objective.
It’s great up to a point, and in order for science to achieve what it has, it has to take this world view, so you get scientists who are married to this world view. But that’s just what they believe, it’s not necessarily the only way to look at life. The fact that this is the way things work in a laboratory, or in an equation, this is the way the universe works as we currently understand it, and therefore you should live your life according to this principle, without the evidence… But they are not even looking in the right area, and not looking at the evidence properly. And half of them can’t listen properly to a spiritual person, they just have to switch off!

I’d say it looks like both sides seem to be narrow-minded… They seem to just want to be right, doesn’t matter in what.
Who needs to be right if it makes the whole world wrong?


At the same time, you performed at ‪Starmus International Festival last year and covered «Keep Talking» by Pink Floyd, with Stephen Hawking!
I’m not a big fan of people like… particularly Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins, who just jump on people who don’t use scientific language and instead talk about something that could be far more mysterious. I had some reluctance about it, but I went and it was a really positive experience, and I just stayed away from the lectures that I knew people like that would be speaking at.

w/Anneke, 2012. Photo – Olga Shatalina (c) Headbanger.ru

Who came up with this idea? It is beyond awesome. How did you even manage to get hold of Hawking?
The actual day of the concert was one of the best days of last year, or of any year, it was one of the real highlights. We rubbed shoulders with a few superstars that day. Brian May and Hans Zimmer shook both of their hands that day.
And to perform with Stephen was a huge honour, he didn’t have to ask us to do that, it was his idea and it wasn’t us, we were just asked, we didn’t ask him. It was great!
And it actually is a very nice song. I’ve grown to like it more now than I did. «The Division Bell» has some good stuff, particularly «High Hopes» and «Coming Back to Life», but I’ve grown to like that song a little more.
So that was a really nice day and since then, listening to people like Christopher Hitchens… Only because I like his stance on religion, I like how he picks it apart, it doesn’t mean I go to him as my only source, or that I go to that method as my only source of reality, I don’t. Like I said, the nature of consciousness it not the question that is not answered in these debates. But I like listening to him, he’s really good. So I have a little bit more empathy and respect for the scientific method than I may perhaps have done in the past… And none of that has got anything to do with the album, by the way…

But you spread this freethinking and show what you support and share it with the audience…
Well… if you listen to «We’re Here Because We’re Here», the album is literally a direct conscious attempt to spread this message, and it’s not that I just meant it then, I still mean it now underneath it all. I just don’t feel the need to spread the message anymore. But I still, in my heart of hearts, believe it to be true. I just haven’t looked at it for a long time. It may come to pass, that, contrary to popular opinion, when the book of my life is written and closed, that «We’re Here Because We’re Here» is the most true work I ever made…

We feel the message.
But if there’s no afterlife, then I was wrong, sorry.


We all get the chance to check.
Yes, but nobody comes back to tell the tale, do they? But the album touches on this a little bit, because of the name, the near death kind of thing, the character and «Back to the Start», what start is he going back to?.. Maybe he’s going to the beach, we just don’t know… It’s just music, it’s not the most important thing in the world. It’s important for what we do and for the other people, if it helps them, and that’s absolutely great!

© Scarlet Page

As for the album, it might be one of the best albums we made, the next one will be different, this is what we are doing now, and it’s got quite a lot of levels to it, so I think that’s nice.
And it will be an interesting experience to see how well we can do those songs in Russia, of that’s the first one, so, let’s hope it goes well. We’re not going to play the whole album, we’ll play most of the songs, and mix with some of the others as well, so I hope it will go good.
We have an overnight train, and then we fly out the next day to go to the «Download Festival», it will be interesting getting home after all of that.

You give up so much to give the audience what it likes…
What we do, we do at our level. We are not Metallica, you know. But let’s see how it goes.

Thank you so much for the answers and for your time!
Thank you!

Russian Anathema concerts: June 8, Moscow, «YotaSpace» club, June 9, St. Petersburg, «Waiting Hall» club.

Interview – Alexandra AFONINA
Thanks to Nasti Ray (Spika Concerts) for organizing the interview.

Александра Афонина

Александра Афонина