Cellar Darling – An Enchanting SpellSunday, 24th March 2019
With the move from independent stories to a full-on concept album, Cellar Darling has come into their own on their second full-length. With an eclectic yet enthralling beginning in This is the Sound, The Spell works as something completely realized by the band. Not only is there a concept of a dark fairy tale at heart, but the band poured additional focus into the release with an accompanying audiobook and visuals (both pictures and video) for each track. The end result is stunning – a multimedia experience that is musically impressive as well as unique in its execution. We were privileged enough to chat with all three members of the band (vocalist/hurdy gurdy/flutist Anna Murphy, drummer Merlin Sutter, and guitarist Ivo Henzi) to discuss their impressive release, storytelling, and even art in general.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel more creative freedom in writing your second album as compared to This is the Sound?
Anna Murphy: We basically just took things one step further, I would say. On This is the Sound, it was very eclectic and we were searching a bit…which was perfectly fine. It’s exactly how that album should have been. For The Spell, at least I think, we took the elements that we loved most about This is the Sound and matured those.
Merlin Sutter: I wouldn’t say there was more creative freedom, but maybe more confidence in our approach.
Anna Murphy: What is really special about this release is that we wrote the music according to the lyrical concept. The story and the tracklist was there before we worked on the music, which is something that we have never done before and something that really inspired us a great deal and fueled our creativity.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is the accompanying art with the overall album concept?
Ivo Henzi: I think the artwork was very important because it’s a concept album, so it’s one big story. We tried to not only have the perfect sound, but have something to look at – the pictures and videos fit to the story and concept very well.
Merlin Sutter: I love digital music. I listen to all of my music on Spotify. I think it’s great to have everything available. But I also miss the visual and tangible aspect that we had with vinyl and even cd collections. I think this was an opportunity for us to create this additional dimension to it and make it available to everyone on the Internet – by making the videos and putting the artwork online. I think it’s really cool.
Anna Murphy: We decided to not have the band visualized in either the artwork or the videos because featuring us would take the listener away from the fictional world he or she would be in. We really wanted to give focus to the story.
Dead Rhetoric: An audiobook also sits beside the album, as well as what you were saying with upcoming videos for each track. Is your goal to have the listener really experience The Spell rather than simply listen?
Anna Murphy: Absolutely. I think that’s a perfect way to put it. Like you said, the audiobook gives more importance to the concept. We really want people to focus on that, and not tear them away from this other dimension that they are supposed to be in while listening to the album.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you see The Spell as something that you should really try to absorb in one sitting?
Merlin Sutter: I think in the end it’s up to the listener. I think it can be enjoyed in little pieces. I don’t think there’s a need to listen to all of it in one sitting, but it’s nice that it is an option that exists and I think it works very well. I remember I used to listen to a lot of prog metal as a teenager and I loved concept albums. I loved to sit down and listen to the whole thing in one go. I think it’s a different experience listening to one song at a time. But I think both are legitimate and possible with [The Spell].
Dead Rhetoric: This is more directed to Anna, but what was different about recording the audiobook as opposed to singing?
Anna Murphy: It was actually a very horrifying experience. I’m not going to lie and pretend that it was great. I think that recording the spoken voice gets underestimated a lot. Just because you can sing and speak, it doesn’t mean that you are automatically a professional voice-over artist. There’s a reason why people learn this profession. I actually had a very hard time recording the spoken voice. All of the noises, the tongue…it’s really disgusting. The way that something sounds when you say it – when I listened back to me saying it, I thought “This is not me, this is some sort of demented child that I’m listening to.” It’s really weird. I had quite a hard time recording it, but at the same time, I think people will appreciate it for what it is. When we were talking about it as a band, the guys really liked the idea and I asked if we should get someone else to speak the story. We came to the conclusion that the fans would appreciate it if it was me doing the speaking.
As far as the story goes, I actually wrote down a first draft of the story and we kind of edited it within the band. Merlin was kind of like the editor of the book – both of us were pretending to be an author and an editor. But it turned out really cool, and I think people will appreciate it. Maybe next time we do an audiobook, we are going to ask Morgan Freeman to do it [laughs].
Ivo Henzi: Or we will do a movie!
Anna Murphy: Or we will do a movie, with Brad Pitt as Death.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny that you mention movie, because as I was listening to it and looking at the art at the same time. Would you ever consider, if given the option, to putting The Spell as some sort of animated film, or even a story book?
Merlin Sutter: We talked about both actually.
Anna Murphy: And we kind of have both, as well. There is going to be an animated video for each song, so theoretically you could play them from beginning to end. There is also the story that I am speaking on the audiobook, so both of these things exist in a very intimate setting. But what we were also thinking was that we thought it would fit really well onto a theater stage. Performing in a theater, and having all sorts of actors and dancers and other crazy shit. But that’s us imagining things things, we aren’t actually planning any of that.
Dead Rhetoric: Going along with the story and its open ending, are you curious to hear listeners’ interpretations?
Anna Murphy: Yes, absolutely. I actually had a fixed ending at first, then I changed my mind and I asked the guys what they thought. In the end, it turned out to be this kind of open ending. What I really like is to hear other people’s interpretations and what other people visualize when they are listening. I think the music should speak for itself – it doesn’t need a manual or anything. That’s why I am really curious as to what other people see when they listen to it.
Dead Rhetoric: What draws all of you towards storytelling, as this piece was in the band with the first album as well?
Anna Murphy: It just kind of became the concept for the band, in a very natural way. We kind of knew that we needed something. We couldn’t just be three friends playing music together because that sounds very bland. But we also didn’t want to create what I’m going to call a fake concept. Not in a negative way, but we aren’t the type of people who are going to do the Satan stuff or do a political concept.
We really wanted to do something authentic. It became clear very quickly that I didn’t want to do the singer/songwriter type of lyrics, which means they come from my perspective – it’s about me, my emotions, and my life. It naturally happened that we are creating stories that we are listening to the music and kind of visualizing things and seeing colors. On This is the Sound, they were separate, small stories, and we took it one step further and created one big story. So it came about very naturally, I would say.
Dead Rhetoric: You said the music came about from the lyrics this time. Did that present any challenges going in that direction?
Ivo Henzi: In the beginning, it was something that I personally hadn’t done before so it was kind of weird to have a set story that we had to write according to the different parts of the story. But in the end, it actually made it easier to write the songs, since we knew which directions we had to go. We always knew which emotions we had to portray in the songs. So it was quite easy. It was just very different. You have to adjust your ways of songwriting, but it was something new and exciting.
Dead Rhetoric: I was looking back at the last time we talked and Anna had mentioned seeing herself in storytelling. How do you see yourself in terms of the story you crafted for The Spell?
Anna Murphy: I’m not really one to talk about biographical motivations because I think it takes a bit of the magic away from what the listener should experience. It’s obvious that there will be a lot of me in the story – I think that’s a normal thing for an artist. To have an outlet for all of the experiences and emotions. But I still want the story to stand for itself.
Dead Rhetoric: It was mentioned that you had were in a good place, mentally, when the album began and then things took a turn for the worse.
Anna Murphy: I think it’s natural for your state of mind to change with working on an album like that. I think it’s comparable to an actor that really gets into the role, and maybe goes into it a little too much and goes over the edge. With me, I’m not sure what it was. If it was already there before and I didn’t know it, or if it happened while working on the album? In the end, it doesn’t really matter because it changes all the time anyways. My mental state is very fragile and always changing – I’m 29 and it has been me for my whole life. It’s nothing really special at this point [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about being in the spotlight being the only vocalist in the band? I remembered you saying that you didn’t really want to talk too much at the Saint Vitus show, and let the music speak for itself. Is that more who you are personally in terms of being in the forefront?
Anna Murphy: I think I’m always going to be who I am on stage. It’s really hard for me – a lot of people I know create a persona. I think that creating the persona is done to protect yourself a bit. It’s probably really healthy to do that, but for some reason I can’t do it. When I go on stage, it will always be me. It’s always going to be different. Some days I just love talking, and can put on a comedy show on stage, and some days I could be so uncomfortable that I can hardly speak. But it’s another way to do it, and I think people appreciate that. At least I think so. It’s just going to continue how it continues. I don’t know what I will be like on stage in three weeks. It could be completely different, but I’m not thinking about it. I just go with the flow.
Dead Rhetoric: When I see the effort put into all assets of The Spell, it kind of feels like more than just music. What is the importance of art in modern society?
Merlin Sutter: That is a big question. I’m a drummer so my ability to comment on art is limited. But from my perspective, that’s maybe not a question to ask artists, because we just do our thing. We create the music that we like. We create these stories. We think it’s a great idea to make a video for each song before we think about whether it’s a feasible thing to do. We kind of always manage to create something in the end, then we give it to the people to interpret. So I don’t really philosophize much about the meaning of art, or our contribution to it. To us, it’s a very central thing since we have been doing it all our lives. So if you ask us, it’s a crucial thing.
Ivo Henzi: I agree, it’s really hard for us to touch this, since we are in the middle of it. It’s hard to see how important it is for only the people that consume it. But we in the band do consume art in some form, so for myself, it is really important. I can’t tell you what importance it has to mankind, to be honest.
Anna Murphy: It has so many faces. In one way, it expresses emotion, but it’s also a form of rebellion, and has always been. Art has been there from the very beginning. That’s probably going to be one thing that is there in one form or another. A lot of things might sound very scary about the future – there are going to be robots and whatnot. The artist won’t get replaced. We don’t know what our job is, but we know it’s here.
Dead Rhetoric: Merlin, you manage the band as well. Does having that tighter control over the band allow you to better steer the ship in the direction you want it to go in?
Merlin Sutter: In a way, definitely. Although it’s important that managing in this situation refers mostly to administrative work. All decisions are made by the band. Any fundamental decisions about what to do or who to present ourselves has always been between the three of us. I guess in a way, it makes it easier to have those two parts aligned, by not having to communicate with a third party and get everybody on the same page. But with tight control, even if we had a separate manager, we would be 100% in control of our band. That’s something that is essential to Cellar Darling.
Dead Rhetoric: What is going on with the band once The Spell is released?
Merlin Sutter: We are going to go on tour, finally. It’s slowly shaping up real well. We start in the UK, which is really cool that we get to do that. We did that with our last album and it was amazing how well we were received there. We were just able to confirm some dates with Katatonia, which is amazing because it’s a band we all love. We are currently working on getting back to the US as soon as possible. North America is at the top of our wishlist, so I really hope that happens this year.