Anathema – They Are Who They Say They Are

Sunday, 20th October 2013

Forever a part of the metal annals because of their unbeatable 90’s melodic Goth output, the U.K.’s Anathema have shape-shifted perhaps more than any band outside of Ulver. Yet in spite of the drastic changes that have turned the band into prog/post-rock stalwarts instead of wily doom vets ala their former contemporaries in My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, Anathema remains an act of intrigue, as echoed during their just-completed North American tour in support of last year’s Weather Systems. They’ve come close to mastering the art of emotive rock; more recent numbers like “Thin Air,” “Untouchable Part I” and “Untouchable Part II” certainly suggests as such.

Primary songwriter/guitarist/founding member Danny Cavanagh phoned DR during some downtime during the band’s stop in Oakland, CA to discuss the tour, the band’s recent live Universal DVD, as well as the curious path Anathema has taken, one that came precariously close to a name change altogether. Obviously that never happened, but if it did, who knows how the course of history would have changed. One can only wonder…

Dead Rhetoric: Has the tour met your expectations thus far?

Danny Cavanagh: I would say it has exceeded our expectations, really, especially because we were quite spoiled with the first three shows being very well-attended. We ended up in New York on the third gig and that was sold-out, got a fantastic response and we were like, “Oh my God, this is what is America is really like!” Not all of the shows have been like that, but there has been a very warm response at the gigs. To be honest, it’s been mainly about seeing the country, meeting the people, and seeing the sights, and taking in what America has to offer. We all grew up with American culture and British TV has always had American programs, and the movies, so we’ve all been quite deeply immersed in American culture since we were kids. But to get over here and to hear the accents and meet the people…there’s towns we’ve known for a while like Seattle, New York, Washington, and L.A., it’s just been amazing.

Dead Rhetoric: I think the pairing with Alcest was a smart move. Safe to say they were a good choice to accompany you for this tour?

Cavanagh: Yeah, they’re super-sweet people and their music is really good. You can’t ask for more, basically. They’re popular and people know. Yeah, good package.

Dead Rhetoric: Prior to this tour, your primary experience with America was the Milwaukee Metalfest, where you were a bit miscast.

Cavanagh: I recall a lot of noise, but it’s always when I really noticed that Opeth were becoming popular. The crowd was really into them. I remember being in Boston Airport, things like that. It was all good. Our music has come a long way…this is better for us since we have opportunity to prove who we are now. People are into the last two albums; they’ve done well, so on that level, it’s working out for us. Nobody is thinking we’re a metal band now. Everybody knows we’re a different kind of band.

Dead Rhetoric: I remember in Cleveland and someone was shouting song suggestions to you guys. You responded to effect of “We’ll play whatever the hell we want.” Are you still getting the occasional call for you to play stuff from the earlier albums?

Cavanagh: We do get some people shouting at us on occasion, but I can’t blame them – those tunes are good. It was intense stuff. I still like that stuff; I still like the melodies on “Sleep in Sanity,” but the band can only be honest to ourselves. That’s all we can be.

Dead Rhetoric: As for the Universal DVD, what made Bulgaria place to shoot the show?

Cavanagh: The show came first and the idea for the DVD came after that. They do that every year for bands, so that venue with that orchestra. When that opportunity came up for us, we knew how great the audience in Bulgaria was, so we put together the idea for the DVD. It wasn’t planned specifically; it fell into place.

Dead Rhetoric: Working with the full orchestra…how much adjusting did they have to do, if any?

Cavanagh: I don’t know…you have to ask them. Most of them didn’t speak English very well. It was a pretty positive experience, even though it might have been daunting since some of the music is really loud. I’m not sure how well they could hear themselves with us playing at full volume.

Dead Rhetoric: Lee’s [Douglas] role in the band continues to expand, which is pretty obvious on the DVD. Can you speak to her development and increased role?

Cavanagh: She does great dual lead vocals with Vinny [Cavanagh]. We don’t measure her; she’s in the band, she’s there. She’s available and very able, so a more important question would be, Can I write music that brings out the best in her? That’s probably more significant and the question I keep asking myself without pushing things too hard in other areas. She’s a professional girl; reliable and solid, easy. It’s good.

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