When Anathema released We’re Here Because We’re Here in 2010, it marked a years-long hiatus of new material from the band. As an outfit whose sound has been steadily transforming since making its mark as a doom metal group, We’re Here Because We’re Here was a profound change from 2003’s A Natural Disaster. Whereas lyrically and sonically Disaster revels in the pathos of despair, regret and loneliness, We’re Here is a 180-degree shift that celebrates higher consciousness and the healing power of love with majestic, soaring atmospherics and soul-touching melodies.
As if to make up for lost time, Anathema followed We’re Here with 2011’s Falling Deeper, an album of previously released material from such projects as Serenades and Pentecost III that was rerecorded with an orchestra. Then, this April heralded Weather Systems, a quasi follow-up to We’re Here that further explores the themes heard on its predecessor with more celestial, inspirational music. With songs like “Untouchable Part 1” and “The Gathering of the Clouds,” the Liverpool band delivers more of the driving anthems it’s known for, along with emotionally stirring fare like “Lightening Song” and “The Lost Child.”
Now Anathema is getting back into the touring routine, starting out in April and May with a handful of shows in Europe, with more to come in July and dozens more on the books from September through November in such countries as the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland and Finland. Anathema played in the United States last year during Steven Wilson’s solo tour (which was cut short due to the death of Wilson’s father), but singer and guitarist Vincent Cavanagh believes the band will return to this country sooner than later. Cavanagh spoke to PureGrainAudio via phone from Paris as we were experiencing a fine day on both sides of the pond. “We’re heading into that kind of beautiful terrace weather,” he observed. “Everyone’s sitting outside and being very French with their coffee. A bit clichéd, but somehow it lives up to it.”
When We’re Here Because We’re Here arrived, that was the first new material Anathema recorded in about seven years?
Vincent: Something like that, yeah. Bizarre. I have no idea why. I think sometimes time just gets away from you, you know. It was one delay after another. All I can think when I look back on that now is that was a very frustrating period in my life because even though the band was growing in popularity, we’d done a lot of very successful tours and people were coming out to see us and there was a lot of word-of-mouth going on, the word of the band was being spread through the Internet from that record, [it] kind of started to take off around that time. And people were just passing the word around and the band seemed to get bigger over seven years even though we had no new albums.
Now me, of course, I thrive on a new album, so when we finally released Where’s Here Because We’re Here it was a huge, huge relief and as you can imagine since then, we’ve been trying to keep up the pace and we’ve been writing constantly as well. So we have so many ideas now, it’s a case of, we have to work to sort of stay on top of it all, because of course, we have a backlog of material that we never released and we’re also writing every day on new ideas. It remains to be seen if we’ll release some of that older material or we’ll just continue to release only new stuff. I don’t know. I’m happy it’s over with. It will never happen again. Oh my God, no.
There was a period of time you didn’t have a label, and you put out We’re Here Because We’re Here independently. Was it a case of you guys didn’t go into the studio because you didn’t have a label?
Vincent: We could have gone into the studio, with money from a record company, but we chose not to do that. Ultimately we didn’t want to be [sapped] with the same old constructs. We just wanted to be independent and it took us some time to build up a studio at that point, so that’s one of the major contributing factors to the time. We still have the studio equipment now and most of it I have. Now I can write at home whenever I want, which of course [speeds] up the process even further.
Having listened to A Natural Disaster a while ago, and then hearing We’re Here Because We’re Here, I thought, “This is vastly different from what I remember about the band’s sound.” I’d also listened to some Anathema catalog that predates A Natural Disaster. I know the band’s sound is always changing, but in that break between Disaster and We’re Here, you guys leapt to where – do I dare say – where you always wanted to be. Would that be correct?
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. The way I see it is, our music is expanding. It’s the beginning, like a seed, and since then it’s been expanding in all directions… it seems to have different horizons about it. I think of it as a panorama in a sense that it doesn’t have to be closeted in any way, or restricted in any way. Melodically or stylewise, it’s not really genre-specific… I think for us the evolution is absolutely natural. And it happens in fact from song to song. When you’ve written a song, that’s an evolution in itself and then the next thing may be completely different to that, so it happens very rapidly for us and very naturally.
Weather Systems sounds like a direction continuation of We’re Here Because We’re Here. Was that planned?
Vincent: Yeah. A couple of those songs, they kind of came up around the same time as We’re Here. Four tracks were all written around the same time as We’re Here, so we knew they were going to make the foundation stone for the next thing that we do. They’re kind of umbilically connected in a certain way. I think the next thing that we do, the cord will be cut a little bit further. For the next album there’s gonna be a bigger change again. Sometimes we can do a couple of albums that feel a little bit connected but then the next thing will be a big change. That’s the kind of band we are. We’re always moving forward. We never need to repeat ourselves.
Check out a performance of “Untouchable Part 2” from ‘Weather Systems’
It’s perfect that you say that because you also made the album Falling Deeper, where you rerecorded music from your older catalog.
Vincent: That’s right. It sounds completely different, of course. They’re orchestral reinterpretations, so it’s a full string orchestra taking the lead. For the most part, there wasn’t even that much need for vocals on it, just a case of let the orchestra do its work, do what it needs to do. There’s not a lot of piano on it, there’s not too much going on in the way of a band, so the backing tracks are more kind of spacious. There’s a lot of space of the orchestra to sit in it. I think it’s really beautiful. It’s quite cinematic, for me. I think it’s something that would lend itself very well to soundtracks, that kind of thing. I’m very pleased to have made a [classical] album. I think it’s a really interesting move on our part and something I’d like to consider doing again, maybe in a different way.
What made the band decide to reinterpret what it had done before?
Vincent: The original compositions were inspired by classical music, and we’ve always been big fans of classical music, especially string music. Harmonies in an orchestra, we used to do that on our guitars to begin with, and it made perfect sense. I’ve also made this connection through [artist/producer] Steven Wilson with a guy called Dave Stewart [Editor’s note: Not the Dave Stewart from Eurythmics], and Dave Stewart’s been working with us for the last three records now. He’s a guy at the moment who’s known for his orchestral work… but in the past he’s a songwriter, he’s had some hits in the prog rock scene. But he’s a very talented orchestral arranger, and working with him, it gave us that connection to the orchestra and that was one of the facilitating factors of making a classical album. Because we knew Dave, we knew we could do it.
One thing that struck me with We’re Here Because We’re Here and Weather Systems is that lyrically they’re relating to higher consciousness. Where did this come from? Because from what I know and heard, when Anathema was more considered a doom metal band, the themes were about desperation and depression.
Vincent: Well, the lyrics you’re referring to were written by my brother Danny, and I guess over recent times he’s wanted to expand a little bit more into his philosophy as opposed to always painting with the same brush. It’s not like he’s completely changed as a human being, he’s still got his ups and downs like everybody. But he’s more interested in painting with the kind of more euphoric side of life rather than always the melancholic. So I think it’s a little more colloquial in that way. I mean, there’s a certain catharsis to writing a song and writing the lyrics, but it’s only up to a certain point, really. Only in the sense that you’re addressing something you might not normally address, for whatever reason. So even when you’re addressing it, it doesn’t mean it goes away… [whether it’s] something on the dark side of things or something that you’re thinking about very deeply. It’s always there. I think Danny’s just one of those type people where… he doesn’t hide those emotions… so when you’re writing in such a way that something comes up, it’s very honest and open…
It’s never just light or just dark. Just the same as life. In the future there’ll be more sides to the lyrics. Just as we grown and learn and experience more, these things come out… I’ve never liked about lyrics… when I find somebody telling me how things are in life… I also think it’s a very dangerous move to think about political things and issues unless you’ve really, seriously studied, then they’re OK. There’s very few people who [have]. I’ve always found it interesting personally to see in someone’s mind… like Alice in Chains, for example. Always written about deep fears and bad experiences that they’d gone through, and I find that much more interesting than what they would consider to be their opinion on the American political situation. I find that much more interesting. It’s something connected to the subconscious – what makes somebody tick, how is somebody inside.
Check out a performance of “The End and the Beginning” from ‘Weather Systems’
Why the theme of weather for the new album?
Vincent: There are four tracks – specifically “The Gathering of the Clouds,” “Lightening Song,” “Sunlight” and “The Storm Before the Calm” – that were kind of written together… With the similar theme, I guess it’s connected to one’s internal landscape with their feelings and the inner storms you have to go through… Each one has got its own little story. For example, “The Storm Before the Calm” is inspired of kind of like psychosis… and the second half of that song is a complete disconnect, in fact. It’s about the calmness that comes from the complete absence of any feeling whatsoever, so at least you can get some peace because you’re not feeling anything and it’s better than feeling something.
And “Lightening Song” is a certain euphoric appreciation for being alive. After a certain point, when somebody’s been through a hard time, it can teach you a lot about yourself. It can teach you how you react and it can teach you what’s most important in your life: People, you know, intimately, are the most important thing in my life. Everything else is kind of decoration and wonderful for it, but ultimately, the people in it, that’s what makes up a person’s life. To me, at least, anyway.
There’s a lot of experiences and lessons going on there [that] we don’t take lightly, like life itself. Like one of my biggest experiences is being with death, and what that means to me and my contemplation of my own mortality, what that means to me. I think the biggest-life affirming thing, ironically, is death. Because ultimately, this is all we have, this is it. And one day my brain will stop working and I will die and that will be it. So it’s very, very real to me, that knowledge.