Danny Cavanagh of Anathema on Religion, Music Awards, U2 and a Forthcoming Solo Covers Project | Interview
With his Irish heritage, Danny Cavanagh of Anathema certainly has the gift of the gab. Before assuming guitar, keyboard and vocal duties in the Button Factory on the night of September 19th, he spoke to us about touring Australia, America and with Opeth; he discussed politics, religion, music awards, U2 and a forthcoming solo covers project. In fact, it was hard to get a word in…
Alan: Hi Danny. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Your last time performing in Dublin was with Opeth about two years ago. How did that tour come about?
Danny: Through their manager, who’s now our manager. He just offered, and I thought it could be a nice opportunity, because they’re a big band but they’re kinda different. And we’d be playing to a different audience. Which is exactly what happened; the audience was different. Not the easiest audience I’ve ever played for. But it was good. I also enjoyed just seeing a bit of Opeth too, because they’re pretty good at what they do. I like how tight and clean their band sounds. They sound really a cut above most of the bands in that genre. There was no excess shit; it was just really clean and really powerful. And he’s hilariously funny in between songs [Mikael Åkerfeldt]. A nice guy too. He was good to me on that tour. I was going through a bit of shit, and he was just somebody nice to talk to. He asked me how I was doing, and I confided in him a bit.
Alan: So you connected with him on a personal level as well as on a professional level. That’s cool. I was at that last show in Dublin, and I felt that the audience seemed as enthusiastic about your act as they were about Opeth. And tonight’s show is sold out; I don’t think the Opeth show was. Are you excited and looking forward to the gig tonight?
Danny: Yes. It’s quite a new little thing we’ve got going here. I’m not sure if we really did Weather Systems here, and suddenly we’re coming back with another album and there’s more electronics in the set. So it’s a little different than what would have been a Weather Systems tour. It’s still got the classics from that album, but it’s also got songs like ‘Distant Satellites’ in parallel which have this other element to them. And we’ve also kinda shifted roles a bit, so who was the keyboard played on the previous tours is now swapping between mainly drums and some keyboards. And our song writer, John, has moved over to electronic drums. So there’s a lot of swapping and musical chairs going on, which hadn’t happened before. It’s a new line-up; a new set-up; and I’m still getting used to what exactly we’re doing. There’s a lot to think about; the piano, the guitar transposing, different tunings, new setlists. It’s not quite automatic for me yet.
Alan: I think if Anathema stops changing; that’s when people will get worried!
Danny: Yeah, that’s when you’ll know we sold out!
Alan: Tonight, Mother’s Cake are supporting. Are they with you for the whole tour?
Danny: Yeah, they’re on the whole tour. Beautiful people actually. They’re lovely guys. I really like them. They’ve got three people in the band and they’re super sweet, and their tour manager is super sweet too. And they’re all Austrian. They’re all younger, mellow, hippie kinda guys that remind me of me if I hadn’t had too many drugs when I was younger.
Alan: You were in Belfast last night, and a day off tomorrow. Will you get to spend some time in Dublin?
Danny: Actually, no, we’re going to go back over to the UK; through Wales and on to Manchester. That’s where our depot is. Quite a few of our buddies and old schoolmates will be coming over. I’m looking forward to that. But I’m a London guy at the moment; I’ve been living in London. As big cities go, it’s a pretty cool place. It’s not the friendliest place, but every city with 7 million plus is not the friendliest place. But I like it a lot. It’s quite exciting. So going up to the Northwest, to Liverpool, for rehearsals or concerts, it’s nice going back to the roots.
Alan: And speaking of your roots… Your surname, Cavanagh; it’s an old Irish name. Have you got Irish roots then?
Danny: Yes! Danny Cavanagh is a very Irish name. Yeah, my Grandfather was Irish. And my Grandmother was Welsh. So my Dad’s half Welsh. So the Cavanagh name comes from my Grandfather. He was born in the early 1920’s and moved to Liverpool. Frank; he was a nice guy. I’ve got him to thank for having to spell my name every time I do anything.
Alan: And then John and Lee have a Scottish surname…
Danny: Yeah, Douglas. They actually have their own tartan.
Alan: I was wondering how they feel about the result of the Scottish independence referendum yesterday…
Danny: The band is a little split. To be honest, none of us are nationalists anyway. None of us are particularly proud of our country, because as far as I’m concerned, at the end of the day, it’s one world, you know? And I’m a little bit of the Bill Hicks school of thinking, which is that national flags should be abolished and people should have personal flags which is a picture of their parents fucking, because that’s where you came from. National identity is a mental construct. Like religion. I’m not atheist at all; I believe in God; but there’s a lot of mental constructs going on in people’s psychology, their self identity and their group identity, it goes on and on. I don’t really go for nationalism. John [Douglas] made an interesting quote yesterday. He said “I don’t really want them to go, but if I was Scottish, I’d probably vote yes”. He can understand; the Tory government has shafted them in the past, Thatcher shafted them with the poll tax; it was basically tested out on them; “they never vote for us anyway”, it doesn’t fucking matter. You know, it’s safe. If we got shafted in the north of England, which we did in the eighties; Liverpool got shafted completely; then I can kind of identify with where they’re coming from. This goes back over hundreds of years. But it’s not only the English; the French took North Africa, and part of the Middle East. It goes on and on. And I was hearing yesterday that people are going on about being European now, and Eastern Europeans coming in and Islamic people coming in to Europe… The people who live in Europe now have only been here seven thousand years. If you go back only eight thousand years, they all migrated from somewhere else on the globe. So ultimately, it’s just the great migration, you know what I mean? And people are getting up in arms about this mental identity and that mental identity, and ultimately, that answer to me can’t really be found in politics or religion or diplomacy. It can, up to a point, but there’s got to be a step beyond that. And the step beyond that, as far as I’m concerned is an expansion of awareness and consciousness. As in one humanity. And I wake up thinking shit like that.
Alan: Maybe moving on from politics and religion, tell us about your recent first shows in Australia…
Danny: Another British colony… yeah! They sent all the criminals over to their own paradise island continent. What a punishment that was! Anyway… it was alright to be honest. We were there such a short time that by the time I realised I was in Australia, we were leaving, because it was literally a long long journey to get there, get to the hotel, have food and just crash. Then a gig, early flight, gig, early flight, gig, flight home. That was it. And I was in the airport on the way home, when I realised “Oh this is nice; we’re in Australia”. Everybody’s real friendly; “no worries, mate”, “can I get that for you, mate?”. They’ve got time for you because there aren’t so many people; not like London. Going from London to that environment was beautiful. And then, as soon as I realised it was really nice, we were on the flight home. But we’re going back next year.
Alan: Yeah, I was going to ask if there was anywhere else in the world that you haven’t been to yet, that you would like to play?
Danny: Let me think about that… America. I’d like to do well in America, because I like being there. We’ve been there twice already, and it’s hard work, but it went well. To be honest, the first American tour we did with Alcest; great band, beautiful people; was one of my favourite tours ever. And if this tour we’re doing now can somehow match that in one way or another, that’ll be a miracle because that was special. Just being in that country for the first time. Something about the sound of Daniel playing the drums, the audiences being well-attended, going to places like New York and L.A.. We’d never done that before. And it was the new stuff they were into as well. Going to the truck stops with the serve-yourself huge coffees. And everybody is “Have a great day, sir”. It’s not “have a good day”. A good day wouldn’t be good enough; it’s got to be a great day. I dug that. I didn’t watch the TV though, because if you want to turn yourself off America, just put on the fucking television. Too many commercials. It’s like; stop selling me something. I don’t fucking want it. I just mute the adverts. I was thinking of starting a campaign several years ago to mute the adverts on the TV every time they come on; mute the adverts dot com. Just press mute, and it also gives you a break from the constant noise. The cheeky bastards also turn up the decibels every time the adverts come on. I don’t want to start the campaign personally; I don’t even watch much TV. If I did, I’d mute the adverts every time they come on. It also gives you a little bit of calm before your program starts again, and then you can carry on. What I’ll tend to do with TV is find a really good season of something like “True Detective” and just watch them all in two days. That’s the way television has gone these days. True Detective knocked me out. That’s one of the reasons you’ve got to love America. When somebody can write something like that, on his own, in a room, in three months, give it to two of the top actors in the country, HBO puts it out… It is the fucking bollocks as far as I’m concerned! It’s beyond brilliant; eight episodes. I thought Sherlock was the best detective program I’d ever seen, and Sherlock is brilliant. It’s very canonical; it’s based on the original stories, beautifully directed, beautifully written, it’s romanticised, a bit melodramatic; but this blew it out of the water, and I’m a huge Sherlock fan. This is something else. Matthew McConaughey; the character he played, and the way he did it… I barely knew him before now, but I’m going to watch everything this guy does from now on. He won the Oscar for best actor last year. Were we talking about television??
Alan: No, but you mentioning awards brings me nicely onto my next question regarding a couple of awards you received lately; one is the “Anthem award” for the track ‘Anathema’ as voted by Prog magazine readers at the Progressive Music Awards earlier this month; and the other was an award for the best live event at the Progressive awards last year. How do you feel receiving these particular awards?
Danny: To be honest with you, I really enjoy those evenings because it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of prog rock. Even the prog rock man in England Jerry Ewing knows that. We’re kind of friends. But what I do respect is people trying their best. Being in music for the right reasons like Jerry is; the editor of Prog Magazine; I believe he’s in that business for the right reasons. And what he says comes from the heart, and what he does comes from the heart. And it’s the same with the artists, you know? We were watching the awards and we picked up our award, and Bill Bailey does this HILARIOUS routine for five or ten minutes introducing Peter Gabriel who won an award. Now Peter’s speech wasn’t particularly hilarious, but I just sat there and listened to him because I believe that people like that should be respected; especially him. He’s got a fantastic voice, still. So for me; even though I’m not the biggest fan of this kind of music, I went there and I shut my mouth, and I listened to the awards, and I ate the dinner, and I was grateful, and I had people around me, in the record business, who apparently are loving all this stuff, who talked the whole way through the entire thing. Talked through Peter Gabriel’s speech! And these are people who are supposed to, quote “love prog”. And it just goes to show you, there’s a lot of bullshit in the industry. But I’ll tell you something… Jerry Ewing is the real deal. He’s a nice guy. And if I do those events, and if I behave myself, and I’m grateful that we win, and gracious about it, then it’s partly for Jerry. We might differ in terms of our musical taste, but we don’t differ in terms of humanity. He’s a genuine guy. Music should be about genuine feelings. It should be about what’s in your heart. It should move you. And the people that work in it can be motivated by that feeling. But more often they’re not. They’re caught up in this identity and a career.
Alan: That also brings me onto my next question. I read an interview with your brother Vincent where he mentioned he was a big fan of U2 and in particular The Joshua Tree album…
Danny: Oh man! Are you kidding? They had a four or five year period when they were, without a doubt, the best band in the world. And I’ll tell you who beat them… Nirvana. Nevermind… I don’t care who you fucking are; nobody in the world at that year, was better than them. That is the fucking bollocks, that record. But up until then, I believe U2 held the crown.
Alan: And 25 years later; here they are, giving away their new album for free with the latest iPhone. What’s your take on that?
Danny: I don’t care! I don’t really have an opinion. My best mate in Liverpool is an enormous U2 fan and he was really taken by what Radiohead did; putting the music first and giving it away for nothing. So he’s been quite motivated by what U2 have done. So for him, as a life-long U2 fan who thinks Radiohead have trumped them in their sincerity and in their musical direction… for him to get the new U2 album like that is, as far as he’s concerned, something good. And they didn’t do it through Spotify, which I appreciate, because I’m an Apple guy. I pay for all my music. I’m just like that; it’s what I do. I can appreciate other people don’t, and I’ve no problem with it. I don’t believe in Spotify. I’m with Tom Yorke on Spotify and his opinion on that. If you want my opinion on Spotify, just read what Tom Yorke said. I don’t do any promotion for Spotify whatsoever. I’m giving them negative publicity right now. Our albums are on there, but that’s as far as it will go. I won’t get involved in any Spotify playlists, or interviews promoting them at all. But Apple and iTunes are another thing, and I’m behind that. All my music is bought from iTunes in the iCloud. So suddenly, the new U2 album popped up. Now I’m not going to listen to it, because I think they’re way past their peak, but I respect them, I respect what they did and what they are doing. I saw them live on the 360 tour, and it was a beautiful show, and it’s just my personal opinion that they have been overtaken, even by mainstream artists. Just because they’re younger and have a better melodic sense. I’m talking about people like Chris Martin of Coldplay; to do a song like ‘Midnight’; to do an album like A Rush of Blood to the Head; and songs like ‘Fix You’; I think he has now in some way, maybe not as strong lyrically or politically as Bono was, I think Chris Martin melodically has superseded U2 totally, in my opinion. And Tom Yorke is just on another planet. And Sigur Ros; forget about it; they’re doing something else entirely. But in terms of mainstream rock, I would say Chris Martin is not as passionate or fiery or important as U2 were, but he has superseded them as a writer. BUT… if you go back to what U2 did in 1984 to 87 or 88, and I defy a rock band to be better than that. I defy ANY fucking band in stadium rock to do a better moment than U2 at Slane Castle when they ran the end of ‘All I Want is You’ into ‘Where the Streets Have no Name’, and they did this thing where ‘All I Want is You’ starts to die out, and Bono holds the last “You”. And he just holds it, and holds it, and the entrance chords to ‘Where the Streets Have no Name’ start, and his voice rolls over into that and just cracks, and then the guitar started. Anybody… Please… if you think your band is better than that, fuck off now. Because I don’t care who you are; even if you’re The Beatles, nobody is better than that. You can’t be better than that. You might touch it in your own right, and I think Radiohead did, I think Pink Floyd did, The Beatles did. Even Led Zeppelin with ‘Stairway to Heaven’; a song that people have heard so much that they think it’s shit… WRONG! Forget you ever heard it; go back and listen to it again; it’s one of the best songs you’ll ever hear in your fucking life. It’s impossible to be better than that.
So the new U2 stuff, apart from ‘Electrical Storm’ has not done anything for me. There’s a couple, but for U2 fans it works. But melodically; in terms of what melodic sensibility is; the way melodies move like rivers; the way imagination flows; the way great writers shift, change, evolve and continue to write something profound, something intangible inside that is brilliance. U2 have kind of lost a bit of that, but I totally respect the band. I just think that if you listen to ‘Midnight’ by Coldplay, for mainstream rock, they’ve been superseded in my opinion, but total respect for that band.
Alan: I have a question about the trilogy of tracks on Distant Satellites called ‘The Lost Song’, and I read that the reason for the name was because you were actually trying to recall a song that you literally lost. Can you elaborate on that and how you came to lose the song in the first place?
Danny: Yeah, well, it was a difficult time for me, and I had a few personal difficulties going on, and I caught a tune; I think it was a piano or a guitar tune, or both. And I remember it had a funny timing, and I remember it was in E minor, and the other chord was something like a C, and that’s it. I recorded it on this little recorder, and for some reason, it got edged off, because I recorded other stuff and it got moved off the memory card because there’s a little lock switch on the back of the recorder that I hadn’t switched on. The only reason I didn’t remember it was because, and this is the first time I’ve admitted this in an interview to anyone, was I actually had personal difficulties at the time and my mind was distracted, and music wasn’t at the top of my agenda. I wasn’t as focussed as I am now. That’s why it got lost. But in a way, I’m kinda glad it did, because if it didn’t, then these three songs wouldn’t have come about. The first part of the trilogy was a direct effort to try to remember the song, failing to do so, and going in another direction. So it started that process.
Alan: Regarding cover songs; you’ve recorded some Pink Floyd and Bad Religion covers in the past, but not on the past couple of albums…
Danny: I’ve just recorded a covers album actually. Acoustic live in the studio. So the entire performance is live in the studio with vocals and everything.
Alan: Can you tell us what artists or tracks are included?
Danny: I can tell you Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Radiohead, Tim Buckley, Iron Maiden.
Alan: What Iron Maiden track did you choose?
Danny: ‘Wasted Years’
Alan: So you mentioned a return to Australia next year. What else is scheduled for 2015?
Danny: Yeah… acoustic stuff as well. And some kind of secret stuff that’s coming up that can’t be announced yet, but people won’t be expecting it, and it will be limited to certain territories that it will work in.
Alan: Will Ireland be one of those territories?
Danny: I can’t be sure. If Barnstormers was still open, we’d play there!
Alan: And the acoustic album you mentioned; is that an Anathema project or a solo project?
Danny: No, it’s a solo thing. I’ve started to think about solo stuff because I’ve got too much material for just Anathema, and it’s just sitting there doing nothing, so I should do something with it. So I’m looking at releasing a solo record, but it doesn’t really affect Anathema at all.
Alan: Cool. Well thank you for your time. You were certainly very thorough in your answers!
Danny: No problem.
Interview by Alan Daly
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko