Daniel “Danny” Cavanagh is a creative man who has released two albums this year: the story-based The Optimist with his main band, Anathema, and his first proper solo album, Monochrome. Musicalypse caught up with Cavanagh on the tour bus before Anathema’s show at Klubi in Tampere, and the tired yet friendly man discussed the current tour, the aforementioned releases, and social media, in addition to talking frankly about the downsides of life on the road.
How is the tour going so far?
It’s been good, enjoyable actually – no complaints.
You’ve been touring with Alcest – they’re more black metal-oriented, but I feel their music goes well along with yours. What do you think of them?
Well, the last song they play is really nice – it’s called “Délivrance”, and it’s quite gorgeous, so anybody who can write that must be quite good.
I remember you guys were talking about playing The Optimist from start to finish on this tour, but you’ve only been playing about half of it. Is that something you still want to do in the future?
Yeah, we will [do it] next year probably.
Was there any reason why you haven’t done it yet?
It’s just kind of good to mix things up, you know what I mean? It’s good to mix songs from different albums; that’s the only reason. I’m sure we will eventually.
John Douglas [drums, percussion] had to leave the tour in the middle, so when will he be back on the road?
On the next tour – he’ll be back then.
Did you guys have to make a lot of adjustments to your performance, now that you’re playing as a five-piece?
Well, Daniel [Cardoso, drums] had to lend John’s style. He had to learn the more simple style that John plays – the more primal style of John. Daniel’s natural thing is to be technical and busy as a drummer, and John isn’t like that. He kind of had to learn that stuff, but it didn’t take him long. But that was the only adjustment really.
So you didn’t have to drop any specific songs?
No, we could play any of them. Some songs don’t feel right to play unless John plays them, you know what I mean? Because it’s his style and his material. He wrote “Universal” – we did it for a couple of gigs after he left, but I said, “It doesn’t feel right.” Not only for the style, but because it just didn’t feel right. But he also wrote some of the biggest songs on the new album and we still play them – we play three of his songs from the new album on this tour… or two.
Do you still get lots of requests for really old songs? Are people shouting for “Sleepless”?
Not many, you might get one. You might get one guy, usually a drunk guy will do it. It just becomes a joke in the end. We’ve had some good jokes about it, like Vinnie [vocalist/guitarist Vincent Cavanagh] said in America, “You realize that’s like me going to your work and shouting at you to do what you did 20 years ago?” And he said, “What do you do?” [The guy] says, “I work at IT.” I said [in a growly voice], “Windows 95!” [laughter] And everybody laughed.
So people seem to accept that you’re playing the new stuff?
It’s been a long time – I mean, anybody who’s still complaining… is stupid. [laughs] But it’s not usually complaints – it’s said half as a joke, it seems to me these days. You get people complaining online, but that doesn’t matter. People always complain online.
That’s true! Now The Optimist is a sequel to A Fine Day to Exit (2001). How has that album aged for you? I think it’s one of your most underrated.
Yeah, I think you’re right, I think it is one of the most underrated. I enjoyed the re-release that happened in 2015, because I changed the running order and put the intro back on, and it was remastered as well. It made more sense musically to me then. To be honest, it probably should’ve happened in the beginning, but you know…
Better late than never?
Yeah, absolutely. I’d waited a long time to do that – years. I was really happy to get the opportunity. It was put out as, I think, a 4-disc edition called Fine Days.
I’ve got that.
Yeah, it’s on that. It’s different from the original. “Pressure” is like track… 5, I think? Or 4. But that’s okay, you know what I mean? It’s a shame to have made such a big mistake at a crucial time, but you know…
I think “Release” is more natural as the first proper song.
Yeah, it is. And that would never happen now, you know what I mean? A mistake like that would never happen now. I mean, we could’ve done… there’s always some debate about running orders. Actually on the last album, I changed the running order at the very last minute, ’cause Vinnie and the producer thought that “Leaving it Behind” should open the album. I wasn’t sure about that at first, but after I did a version of the album and lived with it for a bit, I realized it could be right. Then eventually we thankfully had the time and the money to go back in and fix it, so I did that, and also the record label very supportively said, “It’s got to be right,” and they agreed also, so it worked.
You played some of the songs on the new album live last year on tour. Is that something you want to do in the future as well?
Probably… it worked. It did work, it was good. You make demos as close as you can and then tour for a couple of weeks. I enjoyed that, it was a good tour. That tour and this one have been very pleasant for me. Not so much the South American tour, because the flying schedule was horrible. But the tour bus is great.
Didn’t Vinnie lose his voice?
In South America?
Yeah, didn’t you play one show without him?
Oh yeah, he got a pretty bad flu. It was terrible – poor guy.
What was it like to step in for him and sing?
It was good. I’ll tell you, that was the gig… if he was gonna miss one gig, that was the one. It was in a pretty crappy venue, and [there was] a pretty weird audience. But I enjoyed it – I like singing. The biggest difference [between] the band and the solo stuff that I do is that I get the chance to sing the stuff. Because I write the lyrics as well, and the vocal melodies. The sound of the band is with Vinnie singing, but I like singing. [It’s] a different style.
I think you also premiered some songs that didn’t end up on the album. Do you think you’ll release those later, maybe on an EP?
I could do them as a solo piece on a solo album. I think there was only one that didn’t end up on the album – all the rest did, one of them didn’t. It was only ’cause we toured it and listened back to it and realized the reaction wasn’t very good. We listened back to it on YouTube and it didn’t sound great, and everyone just preferred not to finish that one. I forget the name of that one – “Bricks”… I think it’s called “Bricks”, yeah. Also, the song “The Optimist” – the piano riff in that song only happened because we toured. If we’d never toured the album, that might never have happened, and that’s one of the best riffs on the record. So yeah, in answer to the question, we probably will do that again.
You just put out your first proper solo album of original material [Monochrome]. Were these songs that you’d had lying around for years or did they come together within a short period of time?
Almost all of them have been around for at least 10 years, just sitting around. I mean, the last one’s an improvisational thing, but the rest were all around for absolutely ages – 10, 15, 20 years or so.
Just waiting for the right time…
Yeah, they were just sitting there, you know? I just thought [they] could just sit there on a hard drive or I could do something with it – that was it. That is the only real reason I did it, and to stay busy. A side effect is that I like singing. That’s it, there was no other plan – no other reason to do it, you know what I mean? It wasn’t like a big need to get away from the band, ’cause I have a lot of fun with the group in the studio. I enjoy it – I have a lot of laughs, especially with John. I laugh a lot with him.
Why was it released now? Did it just feel like the right moment?
I recorded it in 2015, ’cause I was going into Parr Street Studios to make the songs for the Pledge campaign called Memory and Meaning. I was in the studio and I had free time. I just thought, “I’ll do something.” It was going to originally be instrumental piano, and then it grew, and then it became song songs, and then it became… not just piano, but other stuff as well. It just grew like that.
There are Celtic influences on “Dawn” and some classical piano on “The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours.” When you wrote those, did you already know they were not going to be for Anathema?
No, the band could’ve done them, particularly “Silent Flight” would’ve been great. But the thing about it is, it wouldn’t have been like that if the band had [done] it. Vincent probably would’ve tried to pick apart the whole thing. And one advantage is being able to do things without having endless discussions about how it’s supposed to be. Usually that’s okay, ’cause it makes songs better, and often Vinnie spots things that would make them better. It could’ve made these songs better, but I just like the simplicity of the way it’s done. It was easy, really easy, and “Silent Flight” and “The Exorcist” could’ve easily been good enough for the band, but I’m glad I did them like that.
I like how the album is a bit more stripped down.
Yeah, I mean there might be some rock songs next time, but the band always has the first refusal, because I don’t wanna weaken the band’s position. I don’t wanna suddenly start writing collaborations or solo albums – stuff the band should’ve done. That’s always a bit of a difficulty, but if there’s anything the band doesn’t feel like doing, then I’ll do it.
You’ve been playing “The Exorcist” at some gigs on this tour. Will you do it tonight?
Probably not tonight, but I’ll do it again before the end. I’m a bit tired today to be honest – I felt a bit sick today. So yeah, it’ll probably be a low key gig tonight, I think.
You lived in Norway for quite a while. Did coming back to England make you see things you hadn’t noticed before?
In the years before I left Liverpool, I always wanted to leave Liverpool, and then when I went back, because I’d done it, I was able to just enjoy Liverpool for what it was. I noticed that, but apart from that – no. I’ve got good memories of all those places – I also lived a couple of months in Germany. I love Germany, so… I’ve got good memories of them: London, Liverpool, Oslo, Germany. I’ve got good memories of all of it.
You’ve been to a lot of places.
Yeah, but I’ve only lived in those places.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been more active on Twitter lately, for the past year or so.
That was after Brexit, mostly political stuff. I’ve stopped doing that now, because you can’t change anybody’s opinion on Twitter. If you ever argue with someone, they just become more entrenched in their beliefs, and it’s very difficult online, especially on Twitter, to rationally change somebody’s mind, so I just stopped trying.
There’s only so much you can say in 140 characters.
Yeah, even if you got more characters, it doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t really change anything, that’s the problem with online activities. It’s like an echo chamber, I think.
Did the changing state of the world make you feel like you had to say something?
It was Brexit really – Brexit and the state of the Labour Party in the UK, because we need the Labour Party, and we need them to win lots of elections and make positive changes. I just don’t think they’re capable of it, even now though the election results were surprisingly good. It won’t happen, and it disappoints me. Also arguing with those people, you may as well argue with religious fundamentalists. They won’t change anything.
You have Anneke van Giersbergen singing on the new album, and you’ve played some duo gigs together in the past. Do you think you’ll do more in the future?
Yeah, I’m sure we will eventually, but she’s really busy at the moment, and so am I.
She’s got a new band and everything…
Yeah. I haven’t even got plans to tour this solo album, because this tour is so long. I haven’t got the energy right now to think about touring solo. I mean, if the money was really good I would, because you’ve gotta pay the rent. It would take a lot for me to do it right now, ’cause I’m so tired, as you can see.
I hope I’ll get to see you two someday.
We’ve played in here – me and Anneke – in this venue. It was several years ago now.
It’s been a while. Finally, what’s next for Anathema – more touring?
Yeah, Australia after this, and Turkey, but I can’t really think about that until it’s ready to happen because it’s exhausting thinking about it. Especially flying to Australia – it’s so far away. I just wish I had a teleport device that could just teleport me straight there and straight back. That’d be the best thing, ’cause it’s hard to do – the flying is hard. This is easy – I mean, it’s tiring, but it’s much much easier. Like when there’s interviews, then I could have 10 minutes lying down on my bed before the next one starts.
The jetlag must be awful.
It’s not that, it’s the waiting around in airports, staying at hotels, and waking up early. It’s horrible. I can handle jetlag, it’s the rest of it I can’t handle. Especially getting up early, going to an airport – you have to leave the hotel 3-4 hours before your flight, and you have to fucking get on the thing and then wait for it to take off. Oh my god, I absolutely despise doing that – I hate it. It’s the one side of this job I hate. I don’t hate anything else, but I hate that. I’m sick of it.
Hopefully they’ll invent that teleportation machine some day…
Yeah, otherwise I’m gonna have to retire when I’m 60. It’s just the life that I have to live. It sucks, it’s the way it is. I should get a stand-in guitarist and just stay in bed. [laughs] That’s a joke by the way, readers. [laughs] Don’t send your demo tapes!
So you won’t become a Brian Wilson [The Beach Boys] type of figure?
Writing and staying at home? I like touring, it’s just that I don’t like. I like actually playing the gig, and it’s quite nice meeting people. It’s good to be hanging around with the guys and stuff like that – you have a laugh. But my favorite thing is recording albums, you know? But I like playing the actual gigs, I just don’t like anything else. But like I said, if there’s a way you wanna do it, this is the way to do it. I’d have my own bus for just me and my entourage, and I’d have this [turned] into a big bedroom. I’d have a shower and that… and a personal assistant and everything. If I could I’d do all of that.
That’d be pretty luxurious.
Very luxurious, but it’s not actually gonna happen.
You’re only on stage for 2 hours and people don’t see the rest of it, like the preparations.
Yeah. Well, you know, most people have a misconception about what it’s really like. If anybody like you came on this tour for 2 weeks, you’d be absolutely wiped out: bags on your eyes and spots of all kinds. [laughs]
Well, those were all the questions I had.
They were good questions, thanks very much for your interview.
Thanks for your time!
Photo: Caroline Traitler