By now, everyone knows that Eluveitie had a rough split not long ago, dividing the band. Merlin Sutter, Ivo Henzi, and Anna Murphy departed together, starting up their new band called Cellar Darling. With their debut album release on the horizon, we took the opportunity to chat with them about their new group and the feelings behind their music.
To get the obvious out of the way immediately, how are you all feeling as the release date of your debut is coming up?
Anna: Great! I’m exhausted, but in a positive way. We gave it our all, we poured a lot of energy and creativity into this album.
Merlin: We’ve worked on this album non-stop since the day we started the band, pretty much exactly one year ago… I would say it’s probably the most important release of our lives; at least it is for me. So there is certainly much anticipation!
How did you form your partnership with Nuclear Blast, and how is it going so far?
Merlin: As you might know, we’ve worked with Nuclear Blast with our previous band for nearly a decade already – we knew they have an outstanding team, and we knew they’d be among the first we would reach out to.
Anna: We sent them the two tracks we released last year (“Challenge” and “Fire, Wind & Earth”) and they immediately wanted to sign us. It’s going great, we’re very happy to work with them again.
Have you, at any point, considered adding more members to your band, or why have you decided to keep it as just the three of you? The obvious “missing link”, so to speak, would be a bassist.
Anna: No, Cellar Darling is the three of us and it works perfectly this way. Ivo is an amazing bassist, plays bass on the album and we’ll work with session musicians for live shows.
Merlin: I think a big part of the strength of this band is that we’ve been recording and touring together for years – we know what works, we know we work, and this established and proven symbiosis lies very much at the core of This is the Sound, too.
You played with Amorphis and Anneke van Giersbergen at the end of last year – what were some of the highlights? Were there any Spinal Tap moments worth sharing?
Anna: The first show with Amorphis was a bit shaky because of technical problems we had, but we still enjoyed the show and received positive feedback. The show supporting Anneke was much better and the entire trip was basically just one huge party. We traveled with a tour bus and brought all my friends along. Why? Because Amsterdam! 😉
How does it feel to have so few people on stage, as compared to before?
Anna: Definitely very different, I think every person feels like they’re more ‘on display’ than before. But that can also be a good thing, a lot of focus comes with it.
Ivo: It’s challenging too, but in a good way. Besides having more space on stage, it also opens up new possibilities for the live show.
Merlin: For me, there is more room for musicality; I can focus fully on what everyone else on stage is doing, and vice versa.
I’m not sure how the song-writing process went with Eluveitie, but I suppose it’s safe to assume that Chrigel was largely in charge? What differences, both positive and negative, did you notice now, working as a smaller collective?
Anna: Yes, Chrigel was the main songwriter in Eluveitie, with Ivo contributing a lot of riffs and songs and myself also being involved here and there. Cellar Darling songs are written collaboratively, based on ideas from Ivo or myself. It’s a group effort and you can hear that our songs are a symbiosis of us three and not one mastermind with a backing band. We experiment a lot in the rehearsal room and often also arrange whole songs together.
Merlin: From the very first Cellar Darling rehearsal, we played and explored ideas together in the same room – something which was entirely new for all of us, and something which I’ve enjoyed tremendously. We had been wanting to explore this way of working for some time, and it was quite surprising just how naturally it worked for us. The song we worked on during that first rehearsal actually made it on the album, albeit after many iterations!
How did it feel to work with so many fewer instruments now?
Anna: I don’t really perceive it as so much less to be honest. Besides the normal band line-up there’s the hurdy-gurdy, flute, strings, piano & even an Uillean pipe on the album. But of course, our music focuses on what three people play and that is less, but I think it’s great.
Does your current music feel simplistic in any way to you by comparison? And if so, is that a nice change, or is it a bit strange?
Anna: Not at all actually, I think there’s much more variety in our arrangements. Less instruments does not equal simple 😉
Ivo: It’s not strange at all. Having fewer instruments also means that each instrument has more focus, which doesn’t make the songwriting process any easier or more simplistic. In fact, this approach feels more natural to me instead of having a checklist of instruments which have to be on every song.
Do you feel as though the lyrics carry more power with fewer instruments backing them?
Anna: That’s not really something I’ve thought about… we just write music, impulsively, and that results in something. Too much thinking would ruin that magical process.
I’ve noticed that your music is extremely catchy; for example, “Challenge” gets stuck in my head every time I think about it, let alone listen to it. Do you write that intent in mind, or is it just a pleasant side effect of the process?
Anna: That’s nice to hear! I never write music with any intent, it just happens naturally.
Ivo: The music I write mostly starts with a certain mood I am currently in; it’s not something I can control on my own. We don’t sit down and “plan” to make catchy melodies, they just evolve during the writing process.
Many bands travel the self-titled road for their debut – how did you come up with This is the Sound for the album title (which I assume is taken from the line in “Challenge”)?
Anna: We had a long list of album title candidates and like with most things, we went with the option that just felt right. This is the Sound is a statement to ourselves – we found our sound with this album and we’re thrilled about that.
Anna has said in other interviews that she never directly addresses things in her lyrics (like the story of eating too much ice cream) – are there any stories behind songs on the album that are similarly metaphorical? And what might the original stories/inspirations be, if you don’t mind sharing?
Anna: I think pretty much all songs on this album are metaphorical 🙂 I noticed at the end of our songwriting sessions that a lot of songs deal with ‘the end’ in some way or another, whether that is in the form of death or the apocalypse… I guess I wrote about those topics because I was still processing the Eluveitie split without fully realizing it. It’s so interesting how our mind can tell us things and give creative hints like that. Another track that is very personal is “Redemption.” It’s about the people we love, yet manage to hurt, and the regret that comes with it. I turned it into a story about a magical moor that can take you in and give birth to you again as a new person. But with a price.
Are there any overarching themes or concepts on the album, or is each song an individual element? Is there any message you were trying to get across with the music or lyrics? What is the album “about”, if anything?
Anna: There is no lyrical concept; each song tells it’s own story. The only concept being the way the lyrics are written, as stories. I want the listener to drift off into another world, see pictures and colors. Like I do when I’m composing them, or when I’m listening to music that I like. My message is to use your imagination; it’s the most valuable and powerful thing you have.
The length of your songs is surprisingly varied – “Water” is a mere 1:54 minutes, while “Hedonia” is 7:29 – how did some songs end up so short, while others were so long?
Anna: Song lengths are never intentional, they just happen naturally. Here once again we just do what feels right to us.
Finally, the phrase “Cellar Door” has, for many, many years (a century even), been considered to be one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. Do you agree, and do you think that “Cellar Darling” has a similar beauty, as it is phonetically similar?
Anna: I do actually! 🙂 I’ve always loved the combination of words, there’s something about them. Cellar is dark and Darling is light, like our music.