Read the italian version of the interview here.
It's a hot afternoon of july here in Rome and Cavanagh brothers have just finished the soundcheck for the acustic show they are going to play (live report italian language here). Meanwhile, I had the chance to meet Vincent Cavanagh in the hotel for a long and intense exclusive interview for Metallized. I was really excited.. have a good reading!
Selenia: First of all thank you for this opportunity, I'm really excited and it's a great honor for me having this interview with you!Vincent Cavanagh: Oh thank you very much, you're very kind! For us is very nice to be back in Rome.
Selenia: Last time I saw you playing here in Rome was back in 2010, when We're Here Because We're Here was just released. It was an interesting melting pot musically speaking, because there were Petter Carlsen and The Ocean as openers and this meant a drastic change of climax during the night. I was asking me for all these years: why did you chose to have this mix? Was it just to create a connection with the metal part of the crowd?Vincent: With The Ocean you mean? No, that was a kind of promoter's decision, if it was up to us they would not probably be on the bill.. (laughing) Nothing against them or in that kind of music, but that's happening in America too, we're just about to go in America and there's a metal band too. We can't do nothing about that, we're just the headliner band and we don't really choose the supports.
Selenia: But I understood that you personally chose Petter Carlsen, right?Vincent: Yeah, Petter Carlsen was a friend so we chose him but we don't really choose anybody.
Selenia: Talking about your last album, what suddenly came up to my attention looking at the artwork was the decision to separate into two parts your monicker, Ana_Thema, to clarify the correct pronunciation of it. So did you also want to clarify a different meaning from the traditional one?Vincent: Yes, we wanted to get away from that, to separate ourselves from that meaning because it doesn't really mean to us. Besides, in the original etymology the word was separated with "ana" which is "to raise up" and "thema" which is "a theme".
Selenia: A theme like a story you mean?Vincent: Yes exactly, while "ana" was to raise up like a gift to the Gods, you know, so it's a completely different word, quite the opposite in the original Greek etymology, but the Christians came along and changed it. We don't really want to have any connotation with the Christian meaning of the word, so we just separated it and for that reason we pronounce it differently.
Selenia: So we basically misunderstood the meaning from the beginning..! (laughing)Vincent: (laughing) Yeah, we go back from the beginning! (laughing) We had to do our own research you know, if you look at the dictionary it's gonna tell you that it's a curse, something like that, but before that it was something else.
Selenia: The Optimist continues the story from A Fine Day to Exit after 16 years. Was it something you were planning to do since that album was released or do you realized later that continuing the story was a possibility?Vincent: We only realized it last year, we had the album title The Optimist, the cover with the car riding at night and we had the lyrics of The Optimist. And it was just a kind of revelation one day that Danny had. He realized that actually that fitted perfectly with A Fine Day to Exit and with the story. So we said 'Yeah ok, it's the guy from the beach, well we can go with this!' And we get Travis Smith to do the artwork in the west coast of America and we basically used our own autobiographical texts to invent the story about this character.
Selenia: You kinda let the story of The Optimist "open for interpretations", did you ever had the temptation to define it a bit more? If I may, what's your personal or favorite interpretation of it?Vincent: I wouldn't define it more because I don't see it as a literal story, it's more a kind of dream, like a sort of movie in a way. It's a bit like that, a kind of hallucination, so I didn't want to put it in a context of like this is happening in a linear fashion immediately after A Fine Day to Exit, so like it was what's happening when he comes out of the water and he gets the car, I rather say 'Ok, well, this could be a flashback in time, we can go in reverse, go back to the beginning of A Fine Day to Exit. There are few different ways to look at the story, I always like to keep it open, you gotta keep a bit of mystery! (laughing)
Selenia: Indeed! Actually I saw that the last track of the album is called Back To The Start, so you basically suggest to come back to the start so probably back to A Fine Day to Exit itself.Vincent: Yeah, there are other clues in that song and throughout the album, you hear things from A Fine Day to Exit aswell.
Selenia: It's like a circular movement..Vincent: Yes exactly, there's a circle. There's a hidden track on A Fine Day to Exit called In The Dog's House and the chorus is the same verse of Back To The Start and it does fit perfectly. And there are little conections with Weather System, with We're Here Because We're Here, with Temporary Peace.. you hear echoes of the past. You see, the protagonist of The Optimist is us, is really us, so these echoes are hallucination that he's hearing throughout the album. They are really our past and our memories, but it's all in one guy that we call "the optimist".
Selenia: Ok so "the optimist" is like an alter ego of the band.Vincent: If you like yeah, we can say he is!
Selenia: This time you gave much more importance to the electronic side of your sound. Was it a planned choice or simply something more spontaneous during the composition process?Vincent: We never choose to do anything like that in advance, the same with any genre of music, you know, we don't choose to make a jazz song, you don't choose to make a blues song, you don't choose to make an electronic song. It all happens very naturally and the way we look at it is on the initial moment of composition, where there is the guitar or the piano. At the very first moment when you're writing this chords it will appear in your head like fully formed, like they're living there, behind (he simulates chords with bass guitar and drums). And you hear that beat and it's like 'Ok, that's electronic' and the song San Francisco was composed in this way, with a delay on the piano and when you close your eyes it's like 'Ok, I hear opera-based trombone'. In Back to the Start is similar, I hear a 70's sort of sound, with this big, huge chord.. and these things are like intuitions, because in the initial moment you hear them, you haven't made them yet, you just hear the intuition. So it makes it easier for you, because it's almost like the song gets the choice, it's telling you what to do.. so all you have to do it's just to make it, don't think too much about it, let the song be what it wants to be. Anyway, if there's electronic in this album especially is because I know more about how to use the equipments, the technology.
Selenia: So you're the main responsible of the electronic parts!Vincnet: Yeah, I know how to program and ultimate the technology to make the sound more 'human', so to give it more dynamics, more flow.
Selenia: And did you think about some bands in particular for inspiration?Vincent: No, not really, because I listen to electronic music since I was a kid and especially after I was about 17, I got into techno and rave scene, through Aphex Twin.. really, he blew my mind. I was working in a studio in Liverpool and there were the owners of the studio, they had an electronic music project and I was messing around the drum machine and they asked me to program it for that tracks, so I did and I ended playing in a couple of raves with this electronic band in 1993 and it was fun! But I was heavily into everything like Aphex Twin, Future Sound of London, Boards of Canada...
Selenia: Aw yes, I love Boards of Canada!!Vincent: Yes they're great! Then I was into Autechre, all the records stuff through Aphex Twin, you know I've always loved electronic music, but I've always loved electronic music with soul, this is the thing.
Selenia: If I understood correctly, this was the first time you worked with the producer Tony Doogan, known for his work with Mogwai, and with the composer Paul Leonard Morgan. How was it working with them?Vincent: Tony Doogan was our first choice because of his work with Mogwai, with soundtrack music, with Clint Mansell, he worked with Kronos Quartet.. his works are one of my favorite records. He's a very special guy, he's a real man with a vision: at the beginning of the process you tell him what you want and he'll surprise you by how good he is, he knows! When we hear what he did we said 'Fuck!! How did you do that?!', he knows exactly from the beginning, he's planning all the time and he's thinking about the mix and then you see him in the mix and he's like a conductor, he's in control with everything. He has a very special way of working where he's kind of pushed over the desk, listening, speaking very quietly.. he's just completely immersed in what he does.
Paul Leonard Morgan is a genius too, he made soundtracks for TV series, Hollywood movies, also for that movie Limitless. He's a really old friend of Tony and he said that he was going to be in Glasgow for a period, because he lives in Los Angeles, so he was available and we send them some stuff and he loved the music. He said 'Ok, well, let's try some things out!'. We gave him some directions a little bit and some ideas but we kind let him do his own things and he was great, because watching him working in the studio was beautiful. It was the first session that we all attended and everybody get in and say hello and sat in the position with all the nine players. We had Paul Leonard Morgan as conductor and Tony Doogan as controller, with all the written scores, and we got the engineer and they said 'Ok, you got three hours: go'. We recorded four or five songs and we had to stay ready instantly.. and they all were so, so good! It was a really privilege and honor to work with them, because they were totally focused, Tony Doogan was like 'Is everybody all right? - Ok, next one - Next song - Ok, a cup of tea? Shall we have a cup of tea everybody? - Five minutes break. - Ok, all right, now back to the start! Here we go!' and Paul Leonard Morgan just conducted and he was fucking great!
Selenia: You can hear a more soundtrack oriented approach in general in The Optimist. My question is if you felt actually inspired by from soundtracks and what in particular?Vincent: Yes, we did. For example Mr Robot (the TV series ndr), there was a scene, I think it was in a train, it was a night travelling and there was a Tangerine Dream track. This originally was a scene from Risky Business soundrack, a movie from 1983, or something, and that insipred San Fancisco. If you imagine The Optimist like a movie or a soundtrack for a movie, when you listen to San Fancisco, you can imagine that scene at night, like there's someone driving alone all over the Golden Gate Bridge, going into town with just this music playing.. so it was this forward motion night-time city vibe that we wanted to communicate, the aesthetic vision of that vibe formed the track itself. We imagined the scenes of a movie: in Ghosts he (the protagonist ndr) is arrived to the motel, is like a karma song; in Close Your Eyes he's actually dreaming and what happens in Wildfires is a dream, so all the rooms are on fire, he's hallucinated. We imagined the scenes for a movie first and than we composed the music for it, so... we have to make a movie now! (laughing)
Selenia: (laughing) Definitely!! Vincent: I think we probably somewhere in our minds had David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick..
Selenia: So Angelo Badalamenti too...Vincent: Yeah, Angelo Badalamenti definitely! There's a great clip online when he's talking about how he composed Laura Palmer's theme... did you see it?
Selenia:Unfortunately not, but I can imagine!Vincent: Ok so, you have to see it and everybody reading this has to search this video. He basically was sat with David Lynch, David was explaining the scene and Angelo Badalamenti was writing right in the moment David was talking... oh my God, look... I've got goosebumps thinking about it.
Selenia: (laughing) Oh my God!Vincent: ..but he is brilliant!!! So that's one way, to have a visual aesthetic, to have an image can influence the composition of the music. This is really the first time that we did it.
Selenia: Changing topic, I always felt inspired by your music since I respect the fact that you had the strenght to follow what you wanted. I mean, you started from death/doom and gothic metal and then you progressively changed your style, playing different kinds of musical genres. I do appreciate that, since I think is important for an artist to feel free to be in constant metamophosis, following his sensibility. But you were also criticized by your metal fans during your carreer..Vincent: Yes and I think there is a big mistake about this: we never wrote for anybody else. I think you're in dangerous territory if you try to write for the other people's expectations. The best thing you could do is writing just for your own expectations and to explore what you haven't done yet. Davide Bowie used to say that just when your feet are not on the floor anymore, you're in the right place to find something more interesting.
Selenia: Well.. he was definitely a God.Vincent: Yes.. he was also a straightforward, normal guy, actually he was a brilliant mind and he always refused compromises. He always wanted to evolve like a human beeing and as an artist.
Selenia: Agree, the last album is really emotional, touching... because if you listen to it after his death you can really understand the connection and the messanges behind the lyrics...Vincent: True. You know, especially in Lazarus... but let's not talk about it, it's too heartbreaking! (laughing)
Selenia:Yeah (laughing) you're right! And talking about the metal scene, how do you feel in relation to the current metal scene?Vincent: Well, I don't even know what the current metal scene is. I haven't listen to metal sence 1994, I don't listen to it at all now. Metal was like my teenage years but now it's gone.
Selenia: I see, so the final question is what is the kind of music you're listening the most now? I guess you partially answered me before, when you talked me about electronic music.Vincent: We can look on my iPhone if you like! So we have for example Alt-J, Aphex Twin, when I drive I listen to some punk stuff (smiling).
Selenia: Ah, I see Bonobo also! I like him really much!Vincent: Yes, then I have some bands from Liverpool, deadmau5, Dj Shadow, Frankie Sparo - one of my favourite record of all time, Welcome Crummy Mystics -, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Interpol, John Hopkins, Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Queen... all this kind of stuff. I also like soundtrack music a lot, so I love Ennio Morricone, John Barry, David Axelrod... I think that most of the music I prefer to listen is made by individuals these days, there are not many bands, and there are a lot of instrumental tracks. No prog and no metal.
Selenia:Ok.. this is very clear! (laughing) I was expecting to be surprised to know that maybe you were still collecting some extreme metal stuff, also if you don't play it anymore.Vincent: No, I hate that music.
Selenia: Oh.. Hate? Really.. why?Vincent: Yeah, is basically a kind of music I hate because I hate the machismo in metal, it's homophobic and sexist, I have no time for these things.. I think this behaviour is ridiculous.
Selenia: Ok, I can agree that it's maybe a sexist scene.. I know, but this is another topic.Vincent: Oh, thank you! It was funny! I'll see you later and thanks again!
Thank you anyway for your time.. it has been a really pleasure for me!!!