Technology has certainly been a little unreliable when it comes to Vincent Cavanagh and I trying to talk to each other.
A few months ago, when the vocalist from Liverpool’s prog rockers Anathema was scheduled to chat about his band’s forthcoming new album The Optimist, Skype microphone issues ensured that we were forced to talk via chat and email. In a similar vein, when we were up for a chat about the band’s upcoming Australian tour, initial connections problems reared their head once more. Circumventing this by means of a good old fashioned phone call, the singer was more than happy to enthuse about Anathema’s Australian tour that kicks off this week. And with a critically acclaimed new album in tow, plus bringing the full line up this time (2015’s debut tour featured the stripped-down acoustic format) Vince is relishing the chance to play songs from the new album live plus ones from the band’s celebrated back catalogue.
“We were starting the tour off by playing The Optimist in full, in the first half of the show, but the setlist has evolved quite a bit since then. There are songs off of A Fine Day To Exit that just seemed to naturally want to be included in the first half and that fit in thematically with the album as well, so we’re starting off with The Optimist, going into some of those songs, coming back to The Optimist to finish out the first set, and then doing another complete set of other songs from previous albums the singer told me. And it’s been great getting to play these songs live too. I’m obviously the lead singer and I’m playing guitar too, but now I’m playing Abelton and Push live as well, so the live aspect has certainly become a more challenging and enjoyable experience for me too”.
Having only toured Australia for the first time two years ago since the band formed in the early 90’s, Cavanagh was astounded at the positive reaction to those initial acoustic shows. The stripped down version of Anathema – featuring Vince and his brother Danny plus vocalist Lee Douglas – played a series of shows to packed houses right across the country and the trio was delighted with the response.
“Basically we knew it was a bit of a risk doing it,”
“but it was something we’d always wanted to do. Visiting Australia was something we’d really wanted to do for a while and once we got down here and met everybody and had such an incredible time we just knew that we had to come back again, and this time with the full band.”
Bringing a six-piece band like this out to Australia can always be a logistical challenge, especially when it’s all the way from Liverpool, but Cavanagh is relaxed and confident that the organisation for the tour is well and truly under control.
“Well Jamie, my brother, has been acting as tour manager this time around,”
“so he’s been getting things organised really well. And to be honest we’ve got a great support crew down there as well who are working on the sound and the visuals for the show as well. So all we really have to do is show up and play. We’re doing a meet and greet as well where we’ll be doing a few acoustic songs and a Q and A as well, so essentially yeah we just have to turn up and meet people and have fun and play”.
For those unfamiliar with The Optimist, the album was inspired by the cover art for the band’s 2001 album A Fine Day To Exit. The idea came from questions about what happened to the guy from the album cover.
“The guy who disappeared – you never knew what happened to him. Did he start a new life? Did he succumb to his fate? It was never explained”.
I asked Vince what made the band want to continue the story narrative of the character after all this time.
“Well we had the title The Optimist first, and Danny had this image of the car driving at night, and from those two Danny tied it into A Fine Day To Exit perfectly. So it was like,
“guys you know we never actually finished the story properly, so how about we do it”
And John (drums) had been talking about doing a story for an album for a while now. So we essentially fleshed the whole rest of the record out to fit this. And it all ties in any way; a lot of our songs are autobiographical so we can make something tie into a story if we want to. And so by putting a highlight on a character and a protagonist, it takes the attention away from yourself and you don’t always have to explain the intimacies of where a song might be or what it’s about. Or more relevantly who it’s about. These songs are very personal to us and you don’t want to reveal everything about yourself you know? It’s enough to have written the song and either get people hooked into the story or appropriate it for their own lives or maybe a little bit of both. It’s something very interesting for this particular record, and there are little clues in all of our records really. There are lyrics that are relevant to past albums, past songs, there are little threads that connect all of our stuff together. We’re big fans of The Beatles as you know, and they used to do stuff like that and it’s sort of rubbed off on us where we make everything we do part of our own story songwriters.”
And one thing I had to ask was is this the end for The Optimist?
“If we are going to revisit it I don’t really think the story had anywhere to go really. In a linear sense, I think it might be a good idea to do a back story, like a childhood thing. But that’s for the future, so we’ll see about that. There are certain songs like The Lost Child (from 2012’s Weather Systems) which could be part of it. And so I think at some stage we’ll revisit that song in the future and see how The Optimist fits into it”.
The live interpretation of songs from an album is always an interesting prospect too. Often when one has recorded a track and goes out on tour the song can naturally evolve, morph even, into something new. So have the songs from the new album evolved or changed at all?
“A little bit of both really, it depends upon the song. A song like San Francisco, for example, which was basically all done electronically on the record, it was a challenge to see how I could perform that live. And so the good thing about Abelton and Abelton Push is that it’s allowed us to find a new way to play electronically and it’s really fascinating and enjoyable. So that kind of thing is really interesting for me. Some of them have developed a bit more, I think I’m a lot more comfortable singing the songs now than when I was doing them in the studio for the first time. So yeah I think we’re really enjoying.”
However the songs from The Optimist sound live, one absolute surety is that Anathema delivers an emotional, uplifting, heart-wrenchingly beautiful live show that is not to be missed.
Connect with Vincent Cavanagh from Anathema!