Interview by David Araneda
We recently had the chance to talk with the talented singer and songwriter Anna Murphy from CELLAR DARLING. We discussed the creative process of their latest studio record “The Spell”, such as the ideas behind the story and artwork of this concept album. She also shared her experiences in the last Progressive Music Awards, where they won the “Best Video of the Year” award for “Insomnia”.
The Swiss multi-instrumentalist and producer also told us some of the highlights and stories from “The Spell Tour”, which will bring them to Finland In November for two headlining shows in Helsinki and Tampere. Anna commented the experience of meeting their fans all over the world and told us some details about the future plans of the band.
We leave you the full transcript (slightly modified to improve readability) of the interview below as well as the original audio version on YouTube:
David: You released your second album “The Spell” last March, and I have to say that it’s one of my candidates for the album of the year. What inspired you to create the story for the album?
Anna: Thank you very much, that’s really nice to hear! It’s kind of hard to say because with many things, like melodies, things just kind of pop into my head and I don’t really know where they come from, I think it all happens subconsciously somehow. But the motif that the concept album is based on, that is by no means my invention. It’s actually based on a very old motif, that has been depicted in the Renaissance art for a very long time, in poetry and in art, and that is Death and the Maiden. I wanted to create my own story with this motif, and I pretty much immediately came up with the story of a girl that falls in love with Death and cannot reach him because Death casts a spell of eternal life upon her. And that’s kind of how the whole thing came about, we had the story and the tracklist before we wrote the music, and this is something we’ve never done before. So yeah, it was a pretty intense process.
David: I think the audiobook was very enjoyable and helped me to understand better what’s going on behind the lyrics. Where did the idea of recording those introductions come from?
Anna: The thing is like when a band is recording an album in the studio, this kind of terrifying notion comes up from the label asking you “what are you going to do as bonus material”; and it’s something that you never actively think about, because you’re so engrossed in the whole process of creating the album and not with, you know, what are we going to do as bonus material. What I didn’t want to do is just to include some instrumental versions, covers or whatever, because it wouldn’t really fit. And then we thought it might be nice to just have an audiobook, because I wanted to write down the story from A to Z anyways, and this just seemed like a really fitting idea. I think that the people appreciate it for what it is…
David: In addition to the audiobook, you released animated videos for most of the songs on the album. You recently won the “Best Video of the Year” in the Progressive Music Awards. Can you tell us about that experience?
Anna: I think it was the most exciting day of the year, I’m still kind of recovering from it. I mean honestly, we couldn’t really believe that we won, considering people like Devin Townsend were nominated. It was so amazing, and it kind of proved what a supportive fanbase we have. And at the event itself, I was so nervous to go on a stage and have a speech on the same stage as people like John Petrucci or Nick Mason from Pink Floyd. I met the singer from Yes, and it was all so surreal. I still can’t really believe that we were there, and it was an amazing evening. But we drank too much, so I had a two-day hangover after it… (laughs)
David: In addition to creating the animated videos, Costin Chioreanu did the artwork for each of the album’s songs. How closely did you work with Costin for him to get the concept right?
Anna: That was actually a very interesting process, because what I didn’t want to do is to tell him what to do. Because I have no visual talents in that regard, you know. I take care of the music and the lyrics, and that’s already so much work, I wouldn’t really want to decide on anything else. Costin is such an amazing artist, and it would be really a pity to restrain him in any way. I just wanted him to have his vision and do what he feels is right. So, the only thing I actually provided him with was a basic outline of the story, the lyrics and the music. And he just went and did his own thing. Amazingly, it just fits perfectly to the vision that I had, so that was a really amazing collaboration.
David: Compared to your previous band, Cellar Darling showcases more progressive elements. Concept albums are usually linked to prog rock and metal. Do you have any favorite concept albums or prog heroes or something like that?
Anna: I think there’s a lot. I mean, the thing is we never categorized ourselves as progressive, it just somehow happened naturally. I think it’s so hard to pinpoint what is progressive because there’s so many different artists in that genre. I mean, in the end it just means that you don’t really restrain yourself to certain boundaries or keep yourself within the limits of conventional songwriting. And I’ve always really enjoyed that type of music, and I think there’s way too many artists that I could mention. But what I could maybe do is tell you about the first artist that I ever listened to that was a big prog hero, and that is Mike Oldfield. He released the song called “Tubular Bells”, and as a child I just listened to that on repeat, like the whole day. I think in total it lasts like twenty minutes or something, and that influenced me a great deal …
David: Continuing on that same path, you recorded a cover version of “The Prophet’s Song” by Queen. I think you did a great job, and I wanted to ask you about the decision to cover such a complex song that is also not so very well-known song to the casual listeners…
Anna: Actually Merlin, our drummer, he chose that song. We wanted to each pick a song and make a cover of it. Ivo chose “Mad World”, I chose a classical piece “The Cold Song” and Merlin chose “The Prophet’s Song”. We were listening to it and we thought “Wow, this is like the perfect song for us to cover”, because we just kind of see ourselves within that song. It’s very weird, but it also has these dramatic elements, and I think we have that in our music as well. We could just really imagine playing it ourselves, and we could hear how it would sound, and I think that’s the most important thing when making a cover. We also didn’t want to copy it in any way, we wanted to make it our own. And we realized it’s really brave to cover Queen, because you know it can go really wrong, and it’s such an amazing band. But I think so far people really enjoyed what we did.
David: Given the dark topics that “The Spell” deals with, it is quite a different album compared to “This is the Sound”, which had some brighter moments. Have you already discussed within the band what’s going be the next step in your career, what kind of direction you would like to take?
Anna: We haven’t really talked about it yet, because “The Spell” was a really long and very intense journey for us, and it took a lot of energy. I think it’s going to be hard for us to decide what we’re going to do next. Because, honestly, now that we’ve done a concept album, it’s really hard to imagine doing something that is not a concept album. Because it makes so much sense: every song is connected, it’s not just random eclectic songwriting like we did before. But what we might actually do is, because we had one song that didn’t make it on the album, just because it was too different and it didn’t … well it was in the realm of the story but kind of set loose from the others. So, we actually might release that one at some point next year.
David: Do you have any timeframe or any deal with the record company on when you have to put out a new record, or do you have freedom to work on that?
Anna: We’re actually really free with the timeframe. I mean, I don’t think that we can wait for like five years, and we also wouldn’t want to do that. But there’s no deadline or anything. We can just take our time and work on new music. And I think that’s also really important because music shouldn’t be like factory work, if you know what I mean …
David: Let’s talk about the current tour, which has included so far UK, Ireland, Central Europe, some European summer festivals and Latin America. What have been the highlights of the tour until now?
Anna: I think everything we did so far has been a small highlight in itself, and really positive ones too. We actually went to the UK first because we were received very well over there, and we didn’t really know about this until we went there with “This is the Sound”. We had such amazing crowds there, that we thought it would actually make sense to celebrate the album release there, as opposed to our home country, which is something pretty weird. The summer festivals were a huge surprise for me, personally, because I don’t really like festivals. I always feel kind of uncomfortable and I have a hard time connecting with the audience because it’s not intimate, you know. But the festivals that we did turned out to be really great, and we just did our own thing and it kind of worked. Latin America was just a huge trip, it was a real adventure. It went from pure chaos, like building our own backline out of chairs and suitcases, to not sleeping and having power outages. It was crazy but it was also really great, because we have a very supportive fanbase over there, and we got to see so many countries in such a short time, which was pretty surreal.
David: I noticed one of your posts in Facebook where you said that something went wrong in Peru, if I remember correctly. Everyone was wondering if you were safe, or if it was something very serious …
Anna: In Colombia we had a power outage, the power on the entire street went out for about an hour before our show, and they had to get a generator. But then we could play without a problem, and it actually turned out really great. In Peru the problem was that at the venue they had nothing, we didn’t have a keyboard stand, we didn’t have a drum stool, they didn’t have enough cables. So, our show got postponed for like four hours and we built a lot of the stuff ourselves, to manage to play some kind of show. So, it was very chaotic, but I also enjoy these kinds of shows because they just have something, some weird energy that I like.
David: Based on what you post on social media you seem to be a band that is very approachable to the fans. You have done theses meet and greets without charging money for it, unlike many other bands. What kind of things have you discovered from meeting your fans, any surprises, pleasant or unpleasant?
Anna: We tend to get a lot of presents, which is always very nice. You know, I’m actually not a very approachable person usually. I’m pretty shy, and if I go out in my hometown I don’t really like to party or meet tons of people. So, at first it was weird to present yourself in a different way and meet and hug all people. But in the end, I think it adds to our show, you know. And we would never charge for something like that, because I think it’s great that people go out and they pay for concert tickets. Especially nowadays, you really have to appreciate that as a musician and give an effort, that’s why we do it in the end.
David: Maybe on the same note, since you have probably talked with many of your fans during the tour. Do you think that most of Cellar Darling’s fanbase are people who used to follow you since your days in Eluveitie, or do you think that this new band appeals to a different group of listeners?
Anna: I think it’s both. I think we still have some fans that came with us from Eluveitie, I think there’s also a lot of people who just enjoy both bands, but we’re starting to slowly gather fans from a completely different scene. And me, personally, I’m always excited when I meet people who have never heard of us before, because that kind of proves that they just listened to our new music and they were a fan of that. But I think we still have to work hard on finding our fanbase, because I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know us but would probably enjoy our music. And that’s why what we need to do is just tour and tour …
David: Your first concert in Finland was at the John Smith Rock Festival last summer. How did you perceive the Finnish audience seeing Cellar Darling for the first time, maybe not knowing what they were about to see…?
Anna: I actually loved it there. I thought the festival itself was just amazing, the hospitality was incredible, we jumped in the lake after the show. The show itself I absolutely loved it, there were some fans that were singing along the lyrics which I thought was amazing, because I honestly didn’t know how many people would know us there. And I think for the time of the day there were quite a few people already, so it was absolutely a great journey.
David: What kind of surprises can we expect for the upcoming gigs in November both in Tampere and Helsinki?
Anna: It’s going to be quite a mixed show as far as feelings go, because we’re going to play probably an equal amount of songs from both our albums. There’s a lot of people who haven’t seen us yet, and I think it would be a shame to kind of ignore “This is the Sound”. Our show is going to be divided into two parts, one of them is going to be darker and the other one is going to be a bit lighter and more energetic. So, you can expect that. We’re actually rehearsing some new songs now, I’m not sure if we’ll actually play them, because that will be determined on whether they suck or not (laughs). I’m really looking forward to it, we’re definitely a band where you just have to listen and take it in, you know. We’re not a party band or anything like that, with us it’s all atmosphere …
David: To finish the interview, would you like to send a message to your Finnish fans, maybe invite them to listen to “The Spell” and come to your shows with Forever Still and Oceans?
Anna: Definitely. I absolutely can’t wait to play in Finland, I really love it there, it’s such a beautiful country. We actually know a lot of people from there, because we’ve toured with so many bands from Finland, and I love the humor and the people there. So, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing!
David: Thanks Anna, have a nice day!
Anna: Thank you for the interview, see you soon!