Cellar Darling is a band hailing from Switzerland that formed in 2016 after three members parted ways with their previous band Eluveitie and set out on their own musical venture. Since then, they released their debut album, This Is The Sound, in 2017 and have been taking on a fresh approach to heavy progressive rock and metal music with unique instrumentation and style by fusing classical and traditional folk elements, including incorporating a hurdy-gurdy in their instrumentation.
Before Cellar Darling’s anticipated release of their second album, The Spell, and a tour in Europe in support of it with Katatonia, Andy from Radio 13 had a chat with Anna Murphy, the front-figure of the band, about the Swiss music scene, the old and new ways of the music industry in regards to how listeners would engage with artists and their music, as well as various circumstances surrounding the conception of their upcoming album including how some wild animals got involved in the process while the band were in the studio, and how the band has evolved after taking on the hefty task of completing a concept album.
AK: Seeing as you’re from Switzerland, I thought I’d ask you something about the Swiss music scene that I stumbled upon. I came across a really intriguing interview with a Swiss musician based in Bern named Reverend Beat-Man, not sure if you’ve heard of him?
AM: No, I’m not familiar with that artist.
AK: Okay. So he owns a record label called Voodoo Rhythm Records that he’s been running since 1992, which mainly focuses on bizarre and weird rock and roll type of music. He said until about 150 years ago, music recording or making music was illegal outside of the church and religious purposes, though I haven’t been able to confirm this myself. Do you know if this is true?
AM: In Switzerland? Hmm, no I don’t believe so, but I’m not good at calculating, so what, 150 years ago, that was when…
AK: I guess around the mid-1800’s.
AM: I mean honestly I don’t know but I don’t think so. It’s a pretty long time ago.
AK: Yeah. But he claims that because of this, Switzerland doesn’t have much of a very established music culture, so he and his musician friends strive to establish it themselves. Do you at least feel similar in your creative efforts?
AM: I mean, not really. We’re a band, even though we’re very young, we have listeners worldwide. What you have to take into consideration is that Switzerland is a very small country. But a lot of very renowned artists are from Switzerland that has had worldwide success, especially in the metal scene. Look at bands like Coroner, Celtic Frost... of course now I can’t think of anything else, The Young Gods, Yellow, what else is there? There’s a lot of bands from Switzerland that have had worldwide success. I mean look at Eluveitie, my ex-band. They’re incredibly successful and touring the whole world. So I can’t agree with that 100%. But as far as our mainstream music goes, that is indeed very... it is only known within Switzerland. So I can agree on that front.
AK: Yeah, I think he was referring to the mainstream perspective as well, and the metal music scene definitely is a separate beast on its own, so that seems to make sense. In the current state of the music industry, other elements besides the actual music are just as, if not more, important than the music itself. It’s clear that you and the band really enjoy putting a lot of effort into the other complementary aspects that surround the music such as the visuals with the videos, the artwork and even an accompanying audiobook this time to go along with your music.
But it seems you are also a fan of the traditional way of consuming music through vinyl for example, wherein the past listeners only had the music and the artwork, and they were left to interpret the art by themselves, like creating a music video by themselves inside their own head, instead of the artist already providing it for them like most do today.
Do you sometimes find it difficult to maintain a balance between being an artist in the current era of the digital age while also being a fan of the old-school way of consuming music? And if so, how do you negotiate those aspects within your band?
AM: Absolutely, I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I think we’re kind of caught in between. We’re from a generation that absolutely understands what is happening, and things are developing so fast. So we’re the generation that understands and appreciates the digitalisation of everything but we’re also sort of clinging on to the old ways and the ways we consumed music when we were teenagers and children, which was completely different as you say. When I would go into a record store and buy a record, sometimes based only on the cover, not even knowing the band. There's this magic and a kind of mysteriousness about it. I wouldn’t even worry too much about the people behind the music because I would just live in my own little fantasy world while listening. And now things have changed massively. Social media, and all of these things. I think what we’re doing is we’re providing people with a lot of things, with videos, information, insight into the band and into the people, but I also believe that the listener can make their own choice. If you want to listen to our albums and have your own visions and interpretations, you can do that. I really welcome that a lot but you can also do the opposite if you want to.
AK: I supposed it’s just providing as many ways that the bands can interact with their artwork.
AK: Speaking of the artwork then, when you worked with Costin Chioreanu on the artwork for this album, did you have a specific process on how you guys worked together, or did you present the music and give a general idea of what you were thinking and does he interpret them in his own way, which would sort of be the typical way of doing things?
AM: Yes exactly. He basically interpreted it in his own way which I think is brilliant because I think that’s how artists should work together. The music is our part, and that’s what we do well. But as far as artwork goes, I think it would be a pity to want to have that in your control as well, especially if you’re working with an artist who’s as amazing as Costin is. So what I did was I just sent him the lyrics and the songs and he did his own thing. Its as if he was in my head while creating the artwork, it’s really crazy how there was this connection.
AK: Right, the artwork is very distinctive, and so is the actual music on this album so I suppose there was just a magical connection there.
For Cellar Darling, how does the sound and the overall vibe of the band change or evolve between the studio and live environments? I imagine with the additional live musicians other than the three core members, Ivo, Merlin and yourself, the chemistry and dynamic would be quite different, especially when you’re incorporating unique instruments like the hurdy-gurdy and flutes in a metal style soundscape.
AM: For us, being a trio and writing music between the three of us actually works really well. That is why we haven’t expanded the core of the band. But as far as live sessions go, I always love the rehearsal sessions the most when we are a complete band with a bass and keyboard player because it just feels the best to be able to play everything that is in the songs. So that’s really how we’re going to have to work from this point on. I’m working on playing more instruments so that I can perhaps take over playing the keyboard someday but that’s a lot of work and a lot of getting used to, so that’s going to take a while.
AK: Now, the band started when the three of you separated from your previous band Eluveitie, and you said Cellar Darling is about being free and open to anything and everything you guys want to express musically. How do you think you three have grown as musicians since you made the first album after departing from your previous band, and now from the first album to this one, The Spell? Do you feel you’ve established a more consistent sound or expanded your musical boundaries?
AM: I think what we did now is mature our sound. And what happened with This Is The Sound, our debut album, was already a big step for us that we managed to find a sound. That is why the album carries such a confident title. Because we set out to do something, but we didn’t know what. We knew that we wanted to create music organically and not with a set plan. We didn’t plan on sounding different to Eluveitie, we just kind of did. It developed very authentically. I think This Is The Sound is still a very eclectic album, we’re still searching a bit, and we’re telling a lot of different stories on that album. On The Spell, I think we really managed to mature our sound which was also greatly helped by the concept that was guiding us while writing.
AK: Right, on this album it feels more spacious and other times more aggressive than on your first album. And on tracks like Hang and Sleep, it feels like you’re pulling also back on the more powerful side of your sound. When I’m listening to the album, I’m noticing both a lot of variation between tracks and even within a single song, but there’s consistency that holds everything together.
AM: Yeah, I’m glad you hear it like that.
AK: You’ve said that you were struggling with your mental health while in the process of making this upcoming album, The Spell, but that focusing on the creative side of the music helped you get through it which is very inspiring. Now looking back on the journey you’ve undergone completing this album, were there any particularly memorable moments during either the writing or the recording process that stood out to you and the band that you’d like to share if you don’t mind?
AM: For me, it’s always really difficult because now it seems like just a blur. Because it was such an emotional and creative time that it all just kind of happened that it's hard to pinpoint the different moments. But what was really cool was when we wrote Insomnia which was at the studio actually. That was a song that kind of fell into place. I was playing and recording it but there was a bat in the studio and we didn’t know what to do because at some point it was just facing us and we got scared, then we just left the windows open. And then in the second studio, the New Sound Studio where we worked with our producer Tommy Vetterli, we were working on a lighter song, Love Pt. II, and there a squirrel that came into the studio so it was nice to have the animal on board with the song and it was really coherent with the mood of the song. That was pretty cool.
AK: Quite a bit of animal assistance on this album! And lastly, do you have any particular tracks that you’d like to pick out and comment or elaborate on? Perhaps because like you say with ‘Imsomnia’ it either just fell into place easily or maybe a particular song was a bit difficult to put together?
AM: Oh yeah, there’s a track called Drown which is actually going to be our fourth single, it’s a fan chosen single so that’s very special because the song itself is probably the last song you would choose as a single if you would decide with a record label, and this song was by far the most difficult to write and record. Because we worked on it for about a year, we had around 20 different versions, and it was just a song that really meant a lot to me and I was just fighting for the song. At some point, the band didn’t want to put it on the album because they couldn’t figure out a way to arrange it and I just fought for it and I said, ‘this album is not being released without ‘Drown’ and it actually went so far that we asked external songwriters to help us out. His name is Dennis Russ and he’s a good friend of Tommy’s and so we spent a whole night, about 10 hours adding in elements to the songs and it just fell into place and we finally managed to record it. It’s one of my favourite songs, it’s one of my favourite mixes on the album and I’m so happy that it worked out in the end.
AK: Right, I’m glad you stuck to your guns and the song worked out for you. Awesome! That’s all the questions I had for you today. I see you’ve got some shows with Katatonia booked throughout Europe, so I wish you the best with those shows and the album release.
AM: Thank you so much.
AK: And I hope to see Cellar Darling gracing New Zealand’s shores soon as well!
AM: That would be absolutely amazing, we would love that.
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Released: 22 Mar 2019