Having released their sophomore album a couple of months ago, CELLAR DARLING are now embarking on a European headlining tour, with a stop in Helsinki on 2 November 2011. We had the opportunity to talk with Anna Murphy about the upcoming tour, playing live, and the challenges of playing the hurdy gurdy on the road! Read more to discover why you shouldn’t miss this tour!
Hi Anna! First of all, thanks for the interview. The summer festival season has ended recently. How has your summer been?
Anna: It’s been nice. I was rotating between different things – some shows, some work at the studio, rehearsing… And luckily I had some time to go swimming and hiking too. The end of summer was spent touring in South America, that was great.
You released “The Spell” about half a year ago. How has everything been with Cellar Darling since then?
Anna: Pretty busy! Time has passed so quickly, I don’t really know where to start. The album was received well, I loved reading and hearing the reactions to it. I’m “done” with my work fairly quickly, even before it’s released. What I mean by that is that I put it behind me and move on to something else. Writing an album and the recording and mixing process is always so intense, I’m just relieved when it’s over and I can rearrange my focus. So a lot of energy was put into rehearsing – it was challenging to transform “The Spell” into a live setting. I learned how to play the keyboard and Ivo started singing for it. It’s been quite a journey… right now we’re preparing for the European Tour where we want to add some new songs.
Since we are here to talk a little bit more about the upcoming tour, and you already did lots of interviews about the album, let’s talk a little bit more about some other aspects of “The Spell”. The songs from “The Spell” are very different from the ones on your debut album “This Is The Sound”. How have they been working in a live setting, and how have the fans reacted to the new material?
Anna: There has been quite a development in our live shows during the past couple of months. As I mentioned before I started playing the keyboard and Ivo started singing in order to do backing vocals (which are pretty distinct on “The Spell”). Before we were ready to do this ourselves we had session musicians in our line-up for the UK tour, release shows, festivals & the recent tour with KATATONIA – taking care of keys and backing vocals. We’re not huge fans of backing tracks, we want to do as much as is possible live. Even though we’re still nervous, it’s great to challenge yourself and it feels great adding a new instrument or skill to the show 🙂 The fans reactions has been very good so far – especially on our own tours. Whenever we’re supporting it is, naturally, more of a challenge. The new material isn’t exactly accessible and definitely not “mosh” or party music. In the beginning we had to get used to not having an overly crazy audience (like we would have in our previous band), but that lies in the nature of the music. People just stand and listen, there isn’t really much room for more – and honestly that’s what I do when I go to a show 🙂 And it’s nice, because I get the feeling that our fans really understand our music.
During shows you also get to kind of in a way experiment with the new tracks. What have been your favorites to play on stage? Have there been any songs that didn’t work out the way you wanted to?
Anna: I love “Insomnia” and “Death”. I can really immerse myself in the lyrics and the story – there is a special energy on stage during those songs. What hasn’t really worked so far is “Love PT. II” which is a shame because I love it on the album. I honestly don’t know why, but live it just lacks the energy that it needs… but we’re going to give it another chance in the next couple rehearsals and see if we can maybe rearrange it somehow.
I attended part of your show at Graspop in Belgium (the schedule always overlaps, so couldn’t watch the whole show), but I was happy to catch at least part of it. You were playing in one of the tent stages, I felt that the atmosphere fitted very well with Cellar Darling, do you feel that an atmosphere like that is an important part of playing at festivals?
Anna: I agree, it fit our show much better than the outside (with the sun and everything ;)) would have. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of festivals… I never feel comfortable on stage and I feel that I can’t connect with the audience because there is no intimacy. But we’ve played a few shows so far where this hasn’t been the case at all and Graspop was one of them – the problem seems to be me and what I’m portraying it as in my head rather than the festival itself.
I also noticed that your setlist at the moment has a good mix of songs from “The Spell” and songs from “This Is The Sound’. How did you decide on the songs you’d play live? And what makes those songs a great fit for your live shows?
Anna: Yeah, I think it’s important not to ignore “This Is The Sound” – we haven’t toured that much and I think the people who already know us want to hear the “old” songs too. There are certain songs of which we know from the beginning that they’re not ideal to play live. So we only really unpack those if we’re bored, in need of a challenge or we notice that they get requested a lot. The more songs you have, the more you can create a “best of” out of those that work best. The problem we had during the touring cycle of our debut album was that we basically had to play all of them, whether they sounded great or less great live.
“The Spell” from a to z is basically a story, have you ever thought about bringing that story live on stage with a dedicated set of just the album?
Anna: We have thought about it. We might do that someday, but then add more features to the show like actors or dancers… you know, bring the story to life. I can imagine doing that someday.
Cellar Darling’s music is something else, it’s very unique. Very often people label you as a progressive metal band, but are fans of progressive metal your main audience as well?
Anna: Thanks! I’m not really sure to be honest, I think progressive metal goes a bit too far. I would rather say progressive rock because that enfolds a lot of different sub genres in itself. And don’t forget about the folk aspect we have – progressive folk rock would be the most fitting term. But I’m no fan of genres, the press and fans create the terms and I’m completely fine with that as long as it, more or less, fits. We’re still searching for our audience – we already have quite a following, and a very dedicated one too. But there’s lots of people who don’t know about us yet.
You’ve already toured already quite a bit, but you will soon embark on the second leg of the European tour. What are your expectations for this tour?
Anna: I never have expectations! I just go with it and see what happens. I’m really looking forward to visit places we have never been before. And of course to presenting “The Spell” to them.
You’ve performed a lot at festivals during the summer, and recently did a tour in South America. What have been your best memories from the summer? Have you had any crazy experiences?
Anna: In South America we only had crazy experiences… from power outages before our show to having to build our own backline out of chairs and suitcases. It was quite the experience, but an amazing one!
You play the hurdy gurdy, one thing I have always been wondering about is how difficult it is for sound engineers to make sure that during a live show your instrument shines through enough. It has so many different sounds, have there ever been any problems due to playing such a unique instrument?
Anna: You generally always have problems with the hurdy-gurdy, it comes with the nature of the instrument, haha. But that’s mostly regarding the tuning and other stuff that can easily break. The problem is that they’re usually not easy fixes, especially if you’re not equipped with the gift of handcraft (which I am not). But live it’s been really easy since I have an electric hurdy-gurdy. It’s basically like an electric violin, it lacks the “corpus” and is really quiet acoustically. We had huge problems when I still played with a regular acoustic one, so I just had to get one like this for live purposes. Since then it’s really easy to get it through in the mix.
I can also imagine that playing the hurdy gurdy also means that if something goes wrong with your instrument, it’s a lot more difficult to find a replacement, or extra strings, or someone who is able to repair your instrument. How do you prepare yourself for this? Do you have a back up instrument you take on tour with you?
Anna: Yes, exactly. Luckily not a lot has happened on tour, but back when I played with ELUVEITIE I managed to drop the instrument – that was quite the catastrophe. We were touring the US and in the end a couple from Chicago who build hurdy-gurdies came all the way to where the next gig took place and fixed the hurdy-gurdy in a hotel room! I was so lucky there. I usually bring a back-up with me (the acoustic instrument that I use for studio recordings), but this is impossible when we have flight shows because they have to go as hand luggage. It’s always a risk as you can imagine.
What I didn’t really know before I saw you guys play live, is that you also play the flute. Are there any other instruments that you play, and is there something that you’d still like to learn?
Anna: I started playing the keyboard now, that is still very new for me. So far I’ve only played monophonic instruments, I’m glad to finally “upgrade” from that and do new things. Honestly, I’d love to learn everything! My partner gave me a theremin for my birthday, but it’s so incredibly difficult – I’m nowhere near getting a good sound out of it. I’d also love to learn the Nyckelharpa.
What can we expect in Finland regarding your headlining show?
Anna: Our shows are very intimate. They’re divided into two parts – a rather dark set and a lighter one, a kind of “release”. We don’t have much fancy stuff going on, no huge light show with fireworks, animations or even stage props. We have a backdrop and focus on the music – telling our stories. We put an incredible amount of energy into that, and so far I think it’s been a good experience for our fans. I can imagine that it’s hard if you don’t know the songs, as they’re not easy accessible.
Finland will be amongst the first audiences to experience the “new” Cellar Darling where we have more instruments on stage and push ourselves a bit more. We’re still nervous and challenged, but in a good way!
Any last thoughts you would want to share with our readers/your fans?
Anna: We love Finland – it’s incredibly beautiful, the nature as well as the culture – the nature of the people. We know a lot of people from there and it makes me happy to finally play a headlining show. It’s one of the places I’m looking forward to most! That and SALMIAKKI. Best thing ever!! 🙂 Thank you for the interview!