After leaving Switzerland’s famous Folk Death Metal band Eluveitie in 2016, the decision to keep creating music together was an easy one for the three musicians Anna Murphy (hurdy gurdy, vocals, flute and synths), Merlin Sutter (drums) and Ivo Henzi (guitars, bass). After a year of working together intensively, Cellar Darling released their first album ‘This is the Sound’. And very soon it is time for the Progressive Heavy Rock trio to put out their sophomore record ‘The Spell’, released through Nuclear Blast Records. I sat down for an in-depth chat about composition, musicianship and lyrical inspiration of the concept album with front woman Anna Murphy.
‘This is the Sound’ has always been described as being the product of a very organic composition process including lots of beer in the rehearsal space – I ask Anna whether Cellar Darling has adopted a different song-writing approach this time around. “It was also pretty organic and also included a lot of beer but, you know, it being a concept album alone made the approach and the process very different,” she explains. “This time, we wrote the music according to a lyrical guideline. And the track list, for instance, was already there before we actually wrote the music. It was a really really creative and rewarding process and highly collaborative as well.” The collaboration regarding song writing also included their producer Tommy Vetterli as well as pianist and hammond player Fredy Schnyder. Anna recalls: “Some songs we would only take into the studio as sketches and then work on them there. It turned out to be a very special album.”
Speaking of artistic collaboration, I ask Anna about the stunning cover artwork and the collaged-like and dreamily mesmerising music videos that, this time around, rely fully on illustration and animation rather than featuring the band, as was the case with the music videos for the debut record. Anna speaks highly of the Romanian designer Costin Chioreanu: “He is an amazing artist, I’ve known him for a couple of years now. We’ve worked with him before and he was just the man for the job. We knew that from the beginning because you can just give him the lyrics and the songs and that’s it! He’s going to create something perfect for it. He doesn’t really need a lot of guidelines. I think that is how artists should work together – and that’s why I love working with him.” In order to do the concept of the album justice, Cellar Darling deliberately didn’t want to appear in the artwork or in the videos – “because it would really contradict what we are trying to achieve,” Anna clarifies. “We want the listener to be catapulted into a different universe, into a different fictional world when listening to the music. Having us in it would just destroy the vibe. It would bring you back into this world which we don’t wanna be in.”
I ask Anna how the three singles Insomnia, The Spell and Death have been received by Cellar Darling fans so far? Anna humbly attests: “I would say pretty well! I’m always surprised you know – I love reading reactions of people that just really understand the music that we’re creating. That’s biggest compliment you can get as an artist: When your art is not only appreciated but understood and interpreted. That already makes me happy! I’m not somebody who has a lot of expectations because you cannot influence the future or people in any way so I never really expect anything. I have the need to create, I put it out there and then I see what happens.”
Anna also recalls that the idea for the concept album just “surfaced”, without consciously working on finding a concept. So what is ‘The Spell’ about? Anna gives me a comprehensive introduction to the German motif ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’: “The motive upon which the album is based is called ‘Death and the Maiden’ in English. It is actually a really old motif, so it’s by no means something I’ve invented. It has been used in classical music, in poetry and art, especially Renaissance art. I wanted to take this motive and create my own story with it: The personification of Death and a girl that falls in love with him; so we follow her as she tries to reconcile her love in the netherworld. But she fails with every attempt because Death cast a spell of eternal life on her. That is the main outline of the story.”
However, there is a more intricate structure to the record, which Anna goes on to outline for me as I ask her about the mysterious sequels to the tracks Death and Love: “Love pt. II and Death pt. II make up the end of the story. I see the album as divided into three parts: Everything up until Burn is the introduction to the story and to our protagonists. Then from Burn onwards until Drown it’s the journey of the girl trying to reconcile with death, failing at every attempt. Love pt. II kicks of a new-found love and a new-found hope because this girl has seen the highest mountain peak and the deepest part of the ocean; she has learnt to fall in love anew with the world, so a new hope is found. And regarding Death pt. II, you can probably imagine what happens there. I tried to make an ambiguous ending, for the listener to decide why death takes her in the end. Is it love? Is it out of spite? We don’t really know.” While keeping the listener engaged, Anna nevertheless decided to keep the lyrics in one language this time around. Remembering that the first Cellar Darling album also featured lyrics in Swiss German, I am wondering what prompted the decision of the band not to use any German for the lyrics on their upcoming album? Anna says: “It actually wasn’t a conscious decision to incorporate Swiss German on the other album. It just happened, it was really weird! It’s not that I’m never going do it again but it just didn’t really fit on this album. It would be weird to tell a story from beginning to end and then change languages. I mean, of course there are no rules, there are no dos and donts when writing a story. But it just wouldn’t have felt round.”
When being asked if she has a personal favourite song on the soon-to-be-released record, Anna ponders a little and then reveals: “It’s always difficult to choose a favourite but I think a very special song for me is Drown, which is actually going to be our fourth single that the fans chose according to the track list. It’s the last song you would release as a single, which makes it all the more special. The song has a very special place in my heart because it was impossible to write it!” As I’m wondering what was so impossible about this track, Anna even sheds some light on the composition details: “I actually made about five different versions the band worked on about seven different versions, we included other songwriters as well – it was impossible! We just couldn’t get the song to work.” Anna happily recalls: “The band wanted to drop it and I fought for it for my life – and said I’m not releasing this album without Drown! And then it just magically fell into place: We went back to my old version and then we worked with an external song writer, Dennis Ross, for the first time. He’s a good friend of Tommy Vetterli. We just had this one magical night where we spent ten hours working on the song. He kind of added the missing parts. I think it was just necessary to have someone with neutral ears listen to it – and yea the song made it! I’m so happy that it did. So I would have to pick that one as my favourite.”
At last, I am curious to know more about Anna’s new position as the lead vocalist for Cellar Darling. “I basically just do my own thing,” she says. “I’ve never been trained, I don’t take lessons and the way I do it has good things and bad things to it, I would say. The good thing being that I’m a very authentic singer – I don’t want a technique or anything. I want to convey emotions. But the negative thing is that I progress very slowly because my technique develops by writing songs and playing with the band; it doesn’t develop by taking coaching or lessons. But I think it’s okay. I don’t really need this fast you-have-to-be-able-to-do-this-now approach.” Anna is, however, conscious of her impressive musical progression – and is all the more ambitious: “But yes, my voice has changed a lot in the past years and I love experimenting with different styles. I love reaching my limits and playing with that its kind of risk. What I often do is that I really reach my limit and go even further, thinking ‘okay this is really highest note I could possibly sing’ and I kind of do it anyways. This then comes and stabs me in the back live. But I think its cool. Not being in your comfort zone adds a lot to the emotions in a song.”
Cellar Darling are starting off their touring in honour of their fresh record in March, first heading to the UK and Europe. “What’s really exciting is that we’re joining Katatonia for a tour of six dates in May,” Anna says. “We’re currently working on everything else. Everything is kind of a work in progress.” In the meantime, we can all look forward to the release of ‘The Spell’ – and be enchanted by Anna’s genuine gratitude to Cellar Darling’s fanbase – and her down-to-earth humility: “I just want to thank for the support and for the interest. Come and see us live – that’s going to be great, I hope.”
Download ‘The Spell’ HERE!