In mid 2016, just prior to their second Australian tour, Swiss folk/death metal band Eluveitie announced a major split. Three long time core members, Anna Murphy (hurdy gurdy and vocals), Ivo Henzi (guitars) and Merlin Sutter (drums) would be leaving after completing booked commitments. One door closes, another opens, and shortly afterwards Cellar Darling was born.
Murphy, speaking with a mild Irish lilt in the voice, recalls the beginnings. “We basically lost our jobs” she starts, “and now Merlin is living at the rehearsal room, and I’m also leaving my apartment – but I like that kind of rock and roll aspect of it all. It’s not easy, but I like it to sometimes not be that easy” she adds with a laugh. And she’s very much looking forward to the challenge, “It’s very exciting, that’s what I enjoy about life, the ups and downs, the chaos.” She declares.
For all three of them the decision to continue working together was an easy and obvious one. The first step then was to give the project a name. Murphy had released a solo album titled “Cellar Darling” back in 2013, and she wanted to add that into a long list of bands names they were considering. “ ‘Cellar Darling’ is what came to mind first for me and I’m always a fan of these kind of gut decisions, impulsive decisions, ‘cos for some reason that’s what the brain does and I always like to go with those first feelings”. The guys agreed that it worked, capturing the ideas and creativity they had found no time or place for in previous years. “It describes our music well, it’s a bit of an abstract name that combines darkness and light” says Murphy.
Almost immediately they set about writing, working on the songs that would eventually become the debut album “This is the Sound”. “Creatively I’ve never felt so satisfied and free,” says Murphy, the excitement in the voice is obvious. “Writing this album changed a lot for us. We felt we weren’t in a good place when the split with Eluveitie happened obviously and now the dark clouds have cleared thanks to the new music.” For Murphy, the writing process for the album was very natural, “these impulses just kind of come to me,” she offers. “I don’t sit down and say I’m going to write a song about this and it’s going to be in D major or whatever. The melodies and the words they just happen. It’s amazing, the mind it’s just such a powerful tool and it’s fascinating that you don’t know where this stuff comes from.” She also adds a note of caution about the process, laughter threating to break through as she speaks, “It’s a bit scary to work that way because you’re always scared about what’s going to happen if it just stops one day!”
Right from the beginning the three members have seen the band as an equal partnership, a symbiosis where each has skills that complement the others. Sutter, the drummer, plays a large role in structuring the band for example. “Merlin is kind of the driving force that makes stuff happen,” says Murphy. “Ivo and I are more kind of these scattered artists that have a lot of ideas and write music but as soon as it comes to actually organising things we’re not very talented.” This also reflects in the way they worked to write and arrange the songs on the album. Murphy offers an example of the collaboration in action when discussing the guitar solos that Henzi brought to the tracks. “Ivo always claims he isn’t a solo guitarist, he’s more just into making noise and rhythm,” she explains with a chuckle. “But he would play a solo here and there and we were really in awe of what he did. I love Ivo’s solos because they are basically just elaborate melodies. I think he’s starting to realise that it’s more fun than he expected.”
The first single from the album is the track ‘Black Moon’, and it has been released with the band’s first ever video. Murphy had a lot to do with the making of the video, although budget constraints hampered some of her ambitions. “I wrote an original script and concept for the video, but the end result is very different,” she admits. “We couldn’t realise it the way it was in my head because it would have been way too complex.” Instead the focus was put on preparing a collection of abstract images and characters (nun, businessman, etc) to convey the story but not give away the whole tale. Murphy explains her approach, “I don’t tell a story from A to Z, I just have pictures in my head and that’s what the lyrics talk about. Basically, it’s a collective fear of the black moon, which symbolises ‘the apocalypse’ – from many cultures, the Mayans, the Christian faith, people today in weird sects and cults, or even just conspiracy theorists. So just to sing and tell about these fears, yet in the end nothing happens! How many times has some psycho told us the world is going to end and then nothing happens!”
“This is the Sound” covers a lot of ground, it’s a brooding and haunting mix of rock and touches of metal infused with a sense of melody that recalls moments of their Eluveitie past, yet is very different and distinct. For Murphy, she traces this style back to her teen years. “When I was 16 or 17 it was my big black metal phase, there’s no music that I listened to more intensely for many years,” she explains. “I still love black metal but I don’t listen to it as much as I used to. And the music that I write is very different to the music that I listen to, but I don’t want to do anything that is forced. I think black metal has influenced me more in my personality, I write in a more dark style even if it might be in a more ‘pop’ surrounding.” The contrast of a black metal past and her Cellar Darling present is captured perfectly in her favourite song from the album, ‘Six Days’. “I wrote the whole song in just one evening. The impulse was there and then the song just kind of happened. It’s a special song for me, it has a lot of classical elements in it and I’d started playing the flute again. And I like the story as well, the last man left on Earth but the planets and gods and the devil and whoever just want him to leave because they can’t understand why he’s still holding on after the universe has swallowed everything else!”
With writing and playing music being her career and her passion, there’s not a lot of time for much else. But surely there’s something she does to clear the mind? “I’m also a sound engineer at a studio – which is music too, so it probably doesn’t count!” she laughs yet again. “I really love hiking in the mountains. Just this weekend I was mixing at the studio, and my friends kind of came and kidnapped me into the mountains, so that was really nice. It’s one of the best reasons to live in this country, we are so lucky to have this landscape. Oh … and I also enjoy the occasional going to bars and getting shit-faced!”
With the album now ready for release, it’s time to put aside the writing and get back to live work for the band. “We have a few gigs coming up, and more will come once the album is released,” she says, although she admits that she needs to get into the right mindset to tackle the touring life. “I’m a very unstable personality” she begins with more laughter, “sometimes I would just like to be locked in my own world for a few weeks and just do my thing. If I’m in that state of mind I really have to work hard to be in front of a crowd. But when I’m manic and all over the place then travelling and being on the stage is just the best thing.” Anyone who caught her solo club performances in Australia last August can attest to how good it is when she’s in that zone. Hopefully the band will be returning to Australia soon? “Merlin’s talking to all the promoters that he has met along the way, so I think there’s a good chance we will be back in Australia with the album,” offers Murphy. Let’s hope Merlin gets the job done!