It was a surprise conversation with Anathema bassist Jamie Cavanagh when his brother, frontman Vince Cavanagh, was unable to make the interview at the last minute. Cavanagh, who himself had “a bit of a cough after two months on the road in the Winter,” took the change of plans in his stride, fielding questions as the band settled into the venue for that night’s performance in Cologne, Germany.

“We’re just about to load into the Cologne Live Music Hall,” Cavanagh mentions with enthusiasm. “We’ve got a show here tonight and it’s sold out. It’s big! It’s going to be great.”

Anathema are touring their latest album, The Optimist, which follows on from the band’s 2001 album, A Fine Day to Exit. On picking up that thread after all this time, Cavanagh explains, “The previous record, and the one before that, have had quite a fair amount of direction, lyrically; and so this one was still open to interpretation. You know, what’s this record going to be about? Well, why don’t we look into that guy from A Fine Day to Exit? Why don’t we go and see what he was about? So, that’s what’s happened. So they mostly had that concept, and they tried to fit some of the lyrics into a narrative. I mean, it’s not really exactly based around one person. It’s only based around one person’s feelings if you look into it that way. You can draw similarities to anything if you want to.”

A lot has changed within the members of Anathema in the 15 years since the release of A Fine Day to Exit. “We’re very, very different people to what we were 15 years ago,” Cavanagh reflects. “Certainly an awful lot more focused, and an awful lot more conscious of how to put a record together. The difference between us on A Fine Day to Exit and us now is huge. But you can hear a certain sonic thing that was there back then. It came out in parts with some of the songs that have come into the live set now, some songs that we’ve never done live before, and some songs that we’ve completely re-approached that we haven’t played for years. There’s a song called ‘Breaking Down the Barriers’ which is in the new set, and it totally stands up to the new material. And we’ve also re-worked ‘Looking Outside Inside’ from that record and put it into the new set, so at the moment in the new set there’s some Fine Day to Exit stuff and some of the Optimist stuff which is going back-to-back, and it works really, really well together,” he observes proudly. “So I guess as people you change, but that initial change in song writing which happened then, after the Judgement period, when originally a lot of people hated that album, they didn’t like it at all; they thought it was weird, it was a big jump from the rock / Metal that it was previously. It was a big jump from that, a big jump sonically and a big jump ideas-wise and everything. That was actually the reason I wanted to join back as a bass player when I heard that record, because they’d taken that direction away from Metal, at least. I wasn’t interested in doing anything like Judgement or Alternative 4 or anything like that, I was interested in exploring new boundaries, and that’s exactly what they did. So that was when I became interested in wanting to play again with the guys. And that’s what we did. So there’s been good similarities between then and now, and also good things to look back on and figure out how things have changed.”

Cavanagh is fittingly optimistic about the reception the new material will receive at the Australian shows. “I’m hoping that the audience will connect in the same way as they do with all the other songs, and I think they will. Because if it’s anything like what’s happening over in Europe, and in the States as well, the people really love the new songs. When you write an album, you do the very, very best you can. You make it as good as you can, and then it comes out, and then you try and beat it live. That’s the thing, you don’t try and re-create it live, you try and beat it.” Cavanagh speaks with intensity and conviction. “You try and make it better. You make it as good as you can while you’re in the studio, and then things naturally evolve as you get on the road. Just small little pieces that nobody will ever pick up on. Let’s just change that bit to there, and then that’s going to be better. And also visually as well, we’re going to get some video production, and we’re going to work on the lights, make it look great. That’s something that I’m personally involved in, I do all of that live stuff. It’s going to be an atmospheric, great-looking live show, but also together of course with the interactions between the band and the audience, which are first and foremost.”

Cavanagh reveals that audiences have a lot to look forward to on Anathema’s Australian tour, but he has a lot to look forward to as well. “I’m looking forward to just being there,” he says wistfully. “I love Australia, I always have. I’ve been there a few times now. I’m actually going to go a few days early personally, and just hang out, go to the beach. Do a bit of surfing maybe, a bit of diving maybe, we’ll see. Just chill for a few days basically, and acclimatise to the lovely, lovely warm weather, which I have no problem with whatsoever. I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve always loved Australia. The shows are great, the people are great, I love the cities. I really want to travel in Australia at one point. I would love to go and see more of the countryside, and more of the Outback, things like that. It would just be an awesome experience. At the moment all we can do is hang around cities, because that’s where we’re scheduled, but I’ll go back on a large holiday and explore that place a little. Very much looking forward to being there.”

Anathema are a unique band, led by three brothers, and Cavanagh reflects that it’s impacted their personal connections, “In more ways than is actually physically possible to mention. Our lives are interlinked in a way that’s indescribable. They always have been, we’ve been doing this since we were 15. It’s basically our lives, it’s what we do. Some people say, ‘How do you manage to hold it together? If I were working with my brother for such an amount of time, I’d want to kill him by now.’ Well, yeah,” he shrugs. “As with any relationship, you have good moments and bad moments. But because we do know each other so well, we are able to predict certain feelings, and understand and actually have things sorted out fairly quickly. If there are ever any discussions and things like that, disagreements or whatever, we can actually sort them out rather quickly because we know each other so well. Whereas if you have normal five musicians’ perspective who didn’t know each other before they formed the band, everything has to be sort of democratic in a five-way musicians’ perspective. We’re all trying to work together here, but this is basically our family. The band’s based around two families, so it’s a totally different dynamic, one which is based more around understanding each other’s needs, rather than what’s the best professional outcome.”

Coming back to the touring cycle, things continue to look busy for Anathema. “There’s going to be a lot of new shows,” Cavanagh reveals. “Another US tour, another European tour. And also writing, most of the writing is done off the road. So there’ll be writing periods and there’ll be touring periods, the usual thing really. Maybe some exciting ideas, some more video ideas, things like that. I’m sure we’ll find out.”

Before signing off, Cavanagh sends out a greeting. “Hello to everybody reading OVERDRIVE. See you at the show next month! We’re very much looking forward to coming back. See you soon!”