When Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy-gurdy), Merlin Sutter (drums) and Ivo Henzi (guitars, bass) left Swiss folk metal band Eluveitie last year, no one knew what the future held.
It’s been a tough road, and as Anna related to me, “The past year hasn’t been easy for us. We basically lost our main job and focus in life”. Fast forward and she’s found herself in a three-piece bound by passion, an immersion in the wilderness and above all, the will to not hold each other back.
Last week the trio released debut album This Is The Sound (our review here), and I caught up with Anna to talk about storytelling, playing flute and painting as a child, and being able to spread her wings in Cellar Darling.
On the album, what’s the song that brings the most intense feeling lyrically?
“It’s hard to choose [laughs]. I think the song that I like the most is ‘Six Days’, but the most intense song was ‘Redemption’, the last track. ‘Six Days’ happened in a very special way. I was already going to bed – it was very late – and then the idea just came to me all at once. I had the melodies and lyrics all ready, and I just had to get right back up and write that song in the middle of the night. I almost finished the entire thing, and it just flowed and flowed. I got this image of the last man left on earth who’s just holding on, and all these entities surrounding him – the sun, moon, the devil and the gods – all don’t understand why, because there’s nothing left except some stones. Everything he loved has been swallowed by the universe.”
“‘Redemption’ is a very personal song where I went through a lot of feelings of regret. I wrote that song about someone, but I didn’t want to write it like I do with my solo projects. I have these really personal lyrics in the style of the singer-songwriter, and I don’t want to do that with Cellar Darling. They’re allowed to be personal feelings of course, but I want to pack them into a story where the listener can imagine pictures rather than having me tell them what I’m feeling. So I made that story into a magical moor that takes you in and can give birth to you again, so that you can forget everything you want to, but you also won’t remember who you were before. You have to go to a phase of pain and suffering before you can become a new person again.”
What I really love is your ‘Black Moon’ video with all the sweeping landscape. But what did you really gain from working with Fabienne Fellmann and all the talented actors on set?
“I made a script or concept for the video, and the original one I wrote consisted of more things happening, because it was very unrealistic and as a new band we don’t have the budget for a Hollywood production [chuckles]. So I was getting ahead of myself with those ideas, and we decided to keep it simple and focus on the abstract imagery. The reason I want Fabienne to be in every video is to have this recurring element, and I actually got that idea from Sia – she always has the same girl in her videos, and I think it really glues together the visual concept.”
Now I saw that you’ve got a new hurdy-gurdy. Tell me about that.
“The reason I had to get that one was because I had been using an electric hurdy-gurdy in Eluveitie as well, but the band actually bought that instrument and so I couldn’t keep it. I missed it a lot because as nice as the purely acoustic instrument is, it’s just really hard to use in a rock band setting. It picks up a lot of stage noise. So I had to get another one made anyway, I had to save up [laughs].”
In terms of your transition with Cellar Darling, ‘Challenge’ represents you figuring things out, and with ‘Black Moon’ you really found your sound. How would you reflect on that?
“Yeah it was an incredibly natural process. If the titles were chronological, I think you would see that we were really shy in the beginning and writing songs in the way that we were used to from Eluveitie. The structures are kind of the same. At one point we felt so free and inspired to experiment more, and that’s when we really found our sound. That’s also why we decided to call the album that, which doesn’t make ‘Challenge’ any less of a song that represents us. As you said, that was the beginning of the band.”
Who else across your career, apart from Nuclear Blast, has really given you that strong support?
“Mainly our families and friends. I mean, the past year hasn’t been easy for us. We basically lost our main job and focus in life. It’s also been hard for us financially. Merlin’s living in the rehearsal room. I also have to leave my lovely apartment, unfortunately. So the most important thing at that point in your life is your friends and family, that are there to pick you up when you fall down. Also of course all of our fans, that’s a priceless thing to have.”
It’s great that Merlin and Ivo have really been pushing you up, both mentally and creatively. Were you ever surprised by what you could do while writing the album?
“Yeah! What amazed me the most was that we work together so well. We can actually meet up in the rehearsal room and just jam for hours. That’s something I really cherish in the band, because the writing process in Eluveitie was very different. So this symbiosis that’s created is really cool, and I think you can hear that on the album.”
It’s really good that you’re able to embrace your creativity to the fullest. You even re-picked up the flute and wrote a solo for the album (on ‘Six Days’). Tell me about that.
“That came together spontaneously as well, because I played the flute as a child, and set it aside – it was just sitting there for years and years. Then when I wrote that song, I knew immediately that this had to be a flute, not a hurdy-gurdy or guitar solo. I took it out and was a bit shaky at first, so I had to practice it for a while [chuckles]. But I’m very happy that this idea came to me.”
Speaking of creativity, do you have any other outlets that help you further express the ideas in your music?
“I actually used to paint a lot as a child and teenager. Now I can’t draw for shit, but just abstract painting and working with colours is something that I really like to do. I actually painted the artwork for my solo album (Cellar Darling). That’s the last thing that I did, because I just haven’t found the time and space, but it’s something that I definitely want to pick up again at some point. Apart from that I like meditating a lot, and that also fuels creativity. Of course hiking in the mountains, swimming in the lake… That’s why I still live in Switzerland [chuckles].”
Rarely will you find storytellers as visceral as Cellar Darling, or a musician as full of life as Anna Murphy. They bring music that sticks with me long after I’ve heard the final note, and the journeys they traverse are well worth travelling on.
It all starts with This Is The Sound, available here via Nuclear Blast Records.
Interview by Genevieve Gao