The kiss of prog-folk

interview by Matteo Meda

How, where and when did you and Daniel meet for the first time?
Throughout the late eighties into the nineties, Kev and I established a reputation in Liverpool in a prog rock band called Valle Crucis, producing music with real fire, diversity and story-telling. It was the dawn to my music, my ideas. Dan was also on the scene playing his own stuff, but became a real fan, enthusiastic about what I was creating. Valle Crucis stayed busy, in various incarnations, continuing to record. I continued to write, also continuing my career as an actor.

How the idea of building up this collaborative project has born?
I stayed in intermittenet contact with Dan, who approached me in 2003 with an idea to take my acoustic stuff into Europe. He expressed a real love of the songs, and Valle Crucis already had an excellent reputation with the heavier conceptual pieces. I’d known Pete since 1998, when I was living on a farm in Wales, and he had been archiving a few hundred pieces of my music in his home studio. Both Dan and myself realised the need to bring Leafblade’s acoustic stuff, firstly, to a much wider audience, so 2003 saw the birth of Leafblade, a musical cousin of Valle Crucis, and off we went into Europe!

How much of your background did you put in this experience?
How much? 100% of my blood, sweat, tears, torn fingers, spirit, dreams, emotional spectra, visions and imagination. My life is the sum conflation of the past, present and future; memories of what was, and what is to come. Leafblade, my poetry, my writings in general, my memories, are all that I have. My occult experience completes me, This is all my background: visualisation, creativity, imagination, memory, growth. It combines to form some essence, the reality of what we are. I’ve been given the chance to bring some original stuff through from the stars, the best I can do.

Did you find it hard to manage to mix two backgrounds quite different like yours, or it happened naturally?
"Backgrounds"? Do you mean mine and Danny, or Valle Crucis and Leafblade? Dan and I have quite similar backgrounds in music, in growing up in Liverpool, in sharing interests in meditation, in the strength of nature, in a love of acoustic music. It was quite simple: I was writing new and original songs, and he liked them very much, seeing an outlet for it on the European circuit where he had been touring for years, and where my earlier writing was better known.

In your first work, you were more oriented to acoustic sounds, while this new one seems to be a bit more “progressive” and “rock”, thanks to the prominent use of guitar and drums. Is there a reason between this sound evolution?
It was agreed that we wanted to create something with a bit more drive and dynamics this time. Dan shared my vision of bringing in more electric guitar and drums, elegantly and superbly played by Cardoso. The set list for the album was quite simple to put together: a few songs that Dan and I had been playing acoustically on the circuit for a few years. We then took them to the studio and added more meat to them, sensitised orchestration, then recorded a few brand-new versions of already existing songs. It seemed right to plunder my archive initially, release a few well-loved tracks that discerning fans would recognise, and it was great fun to do; very exciting to hear the new, more upbeat versions of songs!
Certainly, the new album has a rock element to it, with a real core of poetry and nature-mysticism. The subject material of the album is progressive in many ways, but excepting parts of "Portait" and "Oak Machine", I don’t think "The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh" is progressive musically. Much of the music is anthemic, in standard format, hook-lines in regular rhythm. There’s not much there in 7/8 or with off-beats to confound the listener. But the core of the music has the voice, the poetry, the nylon strings, the vision and gravity, raising mind-bending ideas and brushing the canvas with rainbow strokes.
And the last reason for "bigging" things up? Because I love rock music, and when I’m not on stage strumming my classical guitar, I practice behind the scenes on my Jackson pro-fusion with its Floyd-Rose locking trem, playing crazy arpeggios and thunderous stuff. It’s in the blood as much as the acoustic stuff, because I’m a guitarist with a love of many different styles.

Can you tell something about the birth of “The Kiss Of Spirit And Flesh”?
A project that unites the fire in the flesh, the even greater fire in the blood, and the god-fire in the spirit? This is something that has moved in me since birth, and beyond. In all of us. It is the ultimate essence to us: vibration. A mix of sensory appreciation and the joy of the pure physical organism. These are concepts I have explored in my poetry for over twenty years. Much of the album’s work focuses on the expansion of consciousness, expanding perceptions so that we really do feel a sense of connection with the universe that moves about us and within us; allowing to shake off the little mind that deals with our everday existence. It is a topic that moves me into Dante, Virgil, Leonardo, almost Nietzschean wonder and human potential.
The birth of "The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh" is your birth as well as mine. It is the conduit that we are: blood, electromagnetics, bio-synthetic skin, cranial hard-drive, universal energy. We are the ghosts in the machine, a nuclear force each, a beating heart with the potential energy of a caesium clock.

I noted also a development in the topics behind lyrics: still a lot of images but, yet from the title, a sort of link between terrain (nature) and spiritual. Could it be a possible interpretation? And what is, or are, your one/ones?
Some believe that life is the meeting place between the spiritual and the physical. But the spiritual and physical are all "matter" but in various states of refined vibration. One can think of a wall, or a photon, for example. We interpret the wall as more solid, yet its cellular, more quantum construction is of particles in a state of vibration, similar to that of the photon, or anything with a molecular construct. Deep within nature, within the outward solidity of all things, lies a quantum movement, vibration, chemical madness. Some would call it the soul. I like to combine metaphysics with chemistry and finding a middle path, in a Buddhist sense. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, but find cross-references in many places, in creativity and inspiration.
One of the essences of the new album is of the poetic, inspired mind’s interaction with the land; human sense conflated with the spirit within nature. And this isn’t just over-romantisised sentimental bullshit. It is the human condition, to seek, to strive, to throw outward to the stars in moments of expansion. No matter who we are, we all experience this in life – not just a person with a more ‘poetic’ inclination, but anyone who has felt love, loss, hope, anxiety, depression, euphoria: and we all have.
I have merely channelled some of these energies as I have done since childhood, and remained hyper-aware of the infinite spirit within and all about us, as well as the short moment of the flesh in this world. Like all in nature, from the churning of the rocks beneath to the grenery above striving fo the light, so to do we, as human beings; all driven my some sacred mathematics within, some sacred programming that inherently wants us to protect ourselves and those near us and to secure the next generation.

“Portrait”, the last track on the album, seems to be really something in contact with progressive-rock tendences. Do you feel influenced also by that world, the world of (for example) the last Anathema's albums?
I agree that "Portrait" is one of the few tracks on the album leaning towards a progressive feel. But I have never been influenced by Anathema, and have never been moved by what they’re doing. It is the other way around. It has been my writing that has produced creative expansions in them. Danny would admit to this, and if he doesn’t, then he’d be lying. When he has phoned me in recent months to inform me that he has written his own work to rival "Portrait", I find it a little sad that he will compose and use my music as a template. It’s flattering, but I don’t look to anyone else for my inspiration and never have, excepting some Rush and Clannad during the earliest years of my musical writing. Besides, the core to "Portrait" was first composed as a poem in 1991, to which I started to add music to it from 1996 onwards. I’m tired of thinking that my stuff has been influenced by Anathema or Danny. None of it has. Not a single note. Danny added some beautiful ideas to "Portrait" in the studio, centered on keyboard orchestration, ideas which were all discussed and arranged together, though he physically played them. "Portrait" is centerd on medieval allegory and Celtic epigram; the world of occult romance, faery evocation, the doors between worlds and invocation of the feminine principle and the calling to the Muse of Grecan/Celto/Arthurian ideas; concepts which have never been, and never will be, explored by Danny and Anathema.
My ‘world’, if anything, has been joyously influenced by the poetry of Walter de la Mare, WB Yeats John Masefield, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Thomas Hardy, Shelley, (to name a few) the novels of Robert Holdstock, Umberto Eco, Philip Pullman and Mervyn Peake, the textual occult ideas of Colin Wilson, RJ Stewart, Murray Hope, Marian Green, Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune (again, to name a few) and the music of medieval and renaissance polyphony, Igor Stravinsky, Vaughan-Williams, Bach, Hoddinnot, Panufnik, Beethoven, Mahler, Part, Respighi and Shostakovich (again, to name a few from hundreds).

How is the work divided between you? From the credits, it seems to be you that wrote everything, is it true?
The new album has a record-release sticker on it, telling the reader that this is "the new masterpiece from Daniel Cavanagh", and introduces myself in a very complimentary way. This was just a record company marketing ploy. I have written all the lyrics, titles, concept material and the elaborate core to every song on the album. Dan has added guitar parts and orchestration that we have discussed and jointly decided upon. I have also penned allthe poetry epigraphs to compliment the lyrics. Cardoso wrote all is own drum patterns, but again, this was discussed and arranged between us.

A lot of musicians have been involved in the recording of your last album, like Kevin Murphy, that is actually with you from the first works. Can they be seen as members of Leafblade or is better to consider them as “actors” that take part to the plays which you direct?
Kev has played an integral part in my ideas since the very beginning, and has a profound understanding of the creative and refined subtleties in my music. He is the only bass player on the planet that I will ever work with. He writes all his own bass lines, and has a superb voice, taking only minimal instruction or note from myself, then weaves his wonderful ideas. With his rainbow, polymathic intelligence, Kev is a dominant force in Leafblade, and a welcome one. He and I have a great musical understanding. If he is an “actor” in my “plays”, he plays a principal part, as does Pete Gilchrist, who, in the sixteen years that I have known him, has shown a great musical maturity and sensitivity to my ideas, both on tour and on the road. Kev and Pete are fully-fledged members of Leafblade.
Dan Cavanagh has and will be, playing less of a role in my music, due to his own committments elsewhere. We have toured twenty-five countires this past nine years, but have only played live recently in London, at a record company album release party. Before that, it was three and a half years ago when we last played live and worked in the studio together. He will move further into the background. I’ve no wish to work with people who show up for a few weeks a year in the studio, then vanish. I need a band, with full-on members.

How did you manage to get to Kscope and how important has it been the relationship with the label?
Dan’s close contact with Kscope probably afforded us the deal, but I know that the music is extremely original in its own right and that the boss of the company had been listening to it for a year in his car before we all had time to get together and sign the deal! Leafblade are a favourite of the manager. It is possible that we could have secured the deal without Dan, but the industry works this way, with its cliques and contacts. But it’s not that easy. You still need to be producing music of merit, that the company thinks will be popular and sell.
The label relationship has been good. Kscope have been quick to send me promotion interviews and share in art and media ideas, and have been friendly, helpful and good-humoured, generating a lot of exposure for Leafblade. It’s very important that label relations are good and communicative.

What does Leafblade represents for you? Is it just a part-time side-project or a real half of your activities as musicians?
I live and breathe every moment as a creative spirit, as a thinking, feeling organism with a need to celebrate his imagination, this penchant for composing. It is my blood, my forest of the heart, my euphoria, my self-devastation, my rebirth. Leafblade is all part of this process of sensory appreciation. I have a rich life as an actor, a writer of poetry, scripts and music, and even when not composing, I dance out into the Green as often as I can amidst the more logistical trials of life, the everyday activity. If Leafblade or my creative life was only "part-time", I would not be giving it the justice it deserves. It is 100% or nothing.

Are you going to bring “The Kiss...” and Leafblade's music on stage?
We hope to be playing the new album live at some point. I have a band line-up with Kevin Murphy and Pete Gilchrist, as well as a new drummer, and we’ve been rehearsing throughout 2013. We need to play the new material live and loud! It must be done! It was impossible to play the stuff live with Dan Cav and Cardoso, because of their committments. I’m glad to be using other musicians. It was beginning to look like “Sean and Anathema”, and that’s something I need to get away from. They can’t commit, and I need a band that I can rely on for rehearsals and shows. Danny and I were agreed a long time ago that he wouldn’t be playing the songs live with me, and we’re both fine with this.
Leafblade have been playing numerous shows on the British festival and Pagan scene this past few years, with Kev and Pete, garnering a great reputation for an intimate acoustic, ambient feel, and still rocking things up a bit. We’ll be playing a lot of shows before the end of the year, a few with the new drummer also, at the British Pagan Federation party in November, which will be quite a thing! We’ve just had a string of offers in Europe also, which will be an absolute pleasure.

Have you got any idea for the continuation of the project?
Hopefully, the above question will have answered that one! We will continue live, playing as a trio, occasionally with the drummer. Hopefully, Leafblade will record a new album in the spring of 2014, and I’d like to release a new acoustic, ambient album before then. It’s all in the hands of the record company, but I am evaluating them as much as they are checking out my music and its sales potential. For the present, it’s intermittent shows and promotion, with a view to keeping the Leafblade fires well and truly burning!

And what are your plans for the next times, also outside Leafblade?
Outside Leafblade, I nurture my life as an actor and a writer, keep up my physical fitness and the need to meditate; keep centered, find the Green regularly, and find peace of mind, my life quest. I regularly see Pete and Kev, as friends, have a brew. And yes, keep a love for my lady, my fellow closest friends and spirits, the wonder of nature and the nearness of a smile. Many thanks and respect.


To The Moonlight (Argle, 2006)
Beyond, Beyond (Angelic, 2009)
The Kiss Of Spirit And Flesh (Kscope, 2013)
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