Interview with Duncan Patterson (Alternative 4, Íon, Antimatter, Anathema)
(c) Pro-Rock Bulgaria
Congratulations on your new album with Alternative 4. Of course, the first question is - why did you pick that name?
DP: Basically I had to find a name for this new band, and Alternative 4 just stood out. At first I was thinking 'oh god I know what this is going to attract' but I also realised that, as well as being a great band name, I could use this opportunity to clear up over a decade of rumours and being asked the same thing time and time again. The more I think of it the more I appreciate the title, its mysterious without being clichéd plus it suits the music, and you have to remember that not everyone on the planet is obsessed with Anathema.
You say that piecing together an album with electric instruments takes a lot of energy you haven't had in more than 10 years. Why is that?
DP: I just didn't feel like it. I was exploring different things and keeping myself interested in my own creations. With the Antimatter thing I really wanted to take that into a really experimental electronic space. That was the original idea when I came up with the whole concept. Then gradually, as Mick got more involved, I realized that he wasn't into going so far in that direction. But at the same time he is a killer songwriter, so I compromised. Then Mick ended up going back to a similar place where I had already spent years, musically. So I started the Íon thing, which was like a musical detox and really cleaned my system out. So I guess that how I ended up getting that energy back. A change is as good as a rest.
The album is very dark and yet strangely peaceful. How did this happen? Does it reflect a certain humility you've found?
DP: This is something that I don't know how to put into words. When I am working on an album, and I find that certain vibe, thats when all the creativity flows out. And with this album it was, as you said, dark and peaceful and I pieced it together like that. The general concept is not a depressive one, but it is dealing with some sinister things that I would like people to think about. And all of this is coming from a peaceful perspective because thats how I am. I'm not an angry young man anymore.
The album get's even darker when you read its lyrical concept. Sheeple blindly following music, media, even religion - lost in an second hand online world. Is reality really so bleak in your eyes, or is this an art grotesque that's supposed to nudge people?
DP: I've just witnessed things gradually getting dumbed-down over the years and a lot of magical things have been devalued, almost intentionally ignored. I came from a music scene where people who were doing something original stood out and were respected. Its almost like people don't want that anymore. I remember people getting into alternative sub-cultures because they didn't want to be told what to wear or listen to. Now the metal scene for example is the perfect example of being told what to listen to. All the media is monopolised by the big labels and theres no room for anything truely independent and innovative. Same goes for the fashion, even in supposedly 'alternative' scenes its all uniformed these days. To be a celebrity on TV these days requires what? A lot of 'famous' people are put on pedestals by people who dont really know why. Its simply because they're on TV and in the gossip magazines. Its like business over talent, style over substance in all areas. Back to the music, the MP3 generation don't know that magical feeling of buying an album on the day it is released. That magic now, to a lot of people, is being the first person to 'leak' the album on the internet. If I can encourage at least a few people to think then I've done something more than just complaining about it in the pub.
"What a difference a name makes", you said about Alternative 4. People were calling you for gigs before even knowing what the music was like. People want information but the most superficial kind, they don't have the time or energy to delve deeper. Just like sheep, don't you think?
DP: Yes thats what happened. It was amazing and perfectly ironic, due to the album concept and everything. For years I was trying to set up small tours for Íon and the closest I got was "Hmm, why dont we do some kind of acoustic Anathema tribute instead" from the promoters. The name Anathema seemed to blind them. Whereas, if I didn't have that link I'm sure it would have been easy enough to book a string of gigs. That association has been a huge obstacle. People have this perception, even some of my close friends that I have worked with, that I have it easy because of the Anathema link and that I don't need any help with my career. But the opposite is true, I need a lot of help to get past this established 'brand name' now which has been the bane of my career for the past decade or more. Hopefully I can do that with this project, because it is facing the subject head-on. And as for superficial information, you only have to look at Facebook for that. We set up the Alternative 4 band page on Facebook and there were tons of people coming on without reading any of the information, thinking it was an Anathema page. Me and Mark were posting to them "please read the info section" to no response. If I merely mention the word Anathema on my music page I'll get 100 'likes' but if I post important news about the new album it doesn't get anywhere near that. At the same time though there are a lot of people that email me and are sincere about music, and respect and understand what I'm trying to do. I guess a lot of people who are attracted to my work are quiet, complative characters. It'd be nice to see a lot more people like that.
"Businessmen and general parasitic people who are like flies around shit at the smell of ‘success’, where peoples general wellbeing is taken out of the equation."
Actually, this is the reason for the Occupy Wallstreet protests. The problem, however, with these protests is that people have no clear demands, nor leadership, and it looks like an emotional but chaotic movement. What can we really do in your opinion?
DP: Theres a buzz about all the 'Occupy this and that' stuff and its cool that its being brought to light. Though there will be a lot of people who are just following (this is a common theme right?). But awareness is being raised about a lot of those subjects and its good to see people rising up and asking questions. I think we just need more of that, more thought and responsibility in general, more questioning and taking control of our lives. And that goes for what we eat, how we deal with doctors and our health, how we choose to earn money, who we vote for, do we actually rest? Many many important things that people don't give a second thought. For years now I have had a big interest in healing. From energy healing to nutritional healing, meditation, juice fasting and things. And I receive criticism for this from friends and even my own family for 'taking all that weird stuff' which is actually vitamins and essential minerals. And every 6 months or so I do a full detox cleanse where I don't eat animal products or drink alcohol. I always find during that time my friends and family trying to make me eat junk food or go out drinking. Every time, its bizarre and I don't know if its a subconscious thing or what. The majority of people are programmed though and maybe theres a fear of change with those people.
"With the owners anxious to get home to upload it onto the internet..."You say that we are on the brink of change but I don't quite believe it. Yes, it's always darkest before the dawn but people are getting more and more addicted to the internet - it's turning into a sickness, and very few are noticing. It's like a virus you cannot escape because you can't function without it. Scientists are actually developing chips that get implanted in your head so you can browse the net with your mind. On the brink of change? Really?
DP: I hope that we are on the brink of a positive change. On one hand I have seen a big shift in spiritual awareness in the last few years yet on the other hand I see people everywhere with Facebook on their phones, ignoring each other is bars and that. There are many positive things about the internet, but you're right about the addiction thing. I spend a lot of time online when I'm not touring or travelling. I do a lot of my work and networking online but I also enjoy just relaxing and keeping in touch with friends from around the world. I need to get out and do things though, I have itchy feet by nature. I remember when I did the Camino de Santiago Compostela a few years ago, and I raised a load of money for charity online. Many people were saying to me "I wish I could do that too" and I was encouraging them just to get up and do it. Obviously some people have families and can't take time off work but a lot would just be sat at home online. After 2 weeks of walking in nature it becomes obvious what we need and what a lot of us are missing. It would be the perfect 'cold turkey' for internet addiction.
I know you're not a fan of major record labels because it is like "somebody else is drawing your way or image in music for you instead of being "free" in creativity which is the way a musician or an artists should do". This idea fits perfectly to the Brink's concepts. Limits in thinking and creativity, selling your music and soul for money and fame... Am I right?
DP: Yes thats correct. I remember when I first founded Antimatter and we had a 3 track demo tape (a cassette!!) one of the major labels were interested. I'd already told Mick that I had no interest in signing to a major label whatsoever, and this was before they suggested that we make one of the girls 'the face of the band' and build everything around her image. There were no girls in the band, it was always just me and Mick, so you can see where I'm coming from with that. Yes, its possible that we could have reap financial rewards from it, but also highly possible that they could have decided not to invest in us after all, after being under contract for years and screwed up our careers. If it was just money and attention that we were looking for we would have tried to make fashionable music for starters. Mick is naturally more 'mainstream' than me because of his musical taste, but even with that he treasures his songs immensely. I'm often criticized for my songs being too long and monotonous, but thats what I do, thats my style. I don't do that by accident whilst trying to write 3 minute catchy pop songs and getting it wrong. And its often metalheads who complain about this, whilst my friends who have not boxed themselves into any particular scene would comment something like 'this sounds like music from a weird film'. Limitations can also apply to people who think they're open-minded. If I was to release a cliché-ridden gothic metal album that lyrically meant fuck all I'm sure it would be appreciated more by those people.
Do you still think that labels will become obsolete with the expansion of internet?
DP: I think there will always be people who want an actual product. I know some labels are dealing more with merchandise these days and they are very busy with it, so people are still buying stuff. Vinyl editions seem to be getting more popular now, maybe a novelty for the younger people who missed out the first time around. Whatever happens I will never go 100% digital, even if it means I have to write a book with each album.
What inspired "The Dumbing Down"? And is it correlating with Anathema's Destiny? There is Polish in the track - what is the woman saying, why did you pick Polish? Are the women grieving over Destiny's death?
DP: The Dumbing Down is split into three sections. i. The Travesty Waltz. ii. Steakknife's Theme. and iii. Silent Approval. Part 1 is just a play on words about 'destiny is dead' making no sense. Its a tongue-in-cheek retort to something aimed at me long ago. The Polish factor in part 2 is based on something that I witnessed in Poland a few years ago. Two obsessive fangirls chasing after a musician friend of mine, and they ended up turning on me for giving them sensible advice (to basically leave him alone and have some self-respect). I used a similar theme to Destiny because of the last lyric on part 1. Again theres a dark humour about it. Part 3 is the morse code piece 'Committed to ignorance, you let the lying dogs sleep', which is a play on words.
There is Morse code in the track. Could you tell me what it says?
DP: Committed to ignorance, you let the lying dogs sleep.
Please explain the two song titles - Automata and Autonoma.
DP: I used Automata in the mechanical sense, people following without thinking. And Autonoma is the passage into becoming autonomous, independent and de-programmed, so to speak. Thats why it's a long monotonous piece of music with a pleasant climax. It requires a bit of thought to understand and feel it, which I know will go over a lot of peoples heads. But I'm not going to dumb-down my creations to cater for ignorance.
Did you travel to Australia to record the guitars and vocals with Mark Kelson?
DP: Yes I flew to Melbourne for the vocals and guitars. I had to anyway, as I played a lot of the guitar on the album. But I couldn't have recorded any other way than to be in the studio with Mark and go through all the parts. We worked really well together, Mark is a great sound engineer as well as a singer/guitarist. I'm proud of the way he approached this album because he is a writer himself and I know it won't have been easy to sing someone elses words in someone elses style when he is used to his own natural way. He did great and he knows what the album is all about. He has been making music for a long time and has witnessed similar things that I have.
What feedback have you gotten from the people you've given The Brink? Have Vincent and Danny heard it?
DP: Most of the reviews have been positive and a lot of people from the old times have written to me and told me they felt nostalgic after listening to it. I like that. The only negative ones have been the journalists writing that I'm "taking ideas from Anathema". Which, again, is perfect irony because they were all my ideas in the first place. In fact the musical shift from death metal to the Alternative 4 album was more or less down to me. I don't think Vinny or Danny have heard it yet but Vinny has been helping me to promote the tour online and stuff. I'll pass them copies whenever I see them next.
What's your dearest memory of the time with Anathema, and the most terrible one?
DP: I think it has to be the first European tour that we did in 1994. We were headlining with At The Gates and Cradle Of Filth supporting. It was wild, like a bus full of juvenile delinquents with a free bar every night. We were all young and (mostly) irresponsible. The most terrible one was the disrespect that I felt at the time that I was quitting the band. I had just written the majority of the 2 albums that made people stand up and take notice of the band, yet there was only really Danny who appreciated that. Well he had no problem giving me the credit for it. We were surrounded by some horrible parasitic people at that time and I just felt so hard done by.
And with Antimatter?
DP: With Antimatter it was the Lights Out album and the tour that followed it. The gig in Istanbul was magic and people were singing along to all of the songs, even from Lights Out that hadn't been released there. That was a great night, and a huge contrast to Greece where they were just shouting out requests for Anathema songs. The low point, again, was when I quit the project. Mick wasn't happy with the way things were going, and I was doing all of the work so I didn't feel that my efforts were valued. Its difficult when stuff like that happens between good friends. It was sad to walk away from a project that I built up, but in the long run it was great for me to get away from it all and 'cleanse' like I mentioned before. That ended up becoming the point in my life where I made a huge spiritual shift and shed away an awful lot of negativity, both internal and external.
What are your favorite Antimatter songs?
DP: Of my own compositions its Flowers & Reality Clash. From Mick its Psalms & The Art Of A Soft Landing.
What's going on with ÍON? Do you plan any new releases?
DP: I will work on the third album when the time is right. Its a concept about 'the travellers rest', generally touching on the need to refresh and recharge. Expect a lot of drawn-out ambient passages. I'm looking forward to getting into this when I'm ready.
What do you remember from your last visit to Bulgaria? There are legends being spread that you forgot your jacket with all your credit cards, then a guy sent it to you...
DP: Ah Ivo! Good man, he invited us back to his house to drink gallons of red wine and I mistakenly put his jacket on when I was leaving. It wasn't till I woke up on a train to Serbia that I realised I had left my jacket, phone, and credit cards at his place. He kindly send it back to me though, and I returned his. Bulgaria can get wild can't it? And, for all of my talents, saying 'no' to a party isnt one of them.
You have so many great projects, and yet people still introduce you as "that guy from Anathema". Does this annoy you?
DP: Yeah, as I said before it has been the bane of my career. I could write 'Revolver' now and people would still do the same. I have considered releasing music under a pseudonym and I may well do it in the future. At least for the 'social experiment' aspect.
Why did you leave Anathema?
DP: It was something that was on the cards for years. I was carrying the band, both musically and in every other sense. The guys got very lazy after Darren went and I was left to deal with everything. Danny went through a difficult period in his life around the time of Eternity and I stood up and took the musical reigns while he wasn't so creative. Thats how I ended up writing lyrics on his tracks, as he didn't have the energy or motivation at that time. I was always living in the hope that the guys would start to take more responsibility, but it never happened. Then around the time of Alternative 4 we were having big problems between us. A lot of it was a lack of communication, which we were all guilty of. And there were problems between all three of us, not just me versus Danny, which seems to be the accepted version of the tale. As I said earlier, we were surrounded by real parasitic people who were giving each of us their own 'advice' to basically play us off against each other and take advantage of whoever ended up leaving or being fired. We were very close to splitting up and then a family tragedy struck for the brothers. It was then that I put it all into perspective and told Danny and Vinny to sort out their differences and continue the band, and I decided to pursue another project. That was a pure gesture from me out of goodwill and decency. I'm glad I came away with my head held high. But after that I was shit on from a great height. I was stopped from making music, silenced in the press, and lied about and defamed in big magazines. I had my royalties stopped (illegally) and I was in a dark place for a while. I didn't deserve that at all. Then a couple of years later I bumped into Danny in a club and he helped fix a lot of the problems. He made sure that I got paid again and apologised for the band making me the scapegoat for their own chaos and guilt. I also bumped into someone who was close to Vinny at the time who told me "WE didn't mean to hurt you, WE had to do what was best for the bands image after you left". She used the word "WE" which confirmed that she was involved in influencing a lot of that shit. And I wont even mention the name of the guy who unsuccessfully replaced me. He was the ringleader and his departure coincided with me being friends with the guys again. Well, that was no coincidence. Anyway, neither of these people had anything to do with our music or the band. But they managed to force their way in. There were many of those kinds of people around us like vultures. We were young though, and still learning about all this. And the important thing is that we sorted it out long ago and we get along better than ever.
Do you ever regret it?
DP: Not at all, but if I was ever in that position again I would never allow people to defame me like that. There would be legal action for sure.
If you had stayed, do you think Anathema would've changed their sound so drastically?
DP: Well one of the things we were discussing was the use of instrumentation. I wanted to write more piano-based stuff and bring in a female vocalist, use more ambient sounds etc. While they wanted to be more guitar based and heavy, as they famously said during the Judgement interviews. Its funny the way things turn out.
A lot of people say that Anathema has become Danny's solo project, and its only subject is his spiritual path. People want him to give more space to the other members so that subjects can be more diverse. You say Danny is a great composer but actually John and Vincent are brilliant too. Don't you think they should compose more?
DP: I think thats unfair for people to say that about Danny, because without him they would have struggled to write even one album since I quit the band. John and Vinny have their moments but Danny is by far the creative force in that band. It took seven years for their last album to be released, it would surely have taken longer if Danny had have sat back and waited for the others to write anything. At the same time though, I was in the studio with them at their last session and Vinny worked for three days solid on the synth sounds and production side of things. So his work ethic is a million times what it used to be, though composing is a different matter. Its not something that can be forced and not everyone has the ability.
Do you like the positive energy in Anathema's music today? Isn't it too poppy?
DP: I really like their last album. There have been some great tracks on previous albums, but none of them were complete 'albums' to me. WHBWH is a solid album from start to finish. Its not something I would create, or a style that I would be into playing, but it is purely them. It sounds like them and they haven't be afraid of the critics while creating it. That really shines through on the album too, along with all the positive lyrics. Fear should never play a part in creating art.
Danny stopped drinking and smoking 6 years ago - have you ever thought of following his example? Or do you think suffering is what makes good music?
DP: I don't smoke and I take care of what I eat. I also sorted out my unhealthy habits a while ago. Drinking is not a problem for me, it doesn't put me in a dark place nor do I have an addictive personality. I can take it or leave it. But some people can't and I respect Danny for taking responsibility and steering clear of alcohol, especially when you consider that he is surrounded by it a lot of the time. I think when suffering shows through in music its us, the listeners, who relate to it and have that feeling that we're not alone in difficult times. For example I love The Boatmans Call by Nick Cave, which was written during a break-up. I can relate to that and thats why it is special for me. Theres also plenty of good music that doesn't really mean anything, but I cant imagine getting close to something like that, other than for nostalgic reasons if it reminds you of a certain time/place/person.
Everyone knows that Anathema wouldn't be what it is without you. What do you think makes the old Anathema albums so special that people still keep missing them, and want this time back?
DP: I don't think many people know what I did for the band, at least the new wave of 'fanatics' as a lot of it was hushed up at the time of my departure. I was also written out of the band biography by their record label a long time ago. But its true that a lot of people miss the old albums. I think that we did something special back then with the use of melodies and dynamics and so. Also the lyrics were very honest and direct so people related to it. A change of instrumentation is difficult for some people to perceive, and also the whole 'metal' thing. I have had quite a few people telling me things like "I wish you were still in the band, so they would be heavy again and not trying to sound like Pink Floyd", and I feel funny trying to explain to them that it was my fault. I wanted to sound like Pink Floyd , I introduced the guys to Pink Floyd, and I didn't write a metal track since A Dying Wish (which is also very Floydian).
You say that when you were in Anathema some of the demos turned better than the final versions. Which ones?
DP: The stuff that we demo'd for the Eternity album really. They weren't sonically better but had a much better feel to them. We didn't record that album very well and allowed too much instrumentation to go on. Me and Danny should have taken more control over things but he was having a hard time at that point, and I'd never been in that position before as the principal songwriter. So I didn't know how to keep things in order without coming across as a musical dictator or something. Though by the time Alternative 4 came around I had little room to compromise and I kept everything tight and minimal.
I've always been intrigued by the cover of Alternative 4 by Anathema. What is this creature? An astronaut? An angel? What is reflected in the space suit?
DP: It is actually a religious statue that was scanned into a computer. Then used a space helmet visor from one of the moon landing shots. I went to Tim Spears house, the guy who did the artwork, and it took us about an hour to do. I had a few different ideas for the cover but this was the one. As most of the album is about trust, I wanted to use a sinister, thought-provoking image. I was reading a book called Alternative 3 which is about colonising the moon and also touches on the moon landing pics being fake and that. I combined that with religious imagery and came up with that cover. I remember that Music For Nations didn't like the cover, and originally removed the wings and tried to change the 'alternative 4' font, because they thought it didn't fit. I was stubborn though and made sure that they fixed it. They also changed some of the lyrics and punctuation which I had originally typed into their computer in their office. Crazy stuff!
"I remember a night from my past when I was stabbed in the back" - is there a real story behind those lyrics?
DP: Theres a real story behind all of my lyrics. Most of that album is about trust and betrayal, and this was one of those moments.
The end of the song Alternative 4 always makes me laugh - why did you choose this weird accent? And how did German fans react when they first heard it - the holocaust is a very painful subject to them.
DP: We were laughing too, it was intentionally humorous for us and Vinny is a great impersonator. We wanted to make it sound like 1930s style or something. As for the use of the word holocaust, it has nothing to do with Germany or the 2nd World War. I was actually referring to Armageddon. I really don't see how people could connect that song to the nazi atrocities. It wouldn't make sense at all.
Do you have any idea why Les Smith left Anathema?
DP: I do actually, but its not my place to say. Les worked a lot for the band, though more in a managerial role than a musical one. He should be respected for that, as a lot of things just wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been there to sort them out.
Both you and Danny want to do soundtracks. What is so special about cinematic music? Which movie would you make a soundtrack for?
DP: I'm not actually a big fan of movies but I love the audio/visual thing. I'd love to do the soundtrack for my own movie. I actually have an interesting plot for a film that I don't think would work as well in book format. And I have been asking some film students that I know, for years, about working on something together. It will come when the time is right. Its a great concept and a very positive message.
What are your top 5 most personal albums?
DP: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Boatmans Call
Lisa Gerrard & Patrick Cassidy - Immortal Memory
The Beatles - Help
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Pink Floyd - The Final Cut
Where do you feel at home?
DP: Ireland is where I have felt more at peace than anywhere else. Liverpool will always be home though. Recently I have taken time to get in touch with old school friends in Liverpool and reflected on times that I didn't give attention to till now. It has been comforting in a way.
After all this years - is it so, so, so terrifying to lose control?
DP: I don't know now, it has been a long long time. But it is unnerving to see my friends losing it, which has happened a few times recently. Thats where my healing research comes in useful.
So are we or aren't we just a moment in time?
DP: We are actually, in this human form, which is what I was writing about. Though destiny can't die, and freedom is not only a hallucination ;)
Is everything energy? :P
DP: It must be. I'm not arguing with Einstein, or that woman who wrote The Secret.
If the doors of perception were cleansed, would every thing appear to men infinite?
DP: Love and magic