EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CRADLE OF FILTH’S DANI FILTH
Over the past decade and a half, few bands have attracted as much controversy, inside and out of the metal community, as Cradle of Filth. With the release of each album, the popularity of these British black metallers just grows and grows, and their increased success is always followed by a cloud of angry school marms and tr00 kvltists who think COF have betrayed the cause.
The band’s forthcoming new album, Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder (Oct. 28, Roadrunner) isn’t likely to change any of that. A symphonic concept album about Gilles de Rais, the peer of Joan of Arc who went on to do unimaginably terrible things to literally hundreds of children, is easily the fastest, heaviest album the band has released in years, and seems destined to stir the pot once again.
We recently got the chance to sit down with COF vocalist, namesake and general mastermind Dani Filth to chat about a wide range of topics. Jet lagged though he was, we found Dani to be a smart, funny, articulate, and a very passionate guy. Love ’em or hate ’em, Cradle of Filth aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and their work demands your attention. Read Dani’s thoughts on the new album, the controversy surrounding the band, and his forthcoming book, The Gospel of Filth, after the jump.
Dani Filth: You’ll have to forgive me, my jet lag has hit me big stump. We’re doing a trilogy of festivals over the weekend and for two days we didn’t sleep because the flights were at four in the morning in Bulgaria and then we had to be up at four in the morning with two hours sleep in Germany. Then it was the Czech Republic and then we came straight here. Now [Slipknot drummer] Joey Jordison has broken his leg or something, so we’re filling in for him like playing for an hour in front of a T.V. audience in Paris. So I’m suffering.
MetalSucks: We’re sorry to hear that. Can you tell us about the new album?
You haven’t heard it yet?
They haven’t let us yet.
Well, here’s the artwork for it. Do you know the background of it?
Yeah we know a little of it. It’s about Gilles de Rais? We know the basics.
Yeah, Gilles de Rais. Well, basically he was a French aristocrat war hero who fought alongside Joan of Arc. He became Grand Marshall of France in the 15th century. After Joan was burnt at the stake, he went back to his castle. He was the wealthiest person in Europe. He started venerating her death by staging a huge play which he took around various parts of France. Thousands of people went and it would be a three day event, and all the food and beer was paid for by him. So it was an enormous amount of money that he just blew, so because his enormous fortune wasn’t lasting, he turned to alchemists. He was trying to find the philosopher’s stone to turn base metal into gold in order to refill his coffers. He then slid into demonology and eventually murder and sexual excess. He pretty much ended up at the gates of hell. It’s a pretty full-on story. The myth kind of turned into a dark fairytale. In the end the church actually forgave him. He was excommunicated, and the records from his trial were used to buffer out the tracks.
Originally we used Tony Todd from Candyman [as the narrator for the album], but something went quite wrong there. He wasn’t told exactly what the score was, so he came to the studio and said “I’m not doing this.” Fortunately at the eleventh hour we were bailed out by a friend of Doug Bradley [The actor who plays “Pinhead” in the Hellraiser films. – Ed.]. We setup a makeshift studio at my house before he was set to jet off to some comic convention.
We came back from headlining the Viva La Bands Tour last year, and we had a lot of fire in our bellies. We had a bit of time before Christmas, about six weeks, and by the end of this we had the skeletons of about five or six tracks at which point I went “Oh shit, I really want to get a common thread in this record.” The atmosphere of the music that we made was dramatic, symphonic, fast, and melodic, and it reminded me of our album ten years previous, Cruelty and the Beast, which was about Hungarian blood countess Elizabeth Bathory. So when I was looking over the notes, I just tripped over the fact that Gilles de Rais kept coming up because you can’t mention one without the other if you look back and study it. I remember I thought it would be a great thing at the time, but obviously I was more interested in Bathory. So we couldn’t release two albums that were that similar at the time, but with ten years under our belts I looked back and the story is bigger, better and a lot darker. So over Christmas last year I got absorbed in it and did a lot of research.
Fortunately the co-writer of the Gospel of Filth, which is unpublished at the moment, is this historian and he’s addressed Cambridge or Oxford or something and he was able to help me out with that.
So when you were writing for this album, how did you approach doing the music and lyrics for it? Did you write together?
Well like I said, we got the crux of about five or six tracks which we revisited once and I got the gist of a storyline. Then we built it around that. Sometimes when you make a concept album it can be a bit vague and you ask “What the fuck is this going on about?” So we were able to make it a story from start to finish, but you also have the problem of making every song stand out irrespective of its predecessor or whatever is following it because at the end of the day, it is an album.
So when you were looking at this story, was it in relation to what is going on in the world right now?
No… I just thought it was interesting. I love pain and redemption. He himself became the legendary Bluebeard of myth; his name grew into that, much like Disney taking, in my opinion, the outline of the wicked stepmother in Snow White from Elizabeth Bathory. I think that dark fairytales are at the heart of what Cradle of Filth do, really, trying to absorb people into this whole netherworld.
So you made an interesting point just now, with something like “Jesus is a Cunt,” that infamous whole chestnut…
It is a chestnut. It resurfaced again recently in New Zealand.
Right, we heard about that.
Well, I was talking about that with someone else. It wasn’t in an interview; we were just talking about that. That shirt’s inception was at the beginning of our life as a band.
There is a way that that can be interpreted as being tongue-in-cheek.
Oh totally. The front of the shirt looks like she’s masturbating, but it’s really shadow play.
Now with Gilles de Rais as your subject… that’s considerably more controversial.
It’s truly terrifying. We handled it with kid gloves. My daughter actually does a nursery rhyme on it, and we used her voice and laughter. It’s very sinister, but I wouldn’t lend her talents to it if I thought it was going to glorify child abuse and murder. When he talks about killing children, it was anyone up until the age of twenty. We did it in a way, I wouldn’t say “glossed over” because it’s still very dark, but we haven’t glorified him in anyway. We were interested in the whole story.
Does having a daughter reflect the way you write and view music?
It changed my life, definitely. She’s nine this year. This is our ninth album. My IQ is nine. It seems to be working out [laughs].
Does it affect the way you’re writing music and the way it may be received by the fans?
Not at all really. I’m a strange character myself, and I have a large house full of very strange things. We got weird shit all around the house. She’s a child, and she’s into kid things like the Disney Channel and Avril Lavigne. She’s a normal kid with abnormal parents.
I really didn’t think about it. I was ignorant of the fact really. I think there’s more controversy in the Elizabeth Bathory story really. Some of the books I’ve studied for both of them were all written by scholarly historians. These people have very high IQs who just had a deep-rooted fascinated interest in everything pertaining to their myth and legend and the truth, obviously. What I loved about it was the whole insidious and insipid roller coaster ride. He starts as a very pious individual and ends up doing the most hideous things imaginable and then he is granted clemency by the church after being excommunicated. He actually begs for forgiveness and mercy. So he goes from one extreme to another.
What about from a musical standpoint? Do you have a vision going into it? You said that you wanted it to be more symphonic, did you want that from the beginning or did that come naturally?
Well everything sort of naturally progresses. It’s not like we all sit there and go to bed and the pixies take care of everything. There’s a lot of thought going into it. The life of this band is like a dog life where every year seems to be seven of them. I actually lived twice as long as everyone else because of the lack of sleep I’ve had. We’re one of those bands who enjoy mixing things up. No two albums are ever the same. The last record was very guitar based and very rocky. It was more of a commercial record.
And Rob Caggiano didn’t produce this record…
No, this one was produced by Andy Sneap. Rob Caggiano produced Thornography and Andy Sneap mixed it. While we were mixing with Andy Sneap, we got on big time with him. I actually got him to reform Sabbat for a little while, which was great. We were talking about him producing the next record. He had a great game plan, and it was a relatively painless experience recording it because he had all these plans of how he was going to record and who was going to be here. Everybody wasn’t there at the same time, so we didn’t blow ourselves out by being in the studio too long. We came in, and it was all refreshing. The bass had been done and the drums had been laid down. His studio is the most amazing place. It was in an old English barn. It was all made out of stone and perched on a valley. So it had proper green and present land of England. So you didn’t mind being isolated there.
Do you concern yourself at all what fans say about you on the internet?
Of course, yeah. I try not to pay attention to it anymore. For some reason they either love or hate us. They want to hate us because they imagine a perfect Cradle of Filth album. Like people who loved Star Wars hated the new ones because they imagined how they wanted the perfect Star Wars. If the new ones had come first, they probably would have been disappointed with the old ones because they are used to one thing and not the other. Some people have been very critical about our recent records because they’re not what they wanted. Secretly I think they really like the whole camaraderie and the imagery. We’ve been trying to get a bit more in depth with our records. With this one you can read the story, listen to the music, and research it yourself if it touches your fancy. One of my biggest detractors is a friend of mine. He’s an accountant named Collin, and he’s one of those people who is almost always never satisfied with anything, but he was with this.
It is. It’s by a guy named David Ho. I discovered him really. He did a really weird record by a band called Infected Mushroom. They’re really crazy, and they do dark stuff. He did a cover for them and it was really surreal. I thought it was a good way to tackle this cover by giving it a kind of medieval flavor. This is actually half of a bigger picture. The victims fade away into a ghost with a skull, and that’s what goes under the tray. It’s very different. That’s what I like, really bizarre imagery.
How long did it take coming up with the album art?
We spent about two months concocting all of this.
Did he send you sketches and stuff?
No, it was more along the lines of my writing down huge amounts of dribble, and he kind of tries to translate it. So we’re both happy. It’s not just about us. There’s a lot going into it.
So when some kid goes online and downloads the record for free and never even sees the artwork…
Well, that’s something I’ve always been interested in. People say “You got loads of money to buy those records,” but I haven’t always had loads of money. In fact, I haven’t got loads of money now. You get loads of freebies, but even if I find an album that I hear online or on a MySpace page, I never feel like I got a true record from anyone. If it’s just like on an iPod or whatever, I don’t feel like I own it until I have something. I feel like I own a part of the band but there’s no soul of the music without [the physical album]. Then you get the artwork and the lyrics of course. It’s why I think some people miss out sometimes when they do download albums, because they don’t get the background or what the band is attempting. My friend works for Madonna and Franz Ferdinand, but this one band he works for is called Athlete and the album is called Employment. [Dani shows us the album cover, which is pretty much just a blank white page.] It just seems so random. It’s like they said “Oh let’s give it to that person over there, we don’t care what’s on it.” Which I find a bit sad really.
You guys obviously put a lot of thought into your album art.
None at all [laughs].
Can we talk a little about how the album will translate in terms of your stage show?
At the moment we’ve got some treatments in for some videos so we’ll decide where we’ll go with that. I mention that because the two go hand in hand. We’re going to bring in a designer that works for a Shakespeare company in England to work on rigs. He’s using these DL2s which is a new fangled technology with panoramic projections. So we’re looking at that and inanimate objects and moving. We actually got a puppet, which is taking up the better part of my mom’s garage, and we call her Edwina, obviously because of [Iron Maiden’s] Eddie, we call her Edwina Filth. She’s about thirteen feet tall and she’s a fully automated puppet with LED eyes and stuff. We used her a bunch of times in Europe, but I haven’t gotten a chance to in America. We had gargoyles and stuff.
You actually started to touch on where we were going with that question. You obviously think very theatrically and very cinematically. Have you ever thought about doing a Cradle of Filth movie?
Well we did a movie called Cradle of Fear which was a tongue-in-cheek movie with serious parts as well. That was done with some people we knew in the film industry on their down time. We were using free sets and stuff. The whole thing came in about $130,000 which isn’t even the budget for the food for the first day of shooting on a blockbuster. Like most things, we’re held up by financial restrictions. Which also happens with our videos as well even though we have a big pile of treatments from people, we got to cut down and think how to make this video for that budget.
So what else? You guys are going to jet off to Paris.
Yes, on Tuesday. The Gospel of Filth is with the publishers at the moment. There’s a special edition coming out for the Barnes & Noble types at Easter. I mean it’s been three and a half years since we started writing it. It’s got a lot of collaborators as well. It’s punctuated as well with things you cannot deny like Satanists and alchemy. We got Tim Burton, Marilyn Manson, Charlie Manson, hundreds of people contributed to it in one way or another. It’s leather-bound, individually signed and it’s got an extra chapter that I wrote that’s about the bad behavior of the band.
Tell us about this tour coming up.
We’ve got two lined up so far. We’ve got a festival tour with Gorgoroth, Moonspell, Septicflesh and some other people. That’s in Europe for about seventeen dates. Then we come to America (but the dates aren’t confirmed yet) with Septicflesh in support. That’ll be a full eight week job.
How do you go about picking a set list at this point?
Well, obviously you got to play the hits. If I have to play “Cradle to Enslave” one more time I would have to put out my own eyes. When we’re playing countries like in Europe, when we play Prague and then Vienna, you might see the same people at the same shows. So when that happens, you try to do different set lists which can be quite hard when you’re trying to choreograph stuff. It’s a necessary evil I think.
Thanks a lot for your time, we really appreciate it.
Thank you. Cheers.
-AR & VN