Cathedral’s Lee Dorrian on the Band Ending, How Their Former Label Tried to Make Them the Next Black Crowes
Cathedral is dead. Long live Cathedral.
What started 21 years ago when then-former Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian plumbed the depths of the then unhip doom metal underground has finally come to its end. Cathedral’s final eulogy will be spoken later this month with the release of their final album, ‘The Last Spire.’
From the doom-plod of 1990’s ‘In Memorium’ demo and it follow-up album, 1991’s ‘Forest of Equilibrium,’ Cathedral not merely helped popularize the sound that Dorrian & Co. found in the likes of Saint Vitus or Pentagram, but also became a vehicle to explore the heavy sounds of generations past. From the troubled-funk of songs like ‘Midnight Mountain’ from ’93’s ‘The Ethereal Mirror’ (the product of Cathedral’s one-album stand with major label benefactors, Columbia) to 2010’s ‘The Guessing Game,’ which pushed into the outer limits of psychedelic and progressive sounds, Dorrian and Cathedral (rounded out by guitarist Gaz Jennings, drummer Brian Dixon and returning bassist Scott Carlson, also of grind heroes Repulsion) were never one too pious to adhere strictly to doom metal’s touchstones.
Dorrian has also spearheaded his own label, Rise Above for nearly two and a half decades as well. With a roster that includes the likes of Witchcraft, Electric Wizard and the first album from everyone’s current darlings, Ghost B.C., Rise Above has become an institution in itself.
Noisecreep caught up with Lee one rainy (of course!) Saturday evening at Rise Above’s London offices to talk about Cathedral’s last days, his future plans and John Lydon. Yes, John Lydon.
Why the decision to end Cathedral?
It was a fight and we didn’t want to fight anymore. As you can imagine, it’s been really difficult being a band like this. There’s been years where we’ve done nothing, rubbing our thumbs together and contemplating is it worth it? On the other hand, there have been times where it’s been outstanding. The main thing that’s kept us going is being so into the band. Now, we’re not so into being in this band anymore for many reasons.
We’ve done as much as we can do with Cathedral. The fact that we never really knew what we were doing or where we were going made it an open road. We never had any plans. That was probably a key to the longevity of the band. We never really looked that far forward or looked back either.
As much as I say we didn’t know where we were going, we always felt passionately about what we were doing. I don’t know if it was one particular moment that made us decide to call it a day. It was just a combination of so many things It wasn’t something that came out of the blue. It was something that we had been thinking about for many years. To be able to keep it going, you still have to give it 100% about recording and being on the road. I guess we’ve just moved on, really.
You’ve made a very straightforward, doomy Cathedral record with ‘The Last Spire.’ What prompted that after you made ‘The Guessing Game,’ which at points was very eclectic?
The end prompted that I suppose. We wanted it to sound final. We wanted it to be more focused than before and once we realized that was the style it was going to be it just enabled the situation to become more focused. It was almost like writing your last will and testament. We had a couple years prior to recording where we announced that we were going to call it a day so it gave us plenty of time to get our heads around it and figure out how we wanted the record to be.
I think the way that we’ve planned the end of the band we feel really good about. It’s not like we had a massive fight and the band broke up under bad circumstances. We’ve had lots of time to actually enjoy the end. It’s really been a nice way to go. It’s ironic, you break up and you start getting loads of press! [Laughs] Where were you guys when we were around? We’re getting front covers of magazines now! Everyone comes out to your funeral I suppose.
Do you think Cathedral has gotten pigeonholed as a quote-unquote doom band when there’s so much more going on in the music?
There may be too much to the band for people to take in. As much as I can sit here and say that we never got the recognition we deserved, I can also understand why. We weren’t exactly the easiest band to get into. People probably think that we tried to confuse people and throw things out there just for the hell of it. We just embraced all these different types of music, as we were getting older. Our foundations come from doom metal music, of course. We just wanted to build on that. We didn’t just want to be this band that played slow and sang about death miserable things. For as a start we didn’t know how long we were going to last anyway. That’s probably when we tried to cram so many styles into the first couple records after ‘Forest of Equilibrium (The Ethereal Mirror’ ’93 and ‘The Carnival Bizarre’ ’95) more than three or four years, but here were are 23 years latter talking about the last LP.
Being on Columbia for ‘The Ethereal Mirror’ record had to have been an “interesting” era for Cathedral.
We weren’t deliberately trying to be pop stars or anything like that, so playing that game just felt very surreal. We weren’t exactly comfortable with it. We were an underground band one minute and the next minute they were trying to present us as the next Black Crowes. Can you imagine recording ‘Forest of Equilibrium’ and a major label wanted to sign you on the strength of that? It was fairly bizarre. I guess heavy music was reaching some kind of pinnacle back then. Death metal had reached its pinnacle back then – at least its creative pinnacle so maybe they saw us as being the next step after that.
What were some of the high-points of the band’s 23-year career?
Tony Iommi playing on ‘The Carnival Bizarre’ record. That was big. But generally, it’s been meeting and playing with our favorite bands. Also, traveling to places in the world we thought we’d never go – being working class kids to begin with. Recently, because we knew things were drawing to an end, we had an amazing time on the last couple tours we did. Australia, Brazil, the Maryland Death Fest. There was no stress. We knew it was the last time we were going to do it so we just had fun.
You have a new band called Septic Tank. What’s it like?
It’s not really a new band. It’s something that we started back in ’94 when Barry Stern (Zoetrope, Trouble) was playing drums for us. That’s when Scott Carlson was originally in the band as well. We had a couple spare afternoons in the rehearsal room and started jamming out some hardcore stuff. Classic hardcore. Not so much American hardcore: a few influences like Crucifix and Iconoclast but more European hardcore, early ’80s type stuff. I think we were really hung over one day and we started blasting some hardcore. We never recorded it but we always said if we ever see Scott again we should revisit that Septic Tank jam we did. Obviously because Scott’s back in the band and he recorded the album with us, we thought it would be good to give it a go.
We had a spare afternoon in the recording studio and we literally came up with four songs on the spot. In the space of about four hours we wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered them. We did a whole EP in like half a day. Then again, that’s music that’s in everyone’s blood. It doesn’t take a lot for us to come up with stuff like that. That EP’s coming out on a Japanese label called MCR.
It’s not my next serious band after Cathedral or anything like that. It’s just something for the hell of it. We’re doing our first gig with Repulsion in a couple weeks time.
When can we expect the inevitable Cathedral reunion tour?
Never. We’re now getting offered loads of money to do reunion gigs. It’s absolutely stupid They really think that they can offer us 30 or 40 grand and think we’re going to go “Yeah, we’re gonna take the money”. They totally missed the point. The band means more to us than that. It’s over and that’s it. I’m 45. If I was 25,or 30, the possibility might be there to do a reunion. In ten years I’m going to be 55. It’s just not going to happen.
If you could be any musician in the history of rock, who would you be?
Well, I’d be dead for a start probably! Jimi Hendrix or someone like that. I would love to play guitar like that. Now if you’re talking about people from days gone by, you have to put yourself in the position of where they are now. Take someone like John Lydon in 1977 or ’78 or even in Public Image Limited, but look at him now. I wouldn’t want to be him now. Now imagine being Iggy Pop or David Bowie at 20! I’m quite happy being myself these days. I could do worse.
‘The Last Spire’ hits stores on April 30.