Lee calls me from London, where he has been living for about eight years now. 'It's still cold here, but it has been freezing and snowing a couple of days and people are having a nervous breakdown. Why? Let's hope for snow, so people have a few days off from work…Great! Relax!' The tone has been set, this is a great guy.
We have missed you so long… Five years… What happened?
Well, it actually does not seem like five years, but it really is yes. About one and a half year after 'The Garden Of Unearthly Delights' came out, we did some touring, until the end of 2006. Then we decided consciously to have a break from Cathedral. We needed a mental break, because after all these years we needed to look upon the band from different angles, for various reasons. Firstly: we were really happy with the last album and the way it turned out. Especially the latest track 'The Garden', an epic of twenty eight minutes long, was hard if not impossible to top. After recording this, we felt like: 'Shit, this turned out well but what are we going to do next?' There are many reasons: we all have different lives nowadays, we live in different towns. We are not teenagers anymore. But we have never been a band that makes huge amounts of money to make it that easy to continue the band, so there has always been a struggle. That's never been the motivation behind the band; it is just a fact. After a year of no communication within the band, I asked Gaz (guitarist Garry Jennings – Vera) about his feelings about the band. He said he had written a few riffs and he came down to London with his guitar. We spent a couple of afternoons in my living room, trying to come up with some ideas. Initially that stuff was much different. It was so much more in the vein of our first album, ultra doom-like. Slow and epic. A lot of material, but not so varied. He came down to London a few times that year and we recorded stuff onto tape and just listened to it. Next time we saw each other, we had new ideas and the whole album is written in that vein. I just thought: 'If we are going to do another album, what's the point in trying to recreate something from the past. All we can do is doing our best. Let's work on this material, get the budget and we just can do it.' It eventually turned into the album we always wanted to make. Once we had decided that, it became kind of easy, we just came up with more and more material. Till we got to the point – it was about March 2009 – when we decided to present the songs to the other guys in the band, Brian (Dixon – drums – Vera) and Leo (Smee – bass – Vera). It was time to rehearse. We gathered a few weekends and we were ready to go to the studio in November 2009. The answer is almost as long as the delay. (laughs)
I like that as a reporter…
Well, we are not in a rush to put albums out anymore. If we are going to do an album, we want it to be right. It is all part of your legacy what you do now. These days we always see an album as if it is the first one and it can be the last as well. And meanwhile we kept playing; we did a lot of festivals last year. From the beginning of 2007 till May 2008 we did not do gigs anymore. We got an offer to do a couple of shows and we thought: well, why not? There was one new song we played live on that couple of shows, but that even did not make it to the record. Last year we did Hellfest, Wacken, a few festivals in Spain, Italy. Last year we were quite busy.
As I understand the lyrics only came up when the music was composed, is that right?
I don't write lyrics down; I just have ideas in the back of my mind about the vibe or the approach or the direction. The artwork for the album has been there a long time in advance. When I have the artwork, it gives me ideas of things to write of. You haven't seen the artwork I guess?
A small picture of the cover…
It is pretty deceiving, because the small section you have seen is only a small part of a massive picture. It folds out into a massive question mark. Well, it is deliberately colourful and tranquil. There is not much that you can consider to be sinister in that image really except maybe the purple insect may be giving you an idea of what's approaching when you open the thing up hehe. It opens up a whole different world. It is part of the guessing game, imagine what's lying beyond it…
Lee: 'There isn't a real concept that runs all the way through the album, but the idea is not that different from Cathedral subjects we have written about before. Mainly the question of people and wondering about their existence: where do they come from? Why are they here? Where do they go? Most of the people just try to make a justification for their existence whether it is through religious fanaticism or whether it is through status building or trying to prove themselves in some way. What's the point? What do you have to prove, you know… Most of the people are so unsure that they really think this life is just a passage to a better life. How can you say that when you don't know it for sure? I better like to enjoy this life, because I do not know what lies beyond. The concept is loosely based around that kind of idea.'
And that's maybe why we hear a crying baby at the beginning?
The intro is a protest against the idea of an immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary/Jesus and all that crap. The whole concept of someone being born without…. you know what I mean…sexual practice. I always thought it was kind of irreverent towards women. The whole notion of the purest life form is given birth to by a woman who never had a sexual relationship, as if women are impure when they have sex. It is the strange, typical paranoia that religion handles when talking about men and women. It is a lie anyway. The baby's cry is the product of this immaculate conception or misconception and life has just started; ready for a funeral of dreams, which is the second song. As a young child, everything is beautiful, colourful and bright. You have got all the future to look forward to. Then you go to school and you get brainwashed with religion and rules. Towards the end of the song it comes down on: it is just about coming to terms with the fact that we are conditionally brainwashed and if there is any kind of way to get back and think for yourself again, then it is a good thing. Cathedral stuff can come across as being quite cynical, and I suppose it is quite cynical against authority and the state, but in a way it is positive in relationship of being an individual. From the moment you are born, you are not on yourself anyway. People have already planned who you are going to be, what you are going to belief and it takes a long time to able to actually think for yourself. You have to learn that what you were told, it is not necessary what you have to believe.
The song 'Requiem For The Voiceless' is presented as the first doom song that comes up for the rights of the animals. Are you a vegetarian?
I am a vegetarian since I was twelve, even vegan. I am for thirty years now, but not all the time. I am not 100% vegan, sometimes I do it about a year, but then on tour it is too difficult, but I never eat meat anyway. Sometimes if I have absolutely no choice I eat something with dairies, but I try to avoid it. It is something that affected me since I was a very young kid, six or seven years old. I went to the butcher shop with my mom and dad and I was standing there and I remember looking up and see four pig carcasses, just hanging above the counter. I thought: that's just wrong. Ever since that day I always stood outside when they got their meat, you know. I just realized eating meat was nothing for me, it is just wrong. And later I became a rather active supporter of animal rights. Some people get into it when they are eighteen or nineteen as a kind of trend, but for me it was never a fashion. It is something I actually believe in. I have always thought that doom music would be a good platform to write a song about that. I just did not come to doing it. This album is slightly more adventurous than the other ones and this was one of the songs that were written in the first part of the writing process. Through the song I put myself in the position of the animals. It is a shame how animals are treated by human beings. I speak on their behalf through that song. I think in many years to come, if people look back on these times, they will be ashamed. It is sick and horrible.
But the record also breathes your love for the seventies, more than ever, I think…
(laughs and hesitates) Yeah… maybe. Having said that, I don't think we tried to make a record that deliberately sounds as if it is recorded in the seventies or something. We do have a lot of influences from that period indeed. I think the sound on the record is very contemporary, it is just the influences that come from late sixties, early seventies, kind of prog, especially the English stuff from Vertigo. This time we preferred to bring all these elements a bit more in the front instead of in the back. We never used mellotron before for instance. There is also a lot more variation in the guitar sounds. I tried to sing more melodic instead of shouting. After all this time I loved to do some things a bit differently. There was a long time between the albums. We were kind of trapped in a caricature of ourselves and I think we managed to break out of that individually. I hope it is a good indication of where we go next. I look forward to the day when more bands will become more adventurous again.
Are you still active with Rise Above Records?
Yes, of course. We do not have that many releases on Rise Above at the moment; that gives me the time to concentrate on Cathedral for a while. There's only two of us that runs the label and doing the job of ten people. It is sometimes very demanding but it is something we get a lot of pleasure out as well. Still we should not want to do something else for living. I just manage to keep it going really. We only release the records we like and fortunately the label is quite successful. Last year we had the best sales we ever had in twenty years, and this within this financial crisis. It is not too bad for us at the moment. I think it is because we are a bit specialized. It is not a massive multi-million-selling corporation, but we manage to keep it going.
You are celebrating your twentieth anniversary with Cathedral now and it is reflected in the song called 'Journey Into Jade'. In which way?
That's right. I was trying to write some more natural lyrics this time, without going in crazy terms or supernatural magic spatial things. Well, yeah, we've been here for twenty years. It is no big deal, just a song about it because when we started we could never imagine being around that long. We could never imagine we'd still be here doing a record like this. Literally, when we started it was just like a project band. We'd record a demo and that would be the end of it. One of the main features of Cathedral is that we never think ahead too much and I think that is one of the main reasons we'd stayed together, because having a master plan or a big plan to become successful does not work. We are taking things as they come. That makes it easier to exist.
What are the tour plans?
In April we are doing a UK tour with Gates Of Slumber and Church Of Misery, but a proper European tour will be something for September or later. We have a couple of festivals, but we are rather late to join them, so we have to see on that matter what's still possible.
In between these relevant questions we wandered through our passion of collecting vinyl and music. That's a subject I can talk about for hours of course and Lee too, but that's not so relevant for the interview…