In the Valley of the Shadow of Death
CoC chats to Lee Dorrian of Cathedral
by: Jackie Smit
There are very few figureheads in the metal genre who have lived by their convictions to quite the same extent as Lee Dorrian's Cathedral. At one time the bark behind Napalm Death's bite, he infamously ditched the band to form his current outfit when he felt that the novelty had worn off and the new extreme was simply the next institution. Several years on, and it's been a long, hard and often tumultuous road for the doom icons; yet after more trials and tribulations than the band themselves would care to remember, they're back with an album that sounds ready to kill, and almost certainly won't disappoint their faithful following of fans. Yet, as it transpired during my recent conversation with Dorrian, _Garden of Unearthly Delights_ may well turn out to be the band's last ride.

CoC: The new material is significantly heavier and more aggressive than anything that I think Cathedral has probably done in its existence. What brought on this newly envenomed attitude?

Lee Dorrian: Well, you know, the basic fact is that Cathedral is a band that's been around for over sixteen years, and when you've been going for that long it gets harder to be creative, but also to be still good -- on your own terms; what you consider to be good and creative. Through all this time, we don't take what we do lightly. We are a bit anarchic in how we approach things and in our attitude. But people sometimes tend to think that we're just taking the piss, and that has never been the case. We just like to do what we like to do, and that's that. So, after all these years, and with the current state of heavy metal -- to actually still be respected creates big expectations. I think in Britain the opposite is true: we're seen as part of the furniture. We're a safe band who will always be around, and that's that, you know?

CoC: So, the new album had to fulfil expectations on one level and recapture people's attention on another?

LD: Yeah, and I think it had to grab our own attention as well. When we started writing the songs for the new album it was two and a half years ago, and we had a shitload of songs -- sixteen or eighteen songs -- and we stripped them all. Leo [Smee], our bass player, wasn't in the band yet at that time, so basically it was me, Brian and Gaz rehearsing over the weekend and coming up with the songs and stuff; and those two suggested that we go to the studio since we had the songs, and I just said no. To me those songs sounded really fucking average; they were blatantly Sabbath, blatantly Cathedral and a bit Saint Vitus-ey, and that was it. They just sounded too safe and too reliable. So we wrote more and more stuff, and ultimately ended up spending two years trying to find out what we didn't want to do with the next album.

CoC: I can imagine that to be quite a frustrating process for you.

LD: It frustrated the fuck out of me. I had sleepless nights for two years, because for me to do this -- it's not like a day job or something you do in the office. To do this, it's got to be a thousand percent or nothing; and it matters so much to me, because my album is going to leave a mark on the scene and in years to come people will listen to it and they'll say that it's killer or shit or average or whatever. I want people to think it's killer, and because I want that, I have to fucking suffer like shit. I have to work like there's no tomorrow. I have to feel like shit, and I have to think that everything around me is shit, and I have to make myself feel awful to be inspired enough to be able to write something that really winds me up.

CoC: So, what was the process you went through to get yourself to that place?

LD: Luckily we managed to delay recording a few times, or at least I did. I kept coming up with excuses to delay the recording, and because of that we were able to find this great producer in Warren [Ryker] and we got to work in a good studio. Before that, we were just getting so bored of the whole process, we had just been talking about going to the old studio where we recorded our first demo, and just produce it ourselves -- which I think would have been a fatal error. The fact that we left it a few months meant that we could take advantage of the opportunity when Warren got in touch with us.

CoC: How did that happen?

LD: He contacted us through the Rise Above website and said that he really digs the stuff that we put out, and that he'd really like to work on one of our bands. Then we sent him an e-mail back and asked if he'd like to do the next Cathedral album, and he said: "Yeah, I'd fucking love to do it", and he did the whole thing for next to nothing. So it all worked out for the best, and as time went on... It's kind of hard to look back on it really, because it's two and a half years, which doesn't seem like a long time, but when you work on an album, it can feel like quite a long time.

CoC: Well, usually in this scene it seems to be the case that bands release a new album once every two years.

LD: Yeah, and my thoughts personally are that I'm quite confused about what I do a lot of the time. I'm being completely honest here. I don't rate my voice. I'm not very confident, and I sometimes feel like I want to sing melodically, but I then I realise that I can't. I sometimes don't quite know what to do, because we have these brutally heavy songs, and if I were to sing melodically, then I'd sound like a fucking sissy, and if I sing too aggressive, then the songs sound too aggressive. So that creates quite a dilemma. It was Brian actually who one day said to me: "Just be yourself and do what the fuck you do; just do it and fucking stop worrying about it." So, I thought to myself that I was going to do what I wanted to and stop worrying what people think, and I've found that if I just do what comes instinctively, then everything works out fine. Therefore the songs sound heavier. The more aggressive songs -- what I never realised until this recording was that when I sing aggressively, I sound melodic as well. It's hard for me to explain it. I don't like the sound of my own voice, basically. <laughs>

CoC: But after so many years in the scene and with all the acclaim and all the praise that has been heaped on you over the years, surely over a period of time that should work toward building up your confidence?

LD: No, it doesn't. We don't see all of that stuff. I have absolute complete one thousand percent respect for people that like us, but people that do dig us and that really get what we're doing -- there's not a lot of them around. There's not a shitload of those people, and I wouldn't expect there to be. But again, we're a band who's a part of British heavy metal history, and in a way we're not there -- if you know what I mean. We're not the kind of band that jumps up at people and makes them go bananas. You know, we can play the Underworld and we can play the Garage, and it's pretty much always the same people who will come. We'll never compromise our music to get bigger, because that's the thing -- even when you have people who compliment you and like you, what does it change? It's frustrating, because we're not the kind of band who can just go and slog it out in the studio for a couple of weeks and come up with a killer album. It's a long-winded process for us, because it's been so long. You don't want to repeat what you did on the first album, or the second or the third -- we've done eight fucking albums, so it gets really difficult, and making an album becomes more and more of a challenge each time. If it was really easy to do this and make it sound amazing, then that would be great; but it isn't, because of everything that's against us, like our past, the current state of metal.

CoC: You mentioned Warren Ryker, the producer, earlier and clearly he contributed a great deal to how this record turned out. Where do you think his influence is most evident on _Garden of Unearthly Delights_?

LD: Well, for a start, I loved working with him. The whole process was fucking killer. Normally, I hate being in the studio. I used to love it, but then as the demands got greater and the responsibilities got more, I grew to hate it. But Warren -- he was just so cool. He was great technically and the way he treated us -- we're not the most conventional band in the world, and we often have ideas that most people would just say to us: "Fuck off, let's do it the right way." So basically just play it safe, you know? But Warren didn't object to any ideas we had. He basically said to us that we'd try something and if it worked, we'd concentrate on it and make it stronger. So, layers and soundscapes and all these subliminal parts like backing vocals and whatever else, he was very much into, and he really liked the ideas that we had instead of disposing of them. So, for me that was key thing that he brought to this record that made it what it turned out to be. I loved working with him and going into the studio every day, listening to the mixes and experimenting with new ideas. It was a great relationship to have, and we've never had that before and it makes me think: "Fucking hell, how much better could an album like _Supernatural Birth Machine_ have turned out if a guy like Warren was producing it?"

CoC: So when you're doing a record like this, do you ever find yourself looking at your back catalogue and asking yourself how you could have written some of those songs?

LD: I guess I do, but I don't really see the point in thinking like that. I could think about how _Supernatural Birth Machine_ wasn't as good as it should have been. But the fact is that we did it and we can't change that, and that's that. If we messed around and experimented and did punk songs or jazz or funk or whatever -- it's what we wanted to do at the time, and if we hadn't done it then, we wouldn't have been able to make ourselves better later on. At least if you do things like that, then you know not to do them next time round.

CoC: How did the deal with Nuclear Blast come about?

LD: That's been quite a long time coming actually. Marcus [Staiger, Nuclear Blast founder] and I have known each other for quite a few years, going back to when I was in Napalm Death and he used to promote shows and have his mail order company. It was a little bit like Earache back then; very DIY. We used to hang out with him back then, and so about two years ago, when he found out that Cathedral wasn't with Dreamcatcher anymore, he got in touch with us and said that he'd love to do an album with us. Again, as much as we can talk about struggles and how hard it is to do things, the basic point of it is that after all these years and all these ups and downs, a label like Nuclear Blast comes along and gives us the opportunity to do an album. You couldn't think of something better, really; to work with people who take you that seriously, who are probably the biggest metal label in the fucking world.

CoC: What's it like working with them in comparison to a label like Earache or Dreamcatcher?

LD: It's hard to say, because the record's not out yet. They just seem a lot more professional and a lot more together, and so far so good, you know?

CoC: Earache has come under a lot of fire from bands that have left the label. What is your experience of working with them?

LD: Well, I was on two Napalm Death records. I wrote all the lyrics on the second one and bits and pieces on the first one. Those two records sold more than 400,000 units worldwide and I've seen £4,500. So, you tell me? What can I say, really -- they were quite good to Cathedral. There were a lot of issues and Earache had this reputation that they're difficult to work with, and so when you have that in the back of your mind, you'll be expecting it to be bad all the time; and it wasn't, so I wouldn't slam the label completely. Dan [Tobin, Earache manager] is a wicked guy and he knows how to deal with people. Digby [Pearson, Earache founder] can't deal with people; he hides away from a lot of things, and when we were working with them, there were big issues between them and our management. The relationship between those two was so horrible, and there we were, sitting in the middle of it all, waiting for things to work themselves out. There were times when two years would go by when we wouldn't do fuck-all, you know? Now, who's to blame for that?... Whatever, you know? They were good to us in general. Things went weird when things happened in America and the whole fucking Columbia deal went down.

CoC: The tour you had planned with Candlemass for Europe was cancelled at the last minute. Why was that?

LD: A variety of reasons, really. I don't think that they were too happy with the guarantees; there wasn't enough money involved, and that's all I know, really. It was an amazing disappointment to me, because it would have been a great tour, and I can't think of a better band to tour with. The worst thing is that we didn't find out until two weeks before everything was set to happen, so we didn't have a back-up plan to do another tour. But like I say, I'm not dying to go out on tour. I think this is a good album, but we'll just see what happens.

CoC: So, on to more pleasant things: Rise Above Records is your own label, which you've had going for a while now. How did that get started originally?

LD: Well, I'd seen how Earache got started, and I'd seen a couple of other labels getting their start, like Peaceville and whatever. Basically, one of the only good things that Maggie Thatcher did was to encourage the start of small businesses. It was a government scheme where you needed to come up with £1000 and a business plan, and the government would give you more money than you'd normally get on the dole. Then after a year, if you didn't see any prospects or any future sustainability for the label, then you'd be out on your own and you'd get no further support from the government. So I went on the dole and people would ask whether they had seen me somewhere, and I'd say no, and so I figured that I'd start this label, get more money and see where things went. As far as the bands were concerned that we started with; that was a case of looking at the doom scene from a commercial point of view and seeing that there were all these great bands that nobody was putting out. I mean, you had Solitude Aeturnus and you had The Obsessed and St Vitus, but there was a ton of other killer doom bands and nobody was doing anything with them. They were so different to the generic death metal, which had become the popular thing at the time, and I just decided to stick them all together on a compilation and things just kind of went from there. These days it's like I'm an old man now who's found a hobby!

CoC: What's on the agenda for Cathedral over the next couple of months?

LD: Don't know. There were about six or seven shows that we were going to headline in Europe: a few in Holland, Switzerland and Germany and a couple of other places; those we'll still do. There's a couple of other gigs we might do, but we'll just have to see how things work out.

CoC: Do you still get the same rush from playing live that you used to when you started out in this business?

LD: The difference is that now I'm not so fucking wasted, so I can remember a bit more. Back in the Napalm Death days, I was so fucked all the time -- I was finishing a bottle of Jägermeister, smoking loads of spliffs, taking a bunch of speed; I was just fucked-up all the time. Up until '95, I was just a fucking wreck, really. I look back at some of those times, like when I was seventeen or eighteen years old and doing the Napalm Death thing, and getting loaded and smashed all the time. There were some times when I was doing that where I would just think that so many of the people that were into us didn't really understand what we were really doing. Then we started Cathedral and we were playing really slow, when everybody was expecting me to do another grindcore band. I'm not saying that was the deliberate reason why we did it, but it was cool in a way to have those people not like us, because I didn't like them; they're a bunch of macho, self-centred, self-obsessed fucking assholes. If somebody is going to throw a bottle at me because I'm not playing at 400 miles an hour... well, excuse me.

CoC: When you were starting out, what was the most severe incident of fan abuse you experienced?

LD: Nothing too extreme, really. I got spat at by a few fans and people threw things on stage. I didn't ever get bottled or anything like that. Well, I did actually, but that was in Sweden while I was in Napalm. You see, for me the thing about Napalm always was that it was underground and it was very special, and when that idea becomes accepted and conventional and it becomes the norm, then it is no longer extreme. In that case, am I not allowed to change and do something different? The way people talk about how music is extreme these days -- it's not. There's a million other bands that have done it before!

CoC: Last words from you for this interview then?

LD: Well, nothing, really. All I can say is that we've been around for all these years as Cathedral. We love what we do, but we're not going to be around forever, and the day is going to come when we're going to have to say goodbye. I don't want to sound like an arrogant fucking idiot, but I think we're quite a special band -- in the UK especially. I think that when Cathedral is gone, there's going to be a massive gap in heavy metal in England. I think it's kind of taken for granted that we're always going to be around, but we won't be. So, it's up to people who want to experience what we're about to do so while they still can.

CoC: How long do you still see yourself doing this?

LD: I don't know, really. I'll know when the day comes that we have to end it.

CoC: It must be bad saying goodbye to something you've done for such a long time though.

LD: Is it bad? I think it's quite healthy. It's like a relationship where you've gone out with a girl for four years and you know it's over, but you can't say it. For me it's very hard, you know, and I'm almost getting emotional about it now, because I know it's going to end. The amount of effort and time and energy that's gone into this group is a lot. So, it upsets me to think that it has to come to an end. But I'm not Lemmy. For God's sake, nobody is Lemmy. And that's another thing: I look at the history of British music; guys like Lemmy, Keith Richards, Johnny Rotten, who are all these great fucking characters. Where are they now? Who else is like that? Robbie Williams? Come on, he's a fucking glorified holiday camp entertainer. There's no more rock stars around. I don't know where this is all coming from -- what we're saying -- but I'm just thinking about being disillusioned with things.

CoC: What do you see yourself doing after Cathedral?

LD: I'll spend more time on the label, I guess, and probably get a part-time job. I can't see myself spending two years on just jumping straight into another musical project. I'm too old for that, man. I might do something eventually, but it'll be completely different to what Cathedral does. If I did something after Cathedral, it would be like '70s prog-rock or something -- and I'm not really capable of doing that, so... <laughs>

(article submitted 14/9/2005)


ALBUMS
5/13/2001 A Wee 9.5 Cathedral - Endtyme
1/2/1997 A Bromley 7 Cathedral - Supernatural Birth Machine
6/9/1996 A Bromley 7 Cathedral - Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)
10/1/1995 G Filicetti 6 Cathedral - The Carnival Bizarre
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