Cathedral's Lee Dorrian; a humble man's tale...

In the face of adversity, Cathedral have gone the distance...

Cathedral vocalist Lee Dorrian is lurking at home in Archway, North London, a week after the band played their final UK gig; metal fans everywhere thought that the gig played at The Forum, Kentish Town on the 3rd of December was the final show but no! As it turns out Perth based Australian fans will get that dubious (and sadness-filled) honour.

So how was the final gig at The Forum? “It was really awesome - that one was quite special really. It was pretty much sold out – it’s funny how people all come out to your funeral! It was a great bill and I tried my hardest not to get emotional – if I started saying things in between songs, I quickly stopped myself. The more I started thinking about it, the more I started talking about it and the more I started getting a bit tear-jerky so we just ripped through the set. We had a really nice set up on the stage and I think it was a really heavy, good way to end things - over here at least; initially it was intended to be our last show ever but after we announced it we got offered this Australian tour so ironically Perth, which will be the last date on the Soundwave tour, is going to be our last show ever. The last time we were in Australia was over a decade ago; for a while there from ’96 up to ’99 we came over quite consecutively but, as I said, we haven’t been there for over a decade now. We had such a good time during those times we came to Australia, and I remember being in Sydney the last time we were there, just hanging around thinking it might be our last time here but in the back of my mind I always knew we’d come back some time but I didn’t realise it would be the very last thing we’d do, ever. It’s kind of ironic but it’s really nice because coming to Australia is a lot different to going in the back of a van around Europe in some dark, dingy countries in Eastern Europe. Going to Australia is like going on a holiday really; just relaxing and meeting some cool people and having a few beers and having a good time and playing your shows so it’s a bit of a different atmosphere and a nice way for us to round things off.” He adds “We only played Perth once in the three times we came to Australia and that was with Paradise Lost, and it was strange gig – we only really saw the beach; we didn’t see the town or anything, and I don’t think there were that many people there for the show so it was a kind of a strange place in Australia for us to play but I guess it’s a strange way to end our career – hopefully being the last date on the Soundwave tour we’ll be able to have a good party too.” Perth fans, you have been warned. The last ever Cathedral gig will be in your home town. Go out and make it a night to (not) remember...

So what was the after-show party like at the Kentish Town gig? “My only problem is I haven’t been able to drink for the past three months because I’ve got something going on medically so I need to refrain from drinking. I shouldn’t have been drinking at the farewell show but I couldn’t not drink, so we had a bottle of champagne and some Jagermeister and some Jack Daniels...a little tipple [laughs]”

I ask Lee if his health has anything to do with the end of Cathedral or is it just a case of having had enough; “Neither really, I wouldn’t say I’ve had enough or had any health issues; I’m fine health-wise, I’ve just got to watch myself a little bit until I find out what’s wrong.” He’s quick to add that it’s not a serious condition. “I think the reason we’re wrapping it up is that we’ve come to the end; it’s quite simple. We’ve been together for a long time and we feel good about what we’re doing at the moment and we don’t want to get into the situation where we’re just churning out records for the sake of it and drag the name into the ground. We want to leave it while it still feels good, while it’s still fresh in peoples’ memories – we want to leave on a high, really.”

The last year or so has seen Cathedral pumping out material – probably the most we’ve seen in quite some time; The Guessing Game (2010), the live album Anniversary (2011); Ice Age (2011); and the final album The Last Spire (2012). Do you feel there’s still a lot of material that you want to get out before the end of the band? Lee is keen to point out that Ice Age is just (just?!) a 12 inch single; “A vinyl only release, it’s more for vinyl fans than anything else – it’s not like a big career move release or anything like that; it’s just a limited edition single really...and the live album came out this year – we put that album out because we’d never released a live album before and we always wanted to but we never had the opportunity. We always wanted to do it and it was our twentieth anniversary and it was a good stop gap between The Guessing Game and our last album The Last Spire.”

So you’re not worried that Earache will be digging out the old tapes and releasing a swathe of material when you finish up? “I don’t know. They reissued Forest [of Equilibrium] and Ethereal Mirror and I thought they did quite a good gob with those actually, they did that a couple of years ago with a DVD and interviews. I think they did a good job with those reissues, and The Guessing Game came out last year. I don’t think there’s any major plan to churn out loads of stuff. I’m sure our first demo will be reissued again but we’re not going to try and churn out loads of things to try and cash in on ‘the end’. That kind of stuff [gratuitous cashing in], I’ve always been against it anyway. We just want to put out stuff that’s nice for collectors and fans because I’m in a situation now where I can do that because we’re releasing our stuff on Rise Above at the moment (Lee’s own label).” He’s very happy to be able to do stuff with “nice packaging” and says that while he’s spent all year "...releasing nice, collectable vinyl for other bands “ on Rise Above, he’s also pretty happy that he can now do the same for Cathedral.

A lot of people don’t realise that Cathedral, in all its incarnations, has been going for over 21 years; what are some of the highlights for you personally? “The highlights have been touring and travelling around the world. Coming to places like Australia..to put it this way, if I hadn’t been in the band I never would have been able to come to places like Australia or Japan or South America or all the cool places we’ve been to because I’m from a working class background and I wouldn’t have been able to afford to; growing up in the shit conditions that we did as individuals, being in this band has enabled us to do some amazing things that, like I say, we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. Meeting people, meeting some of our favourite bands – becoming friends with some of our favourite bands; we’ve played with Pentagram, we’ve played with The Obsessed; we’ve played with St Vitus, we’ve played with Trouble; we’ve toured with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi guested on one of our records; things like that people can’t take away from you. They are definite highlights. We never really formed the band with any big plan. We never thought we’d get past a demo to be honest with you, because what we were doing back when we first started was not what everyone else was doing; it’s not what was popular. We didn’t think anyone would get what we were doing when we did our first demo, let alone our first album so to still be here after all this time, talking to you on the other side of the pond – the other side of the world! – back then it’s something we never would have imagined that this far forward we would even still be here talking about it so that in itself is an achievement I think.”

Speaking of Tony Iommi, what’s your take on the Black Sabbath reunion? “Well, I think it’s awesome. The main thing that I’m happy about is that Bill’s gonna be doing it because a Black Sabbath reunion without Bill Ward is not a Black Sabbath reunion in my mind because all four members are what made that band. So the fact that Bill’s doing it, I think that’s great. My only hope is that they don’t just do the same old set again, I’m hoping they’ll pull out some more obscure numbers and make the set a bit more interesting instead of just doing the obvious tracks [You know the drill: Iron Man, Paranoid etc etc]. God knows what the album’s gonna sound like – I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing for them to release a new album after all this time but one thing’s for sure, I’ll certainly be buying it.”

You guys were doing the ‘Doom’ thing before the genre was even coined; do you reckon Cathedral gets the recognition it deserves? His response is a speedy “I don’t think so.”, which he follows up with “...but then again, that’s the way it is. I don’t sit here spending my days thinking we should be more popular than we are because that’s almost a self-defeatist thing to say, isn’t it? We know the reasons we didn’t become more popular than we were; we didn’t stick to one formula, we didn’t play the rules really. I think a lot of the time when we release new records, people don’t understand where we’re coming from. A lot of people get confused by what we’re trying to do...but we do have people who do support us and we do have people who understand what we’re trying to do and they’re the people that really matter to us, and as long as we’ve had those people there over the years, that’s the main thing that’s kept us going. When we did our first demo, I’d been in Napalm Death, there were all these stupid terms and phrases going around for the media to explain what some of our best music was; ‘the world’s fastest band’ and all this kind of stuff so to be doing something like Cathedral which was on the opposite scale in terms of speed, we didn’t really know what was going to happen and how people were going to take it – and that was half the excitement about doing it because we weren’t deliberately trying to do something that nobody else was doing, we were just making music that we actually wanted to make. We thought that perhaps people might absolutely hate it or they just wouldn’t understand why you would want to play that slow; luckily because it was heavy enough and still had a certain amount of extremity to it. I think people did get into it because it was a little bit different, and as you point out, when people talk about metal and metal genres, doom metal is right up there. People know what it means but back then people didn’t have any idea what it meant; they just thought it was a band that played slow.”

The strange thing is that a lot of people don’t realise that Cathedral mix up their styles, going from the mind crushing doom riffs to the more up tempo, (dare I day it?) almost groove orientated realms; do these changes in the music reflect the band’s emotional states? “Probably. It’s just everything really. Like I said, we’ve never sat down and had a master plan; we’ve never been business minded or anything like that, and I suppose we never really played the rules because we made our own rules with the records we made.” Lee explains this in a typically understated way, saying: “I wouldn’t say we’re proud of that, proud isn’t a word I like to use very often, but we don’t regret anything we’ve done – there are certain records we’ve done that are better than others – that’s unquestionable but basically, in all honesty, the only thing we’ve ever done is follow our instincts. We’ve never really considered that by releasing the next record it might piss our audience off, or that it might make more people turned onto us, it’s never been the case that actually we’ve sat down and analysed those things – we’ve literally just made the records we wanted to make at that time. It’s the only way I can describe it. It might even sound clichéd saying that we only make the records that we want to make but if it does, it does, but the point is, that’s the facts and that’s what we’ve done really.”

You can’t argue with that; they’ve gone a pretty healthy distance by doing what they want; but surely it’s not been all plain sailing on the calm yet doom-filled seas? “It hasn’t been easy, as you can probably imagine, by doing things that way you don’t make life easy for yourself, in fact you make it ten times more difficult because people never know where you’re coming from. I think that maybe it’s easier for people to have something they understand; it’s easier to get into, isn’t it? It’s a lot more of a challenge to get into something they don’t understand...we’re not here to be an obviously explainable band; we’re here to make music and make the music we want. Like I say, it has been hard and we’ve had to fight to keep ourselves going; in the face of adversity we’ve had to fight hard to make our records and make them heard; I suppose it’s quite an achievement because all the trends and fashions that have come and gone since we started; we’re still here...but not for long!”

So tell us about the The Last Spire, the final Cathedral disc: “It’s not recorded yet; it’s going to be the last thing we ever do but we’re still writing it at the moment; we’re probably going to record in London this time; quite locally I think. We’re probably going to produce it ourselves or maybe get someone as a co-producer. The problem is when you use producers...I look back on some of our records and with Cathedral, it’s kind of hard [for producers] to fully understand where we’re coming from because a lot of the time we don’t know where we’re coming from ourselves but we kind of know how our records should sound, and with this last one we want it to sound exactly how we want it to sound, not someone else’s interpretation.”

So some of your previous albums didn’t sound how you wanted them to? “Yeah, it’s a combination of the producers and a combination of us maybe not being ready; there’s been a couple of times we’ve gone into the studio...for Ethereal Mirror, it was bizarre but it kind of worked with us being spontaneous; Ethereal Mirror is the most successful record we ever made but we went into the studio with literally four songs almost finished, the rest of the album was written in the studio within the space of a few days and we used to thrive on that spontaneity. But I think by the time we did an album like Supernatural [Birth Machine] pretty much all of it was written in the studio within the space of two weeks. I was writing lyrics literally five minutes before we recorded, no rehearsals whatsoever, and some people say that’s their favourite album by Cathedral and I go ‘Really?!’ - when you’re the person making those record, it’s very hard to be objective about what you’re doing so you always leave it to the people who listen to your records.”

So out of the entire Cathedral back catalogue, what are your favourites? “My favourite records would be our first album Forest of Equilibrium (1991) and The Carnival Bizarre (1995) is my second favourite, and the other seven albums, there are excellent parts on all of them but some of them aren’t as good as others. I think that’s only inevitable when you’ve been together as long as we have; not all of your records are going to be fantastic – if any!”

As my time with Lee draws to a close, I have time for one last question; what the fuck next? “I haven’t got any specific plans in terms of musical paths to follow in terms of being in another band. I’m sure me and Garry (Jennings) will continue writing together, whether it’s just for fun and not recording, because we’ve worked together for so long we’d probably miss that kind of connection we have. In terms of forming another band, I’ve got no definite idea. The main thing that will be taking up my time is the label, Rise Above Records, which is a full time job in itself so I need to dedicate a bit more time to that. But then we’ll see; no definite plans but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do anything ever again.”

Weep, weep, Cathedral fans. The end is nigh (but until then just get the fuck on it)...