Lee Dorrian interview transcription

Lead Vocals

Cathedral have been the biggest doom-metal band in the World for many years now. Formed in 1989 by then-Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian and now on their eighth studio release, Lee shares his thoughts on the record, the epic 25 minute song it closes with, touring, his record label and Maggie Thatcher.

How have people reacted to the new record been so far?
Overall I must say it's been very positive. It's the most positive response to an album we've had for quite some time, I think. It's quite ironic in a way because we all personal think it's one of the best albums we've done in a long while. Believe me we're not the kind of band that will say we've done something really good unless we have! If we feel like we've done something average, we'll say. We're quite happy with this one and it's quite enlightening to know that people seem to be taking to it in a positive way.

How much interest have you had in it from the media? Have you managed to avoid the danger that's there of having been around so long, having a large gap and getting ignored when you come back?
Yeah, I think there's a misconception there, I mean now people are churning out stuff to fast anyway. I'd rather our music was quality and not just quantity, I don't like to use that cliche, but I'd rather we felt comfortable about what we were doing than put out something just to get over the time aspect. I think the fact is that we've been around so long anyway, that a few years in between albums doesn't really make much difference. I think we've kept a consistent following throughout all this time anyway, and they'll probably still be with us whatever we do. Of course on the other side of that, we're on a label that is very proficient in terms of promotion. Let alone the fact that with Cathedral, the label is taken very seriously as well, and I think that's helped in a lot of respects. We've probably done a lot more press than we normally would, actually, for this one.

As opposed to, say, when you were on Dreamcatcher for the last one?
Just in general, really. I wouldn't like to pinpoint labels or times or situations, but just in general. I would say probably since about '95. Round about '95 when The Carnival Bizarre came out, that was the last album where we did shitloads of press and it was a really successful album. I think we've done a few in between that have been moderately successful, in their own way, but in terms of this kind of stuff, since about '95 it's probably the most we've done

When you started making this one, when you started going into this record, did you having anything in mind? Did you set out to do anything in particular? I know you never go into it to make the next Cathedral record just to make Cathedral record.
Well, having said that though, I think after we did the Caravan Beyond Redemption album, I personally got a bit, I wouldn't say disillusioned with the way the band was going, but just a bit like 'oh it's all starting to sound a bit nice and a bit safe', and we'd kind of pigeonholed ourselves a bit with this style, and I felt there was no risks in the music anymore, I don't know how you wanna take that, but coming from a punk background, I don't like the idea of being safe, in a safe environment, I don't like the idea of the music being safe, or sounding safe or becoming something that's just like a commodity, and I think we were in danger of becoming that. That was just me personally, I'm sure the other guys in the band probably wouldn't agree, and certainly didn't agree at the time. After Caravan... I sort of made this stand and said the next album's gotta be completely different, it's got to get back to what the band meant in the first place, strip down the whole production ethic and get back to the primitive way in which we had the hunger to be in this band in the first place. My biggest fear is that one day you become complacent and I think we started to become a little bit complacent about what we were doing. So I kind of got a bit wound up and said we've got to make the music heavier and strip it down and get raw again. I guess it's because a lot of my favourite bands over the years, if they've been around for as long as we have, a lot of them haven't actually, but by the time they've been together for five or six years, they've started becoming quite lame. They've lost all their original spark and they've just started doing things for the sake of doing them, or they've gone a completely different way and lost touch with what they were about in the first place, and I just never wanted that to happen to us. That's why I insisted we do an album like Endtyme. So after we did Endtyme, we did The VIIth Coming, and I kind of took a step back. I didn't get on my high horse about how the album should sound, it was more whatever came out and I left it to the other guys really, without having much of an opinion on it. I liked all the material, so we just went along with it. This one wasn't as easy to make. Personally speaking I thought the last one was good, but to do another continuation of the last one would be going back to where we were before Endtyme. So we came up with a bunch of songs not long after the last album came out. They were just a bunch of songs. They were good songs. But we've been together for fifteen years, they're not that f**king good. If we're still going to be doing this we still need to be on top of our game. I kind of felt a bit half-a*sed about the songs, to be honest with you.

So we sat on the fence for a while and contemplated it all for a couple of years. It was more a case, not of not deliberately making an album we wanted to make, but not knowing what we wanted to make. We spent those two years discovering what we didn't want to do, as opposed to what we did. So it took that long to come to a stage where we actually wanted to go into the studio, about two and a half years. And I'm so glad we didn't go in the studio before we actually did. We've been together so long, and the state of metal at the moment, and where we fit into it is like no-man's-land in a way. We still believe in what we do, but if we are still going to be doing this we've still got to at least keep making our f**king stamp on the scene. At least prove to ourselves that we're vital in the scene. I think you can tell on the album there's a lot of urgency in the vibe of it, we won't be beaten down. We won't be buried by trends. Even if we are, in the mainstream perception of things, we won't allow ourselves to feel like that as a band. So that's why there's a sense of urgency on the album.

You could put it in a more factual way, like there's the long song on side two and varied songs on side one, if we're talking about an album made that way. The idea for the long song, I had that idea a couple of albums ago, even on Endtyme I thought we should do something like that, but I never really pushed it until this one. This is our eighth album, and the thought of us doing another conventional album that's just song, song, song after song, song, song, just ten song, song, songs, we thought we should try and break that convention and do something a bit more radical. We used to do EPs many years ago where we were a bit more experimental, and we haven't been that experimental on our albums ever, really. The fact that we haven't allowed ourselves to get into that environment where we're completely freeform, I kind of miss that. So this album was like an album of two-halves, where we could be experimental, and the time that you'd spend on writing twelve songs, I wanted to spend that same amount of time on writing six. So you could spend a lot more attention to detail on those six, as opposed to if you had six other songs, they'd probably be diluted because of the time factor you had to spend on them. So I saw it as an album of two halves, with the long song as a completely different concept altogether. The other songs are verse, chorus, verse, and they go their own way, but it gave us time to really concentrate on those songs and see the other side of the album as being a different concept altogether. And it broke the whole monotony of writing as well.

(Lee dashes off to shut the dressing room door as Grand Magus have rather inconsiderately started their set.)

On the subject of the big one, The Garden, that was totally unexpected stuff. It's such an impressive track. I don't expect that kind of… prog, from Cathedral.
Well, I think it's no secret that we're fans of underground progressive music from the early 70s. We have done a song like that before, actually, but it was a long time ago, about '93. We did a song called Voyage of The Homeless Sapien, it was on the b-side of Statik Majik. But that was so off-the-wall, so freeform, that it was almost borderline comedy. Whereas this one, we had the idea to do it, but we didn't want it to be a goofy track. We didn't want it to be something people could laugh at. Well, you can laugh at it, whatever you want, but we wanted to take the whole of idea of it a lot more seriously, and have it properly structured and for it to have a continuing theme and for it to go everywhere without really backing off, just follow it's own path while going through a multitude of atmospheres and styles. It wasn't actually as hard to come up with it as you might imagine. I think that because we had a few months to think about it before we started writing it, I think subconsciously amongst ourselves we were kind of working towards it, and when we actually got to write it we locked ourselves away on this island for five days and wrote all of that song in four and half days. There was a basic structure. There's the verses and choruses, part of the middle section, then the last verse and chorus, and we built the whole song around that. So some parts came from jams and other parts came from riffs that Gaz (Jennings, guitar) had had or Leo (Smee, bass) had had and we just managed to be able to step back from it and look in, and keep stepping back and looking in, and get to the stage where we felt it all kind of flows quite nicely.

A few of us are really into obscure underground music from the late 60s, early 70s, and collect LPs. We're big fans of that period. Mainly the underground bands that were never that successful. There's something quite special about them. Groups like Yes and Genesis and ELP I can't say I dig at all. But bands like Aardvark or Supersister or Blast Furnace, those really underground bands had something really f**king unique going on. It was coming out the psychedelic era going into the progressive era when no one really knew what it was and it was kind of indefinable. Until it became 1972 and Rick Wakeman started, and all that kind of pompous shit started happening. There was a real special period of music there where it was so free, so unhindered by restriction or categorisation or being boxed-in. It was just brave and bold and broke down every f**king musical barrier you could imagine. I'm not trying to say that we're trying to replicate the sound or the style of one of those bands, it's more the way I look around at music today, it's so f**king categorised and so boxed in and so f**king definable and so f**king pinpointable, that I don't really want Cathedral to be a band like that. OK, we are metal, basically we are a metal group, but we are quite open minded in what we listen to and we want people to be open minded, and I think they are, the people that listen to us. So it's more the freedom aspect of that period that we're inspired by, we don't want to sound like one of those bands. I think people in bands now just get their hair cut and go "du-ga du-ga dur" and scream and I don't feel any soul in the music anymore. In a lot of it anyway, the mainstream stuff especially. So that was another reason we wanted to do that song as well.

When I first heard about this gig there was talk of it including Circulus. Someone mentioned somewhere that you were going to have members of Circulus on stage with you and do something special.
Oh no! Well, we're going to play the song The Garden, or we're going to attempt to play it. F**king hell! But Lo, the female singer from Circulus, she's the singer on that track, so she's going to be on stage with us, and the violin player. Total Rock sent out a newsletter. That's how I heard about it!

After these few shows you're going out with Cradle of Filth. Why Cradle Filth? Is it to try and play in front of a different group of people?
Well, no, not really. I mean, a band like Cathedral, who do we go on tour with? There's not really a band bigger than us that plays this kind of music, so whoever we go on tour with as a support band is always going to be different to us. That's the way it is. Unless it's someone like COC or something, or Candlemass, whoever we tour with is going to be different. We're friends with Cradle of Filth, we've known them for years, we hang out, have beers, they're cool guys, I don't see it as being a big deal. They asked us to tour and we were like "Oh, thank you for asking. We will." And it was as simple as that. In the same way the HIM tour happened. To people from the outside it seems like a big deal, but I'm friends will Ville, he's one of my best mates, actually. We spent nights having drinks and talking about Sabbath and doom bands and stuff he was like "Why don't you come on tour with us?" and I was like "Oh, alright." I don't think about the bigger picture, about how people are going to think about it, it's just like "yeah, alright, we're mates, lets go on tour."

That's what I was hoping was the situation. I don't like people making purely commercial decisions. Just go out and play and get on with it. I mean, you can't just throw money away, but...
Well, there's an element of that. From our point of view we get to play bigger places than we'd normally play, so of course I'd be stupid to say that wasn't part of it. We're going to play in front of an audience that have never even heard of us before. Let alone seen us. So in that respect I don't see any problem. In terms of doing a tour, I mean, HIM financed us to play. Normally you'd have to buy onto a tour like that, but they, out of their own fee, helped us out.

Will there be anything after the Cradle of Filth tour? Are you going out on your own and doing some smaller shows afterwards?
We're working on a European tour, which I guess at the end of it will be UK as well. That's with Grand Magus, and maybe Electric Wizard too, but we'll see.

Why did the tour with Candlemass not happen?
I don't know. Candlemass pulled out of it, something to do with financial reasons, I don't know the full story. Grab a beer, by the way.

(Beer in hand...)

Right, we'll leave Cathedral there. Your label, why did you decide to start that?
Quite a simple reason, which is probably not a very ethical reason, but I was on the dole. I was in Napalm Death at the time and we were on TV every f**king week for one moment in the late 80s. We were all over the press and on the cover of NME and f**king (John) Peel was playing us every night and we were just all over the place. But we were still skint! I was signing on. People started asking me questions down the dole office. They thought I was making money somewhere, but I wasn't. I'd kind of had it in the back of my mind. I wanted to start a little label anyway just to do a few 7"s by local bands or bands that I liked that no one else was doing stuff with. I looked at the way Earache had started and Peaceville had started and Manic Ears and all these cool UK labels, and they basically started on one of the only good things (Margaret) Thatcher (ex-Prime Minister) probably ever did, called the Enterprise Allowance. It basically allowed you to run your own business for a year and they would partly finance you weekly, like put forty quid into your bank account every week. You had to go in with a business plan, like a projection, and appear with a grand. Then you go for a meeting with somebody, and if they accepted you it meant you didn't have to go to the dole office. So it meant my face wasn't seen down the dole office and I wasn't getting loads of questions, and just get forty quid in my bank account every week and try and run the label. That was for a year, after a year you fend for yourself or you dissolve the business. I put out a few 7"s that I was really excited about and it just went from there, really. It wasn't really a serious venture to start with, but it is now.

Do you find it really difficult to divide your time between Cathedral and the label?
Yeah, they're both demanding for various reasons. I think Cathedral is demanding more on my head than anything else. Coming up with this new album I had sleepless nights for f**king two and a half years thinking about material. Of course, I have sleepless nights worrying about bands going into the studio and whether they're going to break even, stuff like that. So both are very demanding mentally, and they take a lot of my time, but I don't live off either of them! I mean, none of us live off the band. We don't make any money out of it at all really, a few quid here and there, but nothing to survive on. So everyone's got day-jobs in the group, and I guess my day-job would be classed as the label, but I ain't making a penny from that really. Maybe a couple of hundred quid a month, something like that. But I still believe in it, so I'm gonna keep doing it. The day I stop doing one of them I'll be very pissed off about it, actually. I'll be f**king very down about it. So you have to keep persevering. You have to keep believing in what you do. And hopefully something will materialise that I can at least pay the rent from.

So are you able to be very hands-on with running it?
Yeah, yeah I am.

Do you have any other people doing stuff for you?
Yeah, there's basically two of us that run it. Will Palmer. Me and him do it, really. It's very demanding on both us really, but we still get such a buzz out of doing it.

Well, that's all part of it, provided you're not starving.
Huh, well, there's other people to thank for that, haha, which I won't go in to. I just think we're in a great position really because at the moment the roster we've got, of bands, is so f**king brilliant, and they're all so diverse, all so different from each other. I don't think there's one band we've got signed at the minute that sound like the other. Everything from Grand Magus through to Witchcraft through to Circulus through to Capricorns, and they're all very different.

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2005, Interview Transcriptions,

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