We chat to dreamy duo Cathedrals, about their creative chemistry, future touring locations and the songs soundtracking their lives.
Brodie Jenkins was the essence of folk, jazz and soul and Johnny Hwin was a master of electronic sound. Their wildly opposing lives somehow puzzled together in San Francisco when the Cathedrals we’re born. Now they’re ready to release their debut EP with National Anthem (CHVRCHES, Wet, HAIM) 8 June through National Anthem. The duo are a great example of a musical merge. They have cleverly managed to layer pockets of soulful organic vocals and electric gothic beats to create a entirely self written, titled and produced EP of synth-pop sound. Drawing inspiration from Swedish pop, nineties trip-hop and pitch-black trap, the duo have now unveiled a new sensual video for the first single ‘OOO AAA’. Cathedrals chat to Wonderland ahead of their UK EP release.
How have your individual upbringings inspired your music tastes?
Johnny: I was really fortunate to grow up in a house full of music. We had a family piano that my older brothers played growing up and when I was 5 I began playing as well. Around that time, my middle brother was in the midst of university at UC Berkeley and was really into The Beatles and REM and U2 and was always playing records around the house. He bought me my first CD, Nirvana’s Nevermind, when I was 7 or 8 in 1992 which was when I began collecting CDs, a hobby that would last about 10 years.
Brodie: Music goes back far on my mom’s side of the family. My mom’s mom was a concert pianist, and she used to record tapes of herself playing jazz standards on the piano and send them to me – like DIY karaoke tapes. I had piles of her tapes that I would sing to, and she’s a big reason why I know so many classic jazz songs by heart. I would go listen to Ella, Billy and Sara and try to mimic their vocal nuances. It was kind of like the first vocal training I ever had.
My mom is a lovely singer, and she used to sing me lullabies as a kid, but they were really just pop and folk songs that she grew up with…Coat of Many Colors and When Irish Eyes are Smiling. One of my favorites was the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” – my mom would sing it a cappella and really camped it up. It was a lullaby and a hilarious, epic saga all wrapped into one…I adored it. Of course later on, I got into everything the Beatles ever made.
My parents were constantly playing the same records all through my childhood, and every morning I’d listen to them while I ate my cereal before school – Miles Davis: Kind of Blue, Chet Baker: Chet, James Taylor: Sweet Baby James, Hall & Oates: The Abandoned Luncheonette, Rickie Lee Jones’ eponymous album, Al Green’s Greatest Hits…and lots more that I can’t think of right now. But it was a lot of jazz, a lot of folk and some other stuff mixed in. I just absorbed them all, and I still look to them for ideas and inspiration. Later on, my sister got me into Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and a lot of R&B. My first boyfriend in high school was my liaison with classic rock – he got me this huge Led Zeppelin box set for my birthday one time, and for awhile it was all I played in the car. High school was also when I fell for Radiohead, the Pixies, Nirvana, Bjork…..that was my introduction to the 90’s.
How does it feel to have been bought together over a mutual love of creating music?
Brodie: Finding someone who you not only have creative chemistry with but is also someone you enjoy hanging out with is the most difficult thing. Johnny constantly inspires and challenges me. We feel truly blessed that we found each other.
Your music is both soulful and electronic, what do you feel makes it so unique?
Brodie: I think a large part of what makes our music what it is is who we are as people and the musical influences we both brought to the project. When I met Johnny I was so drenched in raw, organic music – like jazz and folk and soul and rock. I knew very little about electronic music, and my connection to it was mainly through trip hop bands I loved like Portishead and Massive Attack. Johnny at the time was deep into modern electronic music, and he really turned me on to that world and to the world of production. Although we both share a lot of similar and complimentary influences, I think it was those two opposite spectrums coming together that gave our music this very audible coexistence of synthetic and organic sounds. That’s a dichotomy and a harmony that we continue to play with in all of our music.
What is it about Swedish pop that influences and interests you both?
Brodie: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly that it is – and not to overgeneralize, but there’s a history of music coming out of Sweden that is interesting, deliciously catchy and just damn good…and all of that without being contrived. Maybe it’s something in the water there, or maybe it’s the fact that these artists are coming from a place that isn’t so saturated in the mass-produced mainstream world of American pop music. Little Dragon and Lykke Li have definitely been big influences. And we’re loving Seinabo Sey – the high priestess of chill!
What about San Francisco, are there certain areas there that inspire your music?
Brodie: San Francisco is our home, and in that way it’s our creative nest. We feel nurtured here – by the beauty of our surroundings, our friends and creative community, and the diversity of people and ideas that exist here. We have a tiny studio in the basement of a historic mansion-turned-co-op in the Mission. The house is a historic site, so it has all of the original wallpaper and victorian details…it’s a beautiful and inspiring place to work. And it helps that it’s a space full of lovely, inspirational friends.
What was the thought process behind the making of this EP? How did you want it to sound originally?
Brodie: The EP is a collection of the first songs that we wrote as a band. We had no plans to make an EP when we embarked on this journey. We were still getting to know each other and finding our sound and our creative groove…so each song was its own adventure. We just kept writing songs and releasing them as they were completed, and then eventually Neon Gold stepped in and said, “hey, let’s put all of this onto an EP and release it,” so we did!
What was the best part about filming the video for OOO AAA?
Brodie: OOO AAA was filmed in the two most significant places for us as a band in San Francisco – the SUB, which is the haven and gathering place for our creative collective here in SF; and AGAPE, the name of the historic mansion we mentioned earlier. Being able to film in those two places gave a lot of significance to the video, and it also provided a lot of comfort during filming. They were places we know and love, so we were really able to relax and enjoy ourselves the whole time.
Where would be your dream location to tour be?
Johnny: I’ve never been to Japan as an adult and would love to tour there at some point. I spent a summer in Berlin and can’t wait to go back.
Brodie: I can’t wait to go on tour in Europe.
Do you share a main goal to achieve with your music?
Brodie: We do, and I think that’s also a big part of what makes us such a strong team. Both of us hold the music higher than everything else – that’s the most important thing. Our goal is to keep pushing ourselves to expand creatively, and to write and produce the best music we possibly can. The next step after that is sharing what we’ve made.
Okay, last one, what would be the all time soundtrack to your life?
Johnny: I’d say the smashing pumpkins Mellon collie and the infinite sadness. It’s so diverse and encapsulates so many moods and feels.
Brodie: I just set my ringtone and morning alarm to be Jackson Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine”, and it’s really just the best. I like to think that’s my life soundtrack right now.
Cathedrals will release their debut EP in the UK on June 8th.
Words: Sarah Barnes