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Interview

Gaz Jennings of Cathedral: All That We Wanted To Do Was Follow Our Love For The Slower Bands.

Black Sabbath’s first devilish tri-tones on their namesake track gave birth to the doom metal riff in 1970. However, the ‘80s was the decade that truly defined doom. Trouble, Candlemass, Saint Vitus and Pentagram all debuted with monumental full-lengths in the mid-Eighties. Greatness had already been achieved and ideas used. When Cathedral emerged in 1989 they weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The band sought to recreate the sounds of the bands they loved, doom bands.

Cathedral is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath, but the group is far from being a cover band. Gary “Gaz” Jennings has a signature guitar sound. His guitar speaks its own language. Also, Cathedral expanded the conversation on metal bands for how slow a band could get. They took the rhythms of doom bands and slowed them down even further. Not that these paces were always expected of them. Fans of Napalm Death did not expect the newest band from Lee Dorian, one of the singers on Napalm Death’s debut “Scum,” to sing so slowly.

Lumbering riffs, psychedelic space jams and Dorian’s slow and low gruff voice made this band a new favorite in the still blossoming doom scene. The group released nine albums, influenced countless acts and played all over the world, often with bands they idolized like Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus. They released memorable videos like “Ride” and “Hopkins (Witchfinder General).” Above all the group was having fun. When they stopped having fun was when they decided to call it quits.

Cathedral has been on hiatus since 2013, but their music lives on. Lee Dorian has a place to re-release the band’s albums on his label, Rise Above Records. One such release was the band’s demo “In Memoriam.” While drone and funeral doom bands of today play even slower tempos than “In Memoriam,” the demo was at the time hailed for being excruciatingly slow. I spoke with founding member and guitarist Gaz Jennings about this reissue. He reflected on the band’s early days, its eventual demise, and brought us up to date with his new projects Lucifer and Death Penalty.

Rex_84: How do you feel about Cathedral’s demo “In Memoriam” being reissued twenty-five years later?

Gaz Jennings: It’s one of these things that at the time…when you do a recording you play to what the best of what your ability is at the time. We were a bunch of young kids really. We had been in other bands and all that we wanted to do was follow our love for the slower bands. We just wanted to be in a band that was influenced by bands like Trouble, Candlemass, Pentagram and Vitus—those types of bands. Things like Dream Death and that kind of stuff. We just wanted to be in a band that was doing music like that. We weren’t at the level on our instruments as those bands were at, so basically we just wanted to sound like those bands. Kind of strange the demo came out and didn’t sound anything like those bands. We created this weird kind of demo that years later people still talk about it. After doing the demo we did the Forest (“Forest of Equilibrium”) album and again this is one of those very influential records. In a career that we had for twenty-odd years one of the records that people always talk about is the Forest album.

Our demo is what led to the Forest album. It’s cool. I never played it for a long time until we actually put the reissue out. I played one on vinyl that I got a couple of weeks back and by today’s standards in terms of speed or lack of it there are bands now that play much slower than we did back then. For the time, it was spot on for what we were trying to do. It is a super heavy demo, now obviously being reissued on vinyl and CD. We just really wanted to sound like the bands we were influenced by. It didn’t come out sounding like that at all. We created this weird, extreme style of doom that influenced a lot of people to start their own bands. It’s kind of weird twenty-five years later—god, it doesn’t seem like twenty-five years. I remember when the band started we got together and tried to rehearse these ideas, of what we wanted to be and found it quite intimidating trying to get the material together, but it was quite hard at first. We didn’t know each other that well. Like I said we were trying to sound like those bands, but we didn’t sound like them. We just created this weird kind of thing. Looking back it’s good.

Rex_84: Was this demo previously out of print?

Jennings: Yeah, I think it’s been reissued a couple of times. I think the first time was about ’94. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if it came out again after that. It’s been out of print for a long time. With this reissue you get the DVD of the show that we did in Holland in ’91. So yeah, it’s been out of print for quite a while. It’s pretty good to have the new version of it.

Rex_84: What do you recall about that live show?

Jennings: That was a good tour. I can’t remember much about the gig. I just remember incidents from the tour in general. We toured with Paradise Lost. They were super cool guys. They were a really good band. They still are now. We got a good friendship with them. I’ve known them for around twenty-seven years. That was like our first European tour. We supported them. Like I said, I’ve known those guys for a long time. They’re really nice guys. I remember silly things like have this really long intro. It used to go on for about fifteen minutes with this screaming. We used to stand with our backs to the audience and after the intro we would come on and play. Initially, nobody knew what we were about. They obviously knew Lee [Dorrian] from Napalm Death and were expecting something similar. I think the reaction was 50/50 really. Some people were into us totally because we were so extreme in terms of speed, how slow we were and the doom thing. Probably the other fifty percent of the audience probably hated us because they probably expected a newer version of Napalm or something like that, so it was kind of divided. In general, that tour was a really, really good tour for us to do. It was good fun. We got good turn outs at the gigs. Like I said, that was our first European tour. We played some of the songs that ended up on the Forest album. Of course, we were playing them with Ben [Mochrie] on drums. He didn’t play on the Forest album because he left before that. It’s pretty cool looking back on it. It amazes me how extreme we were when we played. As we went on we got better as players, but we were so raw. It’s good fun watching us play back then.

Rex_84: You did a European tour in the early days with Saint Vitus, right?

Jennings: Yeah, it was an English tour. We did a couple of tours with Vitus. We toured with them in the UK in 1990. In ’92 I think it was we did a European tour with them. The first tour was with Wino. He was singing. Then the second tour, the European tour in ’92, was with Chris Linderson from Count Raven. He was singing for them at the time. We did a few gigs with Vitus. That was good fun. They were a big influence on us anyway. To play with some of the bands we grew up listening to was a real pleasure. They were a really cool band to play gigs with. Good fun.

Rex_84: What was the scene like in Coventry when Cathedral formed? Were there other bands playing the slow, down-tempo stuff like you guys were doing?

Jennings: (Laughs) not really. It was non-existent the scene over there. Not just in Coventry, but in the U.K. generally. I suppose you could think of Paradise Lost as one of the first bands to play semi-slow. They weren’t really out-and-out slow, but they were obviously, because I met them before, fans of Trouble and Candlemass. Some of the ideas of being influenced by them crept into their music. There were no other bands really apart from them in the U.K. We had all been in bands before. Our bass player Griff [Mark Griffiths], I don’t know if he had been in a proper band, but he had been a roadie for Carcass, so he’d done stuff with them. Of course, myself and Adam [Lehan-guitar] had been in a thrash band. Lee was in Napalm Death. Ben, our drummer, had been in a crusty, hardcore band called Filthkick. So we all came from a faster background, which wasn’t our main love. Our main love was slow doom music.

We just wanted to be in a band that was influenced by bands such as Trouble. Trouble and bands like Vitus I’ve been into since about 1994. Of course, Sabbath and Witchfinder General I’ve been into since ’79 or 1980. That was the kind of music I always wanted to play. I always wanted to be in a band that did that, but finding people who would be in a band like that was pretty much impossible. Of course, it became a reality but it wasn’t possible until I met those guys. I met Lee in ’88 and met Griff in ’89. The initial idea for the band was about 1989. Trying to meet anyone else there was just nobody. Where I grew up I didn’t know anyone that liked the same type of music that I did. When I was in school people were into Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and all that kind of stuff. Yes, I like that stuff was well. Bands like Exodus and Exciter—I love Exciter—I loved all that stuff but when friends as school were going on about Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” or “Ride The Lightning” in ’84 I was like “you gotta hear the first Trouble album!” I was always talking about that kind of stuff while they were talking about Slayer “Hell Awaits” and Megadeth “Peace Sells.” They were always talking about those records and I was talking about the first Vitus and of course when Candlemass came out. Dream Death “Journey into Mystery” and that kind of stuff, bands like Mercy and Post Mortem. I was into that kind of stuff—the slowest of the slowest. So when I met these guys it was a revelation. People that liked the same kind of bands I liked. The next logical step was to form a band that we liked. That’s what we tried to do. The scene in England was pretty non-existent until we came along and then the bands that came after us.

Rex_84: You cover Pentagram’s “All Your Sins” on the demo. Why did you choose this particular song?

Jennings: That was Lee’s idea, really. I think an obvious song would have been “Saint Vitus.” Lee mentioned it at the time. He said, “we should do a Pentagram cover or something like that.” To tell you the truth, I have no idea why that one was chosen. It could have been any song, really, but I think he liked that track a lot so he suggested we cover it. At the time, he said let’s make it extreme as possible and make it as slow as possible. That’s initially what we did. We used to play it live and we sort of sped it up to Pentagram’s speed. I have no idea if Bobby Liebling had heard it and what his reaction was to a Pentagram cover back then played at the speed we did. Also, the fact that Lee’s voice was so low in the register. God knows what they thought of it. It would have been nice if they enjoyed it. It was one of these things a song that Lee suggested we do so yeah, I enjoyed playing it. Good song.

Rex_84: The way you did it you made the song more extreme.

Jennings: That was initially what we wanted to do. Like I said, we weren’t blessed as great musicians at the time. We were more than capable of putting together a few descent riffs, but I won’t say accomplished. I’m accomplished now. Over the years you get better, whether that means that your music gets better, I don’t know. One thing Lee would say was our lack of talent in our instruments was a strength. We just played how we played and how it felt for us. We weren’t thinking about how good of musicians we were, probably our strength was our weakness. The fact that we could only play quite limited. Of course, that cover was quite extreme. I suppose we made it our own. It was good fun to play. I must admit it was pretty extreme.

Rex_84: Speaking of Pentagram, two of its members Joe Hasselvander and Victor Griffin filled in on guitars and drums during your 1994 tour with Black Sabbath. How do you feel about their short time in the band?

Jennings: It was great. It was good fun. It was such an honor for us. Lee and I were at a low ebb because Adam and Mark had left and we still had Scott [Carlson] with us from Repulsion. We knew we had the Sabbath tour and we couldn’t find a drummer or guitarist to help us out. I think Lee got in touch with them and asked if they would want to do it. They said yes. They came over and we had a rehearsal in England. We had met them when we did a show with Pentagram in New York. I met them then. We got along fine. I never really associated achievements with how many records we sold or if we sold x-amount of merch and made money because we never really made that much money anyway. I gage our success or personal achievement by some of the bands that we played with or the people I met along the way. When I was younger I looked up to them. I idolized them. They were my heroes.

Luckily, I met people who when I was growing up were an influence on my musical tastes. It shaped my musical outlook. We played with Sabbath. We toured with Sabbath. Tony Iommi played on one of our songs. We played with Trouble. We played with Saint Vitus. We played with Revelation. I did a sound check with Trouble where I stood in for Bruce [Franklin]. Dave Chandler came up and played with us. Joe and Victor from Pentagram, we played gigs with Pentagram. I met Phil Cope from Witchfinder General. Met Kevin [Heybourne] from Angel Witch. Mike Smail of Dream Death played on the first Cathedral record. Bands like Iron Man. Met them, played with them. Unorthodox, played with them. These things far out way any record sales or anything like that because it’s a personal thing. It’s like I met these people and all of them were extremely nice people. I can’t ask for anything more. To actually play with some of these people in the same band as you it’s incredible. Joe and Victor were just fantastic. The band sounded incredible. We had Barry Stern from Trouble play drums with us as well. Joe and Victor were so incredible good it was a different level of musicianship. It was pretty damn awesome. Good fellows, good times. It’s always nice to look back on it.

Rex_84: Cathedral broke up in 2013 after releasing your last album “The Last Spire.” Why did you break up and is there any chance of you getting back together?

Jennings: You never say never in this day and age. I think the chances of us getting back together are very, very slim. Lee’s moved on. He’s doing his label. He’s got other things in the pipeline. I don’t think he wants to do it anymore. It was between Lee and me and more so Lee. I thought about it for a couple of years on how the enthusiasm wasn’t there. I think when you’re not one hundred percent committed and enthusiastic it starts to tell. Towards the end for the pair of us we had been together since day one. Our drummer, Brian [Dixon] didn’t see it the same way. I think he would have kept going and going. We’ve been there since the beginning and the band meant much more to us than churning out one record after another without any thought in it. I’m not saying it was becoming tiring but we had pretty much achieved what we wanted to do. I don’t know if there was really anywhere else for us to go after the last record. We talked about it if we call it quits we do one more heavy album. There is never going to be another “Forest of Equilibrium,” but it was an updated or similar sort of thing. Try and end like that. At least you know you’re going out with a record you like made specifically to finish on. The reason the band finished was that, really. We’ve done what we needed to do and I don’t think there was really anywhere else for us to go. Lee was the same. We felt the time was right.

Once you lose the enthusiasm and you don’t have one hundred percent enthusiasm then it’s better to get out. You see a lot of bands over the years keep putting out one record after another. You think why are they doing that. Stop and have some sort of legacy so you have something to look back on rather than keep churning out records. I’m not saying that every Cathedral record is brilliant because some of them are really good. Some of them could have been better than what they turned out to be. You always try your best at the time. It just doesn’t happen sometimes. We made some really good records and we made some that are just ok, not the greatest. I can’t ever see us playing together again because say in ten years time someone asks us if we want to do a Cathedral reunion, lots of bands do get back together, but I mean by that time we would all be in our mid-fifties. I don’t know, I just can’t see us doing it. At this moment in time, I’ve played songs like “Ride” and “Hopkins” and “Midnight Mountain” for years. I don’t miss playing them to tell you the truth. It’s kind of a weight or burden off my shoulders. I don’t mean it like that. It’s almost like “whew, I don’t have to play “Ride” for the millionth time. I don’t mean it in a bad way. I’m sure Lemmy had to play “Ace of Spades” thousands of times and “Paranoid” and “Smoke on the Water.” I’m not saying “Ride” is in that type of context but “Ride,” “Hopkins” and “Midnight Mountain” were the songs everyone associated us with. I don’t really miss playing them. It’s a kind of semi-relief. I really don’t see us playing them again and us getting back together. It would ruin the legacy of what we’ve done in the past.

Rex_84: Life after Cathedral includes playing in Death Penalty and Lucifer. Where you trying to do something different or were you making other doom projects?

Jennings: The Death Penalty thing was really just a project that I wanted to do. I had a lot of stuff written over the years that I knew Cathedral wouldn’t use. Lee said if I ever wanted to put out a record on his label there is always a deal waiting for me there. I kind of pieced that together as more of a studio thing at the time, but then it ended up becoming a band, so I did that. Lucifer was basically a project where I was asked to help out. They had a guitar player but he left when they were going into the studio to record the record. Lee asked me if I would write the album for Lucifer. He has known me for years and knows that I have tons and tons of riffs kicking around. He knows I can play a descent tune every now and again. I always have riffs laying around that I record on my phone. There are tons of stuff that have never been used. I was asked to help out Lucifer so I did. Death Penalty and Lucifer will always have similarities to Cathedral because it’s who I am, who I was and the way I write. Some of the material on those two bands people will say sounds like Cathedral, could have been on a Cathedral album. Of course it could have been because it’s the way I play, the way I write. Death Penalty was my love for early eighties European heavy metal. I tried to get that in there because I’ve always loved that stuff. I’ve written stuff like that for a long time, but we never used it in Cathedral. Then Lucifer is more melodic hard rock, maybe ‘70s sort of thing. Again, there are similarities to Cathedral riffs and the way I play. There will be similarities but hopefully they will be their own sort of entities. I enjoy doing them. I’ll always write things very similar to Cathedral. I can’t help that. For Cathedral fans who are missing Cathedral that’s not a bad thing.

Rex_84: Will you play live in both bands?

Jennings: Yeah, we’ve done shows. Death Penalty has done shows. Lucifer has done shows. Lucifer is coming over to the States with High On Fire. That starts on the 30th of July. I should be there if you Americans will let me into the country after all this farce with the vista application and I get through my interview at the Embassy then I will be there playing. It’s a pain in the butt to get into your country at the moment. The amount of forms you have to fill out is an absolute nightmare. I have an interview at the Embassy to sort out and then I will be there, hopefully playing. The tour starts on the 30th of July. I think the first date is in San Diego. The second date is in Los Angeles. From there on I can’t remember because I don’t have the dates in front of me.

Catch Gaz Jennings on tour with Lucifer. The band will be supporting High On Fire with Pallbearer and Venomous Maximus on each date. Dates are as follows.

7/30 San Diego, CA @ The Casbah
7/31 Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex
8/1 San Francisco, CA @ The Regency Ballroom
8/3 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater
8/4 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw
8/5 Seattle, WA @ Neumos
8/7 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
8/8 Denver, CO @ The Gothic
8/10 Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights
8/11 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
8/12 Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch
8/13 Toronto, ON @ Opera House
8/14 Syracuse, NY @ Lost Horizon
8/15 New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
8/17 Boston, MA @ Royale
8/18 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
8/19 Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of the Living Arts
8/20 Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Sound Stage
8/21 Winston-Salem, NC @ Ziggy's
8/22 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
8/23 New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jack's (no Venomous Maximus)

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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