KERRANG, JAN 30 1999
The Last Rebel
January 30, 1999
Lee Dorrian has been kicking against the pricks for 15 years now. In that time, the CATHEDRAL frontman has run a fanzine, promoted punk gigs, fronted grindcore legends Napalm Death, set up his own record label, baited homophobic Yanks and founded this country's finest stoner rock export...
Lee Dorrian, erstwhile disco doomster and reluctant stoner rock guru, stares at the table in front of him and shakes his shaggy mane in bemusement.
Over the past 15 year, the mild-mannered Cathedral frontman thought he'd seen it all: from the raging hardcore pits he faced in his days fronting Brum grindcore legends Napalm Death to the hordes of blissed-out Europeans soaking up the elephantine grooves of his current outfit. But nothing could have prepared him for the reaction his loon-pants-and-velvet-shirt stage ensemble would provoke in the very heart of American.
"We were touring with Rob Halford's band Fight out there," recalls the vocalist, "and kids in the audience just didn't get it. They were shouting, 'Fuck off, faggots!'. I'm thinking, 'Hang on a minute, you're here to see Rob Halford!?!'.
"I'd end up walking on stage and shouting, 'Hey, big boy, come onstage and suck my cock. Let's see who's a real man!'. I think they were ready to kill us by the time we'd finished."
Born in Woodend, Coventry in 1968, Lee Dorrian grew up on a council estate in what he calls "the hardest part of town". His parents, a plasterer and a market trader, divorced when he was nine. It was around the same time that he discovered punk rock.
"I used to go to this under-16's disco on a Saturday," he explains, comfortably ensconced with guitarist Garry 'Gaz' Jennings, bassist Leo Smee and drummer Brian Dixon in a homely West London pub. "They always played loads of punk stuff: Sham 69, Slaughter And The Dogs, the Sex Pistols. I remember reading the lyrics to 'Anarchy in The UK' in 'Smash Hits'. I thought, "Fucking hell, how can anyone put that into print?'."
While Dorrian was rebelling against his Catholic upbringing by immersing himself in anarcho-punk culture, starting up his own fanzine ('Committed Suicide'), promoting punk gigs in his home-town and spending four years upsetting most people's musical sensibilities with Napalm Death, Harrogate native Jennings was trying to talk his bandmates in comedy-thrash Acid Reign into slowing down their hyper-speed flailings.
Aside from solidly working class upbringings, both Dorrian and Jennings shared a love of such granite-hearted doom-mongers as Trouble and St Vitus. Consequently, when the duo flew their respective coops at the end of the '80's, the logical step was to join forces and start a band together.
"I did two LPs with Napalm," says Dorrian, "and that was as far as I wanted to take the grindcore thing - the doom stuff was always my favorite sort of music. When me and Gaz started Cathedral, there were no plans for the future. There still aren't, really."
Nine years and five albums down the line - the latest of which, 'Caravan Beyond Redemption', is thundering its way into the shops now - Dorrian and Jennings are still gleefully spearheading the British wing of the stoner rock explosion.
But the '90's haven't exactly seen Cathedral afloat on a sea of tranquility. In 1993, they signed a promising US deal with Columbia Records, only to witness the liaison turn sour when the label attempted to mould the band into something they weren't ("They'd give us these styled suits and hats like The Black Crowes. We looked silly," sniggers Gaz Jennings).
More dispiritingly, the last few years have seen a tidal wave of American sludge-meisters purveying the sort of sonic arsequakes Cathedral were sniggered at for unleashing at the turn of the decade. Even now, Dorrian seems unsure as to whether his band helped open the floodgates or simply got caught in the deluge that ensued.
"I don't know where we fit into that scheme of things," he muses. "There's a lot of difference between the English scene and the American scene. We're working class kids from council estates. We'd be kidding ourselves if we pretended to be as cool as a Californian band."
While Dorrian denies that Cathedral make a concerted effort to remain as unfashionable as possible, he concedes that the band have been guilty of perpetuating an image as patchouli-pissing bong-lords from Planet Loon.
"When we adopted that image, it was more of a humorous thing," he maintains. "But that was at a time when music was dead serious - it was all these full-on death metal bands wearing macho clothes and pulling stern faces. There was no spirit in music."
"Anyone can look hard in pictures," chips in Gaz, "but you flick some of those twats on the ear, and they run off crying to their Mummies."
"But what's music about?" prods the singer. "Entertainment. Saying that, it has backfired before. When we made the video for 'Midnight Mountain', our American record company at the time were trying to push this '70's image. So we thought, 'Right, you want a disco video, we'll give you a fucking disco video'. We ended up with magazines saying we were 'disco doom'."
He scratches his bushy sideburns distractedly. "I never really understood what that meant."
If Cathedral is the day job, then Dorrian's record label, Rise Above, is a night-time love affair. Instigated when the vocalist was still a member of Napalm - primarily to "get the dole office off my back" - the label has been responsible for bringing such stoned groovers as Orange Goblin, sHEAVY, and Sleep to the attention of more discerning record-buyers.
Queries as to whether these extra-curricular activities are pursued for financial gain are politely but firmly stamped on.
"No," he frowns. "I've never made anything out of it. The label's been going for ten years now, and there've only been about 20 releases."
Do you feel like a businessman?
"You're joking. I'm the managing director of Rise Above Records, but I'm still really just a dosser, y'know."
What about a stoner rock guru? Ooh, is that the faintest trace of embarrassment we see?...
"No," he mutters. "I find it amusing when I see that sort of thing in magazines."
Is that just him being modest, Gaz?
"I just know Lee as Lee," reasons the guitarist. "I can imagine someone who doesn't know him thinking he's some kind of spokesman, but I just look at him as our singer and somebody who's into music, full stop."
"All the bands on the label are mates, anyway," Dorrian hastily interjects. "There's no big separation thing. We go out drinking together."
No plans for a spot of empire building, then? Books? Clothes? The doom-rock Beastie Boys, anyone?
"We've tried to do it," admits the singer. "We did our own magazine for a while, but it was too time-consuming and pretty hard to do financially. Dunno about clothing. Cathedral flares, maybe..."
'Caravan Beyond Redemption' - beefy, swinging, proudly lunatic - looks set to consolidate the foursome's reputation as the country's finest stoner rock export. Previous album 'Supernatural Birth Machine' sold in excess of 100,000 copies, and Rise Above is going from strength to strength. But Lee Dorrian snorts at the suggestion that the band could afford to retire.
"You're having a laugh, aren't you? More like we can only just afford to exist."
Life in Cathedral might not always be easy. But then that's the way Lee Dorrian says he likes it.
"I get annoyed sometimes," he sighs without rancor. "It feels like what we're doing is better than what certain other bands are doing, but they get better press than we do. Two years later, that band has disappeared. What we were doing still isn't fashionable. It's still a fight, even now. But that's what keeps us going."
Cathedral songs: populated by gorilla chiefs and skeletal riders...
'Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)'
(From 'The Carnival Bizarre', 1995)
Sample lyric: 'My name is Hopkins, Witchfinder General/My impotence deceives me, your beauty turns me pale...'
Lee Dorrian: "He was actually a real person. He was a witchfinder out Ipswich way, in the 1660's. He commissioned the executions of dozens of women. It's based on the Vincent Price film, but we're also big fans of the band Witchfinder General. Ludicrous? Yes."
(From 'Supernatural Birth Machine', 1997)
Sample lyric: 'Sacrifice - the astronauts must die/Gorilla guns aim at your face...'
Lee Dorrian: "Urko was the chief gorilla from 'Planet of the Apes'. I've been into it ever since I was a kid. I used to dress up as an ape, with the masks and all that shit. The film is pretty political - it's almost about the way animals are treated by humans."
'Night of the Seagulls'
(From 'The Carnival Bizarre', 1995)
Sample lyric: 'We are the blind dead - no eyes inside our head...'
Lee Dorrian: "We are really into these films called 'Tombs of the Blind Dead', and 'Night of the Seagulls' is based on one of those. It's about these skeletal riders who just scare the shit out of people who see them. Anyone who sees the riders dies of fright. Funny thing is, they are pretty scary, too."
'The Omega Man'
(From 'Caravan Beyond Redemption', 1999)
Sample lyric: 'I am Frankenstein, one million years D.C./Machines now rule the earth, not for you to see...'
Lee Dorrian: "It's about the Charlton Heston film of the same name. He's supposed to be the last man on earth, even though he isn't - there are loads of mutants running around. In the song he goes back a million years and forward a million years. One minute he's roaming around with the dinosaurs, the next minute all this technology is running the world and mankind has made a big hole for itself."
(From 'Caravan Beyond Redemption', 1999)
Sample lyric: 'He wore the mask of a skeletal creature of night/his oath was terror, and 'Blood!' his battle