Year 2007 will be also remembered for the return of Cathedral, firmly in the hearts of Progressive Rock made in the USA lovers. Their only album, though rare in its original press, can be rightfully considered as a classic. The band reunited (only guitarist Rudy Perrone is missing), and even already released a new self-produced job. "The Bridge" immediately attracted the attention of our small Prog World. We couldn't miss the opportunity to satisfy some small curiosities. Thomas Doncourt, Mellotron player, very kindly answered our questions.
"Stained Glass Stories" (SGS) was published in few copies for a small label in a time when Prog music was in decay, despite this it is reputed a masterpiece of U.S Prog. What do you think about that and how do you explain it?.
Cathedral had the benefit of roots that went back to the sixties and we had been developing in many ways parallel to the English bands. We were very sincere and dedicated in the pursuit of our sound. I don't think we could have worked any harder than we did. Luckily for us Delta Records had good connections in distribution and "Stained Glass Stories" was sold in a major chain across America. Some hard core progressive collectors got their hands on it and when it was re-released on CD by Greg Walker's Syn-phonic label in the 90's it took on a new life.
There are rumours and voices telling that SGS was recorded in 1976. Is it true?
Most of "SGS" was written in 1976. "Gong" and "Days and Changes" were 1975. The recordings were made in 1977.
How was the response to the album?
The tapes were intended as demo's to shop to Atlantic, R.C.A. and others. We had supporters at a few companies, interest but no commitment. There were a few very positive reviews, most notably from the brand new Kurt Loder. There were people who somehow heard of us and showed up at our concerts. Our songs, of course, were too long for commercial radio but we did get some airplay.
Why did the group split up and what have you done after?
By 1979 punk was the rage in Manhattan and progressive music was not being supported. A major label was suggesting that a more "Zeppelin" like Cathedral would be something they'd be interested in, but we weren't going in that direction. With very few options left to us we all took our four track's and went experimenting. Mac founded "Industry", Rudy put out "Oceans of Art", I developed ideas that led to my "Fauve" projects.
Why did you decide to re-unite Cathedral after so a long time?
There were many collaborations between all of us from 79 till the time we actually reformed. There were several attempts to put the entire band together. In 2003 we all found ourselves relatively settled, living on the same island and wanting the same thing; "Cathedral". Fred called each of us with a "now or never" ultimatum. Greg Walker's re-release and Fred's stubborn determination literally brought it back to life.
Why did Rudy Perrone leave the project?
When we reformed in 2003 Rudy had already committed himself to a major solo project. It was being produced by Windham Hill's Will Ackerman and Rudy had major resources tied up in it. On top of this he had some personal tragedies. When we began recording again we couldn't find a comfortable way to work together. What followed was a very sad time for the band. It was a kind of miracle that my daughters piano teacher, Dr. David Doig, asked to try out for the guitar spot!
Writing a new album after so much time after your first one, considered a classic, is a big challenge. Do you think that all this affected the approach to the new compositions?
The big challenge was taking our nearly thirty years of new experience, influences and new gear and putting it together. We never considered "SGS" in the process. Fred and I just started throwing bass and mellotron parts at each other like we always do, Paul scribbled furiously in his notebook and it is now 2008. SGS's status as a "classic" is somewhat abstract to us as we have never made a penny from it ! !
I can hear a big change of the sound: keyboards have a lower impact and drums often sound synthetic and aseptic. What can you tell us about that? Are you satisfied of the final result?
After Cathedral, Mac became deeply involved in experimenting with sounds. His work in the 80's utilized Simmons drums, drum boxes and keyboards. The electronic drums fit his palate and I think he is only beginning to tap into that. We titled the new album "The Bridge" in part because it is a transition for us from the old to the new. There have been some growing pains. As for the keyboards on "The Bridge", I went for a much more layered type of playing this time. On one hand I am happy with the overall sound of "The Bridge" but on the other I'm very disappointed that so many details of my work are buried. A lot of time was spent arranging things in my own studio and then flying the tracks into Pro tools at Ian London. The overall sound of the Pro tools was giving us troubles and getting Fred's bass right was a major challenge. The bass is the spine of the band basically and the keyboards had to sit a little behind it in that environment. I think if we had Eddie Offord or Tony Clarke producing us they would have come up with a better solution. At this point I would be very interested to dump "The Bridge" onto an old analog Ampex machine and do a remix. Then I think the keys could come up and the bass could have the edge it needs simultaneously! I'm quite sure this will happen at some point in the near future. We plan to do the next one (which we are well into already) quite differently than "The Bridge".
If you could change anything, whit more modern technologies, to SGS, what would it be?
We wish we could get our hands on the multi-track master tapes for SGS. The mix was done really on the fly back in 77. If we could throw it on a nice Neve console with automated faders and work with it a couple of weeks we would give the music the treatment it deserves. It was an interesting experience to relearn some of our songs from the 70's for our live show using our modern gear. I we weren't so occupied with new material it would be fun to go into the studio and re-record the old stuff in the way we are playing it now.
Why did you publish "The Bridge" as a private release?
It may be hard for me to get you to see the progressive market from our perspective. We are very isolated, there is no "progressive scene" any where near us. Our Myspace page sometimes makes us feel differently but no one was stepping forward to take the burden of producing this record from our shoulders. We are also very careful to maintain complete control over our creative process. Since the release of "The Bridge" there has been some offer of help with promotion and distribution, and that is pending.
Have you ever heard of a Swedish band called Änglagård? They made in the Nineties a couple of albums clearly declaring to be inspired by Cathedral's SGS
We have heard of Änglagård and we appreciate the compliment. Mattias Olsson has corresponded with us on our keyboard blog and we both contribute our opinions on a Mellotron web page. There were some similarities in our early writing styles and some very interesting differences that I can attribute to our American musical roots and their Scandinavian ones. Wish we could have been on the bill with them at Progfest in the 90's!