Cathedral Bells: A Night of Intimate Jam Sessions

Weaving in and out of ping-pong tables and craft-beer fanatics at the infamous Comet Ping Pong to get to the backroom venue, one becomes immersed in the atmosphere of intimacy at this “hipster-heavy pizza parlor.” (New York Magazine)

Rising dream pop band Cathedral Bells kicked off their tour at speakeasy-type venue Comet Ping Pong this past November 5th. Shoegaze band Knifeplay warmed up the stage with synth-heavy guitar and dreamy vocals akin to the post-punk sound of the main attraction. This is Cathedral Bells’ second US tour, following the recent release of singles “After/Glow,” and “Falling Into Place.” They’re currently developing a third full-length album to be released early next year. 

With a midnight starting time and passionate crowd made up of no more than 20 shoegaze-loving stragglers, the night was more reminiscent of a casual late-night jam session than a traditional concert. The various band members could be found sharing drinks by the merch table with the audience members before the show, and were more than happy to sit and chat with myself and a fellow Georgetown Radio DJ for an impromptu interview (which can be read below) about their music-making process and performing experience. Cathedral Bells’  down-to-earth engagement with their audience was refreshing, ringing true to the personable and DIY-nature of this subgenre of music. The confined space allowed the audience to intimately engage with the band throughout the show, to the point where the line between performer and audience member blurred. Throughout the night, one could see the strings of Griffin’s bass guitar vibrate with fervor and every new scratch etched into Miguel’s cymbals, while the wooden stage bent to each step and sway of the band members.

With a set lasting only an abridged 30 minutes, the crowd got a glimpse into the inner workings of this synth-heavy band with a diverse array of hazy instrumentals. Stepping up to the front of the low-standing stage, one is met with more guitar pedals than audience members – at least 25 were sprawled among the jungle of cables and wires on stage. 

It’s difficult to properly gauge the intricacies and amount of effort that goes into Cathedral Bells’ sound through the medium of online streaming platforms. Seeing their performance live allows one truly to appreciate the complexities of their production that post-rock artists skillfully master. From constantly adjusting the reverb levels on guitar pedals to actually switching out guitars, the seamless multi-tasking demonstrated the ensemble’s dedication toward and passion for  manifesting their shoegaze soundscape. The multitude of fluid melodies and polyphonic guitars crescendoed and reverberated throughout the atmosphere, clouding the audience in a mesmerizing haze. The ambient songs blended in with one another; yearning vocals melted into echoing synths as layers of bass and drums fabricated an enveloping wall of sound. Distorted guitar riffs enhanced by the mellow chorus of bass were punctuated by the thumping of the hypnotic bass drum whose every beat erupted in my chest. 

Seeing Cathedral Bells’ performance live allowed the true acknowledgement of the art of their craft. The laid-back atmosphere provided the foundation for a stripped-down night of just appreciating their hypnotic and full-bodied sound. After their short-lived set, the band members were more than happy to pause for a photo-op and converse with the audience during the break-down of their plethora of equipment. They were personally manning the merch table – Jordan, one of the guitarists, even walked me through his process of hand-making all of their cassette tapes! 

We wait in anticipation for the release of their album, and eagerly await their next tour to get the opportunity to see their artistry live once again.

Listen to their recently released singles, “After/Glow,” and “Fall Into Place,” here

In addition to seeing them perform, we were able to get the opportunity to sit down with Matt Messore, the founder and lead singer of Cathedral Bells, as well as guitarist Jordan, before their show to talk about their recent singles, new upcoming album, and music-making process.

Can you talk about your music making process? Has this process stayed consistent as you’ve accumulated new band members? And can you walk us through the process of your last two singles, “After/Glow” and “Fall Into Place”?

Matt: Drums are always essential, so I’ll typically start off with them and then follow through with a guitar riff in mind. “After/Glow” was something we all collectively wrote. It was like a band practice, where I had the opening riff and it all just came together – there was really no plan. Jordan threw down the leads, I had the rhythm and a post-punk drum beat in mind that we built off of. Our previous drummer, Aaron, would just know what I was going for and would flesh out what I had in mind very quickly. I would end up doing the bridge and other structuring on my own, but we did everything together at practice for the most part. That song pretty much just came out of practice one day, before we did our first full US tour almost exactly a year ago from this time. Similarly, I just had the riff in mind for “Fall Into Place,” and it all came together. These two songs had escalated to other ideas we have – into our album that’s going to be wrapping up at the beginning of next year. 

Jordan: We’re actually going to be playing a song off the new album tonight.

Matt: I’ve already finished up a couple of songs on the album and there’s just a few left that need to be mixed. When we come back from our tour we’ll flesh them out, with some more writing that we’ll do together as well. We’re definitely trying to do a full-length album with our two singles included, with a similar style to them as well.

Jordan: I think they’re lyrically different as well. They’re going in different directions from our previous work.

Matt: Yeah, the catalog was a bit…sadder, in the past. Now it’s got a bit more of a positive outlook. Not cheesy love songs or anything like that, but with a more positive mindset – happiness, love, all that good stuff.

Jordan: Yeah, all that lame shit.

**Ironic laughter from people in happily committed relationships**

Matt: I feel like there are a couple new songs that have a similar direction from the past catalog, in terms of lyrical content. For the most part, it’s got the essentials of the sound we’ve had in the past. It’s what I envisioned at the beginning of this project [Cathedral Bells], but after a couple years of performing and being an artist, I’m able to properly flesh out my vision.

What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) do you guys like using, what’s your least favorite DAW?

Matt: Our bassist, Griffin, uses Logic Pro. I actually use Reason and Audacity – which is a free software. I use Audacity to line up work and lay out the drums. I have kind of a weird process, where I just edit custom samples or material from live recordings and my keyboard. I’ll just pull up a metronome and dial it all in, it can take a long time. There can be like 40 or 50 different tracks of just snare or kick to choose from on the Audacity template. It’s a weird process, but it all works for me. It’s my main processing software. Then I use Reason for editing, mixing, and effects – basically just polishing up the raw sounds and tracks.

Jordan: I don’t know anything about that shit.

Matt: I’m very minimal in that sense – where I have a very simple process – but it’s just a niche that I’ve found that works for me: balancing between those two programs. We’ve had producers come to our shows and ask us to record with them in their studio, but I feel like the production might be too high quality and it just wouldn’t be the same. So as of now, at least with this new album, I’m doing it with the same formula that I’ve been doing, because I know that it’s like my safety net. But we’ll see about the future. As of right now I’ve been incorporating a blend of lo-fi with a kind of 80s sound with all the reverb and effects, as well as the samples that we use. We’re big on modulation, chorus, reverb and delays. It’s like the shoegaze essential effects right there. I’ve had experience in the past with nice studios, where the songs come out polished up and punchy – very full-sounding – but sometimes that just isn’t the right mix for certain subgenres and it’s not the sound we’re aiming for right now. 

Since you’re both guitarists and play within the shoegaze field, what are your favorite guitar pedals and what’s one pedal you’d recommend that everyone get?

Matt: I actually use a lot of cheap pedals, I mean we’re all pretty broke, so I’m probably the last person to recommend. But for anyone that’s learning and trying to get more experience, I’d recommend any kind of delay and reverb, just because you can have so much fun with it. Even just a nice chorus pedal. 

Jordan: We’re not gearheads – we need Griffin for this question, he’s definitely the gearhead. But, you can do research on your pedals or literally just go to a store and try them out.

Matt: Those three simple effects: reverb, delay, and even echo- 

Jordan: Or if it looks cool just buy it.

Matt: Any tape-y kind of sound is good. I know they have more advanced pedals that make the sound warble-y and if you have a bigger budget like in the $100-200 range, there’s the pedals where you can just dial it in right then and there that changes the depth of the sound completely. We don’t really use that much crazy stuff, we’re pretty basic. We both use Big Muff distortion pedals.

Jordan: Yeah, I have a clone one, it’s a German one or some shit. I wish I knew the name of my delay pedal, but it’s literally just in symbols. I don’t know what any of it means, I had to figure out what each knob meant – there’s like a bug, and then a swirl, and then dots. 

So it’s all for the aesthetic.

Jordan: Yeah, it’s literally all for the aesthetic!

Matt: I have one that’s called Love Pedal. I think. I could be wrong though. I also use a BOSS Roland 2.5. We pretty much know the sounds we want. When he has his pedals, we all dial in by kinda just adjusting the knobs and whatnot. We kinda just cover those essential effects and that’s it for us – it just works. With the vocal pedal I use I’m able to customize the reverb and delays, or if I want to add to it. There’s tons of banks to create and save your mixes. 

**Griffin – the ‘gearhead’ of the band – walks in with perfect timing.**

Jordan: Oh perfect timing, here’s Griffin.

Matt (to Griffin): We’re talking about pedalboards.

Yeah, so what would you say is a good pedal to recommend for your kind of music, and which pedals does Cathedral Bells use? 

Griffin: For guitar, I think the HM-2 is good – which is a very generic answer, but it’s a very versatile pedal. And then for my guitar, on my board, the DL4 is a classic delay pedal. But on my bass board, I’d say my secret weapon is my chorus pedal, the Ibanez SC10, which actually broke tonight.

**Various groans of disappointment from Jordan and Matt**

Matt: Anyways, just get the cheap pedals to start off with, like us – the chorus, reverb, and delay. Also, if you’re starting off, Squire guitars are good – they’re cheap! You can just have fun with it. That’s what’s really cool with this style of music, you can be really simplistic, just doing single notes and playing with the effects. That’s what carries the dreaminess to it. That kind of Joy Division and the Cure signature, that’s what we base our influences off of. 

You’ve mentioned that you’re pulling a lot of influence from the 80’s, how would you say it manifests throughout your work?

Matt: I always write with whatever I have, and there was a while where I didn’t have an acoustic guitar, but I just recently acquired one and decided to just throw it on the track. I have a lot of presets that I save in my Reason DAW, so I have an acoustic template that’s really chorus-y and pulls a lot of influence from Cleaners from Venus. 

Griffin: We use the wall of sound technique. 

Matt: Yeah, we double on synth and guitar, or acoustic guitar and guitar – I’ve been doing that a lot on the records. 

Griffin: It’s very thick, there’s a lot going on. 

Matt: After we did our second album, Ether, we got a stronger sense of how we want the mixes to sound. A lot of panning left and right center stereo-stuff, doubling up on sound. I feel like every stem is very crucial for the outcome of the mix, all the little touches in the recordings and mixes ensure that no one part gets buried in the layers of sound. Even with the vocal process, I like using this one track that’s extremely heavy on reverb, but it’s the perfect amount where it doesn’t sound too crackle-y or whistle-y, where it’s blended in with dry takes. Then more effects get added into those dry takes when I mix them. The mixture between the reverb track and the other tracks is just such a good blend.

Jordan: Wow, Matt’s just giving out all the secrets.

Griffin: I was just thinking that.

Matt: I tell this to everyone though. I’ve done some mixing this year with other artists and they always ask what I prefer for mixing, so I’ll walk them through my process – dry takes, so that way I can put my effects on those, and then the artist I’m working with can do two takes on those so it can be kind of chorus-y and strong. Because if you just do one vocal track it’s very weak, whereas when you double it up or even triple it up with reverb, it sounds better and full-bodied when you layer it up with the mixing. 

Griffin: A wall of noise.

Matt: Yes, simply put – a wall of noise.

While we’re on the topic of mixing, I think you mixed for this small band called Bummer Daze.

Matt, Griffin, and Jordan (in unison): Shoutout Bummer Daze!

Griffin: That shit rocks.

Matt: Yeah! Tim’s a cool guy, we collaborated with another track that I mixed and he mastered it, and then asked me if I wanted to make other stuff and I was like yeah, I don’t have a job, so that’s great! Just throwing it all out there. But yeah, we went on tour with a band that he played in a while ago, but Bummer Daze is his solo project, and I was really stoked on how that track came out.

The reason why I asked about that track is because my friend’s band Dream, Ivory actually mentioned that track, “Reflections.”

Matt: Woah, they brought up that track? We gotta tour with that band, I love that band. Seriously, if you know them, throw them some flowers from Cathedral Bells.

So, going off of that, what would you say are some artists/bands you would want to collaborate with, and what have been your favorite artists/bands that you have worked with in the past?

Jordan: Probably Black Marble.

Matt: Yeah I’d say Black Marble would be up there, and Dream, Ivory of course.

Griffin: Would love to tour with The Cure–

Matt: Oh yeah, shoutout to The Cure, if you’re Robert Smith and reading this, hit up Cathedral Bells.

Griffin: I just recently worked with an artist called Funeral Homes (shoutout Funeral Homes), I recorded for their new shoegaze album called Blue Heaven, it comes out November 11th so make sure to check it out. 

Matt: Since we’re doing shoutouts, I just recently mixed an album for Bathrobe, he’s a lo-fi artist based in Portland. The album just came out, it’s called Blue Drift, mixed by me. 

Jordan: Can I add one more shoutout?

Of course.

Jordan: Shoutout Morbid Deity, shoutout Michael. 

Matt: So basically, aside from Cathedral Bells and our other million side projects and collaborations, we just love making music. I love mixing, [Jordan] works at House of Blues, and [Jordan and Griffin] both work at the Beach-In. It’s where Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing played at. We just try to take advantage of any cool opportunities that come our way. We got to open up for Sunny Day Real Estate which was really cool because they’re a legendary emo band that started in the 90s. We don’t really conform to one definitive sound, but it was really cool to get to play two shows with them, they were huge sold-out shows. I think that was the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for actually. 

Matt: It’s really cool to play diverse things too. I feel like we’re a band that could possibly play with a different sub-genre–

Jordan: I’m tryna play at a hardcore show.

Matt: Yeah, we’re open to things like that. We just want to be active. We’re not trying to do bands that strictly sound like The Cure and whatnot. 

Do you feel like your current sound is what you want to move forward with, or is there anything you want to experiment with?

Matt: We actually talk about this a lot, about how when bands evolve but sometimes evolve to a point where they’re unrecognizable. 

Griffin: Yeah, the sound can evolve, but you have to make sure you don’t get disconnected.

Matt: Exactly. So that’s the thing with our sound, it’s a weird barrier to cross. But I feel like the direction of this new album is exactly what I want it to be, so I’m currently really happy with where things are at and what the future holds. But at the same time, with the next album, I won’t know. 

Jordan: Ideas are always flowing and you’ll never know exactly where you’ll be at.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. I just don’t want to take a big leap that’s not cohesive or a logical progression with our current sound. Sometimes I’ll make something and Griffin will say something like “it’s not what I expected,” so I always try to cater to what is appealing for the group – I mean, most importantly for myself, because I write for myself, but I don’t want to make something that isn’t interesting or enjoyable for the standard of our sound.

Jordan: I mean, if you don’t enjoy it for yourself, how do you expect other people to enjoy it?

Matt: Yeah, exactly. So I try to do my best on that part, in getting the ideas and concepts there. I’m very critical though. There’s a lot of deleted demos, things I’ve kind of scraped from the beginning and gone back to the drawing board for, so it’s never locked in until I’m satisfied with the direction I feel that it’s going in, or if it’s how I want it to sound. In a way we’re all perfectionists. We’re really critical in our live sets, since there’s so many different components, but we try to dial it in the best way that we can. As I said, we love music a lot, so it’s important to us that we get the tones, getting the proper idea out, get the recording right, the actual production sound.

Jordan: Speaking of tones, when you get the right tone, you sort of just feel it more, and it helps you play better. When I have a bad tone, I’m not on my A-game. So when I find that perfect tone, I’m just super into it.

Griffin: Yeah…tonight’s gonna be all off because there’s no chorus pedal.

Jordan: Yeah don’t pay attention to the bass tone!

We only have one question left before we’ll let you guys go.

Matt: Oh I don’t mind at all, I love doing this.

With touring do you prefer smaller venues such as [Comet Ping Pong], or do you prefer performing for a larger crowd? I personally prefer smaller venues because they’re more intimate and you get a better engagement with the band, so I’m curious to see what the artist’s perspective is.

Jordan: [Griffin and I] both play in hardcore and metalcore bands, so for those kinds of events I prefer more smaller and intimate environments, because you get to be with the crowd and shit. But with [Cathedral Bells] I prefer a medium-sized venue. It can be tough sometimes because we have backing tracks and pedalboards – it’s nice to have space. 

Griffin: I think there’s some push and pull with it. I definitely like the more intimate feeling with small shows, but I love it when people can hear everything clearly. 

Matt: That’s the thing, I’ve been making music and touring for a while now. If you had asked me years ago I would’ve said DIY spaces, but because we have so much gear it’s nice to have the space. And sometimes it can be difficult to hear the vocals and stuff because there’s so much reverb in a small space. The vocals are more of an instrument and a melody. Obviously the lyrics are important to me, so if you’re able to make them out it’s preferable. Having good sound is really important for us, so mid-sized fits right for us. Of course, having an intimate room that’s packed with like 50-60 people is awesome, but I definitely like the space and having a bigger stage. 

All right, thank you guys so much for your time! We can’t wait to see you all play in a bit!

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