At Music in SF, we’re always looking for new up-and-coming local talent that’s making a buzz in the San Francisco live music scene. Cathedrals, an electronic dance duo formed by producer Johnny Hwin and vocalist Brodie Jenkins, is one of those bands and after selling out a string clubs here in the Bay Area as well as playing the legendary Treasure Island Music Festival, it’s safe to assume that this band is going places.
Hailing from different parts of the Bay Area, they both now reside here in San Francisco, and have released two energetic singles this year, “Don’t Act Like A Stranger” and “Try to Fight.” The pair will play the Mezzanine on June 8, and in gearing up for the show they were kind enough to answer a few questions for us. The questions ranged from sharing with us the craziest thing that’s happened to them at a gig, to what their favorite venues are to play in the Bay Area, and what their take is on the death of the San Francisco live music scene.
You guys are playing the Mezzanine soon, what can we expect at a Cathedrals show?
We love to put on a big, sensual, spiritual rock show. We’ve always been inspired by bands, like Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac and the Smashing Pumpkins – so we’ve always produced our music with the live show in mind. We play with an amazing band, which consists of our incredible drummer Mitchell Wilcox, and our synth player/bassist/jack of all trades Jonathan Herrera. There’s a ton of energy onstage – it’s electric.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys when playing live music in San Francisco?
We played Firefly Festival in Detroit the day after the entire festival had been shut down due to a storm and lightning warnings. All of the stages had been taken down the day before and had to be put back up again, so the atmosphere was chaotic. When we arrived, the rain had turned everything to mud. There were swamps of water everywhere you went, so we had to be driven to and from the stage in a golf cart. The festival-goers were completely covered in mud. We really appreciated their commitment that day!
What Bay Area city do you call home?
We both live in San Francisco. Johnny was born in Hercules, in the East Bay, and Brodie was born up in Sonoma County.
What are your favorite local venues to play?
We love the Independent – it holds a special place in our heart because we had such a magical set of shows there two years ago. We also love the Chapel. Very excited to play the Mezzanine SF for the first time on June 8th!
What are some of your favorite places to hang out in San Francisco?
We love coffee, so we often find ourselves hanging out at Four Barrel or Sight Glass or Ritual. Brodie lives down the street from the Mill, which is a lovely place to hang out on a relaxed day. Other great places are Dolores Park on a sunny day or Ocean Beach to watch the waves.
What do you think of people who say that the San Francisco live music scene is dead?
It’s just a catchy headline that actually has no truth in it. There are a lot of incredible, hard working musicians in this city. Yes, it’s harder to be an artist of any kind in SF as rents skyrocket to insane levels, but to say that the music scene is dead is to broadly overlook all of the artists who are working extra hard to do what they do here. It also overlooks the Bay Area at large which is full of extremely creative people.
One of the things I love about this city and the bay area music scene is how good the community is to each other – there’s a close-knit camaraderie among the creative people that live here. Even meeting new musicians for the first time – there’s always a mutual appreciation happening. You don’t take each other for granted. We collaborate and hang out with visual artists, photographers, directors, and other musicians all the time, and everyone here is so nice and supportive and lacking in ego. I think that’s part of why we love being here so much…yes, the creative scene is small, but in a way, that’s what makes it so intimate and special.
How would you define the San Francisco live music scene?
It’s incredibly diverse and unique—and not just limited to SF but the entire Bay Area. There’s no sense of pressure to sound like anything here, versus, say, LA – where I think there’s an awareness of an “industry” around you and the expectations within that world. So I think you get a lot of very original, exciting music across all genres.
What local bands are you guys into?
We have two local bands opening for our show at the Mezzanine on June 8th that we’re incredibly excited about: Rituals of Mine and Yassou. Rituals of Mine makes gorgeous, dark, epic electronic pop music with a powerful female lead (Terra Lopez) and Yassou is lush, ethereal, textural pop, fronted by the delicate siren vocals of Lilie Hoy. Other local artists we love are Blackbird Blackbird, Giraffage, Crashing Hotels, Silver Swans, Trails and Ways….
How do you describe your sound?
Johnny’s roommate has said that when he thinks of Cathedrals, he thinks of a red velvet lampshade in the dark corner of a room. Other folks have written that we’re synthetic R&B with 80’s rock swagger and that we “find balance in opposing forces.” Musically we think people hear music that’s epic, danceable and a bit nostalgic.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
Johnny: Sometimes we jam out together on a song idea in the studio. Other times we write something individually and will bring it to each other to workshop. For example, with Unbound I had written that as a demo for my solo project and then we turned it into a Cathedrals jam. With our next single “Want My Love” Brodie wrote it in the shower, fleshed it out on a piano at her parents’ house and then sent me an iPhone recording of the demo. I had been working on another track that fit the intro perfectly and built the rest of the production around that vibe.
Being that you guys are in California, what made you create a single called “Harlem”?
Johnny: Sometimes when I’m messing around making beats I have to give the demo a name when I save it, so I typically title it the first thing that pops to mind. The song started out as a trap beat, almost as a joke, and the pitched kicks reminded me of a bunch of stuff I was listening to in 2008 when I spent a summer in New York. When Brodie and I got together to jam on it, we added all kinds of new instruments and melodies, but the beat always stayed the same, so we stuck with the name.
You guys have played some of the larger festivals out there, what’s been the most fun and why?
Playing Treasure Island was amazing because it’s a festival we both grew up attending and a big favorite. It felt like a historic moment for us to play that festival, especially with all of our friends in attendance. We feel super lucky that we got to play TI before it was moved off the island. Another super fun show was Forecastle in Louisville, KY – it was SO hot that day, and Brodie ended up doing the whole set barefoot. It was sweaty and wild and a ton of fun.
It looks you both went to Stanford, so did you know each other then? If not, how did you guys meet and decide to play music together?
Ya, we did go to college together, but somehow we never met. We actually met post-college through a mutual friend from school, Tommy Leep (now we call him the Godfather of the band). Both of us were in between bands at the time and looking for new projects. The first time we jammed, we wrote a song in the first few hours and knew it was something special.
Johnny, I’ve read that in college you built an app, which funded a Facebook platform, then moved on to the juicing industry, which begs the question: do you define yourself as a musician or an entrepreneur?
Johnny: After college, I actually started a music company as a way to get into the music world. I loved making music, but it wasn’t clear to me how to make it work. The whole experience introduced me to a ton of artists who later inspired me to take the leap and work on developing my own voice as an artist.
As for the juicing industry, a few years ago I helped some friends start a health foods company called Thistle. My childhood basically resembled one long junk food commercial, and it wasn’t until recently that I started to prioritize my health. When one of my best friends was getting the ball rolling on getting everything started, I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to the creative side of the project.
In terms of how I define myself, I like to think that I’m a creator and that the different endeavors I’m involved with are just different expressions of the things I value: art, health, community, etc.
If I were to turn each of your phones, what song would I find you listening to?
Brodie: Was JUST listening to Father John Misty’s song “True Affection”, so that’s what you’d find. Also “Redbone” by Childish Gambino has been a regular spin.
Johnny: I’ve been addicted to Drake’s “More Life” for a minute now. I think the last song I was literally listening to in my Spotify queue was Future’s “Mask Off” remix featuring Kendrick Lamar.
Name one surprising thing about each of you that most people don’t know.
Brodie: I used to sing in a family band with my mom and my sister when I was a teenager. We sang 3-part harmony and toured the U.S. together on a bus. It was a crazy time.
Johnny: My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War. I spent a bunch of my childhood behind the reception counter of my mom’s nail salon. She would parade me in front of her patrons until I was old enough to perform kid songs on my own for money to spend on arcade tokens. I can still remember the smell of nail polish and acetone.
Do you have anything new and exciting coming up that you want to share?
We have a show coming up at the Mezzanine in San Francisco on June 8th! We can’t wait to share all of the new material live for the first time. We hope to see you guy there! Get tickets here: http://found.ee/CathedralsMezzTix
— Cathedrals (@WeAreCathedrals) May 9, 2017