ABOVE: CATHEDRALS’ JOHNNY HWIN AND BRODIE JENKINS. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEX EMBER
CATHEDRALS have managed to stay under the radar for some time now, but they’re definitely on the rise from the artistic community of San Francisco. The duo—Brodie Jenkins and Johnny Hwin—met somewhat serendipitously through their artist community of friends in the Bay Area. With Hwin’s talent for making captivating beats and Jenkins’ over-the-top vocals, the two have become a team marked by creativity and passion.
The band’s self-titled debut EP will be coming out on September 8 via Neon Gold. We’re excited to premiere “OOO AAA”—an enigmatic, R&B-infused gem that features Jenkins and Hwin’s haunting vocals. The dichotomy of dark and light within the music makes for a catching, gorgeous track.
We also spoke with CATHEDRALS about their San Francisco artist community, creating explorational sounds, and being meant for each other because of their Tumblr layouts.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did you guys meet?
BRODIE JENKINS: We met through a mutual friend who is kind of part of our artist community in San Francisco that regularly attends events at Johnny’s warehouse gallery called “The SUB.” He’s our friend Tommy Leep, and he’s amazing. Johnny, do you want to tell the story since you first met him when he told you about me? [laughs]
JOHNNY HWIN: Sure. We have this creative collective here in SF, and I was playing Tommy some demos that I had been working on. I had just gotten back from a mini-tour with a band called Blackbird Blackbird and I was trying to focus on my own productions. He had literally just run into Brodie on the Cal-train earlier that day. Serendipitously, he was like, “You guys should link up. By the way, you have the same Tumblr layout.” That’s how we knew it was meant to be. It was a sign.
JENKINS: [laughs] It was such a deep and powerful sign: a Tumblr layout. Basically, he had told me about Johnny when he had bumped into me on the train. A few days later I was looking for another musical project as well. I had walked into a studio, and I was pretty scared. It was a while since I had started a musical project from scratch. Really, I had no expectations. I walked in, and there was Johnny, who is this bundle of positive energy. It was amazing, and we ended up writing a song within the first hour. It’s this really cool chemistry that is still growing and developing between us, because we’re kind of opposites in a lot of ways, but we’re also very compatible. I think it’s what makes us stick.
KAPLAN: You guys are in California. What kind of made you create a song titled “Harlem”?
HWIN: I’ve spent a lot of time in New York. I spent the summer up near Harlem and Washington Heights, but the song was actually just a hip-hop beat that I was working on before having met Brodie. We did something that we like to call “focal playgrounding;” I’ll put beats on in the background, Brodie and I will start singing some riffs, and I’ll start playing guitar. It became the song, and we thought we’d just keep the same name from the beat, “Harlem.”
KAPLAN: I feel like you guys have kept a bit of a low profile thus far. Is there a reason for that?
JENKINS: I don’t think there’s really a reason. For us, it’s about making music, so that’s what we’ve been focusing on the most. We’ve been in a dark basement in our friend’s historic mansion co-op, which is where our studio is. We’ve been going non-stop trying to finish our EP. We’ve been focusing on that, and it’s secondary to us—the whole other side of it. We want to make sure that before we share this with other people, that we have an amazing product that people will love: an amazing piece of art.
KAPLAN: Who are some of your biggest influences?
JENKINS: Oh man.
HWIN: The one that comes to mind for me are the Smashing Pumpkins—especially with respect to this EP. It’s pretty diverse in its range of sounds. One of the things I loved about the Smashing Pumpkins growing up was how on a single record they were able to have a Black Sabbath-inspired, angsty rock anthem in “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” all the way to silky smooth, New Wave synthpop with “1979” and orchestral acoustic music with “Tonight, Tonight”—all on the same record. For me, that really inspired exploring a diverse range of sounds.
JENKINS: I think we’re inspired by Radiohead for similar reasons as well. I think the first album of Radiohead that I was introduced to was OK Computer. It’s funny because they started out with this grunge sound and then they went on to put out this entirely electronic sound. It kept developing from there. I think production-wise we were inspired by people who are explorational and try to push the limits of their sounds vocally. I grew up on jazz, so I love Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. When I discovered Björk, I freaked out because she does such crazy things with her voice that she’s a huge inspiration. I think our current influences that I’ve been inspired by include FKA Twigs. I’m obsessed with her right now. She’s so interesting, and I love that zany quality about her voice. I love that she’s taking this ‘90s R&B vibe and turning it on its head and adding her own creepy, dark flair to it.
KAPLAN: What sets you guys apart from other electropop bands out there?
HWIN: Are we an electropop band? [laughs]
KAPLAN: Obviously you cross genres, but I feel like you’ve been categorized by that throughout the Internet.
HWIN: That’s a hard one to answer. We’re some of the influences that we grew up with and are listening to now. A lot of our music is a reflection of where we are with all of those different sounds. I think for the thing that we’ve been exploring, a lot of it has been a juxtaposition of these electronic sounds, timbres and the things that move us and take on a cinematic quality.
KAPLAN: What’s been your biggest inspiration behind your music?
JENKINS: I think a huge inspiration has been the city we’re in and the community around us. We’re constantly surrounded by creative, innovative, and inspirational people. We love to share our music with our friend sin its early stages and get their feedback. We’re working on a music video right now, and it’s this amazing project between a bunch of different artists. We’re so excited to share it.
HWIN: Part of why I really love Brodie is because she’ll just say what I’m thinking. [laughs]. We’re very fortunate to be a part of this interesting community of artists in San Francisco. The music video that’s coming out is a result of the collaborations that we’ve been fortunate to be a part of.
CATHEDRALS’ SELF-TITLED DEBUT EP WILL BE RELEASED SEPTEMBER 8 VIA NEON GOLD. YOU CAN ORDER IT HERE.