Most people turn to music in that same way they need a good friend for a very long, mid-afternoon lunch. Whether it’s sharing news of joy, to complain about the incompetence of another, or simply filling that humanistic desire for communal support, turning to someone else is a powerful feeling and extremely necessary for sanity levels. These conversational words of tenderness bounce off restaurant walls while this metaphorical friend cocks their head slightly, reassurance filling their eyes as you speak (most likely quickly and with food in your mouth). Then comes that gentle pause that lives in every heart-to-heart, that sage wisdom is muttered aloud.
While listening to San Francisco’s Cathedrals I feel as if I’m staring across that very proverbial lunch date- their music feels heavy and wiser than I am, but the lyrical dialogue sounds as if they’re responding with care all the same. The duo, having met through a mutual friend from Stanford University, consisting of Brodie Jenkins (vocals) and Johnny Hwin (production) has been musically inseparable since January of 2012.
And like that metaphorical lunch described above, their lyrics about love, constriction and demons that hide in a mind’s shadows feel like a musical lending of a hand. Somehow taking three genres (pop, electronic, and R&B), and blending them into a medley that isn’t too contrived or forced, Cathedrals are the friend that meets you suddenly and without question to iron out life’s messy details and to make you smile while telling you the truth- we've all had that friend. Punctured by Hwin’s disarmingly, and unavoidably charming production, and layered between Jenkins’ deep and powerful vocals, they offer a juxtaposition that isn’t just wonderful, it’s downright brilliant.
Kick Kick Snare: What I love about both of you as individuals is that you’ve done or are doing separate work outside of the band. I know you’re doing music full time now, but what was your “human” job?
Brodie: The job that I left to pursue music full time was computer game design. So I was designing mobile and computer games.
KKS: That’s amazing! And, Johnny, I know you have your foot…oh, what’s that phrase? Hand in many projects right now, too? There’s The SUB and Thistle your organic food and juice delivery service in the Mission.
KKS: Brodie, while you were designing games, did that ever have any affect on your songwriting?
B: Well, I’m not anymore because I quit that job! (laughs)
KKS: Right, but in the sense that it requires a creative mind. I’m wondering if you tapped into that while you were writing or is that completely separate?
B: I kept it pretty separate. I was a creative writing major in college, and that was a particular choice because I was always a reader and English nerd. I love to write short stories, poems and songs. In computer game design there’s a lot of technical aspects to it, so you’re basically writing stories for the game. There’s a start, a finish, characters and bad guys-all that stuff. You’re thinking about art, you’re thinking about the game- there are a lot of similar characteristics if you think of Cathedrals as an artistic product like a game. It’s similar in that way. Writing songs is very creative. Working with fashion and working with the art aspect that Cathedrals puts out. Definitely when I was in my job I tried to keep them very separate. Music is my passion and I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t let them bleed into each other. I didn’t want to get burned out. But now that I’ve- well, since music is basically my job right now it’s amazing. I get to put all of the creative time, which was splitting between my job, into music. It’s amazing.
KKS: Johnny, do you find anything similar? Do your other projects ever collide at all or inspire the other?
J: I’m one of the cofounders of Thistle and my great passion is to create beautiful things artistically, entrepreneurially and culturally. With these different projects, Thistle and The SUB specifically, they’re sort of an extension of creative energy from a strong need to get out within these different projects, the synergy across all of them is great. The SUB has been an amazing community space and platform for me personally early on. I quit my job three years ago today (laughs)- like Brodie I quit my day job to work on these projects on a more full time basis. I’ve been building up The SUB, working with other musicians, through our mutual friend Tommy (the one who introduced me to Brodie). I had invited him over to The SUB one time to talk about music and playing and what we’d been working on. That’s when he said, “You need to meet my friend Brodie.” The SUB has been helpful in introducing me to all sorts of musicians including my awesome band mate. In addition to connecting with the community it’s been a great experience culturally here in the city to be able to have this unifying, community appreciating music, appreciating art- healthy living via Thistle, the music that Brodie and I are writing. So much of all the expressions really help it all together.
KKS: Do you find that this is something that could be found in other cities or is this really personal to the organic nature of San Francisco and the Bay Area?
J: I don’t think it’s the “organic” art form nor something specific to this city. I think it’s just naturally because Brodie and I went to school in the Bay Area as we were both originally from the Bay Area, and a large number of our friends and family are in or around San Francisco. So anytime you’re around a large majority of your friends it becomes sort of the central figure of the community space. And over time as a friend group grows, and brings in other friends, having that central community space becomes critical to having everyone be on the same page so to speak.
KKS: It really does come across in your music as well and that’s why I wanted to talk about your other projects. I find that when I listen to you both there is almost a surgical precision in listening to your tracks and I mean that in the best way! There are just so many fine details that you both cover- nothing feels as if it's left untouched. Do you work under any kind of inspiration at all? What was the process with “Harlem,” for example? And the song “Unbound”?
B: “Harlem” was like – do you want to go Johnny?
J: I would say, well, they’re all very different, and you know Brodie and I are very aware of the different processes essential to writing and I think collaboration is a very special thing. Each of these songs we arrived at differently.
B: Yeah, every song is different and we’ve evolved our style of songwriting over time. It still really depends on just what happens…I mean “Harlem” was one of the first songs out of pretty much completely a jam. A beat that Johnny had made out of some pretty skeletal instrumentals and we just did a crazy vocal jam. From there we picked out vocal parts that we liked and used our favorite sections. Organically there were just a lot of vocals, a lot of harmony- we found a chorus in there that just kind of fell into place! That was an organic and exciting process. Johnny wrote the tracks “Unbound” and “Want My Love” separately. “Unbound” was pretty much written by him, but we did some lyrical editing. And “Want My Love” is a song that I wrote by myself on piano and handed it to him which is where he created the instrumental for it. But it really depends- there is a lot of separate songwriting that happens. The EP is definitely going to be a conglomerate of all those things. (laughs)
J: That’s definitely how the easiness of the songs works until we drive it to completion and it’s really me and Brodie in a room together over a period of days weeks and months – listening and jamming, going through every single element. The outro to want my love, Brodie and I were literally in a room for a couple of days going through so many iterations it was almost manic. And then that guitar solo came out and Brodie would say, “Wait, what do you think about this?” and then she would sing the lick, then I would play it, then she’d sing it again and I would play it back. So much awesome stuff like that just happens in the moment.
J: One of my favorite memories- Brodie, I hope you don’t mind if I share this with Claire- okay, we’re both on headphones, and I’m like- well, we’re just brain storm jamming. We’re playing with an outro and Brodie’s singing over it. We’re recording everything, but just jamming over it all at the same time. And at that very moment we both take off our headphones, look at each other and say, “holy fuck!"
B: Oh, that’s such a great memory! (laughs)
The duo will be releasing their debut EP through Neon Gold records and a music video is in the works. Check out their three singles below and find out why we at Kick Kick Snare cannot get enough of San Francisco's latest gem.