Q&A with Brian Dixon
Sheila Rene': Hello, Brian how are you?
Brian Dixon: This is our last night here. We fly back tonight to Europe. It's been a fairly hectic week.
SR: You getting this album out and talked about.
BD: Where are you?
SR: I'm in Austin.
BD: I think we've played there recently. Where are you from originally?
SR: I was born in Texas but spent the last 30 years in San Francisco before arriving here in '95.
BD: That's cool. San Francisco is really great. We played in Berkeley.
SR: Are all four of you guys doing interviews this time around?
BD: Just Lee and myself. The other guys are at home. That's the way it usually works. Garry likes to spend time with his son and Leo just hangs out with his girlfriend. Lee and I get all the hard jobs...flying around the world. It's great to travel around, but even that can get laborious. Have you heard the new album?
SR: Yes, quite a few times. I have an advanced tape.
BD: A lot of people I'm talking to today haven't received a copy yet. Our label in England didn't send any CDs over here and then it was only 100 copies sent to the U.S. That's not very many considering the size of this country. I'm glad you got one. It's been embarrassing, to say the least...doing interviews when they haven't even heard the material.
SR: I don't understand anyone wanting to do an interview if they don't know what they're talking about.
BD: Yeah, well, that's it, they should have one. How did you find the material...good, indifferent or what?
SR: I love this album. I don't think that we can call you a doom or death metal band anymore.
BD: No, not anymore. Things have changed. Even though I didn't play on Doom, they couldn't repeat that because it was a very genuine album.
SR: On Ethereal Mirror, the band started to move in another direction.
BD. The change really started with the Soul Sacrifice EP. That came out between those two albums.
SR: I love a band than keeps changing within their own sound.
BD: It's exciting for us. The way we write and record is very unconventional. Normally, because of the lack of something we have and we all live miles away from each other...hundreds of miles. It can get pretty expensive. We knew we were going to do a new album quickly because of that big gap between Ethereal Mirror and The Carnival Bizarre album. We've been touring a lot and the line up seems to be quite settled.
SR: That has always been your biggest problem, the unsettled line up.
BD: Over lunch today, we were talking about doing a big reunion gig in the future and get all the ex-members back. That would be about 30 people on stage for that one.
SR: You helped out on the production didn't you?
BD: No, we didn't get involved in production. That was done by Kit Woolven who is the same guy who did the Carnival album. He was quite a big producer in the '70s in England. He worked with Thin Lizzy and UFO. He hasn't been in vogue for quite a while. He'd been out of business for a while, but he's a friend of our manager who set up a meeting for us. We decided to go with him because he had a sense of the kind of music we like, but also he wasn't the kind of guy who just wanted to come in and give us his sound. He's not like those big name guys who come in and make everyone they touch sound like their trademark sound. He just helped us get the sounds that we were looking for. When there were four of us arguing over a point, he'd just tell us how we were going to do it. We didn't have enough time to spend arguing in the studio.
SR: This band is going into the 21st Century with some pretty cool tunes.
BD: Wild isn't it? Something we found that over in the States especially, metal music is not doing so well. We think with all the new bands who are out there like Oasis, they're just ripping off the Beatles and the Small Faces. If you look back at the late '60s going into the '70s, all those bands have died off. The good bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Zeppelin came in and hopefully it'll go that way again.
SR: I'm a big fan of the '70s. I've had to defend those years with gusto. Some say nothing happened in the '70s. I say everything happened then. All the young bands are more influenced by those three bands than any others.
BD: Yeah, you're right. Everything happened in the '70s. The '80s weren't particularly good, but the '90s...I'm just not a fan of the '90s music.
SR: I'm having a little problem with it myself.
BD: I can't find anything to buy. I was browsing around Tower Records and all I could find were some old records in the bargain bin.
SR: Did all of you have a say so in the music? Run that down for me. For instance, the wonderful intro “Cybertron 71/Ethereal Countdown (Intro).
BD: Oh, right. That was Garry's idea. It's just a backwards guitar that goes into... There are new titles on everything.
SR: Whose voice is that speaking part?
BD: That's Lee sounding like Ozzy on an old Black Sabbath thing. That was really simple. The writing process began in January of '96 when everyone came to my house for a couple of days with our practice amps and we wrote away. We took the first four songs, put them on tape and then went away to listen to those and took them on tour. We played them on jams at sound checks. Then we toured Japan and Australia and then the U.S. We knew we had a job on our hands since we'd only finished four songs. When we got back over here we rented a cottage in the country where we'd have no distractions. We worked all day and all evening for about a week and came up with about two and a half hours of music. At that point there were no vocals or lyrics because every time Lee went to write in his room with a tape we'd still be playing downstairs and he couldn't think straight. He even tried to go off into the hills with the sheep and try to get some peace. At the end of the week we went straight into the studio while Lee went home to finish up the lyrics. Garry and I laid down the drum tracks which was pretty difficult since we didn't have an idea of how any of the songs will turn out vocally. It was pretty risky to say the least. We got through it and had to leave out five or six songs that we hadn't finished because we didn't have time and you can only fit so many songs on a CD.
SR: It sounds pretty stressful.
BD: It was less stressful than the last album even though there was much more preparation on that one. We weren't really prepared for this one, but we were pretty relaxed. With all the touring, we got to know each other's playing. It came together quite well even though the last 24 hours with the final mix was pretty hectic. It was an up all night job. We're very pleased with this one. A lot of people are telling us that it's a much more mature album especially in the sound. We used a different system on the technical side of things. We recorded analog which gives us a really old sound. Last time we used digital recording on a new system called Radar. It records straight onto a hard disc which gives you a different sound that you can edit really easily. The song, “Birth Machine 2000” was very much a different song when we recorded it. The idea that Lee had for the vocal just didn't seem to work very well so we decided to take a small part, a bridge in the song, and we just repeated that. The bridge became a verse and then we only had one chorus. We just swapped things around. You'd never be able to tell. It's just using the facilities available. We've only had a couple of reviews so far, but in England they seem to like it at Kerrang! Magazine.
SR: On "Urko's Conquest" the devil voice is back.
BD: It's like a Dio/Sabbath kind of thing.That song was based on the old "Planet Of The Apes" movies. Urko was the head gorilla. He was a mean guy. Everyone seems to like our song titles. They're all so sci-fi. It wasn't a concept album or anything. What happened is that we got the cover artwork, which of course you haven't seen yet, which is a major part of the Cathedral thing. Unfortunately, before we go any further, in America they decided to use a different cover which is a band photo on front and the main artwork is going on the inside of the sleeve. They decided that metal wasn't doing well in the States so they changed it.
SR: That really pisses me off.
BD: It pisses me off as well.
SR: I've never listened to more metal in my life.
BD: The classic bands still do well like KISS, AC/DC and Ozzy. They seem to do well over here but for a lot of the newer bands they really don't get a look and it's a real pity.
SR: Hell, metal is now the alternative. We've come full circle with this crap.
BD: Yeah, we've been saying that there's so much music that's gone by the way side you really have to look hard to find it. We are the alternative, you're right.
SR: It's time for us to take over again.
BD: Everyone got into this alternative thing thinking it was hip and trendy.
SR: It was a good movement. It produced some great bands, but don't touch my metal. All the bands I like looked to the '70s bands like Black Sabbath for their inspiration.
BD: Even if you hear some of the '80s bands trying to copy some of the '90s sounds they do quite a good job. I just heard the new KISS album and it sounds like Alice in Chains. I don't know if it'll come out.
SR: The guitar on "Cyclops Revolution" takes me back to the good old days when we had guitar solos.
BD: Yeah, that's Garry favorite song on the album. He loves that song.
SR: Did you guys see eye to eye on the sequencing?
BD: All the songs are close together as well. Would you believe that it was Lee who worked with our producer. We didn't have any say. I'm not quite sure why. Obviously, Lee is pretty much in the driver's seat. Garry shies away from interviews and stays at home when he can. Lee ends up doing a lot of work at his place. At this time last year I didn't really have a idea of the history of the band. Now, I've got a better idea.
SR: Where did the title of the album come from?
BD: It was just a cosmic look at the evolution of man. That's how the artwork came about. It's a big dragon with bands going around like on Saturn. It's the ape and onwards through the ages. It's not as detailed as the last album sleeve but certain as good.
SR: Over the years we've lost the guitar solo.
BD: Not with Garry, he does about three per song. I think a lot of people have gone back to a very kind of twisted structure, first chorus and maybe a little quick solo and the song is over. We're from the era with half hour guitar solos. When we play live we normally extend the songs and go off on a tangent and jam for half an hour. That's cool and that's why I love it.
SR: Have you thought about doing any video on this album?
BD: We just did one last week for "Stained Glass Horizon." They sent it over from the U.K. It's pretty cool. We didn't spend a lot of money on it because obviously there's not so much opportunity over here to see it. There's no "Headbangers Ball" anymore.
SR: Doesn't that just drive me to drink?
BD: Yeah, we have it in the U.K. but it's not so good.
SR: I hear the Latin America MTV is the best. They play lots of underground bands.
BD: We just played in Columbia and one night they had a Cathedral, Black Sabbath special playing videos from both of us. That was pretty cool. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but the music was good. Playing Columbia was a bit of a break through for us because only the big stadium bands like Bon Jovi and Guns N' Roses have ever played there. Most bands are afraid to do it or the equipment is so bad they don't go.
SR: It's becoming a huge market for heavy metal. They can't seem to get enough.
BD: We came off as conquering heroes. We played for 3-4,000 a night.
SR: Whose voice is on "Phaser Quest?"
BD: That's Lee. You like to radio thing?
SR: The sample from a broadcast.
BD: I haven't gotten into much industrial.
SR: By using the samples, that puts it into that category. I was reminded only last week that the Beatles used that megaphone quality first.
BD: Yeah, with "Yellow Submarine." It's a very popular sound.
SR: Are we going to ever see a copy of the Cathedral comic book?
BD: How'd you hear about that?
SR: It came with a press package.
BD: It's a friend of mine who writes for Marvel Comics and Disney. At the time I mentioned it to a friend in Germany and a year later he is working with Earache and mentions it to the English company. They ring me up and we got the ball rolling. It's only a five-page comic and it's about the angels who come down from heavy to wage war on evil. The first to go are the record company executives who are truly evil. Only the truly innocent ones are saved by Cathedral. We wage war on the angels. It's very cool. It may be coming out in England through Kerrang! Magazine; although, I'm not sure yet. We're going to try and get it colored in because it came out originally as a black and white comic.
SR: Hey, I like the idea of black and white.
BD: I'm not quite sure what the magazine is called but it's a version of a heavy metal comic. It's funny because it take little bits of our personalities and how much of a story can you do in five pages. The story is cool and we'll be happy if it comes out in Kerrang! Being an old KISS fan, we could be up there with the boys with our own comic. Have you ever seen them?
SR: Brian, I've never missed a tour since 1977. I saw them in San Antonio on the full make-up tour and now they're coming here to Austin in November. I'll probably go again.
BD: I saw them in England a few months ago. It was good. I saw them first in 1976. You're a veteran of the metal then. You've seen some really cool bands I bet. I'm invious. I bet I could talk to you all day about bands.
SR: Indeed you could. The most important thing on my mind right now is when I'll be able to see you play this new album...live. I know you're starting in Europe on October 14.
BD: We're playing Greece on Sunday. I'll see you there.
SR: I wish. Greece doesn't get a lot of heavy metal do they?
BD: We've never played there, but Metal Hammer Magazine fans voted us the Band of the Year for two years running. They're fairly keen to see us. We head to the U.K. on October 14 which is the release date of the album over there. We do two weeks and then to Europe and Scandinavia with My Dying Bride for six weeks which takes us up to Christmas. We'll have about five days off then we go to South Africa which is a first for us. It's a huge market. Iron Maiden were down there recently playing to 70,000 people. In England they're playing to only 2,000 people.
SR: Where else will you be playing?
BD: We were supposed to play Chile but we got relieved of some of our finances which keeps us from going there. We had a few sticky moments down there. We lost about $10,000 dollars. It was because the guy who organized the show had visions of making lots of money. Foolishly, he had these luxury apartments set up for two and a half weeks for three shows. So there was no way he could make that kind of money. He disappeared with some of the money. We had a good time, but lost money.
SR: Were you in the lineup when Cathedral toured with Black Sabbath.
BD: I didn't come aboard until the Mirror tour. I would have loved to have done that... a Black Sabbath or a KISS tour would keep me happy for life.
SR: I hope you make to the U.S.
BD: It would nice if we could get back over here in February. We're going to Japan and Australia in March. It's hard to say because our last tour was with Trouble. They ran out of money and went home and we finished off the tour as best as we could. I think they've split up now.
SR: It's been great fun talking with you Brian. Stay in touch.
BD: I will try to do that and let you know when we'll be heading down to Texas. Thank you for your interest.