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Conversation with Cathedral Bells about ‘Velvet Spirit’ and new single, ‘Undertow’

It was a great pleasure to talk to Matthew Messore of Cathedral Bells. We talked about his latest release, Velvet Spirit, his next single, Undertow, and his creative process. It was a fun conversation.

Messore began releasing music as Cathedral Bells, a bedroom dream pop project, in 2018, when he released Cemetery Surf. He writes and records everything at his home, which is in Cassadaga, Florida, on the outskirts of Orlando. Always with the aim of having one song ready to release, Messore strives to keep a healthy balance between personal life and Cathedral Bells.“I know it’s different for everyone but I usually try focusing on one song at a time, but I usually have like one or two other songs that are in different stages.”

This allows Messore to always have something to work on when time allows, whether it’s laying down a track, editing, or working with his mixing engineer Brian Cook. “The timeline is usually up to the label, but I pretty much always have a new track in the works,” he shared. “Brian plays in a rad shoegaze band called Panda Riot, and he’s a really inspiring guitarist / engineer for shoegaze.”

In the past two years, Messore has released eight singles, one EP, and one LP, spacing each release so he is consistently able to offer listeners something fresh to listen to. Currently, he’s supporting both his first full-length, Velvet Spirit (which was released in March), and working with BIRTHDIY (of Spirit Goth), a new net-label, to release his new single Undertow on May 29. In the days of music streaming, this can be an effective approach at growing your fanbase, since listeners are inundated with new music.

Matthew Messore of Cathedral Bells

I asked Messore about his writing process, and what drives him in creating a new song. “Typically I write off of what I’m feeling or thinking in the moment. I try to make a theme for each song. Sometimes I’ll make a drum beat first and then make a riff to follow. There’s a lot of trial and error until the next steps.”

While there’s a lot of consistency between each single, you can hear these themes if you listen closely. All of the songs are drenched in The Cure-like reverb (one of Messore’s favorite bands and strongest influences), but the depth of reverb varies from song to song. His drums have a consistent sound, pulling from the large room reverb you hear on drums in 80s new wave. His bass is placed with his drums, with a slight verb on them.

Compressed reverb is an integral part of Cathedral Bell’s sound, with thick verb on the shoegazey guitars, and synth melodies to create hooks. You hear this throughout his full-length, Velvet Spirit. He exclaimed, “I definitely love to utilize warm-synth-pads-drenched-in-reverb as much as I possibly can!” To achieve his sound, he uses a Roland JC-40 amp, and two pedals, Wet Dreams chorus pedal by Dead Beat and the Gen5 Echo by Lovepedal. “I keep them on all the time on my guitar.” As for bass, he shared, “I run the bass through my pedal board and DI into the interface, then I have a bass preset in Reason.”

Messore is a self-proclaimed Roland enthusiast. His synth is a Roland JD-Xi digital synthesizer with vocoder. Messore customizes the sound and sample in Reason, then sequences the drums, beat by beat. When he finishes a song, he sends stems to Brian in Chicago, who then re-amps some of the stems through his pedals during the mixing stage.

Matthew Messore of Cathedral Bells

In Absentia is one of many Velvet Spirit tracks that stands out to me. The synth melody hooks me and sets a mood for the song. The guitar at 0:39 and 1:19 sit behind the mix with the delays and repeated delays and verb sound, and pulls at my emotions. He echoed, “That guitar part is my favorite guitar riff to play and listen back to.” The chorus-heavy vocal melody in the verses of Eighth Wonder of the World plays so nicely off the instrumentation while also creating a tension that draws me back. 

The new Cathedral Bells single, Undertow, opens with a nice synth pad that sits behind the music. Drums open up, and electric guitar plays a fast melody, placed in the thick atmospheric reverb that the shimmery vocals provide. Messore is joined by Kim Weldin of Tape Waves on vocals, a Charleston, South Carolina dream surf pop band. Bass has a slight delay, and sounds as though it’s behind you.

Caught inside your mind
Found time to get away
Leave it all behind
Onto the other side

Cathedral Bells – “Undertow” (Bandcamp)

Messore shared, “I actually had the riff of the twelve-string acoustic in‘Undertow’ as a b side to another song from my previous project. That was like three years ago. I reworked the bass line when making the skeletons to the song. I starting working on the track in November after finalizing the last tracks to‘Velvet Spirit’. I’ve had the opener guitar riff on the back burner for a few years and I’m happy with how this track came out.”

Cathedral Bells – Undertow (YouTube) — to be released May 29

An interview wouldn’t be complete without a question about musical influences. “The Cure is one of my biggest influences for creating tones. Martin Newell of The Cleaners From Venus for the minimal – DIY – cassette pleasures. David Bowie is in there as well.” His favorite Cure album is Disintegration, “‘In Between Days’ though is probably one of my favorite songs from The Cure,” he added. “It’s just really good every time.”

Listen to the teaser of Undertow on YouTube, pre-order the single on Bandcamp, pre-save the single and share with your friends, or pick up Cathedral Bell’s Velvet Spirit LP on vinyl. And expect more music from Messore as 2020 marches on. “Definitely excited for it to come out soon. Fortunately, [I] had more time during quarantine to finalize some new songs. I love recording, that’s my favorite part about the project. I take pride in producing ‘bedroom dream pop’.”

Cathedral Bells links:

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