Imagine two entities traveling along opposite frequencies. The first sine wave is bouncing frantically, along its axis, hitting different targets along the way, as if in a game of Pong. The second leisurely coasts across the same plane like a rolling wave. Eventually the two meet. If the location and timing matches up, something interesting may happen.
“We both arrived at this interesting intersection in these modulations between pursuing the dream and navigating practical reality,” guitarist-producer Johnny Hwin – the high amplitude wave – says of San Francisco electronic R&B duo Cathedrals.
“Making music is an extremely intimate thing to do with someone,” says vocalist Brodie Jenkins, the calming influence to Hwin’s frenetic energy. “We went from being complete strangers (to) navigating and trying to figure out each other’s vibes and personalities, to being extremely close. You have to be when you do this. You have to be able to tell someone that you don’t like something and know their levels of sensitivity. At this point, we’re like clockwork. We communicate and it’s become almost telepathic.”
With their frequencies combined, there appears to be just the right amount of push and pull to make waves for Cathedrals, with Hwin’s layered arrangements and electronic beats, along with Jenkins’ deep, sultry voice. Think The XX meets Florence and the Machine.
The pair next week will release a self-titled EP on Brooklyn’s Neon Gold Records, which is co-owned by indie darling MS MR’s Lizzy Plapinger. She herself recruited Cathedrals after her label’s blog posted a song Hwin submitted. Cathedrals perform at Popscene on Thursday, Sept. 11, along with Tomas Barfod.
“I feel like we’ve come leaps and bounds (since then),” Jenkins said. She and Hwin were introduced by a mutual friend that year, when both were looking for a new musical project. She showed up at his studio, and they wrote their first song over the course of a few hours. “We felt this chemistry on that first night.”
Both have always loved music, and both have had success in other fields. Jenkins grew up in Sebastopol, singing from an early age. Cathedrals is her second musical partnership along with folk duo Ghost and Gale, which Jenkins says holds just as much meaning as the project with Hwin.
Her day job after graduating from Stanford in 2009, until last spring, was designing video games.
“I really liked it, and it was creative, (but) I wanted to make music,” she said. “It was very hard to balance the two.”
Hwin, also a Stanford grad, has an even more impressive resume. In college, the Hercules native built a Facebook quiz app as part of a class assignment, and then sold it after it amassed 15 million users. He used the profits to fund a Facebook marketing platform, Damntheradio, which was used by musicians like Lady Gaga. He sold that as well, according to The New Yorker, in a seven-figure deal. He’s also instructed courses at Stanford’s Technical Communications Program and lectured at UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School.
Besides Cathedrals, the 28-year-old runs a creative art space in the Mission called the SUB, and co-founded a juice company called Thistle. He got his break in music as a backing bass player for San Francisco electronic act Blackbird Blackbird, whom he credits with inspiring him to learn music production, quit his day job, and go for his passion. The last seven years, he says, he’s spent trying to navigate being a musician while having a sustainable, practical income. But to be clear, he says he’s never left his business ventures.
“I’m not a musician (and) I’m not an entrepreneur – I’m a creator, an artist,” Hwin said. “These expressions manifest out of a desire. I’m not doing this because I’m passionate about it; I’m doing it because I can’t help it. I need to do this. We need to get this out of us. Having met Brodie lit this fire inside of me that I needed to get out and still trying to get more of it out.”
At first, Jenkins and Hwin were not Cathedrals. They were simply Brodie x Johnny. After their first show in 2012, without a true name for their act, they decided to pursue a shared future, despite a few fears of sharing a fragile personal space. Since that time, they’ve shifted from the initial musical spark and emotional connection, and focused on building a working structure – the kind of processes that occur in a band of formerly independent songwriters. The two balance each other; the waves meet at just the right intersection, propelling each other forward.
“This past year has been a big jump for us – a big change in terms of comfort level with each other,” Jenkins said. “We found a groove in terms of our song writing.”