The trio Cathedral Pearls has been making music locally for more than 11 years, during which time its work has become increasingly atmospheric and shoegaze-y without leaving behind the sensibilities of classic rock and singer-songwriting. Bringing the pedal-heavy sound of groups like Beach House or Slowdive into contact with a traditional rock-and-roll melodic construction has lately yielded stunning results, including the group’s newest single, “Speaking in Code.”
The song is built on the interplay of bass and guitar, which Max Harnishfeger, one of the band’s three members, described as “not stepping on each other’s toes, but playing off each other. Once we locked those in, it felt really good.” The bass brings a lively, straight-and-great line into contact with the more lethargic, distant and ethereal guitar sounds.
The tones are deep, wide and dark, held together by the crisp, consistent drums. By contrast, Harnishfeger’s vocals are light and spacey, drifting above the rest of the song. Occasionally, the guitars will follow his voice up into these higher spaces, but the bass keeps the song firmly rooted.
“Speaking in Code,” which moves in the direction of a distorted wall of sound, is unusually lyrical for its genre. Where atmospheric music tends to de-emphasize the words, “Speaking in Code” brings the sensational power of sound without compromise on the lyric front.
This balance is “rooted in a kind of traditional rock and pop,” Harnishfeger said. But it’s still “a little dreamier.” Both Harnishfeger and bandmate Karli Ingersoll, who plays bass and does vocals on the track and is owner of Lucky You Lounge, come from singer-songwriter backgrounds, and their experience with more personal, lyric-driven tracks has informed their work with Cathedral Pearls over the years.
For this song in particular, the lyrics criticize the coded, indirect speech of politicians and people alike, the tendency to “just try to appeal to the masses or appeal to a group of people. I want to be able to be a person who speaks directly,” Harnishfeger said. In his lyrics, he says similarly: “You’re a slave to blowing smoke / so let the truth come and set you free.”
The song culminates in a true boom, exploding the bounds of its relaxed early minutes with ringing drums, guitar and bass. “We want this wall of sound to hit people,” Harnishfeger said. “We tend to build things up to a climax, so when the bridge kicks in, it’s epic and loud.” Ingersoll and Harnishfeger hit the vocals together, just cracking through the melodic noise for a beautiful harmony.
That sound, Harnishfeger was keen to note, is in large part due to the work of the band’s drummer, engineer, producer and husband to Karli, Caleb Ingersoll. He has “a huge hand in making it sound the way it sounds at the end of the day.”
What the song makes clear, in all its complexities, is that Cathedral Pearls is a dynamic trio capable of incredible synergies. In 11 years, “our relationship has grown, and we’ve become better friends, more comfortable with each other. We’re constantly trying to do more to unify and make (our sound) cohesive.”
“Speaking in Code” makes good on that goal: “I think the music that we’re making right now could only be achieved by people who are totally comfortable with each other,” Harnishfeger said.
Cathedral Pearls is the type of band, too, that demands to be seen live. Not just because the group’s music is best turned up to 11, but because it makes the most of the three members. A booming guitar setup, shaking bass and smashing drums, they’re a recipe for success.
“Live performance is so beautiful,” Harnishfeger said, “because it’s this group of people that is coming together and sharing a moment together. I love that as a band. We do have that emotional arc to what we do. So, every performance, we do it in a different way. That bridge in ‘Speaking in Code’ will be different every time we play it live because we’re not like a band that just does things the same way.”
Although the band doesn’t have a show scheduled right now, the group is working on putting together performances for late spring or summer. To stay up to date on releases and upcoming concerts, follow the trio on Instagram @cathedralpearls and listen to “Speaking in Code,” out now on all platforms.
Julien Luebbers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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