Interview with drummer Mark Wharton and guitarist Adam Lehan | By Hutch
The quick version of the undeniable résumé of England’s Workshed is that drummer Mark Wharton and guitarist Adam Lehan are former members of Cathedral—from the seminal 1993 LP, The Ethereal Mirror, no less!—who have joined forces again to wreck and destroy. With no allegiance to any genre, they developed Workshed organically as a project with no determinate path. What grew from this collaboration is certainly doom- and sludge-influenced, but the sound has festered with faster tempos and jazzy time signatures, echoing noise rock. Sounding like With The Dead, Cathedral, Fudge Tunnel, Conan, Helmet, and Unsane were in a high-velocity bus crash, the duo produce gnarly and fetid but rhythmic songs.
Hooked up with former Cathedral bandmate and friend Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above Records, the band’s debut, Workshed, is packed with tumultuous riffs and sure to impress and stun following its release on Sept. 13.
The first clue that the duo changed their focus is, on the surface, a lack of supernatural or occult connotations to their band name. However, they didn’t stray far from the horror influence either, Wharton explains. “We didn’t specifically choose not to have a religious name or anything like that,” he says. “It comes from our shared love of films, particularly horror and sci-fi. It’s a line from ‘Evil Dead II’ that’s clearly overdubbed—one of those ‘it’s so bad, it’s good’ moments. It’s a very famous scene, and you can easily find it online if you go looking. We also liked the idea that a workshed is where you go to work on a project. What we were doing, certainly in the early days, felt more like a project than a band, so we thought it kind of fit.”
Surprisingly, Wharton and Lehan have not been making too much music in the 25 years since they departed from Cathedral. One would think that being in a band who left such a domineering stamp on a specific genre would have launched more projects, but the two report a casual approach to music writing. “I did some drumming for Cronos after I left Cathedral and recorded some tracks for the  compilation album, Venom,” Wharton notes. “After that, I didn’t do a great deal. I continued to write music at home, both on guitar and keyboards, but it was for my own pleasure, really. I never intended doing anything with it. The hole that was left from leaving Cathedral was quickly filled up by having kids. To be honest, I never expected to be making music again. It just goes to show you never know.”
“I tried to get a band going that were more in the vein of Deep Purple or Black Crowes,” Lehan adds. “Mark even played drums on a lot of it, actually, but I could never find a singer who fit, so it just slowly died.”
Workshed sound confident and determined as they plow through down-tuned lava-like riffs and pummeling rhythms. Time changes within the songs spark interest and show a unique grasp of songwriting, even when heavy and slow are the main focus. The nine tracks on Workshed—ranging from two to four, five, and six minutes each—indicate these are men working through aggression and inner frustration. The venting encapsulates the spit and sweat that the duo conjure. “On Sticks of Wood” is a bombastic example, as it reels back and forth, but mostly forth. It’s planted between “Anthropophobic” and the grandiose, thundering “The City Has Fallen,” and the listener can hear how these songs may have been written at different times, pieced together and constructed for cohesion while boasting a boldly eclectic batch of inspirational moments. The members’ chemistry was reignited but with a slow-paced rubbing of sticks, not a lighter.
“We just sort of fell into doing it again to be honest,” Wharton states. “We’d been out of touch for quite a few years and actually got back in touch through Facebook of all things. We thought it would be nice to just meet up a couple of times in a rehearsal studio and have a bash-about and a few beers. It was clear from the off that we still had a chemistry between us, and we were enjoying it again, so we just carried on. The songs have gone through a lot of evolution to get to where they are today. It took us a long time to find our feet stylistically—we didn’t want to sound just like Cathedral—but we’re both really happy with where we are today.”
Lehan concurs, “That’s true. It’s actually taken us this long to really figure out what Workshed is.”
After abetting each other in the devil’s aural trade and growing confident about the material, Workshed headed into Orgone Studios, helmed by Jaime Gomez Arellano. Considering the idyllic setting near Woburn in Bedfordshire, England, the sinister sounds now etched eternally on Workshed belie the tranquil surroundings. Arellano’s past is stacked with doom and metal treasures: Angel Witch, Orange Goblin, Death Penalty, Oranssi Pazuzu, Cathedral, Paradise Lost, Grave Miasma, and many more. Wharton compliments Arellano, saying, “He’s a really nice bloke, but, more importantly, he’s very good at what he does. He’s meticulous when it comes to getting sounds. We spent a long time getting the drums and guitars sounding just right before we started recording anything, rather than relying on getting them in the mix afterwards. I think he did a great job.”
Lehan’s words echo this while attesting to Arellano’s lighter side. “He’s definitely given us a recording which has the same energy and attack as the songs do when we play them live,” he says. “It’s just an insane-sounding album! It was also really cool to hang out with him and drink and have a natter, [i.e. a chat]. Lovely guy. We also spent a lot of time while we were there watching ‘Trailer Park Boys’ with a beer after a hard day’s Workshedding!”
Workshed erupt with such thick riffs and volume, the idea of them being a duo—à la MANTAR—is stunning. The low-end is represented in spirit, and the vocals are as robust as those of a solo lead vocalist, but they really are the only two members. Wharton explains this decision but admits they will have to beef up their lineup before continuing. “Like I said, we felt for a long time that Workshed was just our little project. In that sense, it never needed to be anything else,” he shares. “Now that we have the album out, we definitely need a third member. We’d really like to do some shows. So, with that in mind, we are auditioning a couple of bass players imminently, but I can’t really say anything else about that now. You’ll just have to wait and see,” he laughs.
The impulse to draw comparisons to Cathedral is understandable, and Wharton concedes that having the band’s legacy lingering over Workshed is both daunting and liberating. “It’s a little bit of both, to be honest,” he says. “Daunting, because you don’t want to disappoint anybody, I suppose. There are a lot of Cathedral fans out there who will have certain expectations. I think they’re going to like it—and, of course, it’s liberating, because being ex-Cathedral members is ultimately what’s given us the opportunity to do this album.”
While the band’s moniker is a nod to Sam Raimi’s classic vision and the tones are foreboding and the mood ominous, the lyrics Lehan penned for Workshed are not about ghouls and witches. Rather, they highlight horrors of the self and the leaden burden of depression and anxiety. Catharsis can be found when screaming in the confines of a practice space, but once pressed to vinyl and digital bits, the words one harvested from their own darkness expose a certain vulnerability. Lehan had to come to terms with that.
“There is a certain release in ‘coming out’ in public about these kinds of things,” he admits. “You don’t get much more public than this! At the same time, it doesn’t really heal anything, in much the same way that therapy or pills don’t really do it. That’s how it seems to me, anyway. I’ve had therapy and am about to have more, and it gives you different perspectives and ways to deal with everyday life as best you can. The pills might make you feel better if you can get a doctor to put you on the right ones. I don’t know about other people, but with me, it just feels like misery [is] always in my head waiting for a chance to get my attention,” he laughs.
The misery on Workshed is palpable, but paired with amplifier-shattering gusto and propulsion and screamed to an audience who can relate, it is glorious.