Building community through an enticing, tarot card approach that encourages immersion.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
The breadth of progressive music is increasingly expansive with innovation brimming around every subsequent release. Though this is certainly the case musically speaking, only few have been able to capitalize on the remaining aspects of their output in that same fashion. One could surely have astounding cover illustrations and merchandise designs, but it's only the surface of what is truly possible with contemporary technology and accessibility. Enter Pathos & Logos - a multi-faceted duo of guitarist Kyle Neeley and drummer Paul Christiansen who channel spirituality for an ambitious compositional package in the form of their new EP, Cult.
Arriving on June 24th, Cult comes to us spread throughout tarot cards, each of which sports artwork by Neeley that is best displayed in the EP's photo book format. The cards themselves have QR codes on the back to take listeners to the track's stream, merchandise, and more, making it all the more interactive as you look to tie each art piece to the band's progressive instrumentation. Cult is inviting and quite distinctive because of this particular release structure, which encourages camaraderie and engagement beyond the surface level. Pathos & Logos tie in their perplexing craft with Neeley's Photoshop learnings to craft one interconnected effort worth the price of admission. We're thrilled to highlight this conduit of community for you today.
We go Behind the Cover of Cult with duo Kyle Neeley and Paul Christiansen to learn of the EP's tarot card structure, their collaborative strengths, their creative processes, and more:
‘Cult’ is a celebration of art, a unique experience resulting from a passionate and comprehensive collaborative process that welcomes engagement on multiple levels. Was it meant to be inviting and ambiguous by design or is there a direct intention behind the project?
Pathos & Logos: To answer the question in the most direct way, it’s a little bit of both. The sigils, iconography, and scripts that we use predates the band. We’re the type of people that for us, art and music is a religious experience. We’re a little unconventional in that way. We’ve discovered that there’s a lot of people who think that way too. There are certain sigils in the books that we’ve created that we have tied to specific rhythms. The release itself, the codex that we created, has information at the bottom of each card to let people participate as deeply as they want. Maybe you just want to look at the art, or maybe you want to dig deeper into the narrative that we wove into it? Either way, it’s definitely vested with energy and intention. We don’t like the idea of trying to steer anyone’s interpretation of what we’ve done.
You provide a perfect entry point, which is always key to viewer and listener interpretation. The tarot card approach is certainly enticing. What role do you feel the arts play in the entirety of the audiovisual composition? Where do you feel that there are commonalities between the two elements?
P&L: As opposed to just giving audiences an album, whether that be a CD or a vinyl pressing, we’re really trying to ask them to invest more as far as their creative output goes. The idea behind the tarot cards is that they’re sized in an appropriate way so that you can go out, store them in books, put your personal touch on them, and more. That’s really what we’re looking to do, invite people to participate as much as possible.
There’s a lot of people out there who can’t play an instrument, or they simply don’t know how to yet, but they still want to be as invested as possible. By giving them artwork that is intriguing and plays into the narrative, we’re inviting them to come and join in on the fun. It’s a psycho-spiritual invitation to come hang out with us, so to speak.
There was an Instagram post where you emphasized that ‘Cult’ is by everyone, for everyone. You build community amongst yourselves and that extends into your listeners, both in live shows and digitally of course. It lives and breathes differently once it’s out, which brings me to the following point. How do you see the material from an external perspective having been so invested in its development?
P&L: That’s a good question. For what it’s worth, the EP is coming out this year, but we spent all of 2021 touring this music and getting it out there. We’ve been playing the EP from start to finish out in secondary markets across the country. The reason why we knew we needed to put more energy and effort into building the “community”, which is the word that you use, is because we got such a positive response while we were out playing these songs on the road. When we would come back a second time, people would come up and hum the songs back to us. We had to break it down to them that it wasn’t out yet. I don’t want to say this positive response forced us, but it allowed us to look deeper into the songs over the last year and focus on the artwork to tie it into the music.
You touched on something before that I wanted to mention as well. With an eye towards building a sense of community, we straddle the fault line between satisfying ourselves creatively and simultaneously inviting people in. If I was going to suggest we had some sort of agenda outside of just functioning as a band, I would say that we believe very strongly in the idea that it’s much less important that anybody understands every single detail about what this project means because the fact is, a lot of this stuff predates the band and there are certain things that I don’t think we’ll ever reveal. There are things in this that are just for us. It’s much less important that everybody knows and understands everything that Pathos & Logos means. It’s more important for us that people know that this is a thing you can do, that this is a thing you can interpret and learn from in your own way. We like the idea of being able to go out and showcase the art to allow this to happen. Art is really just our sense of spirituality.
You convey it so well, too. How do you operate under such boundless creative freedom? ‘Cult’ started off as a blank canvas that evolved over the months into a sprawling effort that serves as the sprawling byproduct of your experiences as musicians.
P&L: Paul and I have been playing together for a long time now. We’re approaching 20 years at this point, so we used to always be in the state of mind where you just write songs, get them done, and put them out. I guess you can say we were focusing on quantity over quality. However, this time around, we had ideas on deck. Before we could actually produce the songs, we decided on a theme, what keys they would be in, how the structure of the songs would be laid out, and essentially came up with blueprints for them. It was until this point that we wrote the songs. This particular release is completely different in that regard and we found it’s a much more powerful release because of it. The keys used in the songs spell out a word and so do the first letters of every song, which some people might recognize. The best way to put it is that this is the first time that we’ve ever consciously put this many layers into something. It’s absolutely a long time coming. If this had been five or ten years ago, it wasn’t even in our field of consciousness. We wanted to make something holistic and artistically satisfying, and I think we did that. It’s an answer to the way that people are now consuming music. Each card has a QR code on the back of them and by scanning them, your phone becomes the record player now.
That’s a neat feature that will certainly be appreciated. ‘Cult’ is really the culmination of both of your musical trajectories, and camaraderie played a key role in it all. Having this conversation with you two has shown me that much. Do you feel as though you find great strength in your partnership, strength that perhaps finds itself into the composition organically?
P&L: It’s absolutely vital, it’s crucial. There can be tension in bands because of diverging personalities, but Kyle and I have to our advantage the fact that we “cut out a lot of fat”, so to speak. We’ve been working together for such a long time and we have what you can call a system for the production of the songs, the writing of them, and getting them to the point where we can actually release them. There’s now this entire other aspect of the arts that we didn’t see coming, which is just as vital. Choosing sigils that imbue a song’s energy and ideas feels just as important as picking a key or time signature. The camaraderie is definitely there, that’s for sure, and it feels good.
It’s great to hear and coming from a metal breeding ground like Denver, it can be expected. Going back to the visual aspects of ‘Cult’, what did you envision when you approached the tarot artwork, Kyle?
P&L: I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention.” We knew from playing these songs out on the road over the last year that this was going to be special. We had been getting a lot of interest and we knew that the art was going to be a big deal. We had hired a local artist, a very good local artist, to help us out, but they were just kind of missing the mark. At this point, we had our backs against the wall in getting this done, so I had to step in and do what I could. We had concepts already as far as what we were going to do and I just went to town on Photoshop. I lost my mind in Photoshop for a while and read up on all sorts of tutorials. I took a lot of Photoshop classes back in the day, so we just went and got the Creative Cloud membership and jumped into it. It’s kind of interesting the way that I did it, if you care to hear about it.
Absolutely, that’s what we’re here to talk about.
P&L: I mean it’s in the name, Heaviest of Art. I gave you the prelude to working with this other artist. He was making really good stuff, but it felt like fantastic art for a different project. At that particular time, that dude Beeple sold a digital art piece for like I don’t know how many million dollars. I did some research on him and his methods for how he goes about doing. I figured, “I can be the poor man’s version of Beeple.”
We had the concepts for what we wanted on these pieces, so what we did was find an artificial intelligence engine that I could throw keywords at. We cultivated the small tiny pieces that we needed. For example, if we needed a skull, I would type out skull or skulls and I would save all of these reference images. Once we had all of these components saved, I would clone stamp them together in Photoshop. It was a very messy process, to be honest with you. I probably did 30 of these and the ones that we picked are definitely the best. The other ones look like straight shit, I won’t lie to you. From here, I played around with the formatting for the tarot card structure and we ended up with what we have now. The response that we’ve been getting from the entirety of the visuals has been overwhelmingly positive, and we feel really fortunate.
It’s very well deserved, especially with the tarot artwork being a learning experience for you throughout the way. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been involved with the scene, you’re always learning and growing and it’s great to see that come to fruition with ‘Cult’. In closing, what role do you feel the arts play in the contemporary human experience, especially as it pertains to Pathos & Logos and your own methods of messaging?
P&L: It’s kind of an umbrella. For us as people and as friends, art and music is a religious and spiritual experience, as we mentioned earlier. I’m not trying to sound like I walk around wearing a cloak at a supermarket, but it really is. It’s the closest thing we have to religion. It’s the point of it, it’s the point of it all. Art is to me what makes us human. The specific way that we create art as human beings is a defining characteristic for what makes us people. For us as Pathos & Logos, it’s our way of plugging into the universe to get a charge.
Another thing that plays into that is that we don’t limit our art to music. We refer to it in the narratives of the tarot cards as the arts. It’s boundless. You can be a musician, you can be a photographer, a writer, a ballet dancer, a painter, a poet - all of these things are the arts. The point is to really bring as many artists together to create community with us. It’s not about dividing and finding distinguishing qualities, but to bring us all together, especially now with the last several years being so tumultuous. We were robbed of so much energy and peace of mind. You can almost make the argument that that’s another one of our mission statements as a band - to worldbuild, to create a place not just at shows but to foster a community through the internet so that we’re offering solutions to the madness in our own microcosmic ways. Ultimately, what we like to express to people is that we’re stronger together than we are apart. When you can get people to participate in what you’re doing to build a sense of community, it’s much stronger than music. It’s beyond just an album.
Fans that come to our shows and our merch booths receive a free wooden sigil. It doesn’t cost anything because there’s no value associated with it. The value is what we put in it as being a part of the community. When you come up and receive a sigil, it correlates with your participation in the arts. Even if you just like to listen to stuff, that would make you a disciple. Maybe you’re an actual musician? That would make you a cleric, so you get a different sigil. Artists of any kind receive a clerical token. If you’re a teacher or are creating art on a remarkable level, you receive a knight sigil. The idea is that people can keep these sigils on and at any point in time, you can call on one another to help for whatever reason. The only way to get one of these sigils is to come out to a show and interact with us and one another, and that’s what we aim to continue doing with ‘Cult’ - creating community.
Cult arrives on June 24th and you can pre-order your copy of the EP HERE.