The word “multi-modal” means “characterized by several different modes of activity” and pretty perfectly sums up the various aspects of the new project from Pathos & Logos arriving this Friday, June 24th, 2022 called Cult. They are also currently on tour, so catch them while you can, though they also drive extensively for more “local” shows, so you may have other chances.
On one of those long drives, guitarist Kyle Neeley and drummer Paul Christiansen began talking about ways in which they could take their instrumental metal collaboration to a new level, having already come a long way in deciding to take their personal mode of magico-artistic living as the inspiration for a new album to bring to audiences. But the new conversation was about ways of involving audiences, and that’s where the artwork began, the tarot card format for distributing digital songs began, and the world of Cult was born in multiple dimensions.
The album Cult takes audiences through several stages of personal development as they encounter the ways of The Order using dramatic musical language that escorts us past four milestones, from total beginner, essentially, to adept. The tarot card presentation allows audiences to take in a greater degree of participation as they make the storytelling more personal and feel this is an internal journey they are making, too. It’s up to the individual whether they just want to appreciate the musicianship and energy of the album or take up its multi-modal aspects.
There’s a lot more to learn about Cult and Pathos & Logos, but Kyle Neeley and Paul Christiansen had a long, entertaining conversation with me to introduce me to their personal world which they’ve now shared with fans via Cult. It went as follows…
Hannah Means-Shannon: This is a massive and detailed project that spans songs, ideas, artwork, and fan interaction. But now that I have you two here, I want you to teach it to me as if this was an RPG and we were at the beginning of the campaign.
Paul Christiansen: Sure! What is it exactly that you would like to know?
HMS: How do you see this whole project in the context of the things that you’ve done in the past?
Kyle Neeley: There’s a lot to unpack there. This is the first concept record that we’ve ever done. Before, we were just getting songs done and putting them out there and weren’t as concerned about whether they tied together thematically. This time around, we had very specific intentions about what we wanted to do.
Paul: A lot of the stuff that we post online, including the esoteric stuff, all kind of relates to this “system”, if you want to call it that, which actually pre-dates the band. As human beings, having the experience of being involved in music and art is the closest thing that we’ve got to a spiritual, magical, or religious experience. This project just represents levelling up for us. It wasn’t enough just to feel that was true, we had to codify that. [Paul holds up a handmade manuscript book with writing and symbols on the pages.]
A lot our music, and a lot of the concepts, are based on these tomes. This is a totally novel script and language. All of the symbols that you see in there are intentional. They all represent something. They are vested with energy and intention.
Kyle: The pages are thick! Think papyrus. Really what you’re seeing is the foundation for the album. This stuff predates this band, but it also kind of falls between records.
Paul: We were originally doing this stuff, not even in the context of a band. The last five years or so has been kind of bizarre for everybody, so this was a way we were able to make sense of life. This happened organically.
Kyle: So what you see now with this project is actually visual art that we feel represents the songs, and that also ties in with this book we’ve just shown you.
HMS: I was curious about who painted these paintings that represent the different songs and also the cover art.
Kyle: They are not actually paintings, but digital renderings. That is a lot of photoshop work! The story there is that necessity is the mother of invention. We had been working with a local artist to get our thoughts into the design, and while what he was bringing to the table was very good, it wasn’t quite getting our thoughts.
After listening to a podcast by the artist Beeple, where he talks about how he creates his digital works, I realized that he would find ways to generate art that he needed. He would use reference photos and get AI to generate images for him, save them all up, then “artfuck” them together. I just made that word up. He didn’t say that. Anyway, that’s what I took from it, and that’s what you see here with this art. It represents hours and hours of bringing in different digital renderings and then “artfucking” them together.
HMS: I know that you are thinking that I won’t publish that word, but I’m totally going to do it, just so you know. Probably not in the headline, though…
Paul: Hashtag “artfuck”. Trademark it. [Laughs]
Kyle: If I needed a skull, for instance, I would use an AI engine where I could throw keywords at it, and I’d feed it “skull”. It would then generate thousands of skulls. You save each one independently, and then depending on what we’re going to do, we select. On the cover, you see there is a sideways skull exploding at the top where stairs kind of walk into the top of the head. I would find these pieces and then stamp them together. Some of the work looks like oil painting in that regard, some is a little more slick looking. It was a lot of work.
HMS: They do, visually, fit together, and stylistically they are close enough that they all look like they were conceived organically.
Kyle: You might be subconsciously picking up on the fact that if you look closely at an image, you might see that I have used snippets of one in another, and vice versa. We talk about the “gates” throughout the narrative of this particular album. I fell in love with a certain wrought iron look and I would artfuck it onto the other pieces. I think that helps bring all the pieces together thematically.
HMS: Wow! That’s super-interesting. My background is actually in medieval manuscripts, academically, as well as horror editing, and I’m a metal music fan, so I see a lot here I can relate to.
By the way, what you were saying about the AI engine reminds me of the way that AI has been used for the generation of a young Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian on Disney+. They used multiple methods, but they did use engines, too. Their method was just as chaotic and utilitarian as yours! There seemed to be no shortcuts, but it was “whatever works.”
Kyle: One of the reasons we thought that this would be a cool avenue to go down is because we feel that this project is one that pushes the envelope anyway, so why not have artwork that pushes the envelope, not only in how it looks, but how it has been developed. Years down the road, everyone may be doing this.
Paul: I agree there’s no shortcut to making art of this nature, but I think that also extends to the rest of this release. We took a while to get the artwork going, we came up with this format that we’re calling a “Codex”, we’re releasing the album essentially as a tarot card set. It’s that feeling of getting dressed in the dark every day! [Laughs] This took some doing.
Kyle: The music of the album has been done for well over a year now, but the artwork itself took a year to get through.
HMS: I imagine that the art takes on even more significance when you remove other physical media, like a CD, from the equation, and are using digital formats.
Kyle: You couldn’t be any more correct. Vinyl records, and maybe the posters that came with them, were so cool, then you get down to 8 tracks, cassettes, and CDs, and the art just gets smaller. Then you throw the CD out the window, and you have a tiny avatar, a thumbnail, that you’re supposed to connect with. That didn’t make any sense to us. Paul and I had this conversation driving back from San Antonia in the middle of the night, wondering how we could bring the artwork back in a way that people would connect with.
Paul: One of the big things about the Cult album is that there’s a narrative that runs through the all the cards at the bottom, basically informing people about how they can participate in what we’re doing. We initially devised all this for ourselves, so we had to work that out, too. We wanted to do our best to invite people in, while, at the same time, not dictating how people should act or feel about it. Some people are more interested in the music, some people are also interested in the lore. As Kyle likes to say, it’s a kind of “choose your own adventure” situation. How deep into the nerd zone do you want to go? [Laughs]
Kyle: We have also made a book out of the cards, and we can’t keep them in stock. We have sold a lot of these. We have two left currently.
HMS: It’s a good-bad problem to have!
Paul: Hashtag “good-bad”, hashtag “artfuck”.
HMS: Did you already know what you wanted to write in terms of the music? Did you realize it would fit a certain structure?
Paul: We had the concepts, the sigils, and the rhythms of all this, and the music kind of grew around that, from that seed.
Kyle: So much so that I, personally, think that the songs get less aggressive or more aggressive depending on the context and sound like the narrative a little bit. “Initiation” is a little floaty and airy, whereas by the time you get into the narrative for “IVDEX” where one is ascending and is taking control of self-agency, that is by far the heaviest song on the album.
Paul: We’ve had some questions lately about what the music means, and some of it is non-verbal. It’s about feelings, emotions, and mind, but if we wanted to capture it all under one umbrella, we’d say that all of the stuff that we’re doing is about heading in the direction of human advancement. It’s about helping everyone ascend together into a better world and a better way of living.
HMS: So this is for the individual as well as the whole? The journey of the album could totally work for a single individual on this path, but could it then also apply more widely to humanity as a developmental path?
Kyle: That’s right.
Paul: That’s what we’re trying.
Kyle: We want to be very inclusive, but we also particularly want to speak to artists out there. Being an artist is not limited to being a musician, you can be a writer, an editor, a dancer, a potter, a photographer. All of that is art. We feel that together we are stronger than we are apart. If we can make a sense of community tighter, we are all going to benefit from that.
HMS: Regarding the music, storytelling has always included a lot of things about our human development and becoming individuals for thousands of years. I think when people look at this album, they will naturally think of it as an arc or a story. That enables the audience to participate. I think people do that with music anyway, but it can be more obvious here. The fact that there are not lyrics for these songs might make people even more aware of that.
Kyle: I think people do participate with music more than they realize, but Paully and I get it! We want people to understand how art does that. I know that for us, where we can’t do something musically involved, I just shrivel up like a withered piece of lettuce. I need art. We want to bring this forward so people can participate.
Paul: Because we’re not a vocal band, most of what would be the “singing parts” are played melodically on the guitar. We get to use language in a different way. The level of detail that we’re vesting the music and the art with is fantastically, creatively satisfying for us. The feeling that we get playing these songs, even compared to other music that we’re proud of that we’ve played for other bands, is a whole other level of experience for us. The performance is like a ritual for us.
HMS: I’ve seen the videos of you all playing these songs. Are you playing these yet?
Kyle: Yes, we took the songs out on the road in 2021 and knew that these would be the songs on the album. We did take the song “Initiation” back to the workshop. We got some good feedback from fans after playing it live, and gave it a bit of a facelift, but all the other songs appear basically the way that they were conceived.
HMS: That’s awesome. Something that really strikes me about the videos, and must strike audiences at live shows, is that it’s just two guys! It’s a very big sound for two musicians to produce. It seems almost impossible.
Paul: That’s exactly right. This album is the most laden with strata and concept of any that we’ve ever done, though, and we can’t turn back now.
Kyle: With these songs, though, because this was a concept record and we knew what the energy and rhythm would be, it really helped us focus on the songs themselves. If someone were to listen to the album over and over, they’d notice that there are recurring themes which tie the songs together. It is one big story.
HMS: I meant to comment earlier that, within each song, I do feel that they sonically match the situations you are talking about. They have that in terms of their individual song structure in terms of building up and slowing down, but in terms of the album, especially, there are some really intense and dramatic moments that suggest possible conflicts and resolutions. In storytelling terms, things are happening.
Paul: That is fair to say. It moves through the album. We did want to have the energy of arriving at a culmination. Like on the cards, the novitiate is moving through these different stages, receiving all these gifts, and ultimately arriving as the judge, the arbiter of their own fate. The energy of the compositions increases throughout the recording.
Kyle: To us, that process is pretty serious, so those songs can be heavy.
HMS: Do you prefer the audiences follow the songs through the complete process or can they encounter the songs individually and consider them in that way, too?
Kyle: Generally, playing out over the past couple years, we have played all the songs from start to finish, and that has been intentional. For the last couple of shows, we started to experiment with playing a couple of new singles first, since they were the singles.
Paul: I don’t think it diminished the experience in any way.
Kyle: 99 percent of the time, a performance follows them from start to finish and that’s the most satisfying thing for us.
HMS: I do think that, individually, the songs are distinctive units and can stand alone, but I see why there’s a more complete picture when they are together. But people might go back and reflect on certain tracks and pick up more each time.
Paul: That’s very validating for us to hear. It suggests that we’re on the right track. We did want to create a narrative, but we wanted the songs to be able to stand on their own as well. This is our first time putting so much intention into a project, and we knew what we thought about it, but it’s very encouraging what other people think about it.
Kyle: You’re landing at the same conclusions. That means that we’ve done something right!
HMS: My non sequitur question is this: The “Truck Stop Coffee” video. I’ve been waiting to ask you about this.
HMS: You must have had a lot of truck stop coffee over the years. Is there any way to judge or try to decide before you go into a truck stop what it’s going to be like?
Paul: It is a shot in the dark every time!
Kyle: I think you can probably base the truck stop coffee quality off of how clean the bathrooms are. If the bathrooms are like a luxury hotel, the truck stop coffee ain’t going to be good, but maybe it’ll be a notch up.
Paul: I have had terrible fortune with truck stop coffee.
Kyle: We’re laughing like this because, of all the things to catch on, we never thought “Truck Stop Coffee” would catch on. Boy has it caught on!
Paul: I am the house drummer for a Blues band in Fort Collins and there was a man who came in two weeks ago who saw the “Truck Stop Coffee” clip, wrote a Blues song about it, and then performed the song!
HMS: That is unbelievable. Well, the public want to know more. You owe it to them!
Paul: We intend to do more “Truck Stop Coffee” videos. We also do some videos talking about horror films.