The idea behind Brad Perry’s project Caverns of Pine was to, as he says, “dedicate an entire musical project to the ways different people survive the traumas of sexual violence.” The album was intended to reflect various stories from different perspectives to give voice to a broad swath of the experience of survivors and how they have continued to find a way to live. The single “Carved,” which includes vocals from Julie Karr, uses archly distorted guitar, tribal drumming and emotionally heavy but defiant vocals to create a complex narrative about how an experience can cut us in ways that perhaps alter the course of our lives. Using the concept of a “carving” as a metaphor for how an experience can change how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world on such a visceral and deep level with impacts that last the rest of our lives. The song also suggests that in spite of the experience we can use it and the energy it has dropped into our psyches to attain something positive in the end even if it requires more work than we think we’re capable of putting forth. Fans of Kylesa and Big|Brave will appreciate how the song combines abrasive sounds with flow and emotional catharsis.
“Carved” is part of the album Dissociate which first came out in 2018. But in 2019 and 2020 the record garnered renewed when a notable undeground comic artist was inspired to create short pieces from the lyrics of the album. Katie McBride is perhaps most well known for her striking graphic design work in Richmond, Virginia for event posters, record labels and the like. Her interpretation of the music started with a conversation with Perry and that turns into going down a rabbit hole of art history and the resonance of the themes of the album throughout history. McBride was kind enough to let us in on some of the fascinating process involved in making images from the lyrics of Dissociate, one of which is posted at the end of this piece.
“When Brad and I sat down, I had read through the lyrics and listened to the song several times, but hadn’t come to any conclusions about what visual narrative it was calling for,” says McBride. “The only thing that had really come to mind was the variety of ways in which you could interpret ‘carved.’ Is it a destructive act – possibly self-destructive or an act of creation – like carving something beautiful out of raw materials? Brad then framed the song as a story coming from shifting and overlapping perspectives. That framework helped me understand the need to represent the song in a way that depicted complex feelings within a single person – both empowered to break a silence, and wanting to retreat into a hole.
“In thinking about the creative aspect of carving, this Michelangelo quote came to mind: ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’
“In the context of the song ‘Carved’ I thought that the idea of the sculptor taking powerful agency to release a trapped figure would be a good visual metaphor for breaking a long held and painful silence.
“This sent me down a path to Michelangelo’s series of unfinished slave sculptures. I’ve always found these really compelling, and I think it’s because the unfinished statues look as though the figures are fighting to escape from marble blocks, and have been arrested in various states. I knew that the sculpture in my piece would reference these figures, and would be representative of a positive and hard-won creative release.
“I was then reminded of the Italian baroque painter Artemesia Gentileschi, widely considered to be one of the most noteworthy female painters, and more broadly one of the best painters in the style, regardless of gender. During her lifetime, she was also well known for having been raped, and subsequently participating in the trial against the man who raped her. Despite this, she did have a very successful career as a painter, and depicted a variety of biblical scenes in which women were in positions of power over men.
“Looking at her paintings, I realized that a way to show the shifting perspectives of the song’s narrator and different responses to trauma was through not just one sculpture, but a body of work. The sculptor in the the piece for ‘Carved’ then took on some of the physical characteristics of Artemisia herself, referencing her self-portraits interpreted through a modern lens. An artist’s studio took shape around her.
“I reproduced Gentileschi’s painting ‘Jael and Sisera’ on an easel behind the sculptor, then added a variety of other paintings from across eras. All hold either personal or more broadly sociological meaning with respect to bodily autonomy. Each painting suggests different emotional responses to a traumatic experience, and the idea that they could all be created by the same person tries to capture the complexity of holding multiple feelings at once.
“The other paintings from the art historical canon seen here are Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Soaring,’ Frida Kahlo’s ‘The Wounded Deer,’ and ‘The Unicorn in Captivity’ from the Unicorn tapestries. The large painting of the angry, defensive fox, hiding amongst pine branches is original, but strongly based off the work of John James Audubon, and George Stubbs, both of whom painted scenes from the natural world.”
Listen to “Carved” on Bandcamp, where you can also explore the rest of Dissociate and follow other work from Caverns of Pine (linked below as well). Connect with Katie McBride at katiemcbridedesign.com.