words by sammy maine
Traditionally, the colour red represents fire and blood; it brings forth a sense of danger and strength but also passion, desire and love. Pinegrove’s Cardinal establishes a lot of the same imagery throughout its journey; there’s Waveform which describes drawing a “waveform with your blood”; Cadmium that speaks of sending “this Cadmium red” before shedding layers of skin; Aphasia deals with someone whose “ventricles are full of doubt,”and then there’s the pre-Cardinal stand-out of The Metronome, with its beautiful juxtaposition: “You fluttered through my capillaries like a stone moth.”
“I think that fundamentally, I’m attracted to simple colours and simple shapes” frontman Evan Stephens Hall explains. “They define the Pinegrove aesthetic and I’ve been using them for years. More and more I’ve thought that what I like should define the things that I make, and that goes for music also; I’m trying to write the songs that I want to hear and when I’m painting things or dressing myself or performing any kind of aesthetic gesture it’s basically what I like; I’m just trying to express my preference.”
The primary colours expressed on the album cover are a subtle but striking visual of Pinegrove’s aim in creating art that is real and true and unapologetically human. It was after the construction of “Waveform” and “Cadmium” that Hall began to realise that there was this occasion to use red as a motif that would signify emotional content and also try to bring to mind the physicality of the album.
“Waveform is a song about what it means to turn suffering, or friction, or just emotional content, into an object of art,” he continues. “’I drew a waveform with your blood’ is the clearest way I’ve tried to express the red imagery on the album; the blood being the content of what I’m making this musical sculpture out of. It’s expressing the line between the physicality of art as an object and the ephemerality of the music.”
Through this artistry, Hall continues to explain his concerns in narrativising the people in his life. Whilst the lyricism of Cardinal is not an entirely autobiographical work – Hall has previously described it as an “exaggerated” version of himself – it’s an intensely moving and poignant collection that deals with personal conflict, meaning that certain situations and people are, ultimately, going to find themselves in Hall’s storytelling.
“On the one hand you’re always looking for interesting content that speaks to the human condition but on then on the other, your friends don’t really want to be objectified like that. That was a huge concern in “Waveform” and all over the album,” he says. “It was something I was very aware of because I knew that I was writing something that was pretty close to home and I felt concerned; well, I just wanted to make sure that I was treating the narrativisation of my friends and family respectfully because that’s how I feel about them. It’s delicate but I think that part of what I wanted to talk about in Cardinal is that it’s delicate and that it’s hard.”
Since their introduction, Pinegrove have presented their music in the shape of two conjoined squares. It adorns their t-shirts, their posters, the photoshoots, and has become the focal point of their album art. Hall reveals that on an obvious level, the squares on the cover represent a very geometrically compressed bird – a cardinal. “There’s also the pun with ‘Cardinal’, as in cardinal directions and signifying home,” he says. Introductory track “Old Friends” speaks of a “cardinal landing in the dogwood”, which Hall says acted as a sort of creative inspiration. “The cardinal that lands in the dogwood, I considered as a symbol for being visited by the creative spirit,” he explains. “There’s this rare and very beautiful aestheticised creature that just decides sometimes to alight in the tree in my backyard. It doesn’t live in it, it just comes sometimes. So that was of interest to me. And that is another reason why red was an important colour.”
As he continues, the squares are revealed to hold a deeper meaning. “I sort of imagined that square number one in the lower left-hand side is a letter that I’m writing and then the second squares shows that I’m sending it off and my words are travelling,” he explains. “George Saunders, who is a writer I like a lot, talked in an interview about how he’s a very shy person but he was really attracted to the idea of having his writing arrive before he did so that he could make an impression from the comfort of his own home and then once people had decided that they already like him, then he can meet them.”
The squares also act as frames for Hall’s artwork, requesting that the viewer take the time to consider it as a single thing, as something deliberate. “I think using the sqaures as frames is another dimension of how I was trying to, in a way, apologise to the people that I narrativized,” he explains. “That’s a little overstated maybe. It’s not an apology, exactly, it’s more of a defense; it’s a homage to a lifetime of making art. That’s what I think I’m here to do,and that’s what I want to do, and so I like to include squares or rectangles as a signal of my commitment to that. I wanted it to be really simple and condense all of the meaning I could in to a single symbol. That’s a symbol, too, of art and of the effort towards art; a gesture towards a life of art making.”
The squares have gone on to become a symbol of the band, as devoted fans throughout the world ink their skin with the simple illustration. Evan regularly retweets the tattooed images his fans excitedly display and says the widespread movement through Pinegrove fans has led the symbol – and the album as a whole – to produce a new layer of meaning. “Now, more than anything for me, the album cover signifies the community of people that have responded to it,” he says. “There’s a really reaffirming message that there are people in this world that care deeply about empathy and kindness, and they have pledged their commitment to that by getting this tattoo.”
As the Cardinal chapter begins to draw to a close, Hall expands upon the idea of community and the little strands that help tie such things together. Hinting at his next chapter, Hall concludes; “My next album, I hope, is going to be working a lot with how meaning accumulates…”
‘Cardinal’ is out now, via Run For Cover Records
Pinegrove are currently donating all proceeds from the sale of their music to Planned Parenthood.
You can buy it here:
Pinegrove tour the UK early next year: