How Art Moves

Quentel the Cryptid’s new album, ‘Shadow Box,’ comes alive through touch

On The back cover of Quentel The Cryptid’s 2018 album If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home Now, the group include an eerie drawing of a rag doll, who is walking with a large black widow spider towards a clump of palm trees and a square red building. 

As much as that creepy spider might catch your attention, the building itself has an interesting story. Elly Russell, the artist behind the image, based it off of the abandoned Byron Hot Springs hotel, which is about 15 minutes from Antioch. The building is secluded, covered in graffiti and with a layout is like a labyrinth. In other words, it has an indescribable, but potent energy, which comes across on her art depiction of it on If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home Now

This same location is depicted in the companion zine for Quentel The Cryptid’s latest album, Shadow Box (December 13, 2020). Only this time, we are looking out from inside of the building and see the spider and rag doll character, the same exact moment in time. But now we can see Obie, a being with a TV set for its head, who is inside the building and looking out. We couldn’t see Obie in the prior drawing.

“There’s super subtle details that connects to older projects. If you do give it that kind of attention, you can find all these things. That can be really rewarding,” says sole musician in Quentel The Cryptid, Sean M.

The Byron Hot Springs hotel is a reference point within the larger surreal world that the music and artwork depicted in the world of Quentel The Cryptid takes place. Sean M and Russell refer to their art/visuals/elaborate storyline collaboration as WitchCentipede. Quentel The Cryptid (Just Sean M.) is the surreal, albeit pop-oriented music. Quentel The Cryptid and WitchCentipede is interconnected. They are two different names for parts of the same project. 

As far as hidden details go, Shadow Box, has taken that to a whole new level. Not only does every song have its own video and related art piece—acoustic/electronic dream-pop songs with David Lynchian imagery—but you can have a heightened enjoyment of the companion zine if you download the Artvive app on your phone and look at the pages through it. Suddenly you will see the artwork move. 

“You can interact with it. And there’s, there’s even more stuff hidden in there. It’s pretty crazy technology,” says Sean M. 

Sean M first recalls seeing Artivive used at a Freak Dali at a show at The Red Door in Alameda in November 2019. Most of his artwork utilize augmented reality in some way, and it added to the whole experience. But Artivive is not really commonplace technology for a band. 

Quentel The Cryptid plays music that falls into the psych-pop realm, with a strong sense of mood that they hope will consume the listener. But they seek to make the band be an entire multi-media experience. 

Initially when Sean M started Quentel the Cryptid in 2011 in Pennsylvania, they performed as a solo artist. Partially to get over the discomfort of being on stage alone, and to express their visual side, they’d bring TVs on stage and play videos they’d been working on. Other props joined this stage show, like a mannequin they’d brought from their retail job that they called “She.” With She on stage with Sean M, they would half-jokingly say that Quentel The Cryptid was no longer a solo project. 

“I collect a lot of stuff that I think I might need—clocks, lamps, trash TVs, other materials—and they eventually end up becoming something,” Sean M says. “I once had a storage unit on the east coast full of life size plastic trees that I acquired while working at a Halloween store.  I was going to make a forest out of them, for a video, or a show. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a way to get them to California, and eventually had to give them away.”

In 2016, Sean M moved to San Francisco. They met Russell shortly after. Together they’ve built the world of WitchCentipede. Their first project together was If You Lived Here You Would Be Home Now. The music was all Sean M, but the art and interconnected story was WitchCentipede. Several characters were pulled from Sean M’s props. The rag doll depicted in several projects is She. 

Shadow Box began a few years ago and it started as bouncing ideas, art and music back and forth between them. 

“Most of the visuals in Shadow Box were based off memories of places that I knew from childhood, which tied in with the songs. There’s a lot of stuff about memories and getting older, and that whole thing of not being able to go home again because it doesn’t really exist anymore,” Sean M says. 

Sean M and Russell talked daily about the project, and they would continue to work out its details, while still operating on an abstract realm. 

“Sean would send me clips of songs or like some video and I would talk about what this made me think of visually, and we would discuss what I should do for each element of the project. It evolved as we kept working,” Russell says. 

Part of the art of the project is in how it’s packaged. It’s very deep subtle art, with many layers, and opportunity for discovery. However, it’s also very quick and easy to feel around and look at. 

“I do think that we tend to make stuff that’s meant to be immersive and kind of sprawling. and it is something we reflect on a lot because we’re trying to present it through the internet. Stuff is inherently truncated. So, it’s a balancing act of making these things that you can get really into and explore all the different sides of but still presents well as an abbreviated form of itself,” Sean M says.

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