Lee Buford of The Body, Kristin Hayter of Lingua Ignota, and Dylan Walker from Full of Hell combine their profound talents and eclectic tastes to make music in a new project called Sightless Pit.
The trio release their first album, Grave of a Dog, via Thrill Jockey on February 21, 2020. As Walker notes, the album was crafted without any clear rules or guidelines beyond their desire to work with one another.
“The main reason we started it is just for friendship’s sake,” he says. “Lee and I originally started the project because we wanted an excuse to make something else together. There was no guideline at all when we started the band. We didn’t know what it was going to sound like; we didn’t have any guidelines or rules to hit. We just wanted to make something together. That was what made it so unique for us when we were working on it. That’s probably why it took so long too, because it wasn’t a project that was based around any timelines.”
“It’s really refreshing for the three of us,” he continues. “At least for me, because I take Full of Hell so seriously every day, and it consumes all of my time. It’s nice to have a project that’s really just about making something with my friends. It’s just about the music. Full of Hell is just about the music too, but it’s totally different. I hate to say ‘casual’ because we took Sightless Pit very seriously with that record, but it definitely is allowed to just kind of be itself.”
The name of the band was taken from The Elder Scrolls, a series of action role-playing video games.
“It’s not necessarily my holy bible of games or anything,” Walker admits. “I’ve played a lot of Skyrim for sure, but I always thought that location name was so striking, and I wanted to use it for something. I have a little notepad with loose, unused lyrics and any song titles that I ever think of. I just put them in there, and when we were trying to think of a name, that was just in my list.
“It was so good that I was hoping to keep it for Full of Hell for something, but then I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why hold back? I should treat this project as seriously as Full of Hell.’ If this name is, like, a grade-A name to me, then I should offer it and see if it would work for us. And everybody agreed on it. There the connection ends with Elder Scrolls.
“’Sightless Pit’ is basically this ancient channel that was built by Elder Scrolls’ version of dwarves, and now it’s this labyrinthine channel that the player falls into, and you have to go forward; you can’t go back because you just fall. And it’s infested with these things called Falmer. They used to be elves, but they’re these blind, evil creatures now. But it’s just a really beautifully striking name.”
In the video game, the entrance is a straight drop down, meaning that once the Dragonborn enters, the only way out of the cave is to go forward. This notion very well represents the central pillar of what coheres the three band members into a unified voice throughout the album: a shared, bleak vision of existence and a willingness to follow each other into bold, new territory to survive.
“Everyone has their own struggles on, like, every level, too,” Walker says. “Direct physical struggles, which is what I was drawing on when I was writing my portion of the lyrics. Then there’s obviously emotional and existential struggle. That’s universal, no matter where you come from, I think. Even someone that’s extremely privileged will still struggle. It’s part of our DNA.
“The record is very much a winter record for me. I wrote all of my lyrics in the winter, just kind of thinking about—it’s not my specific situation—but thinking about the brutality of mother nature and what it must’ve been in more of a frontier scenario. As a person with nothing, and maybe in another time period, struggling against winter, it’s one of those insurmountable things. You can’t win. Nature wins, every time. So that was my specific draw point at first.
“I think Kristin’s pool of lyrics definitely pulled from some really, really old poetry that she really likes, that she felt fit really well on the record,” he continues. “Like I said, I was deep in a really, really, brutal-ass Pennsylvania winter a couple years ago. It was extremely frigid, and I just could not imagine trying to fight against that to try to make a living somehow, or being on this frontier farm.
“I was really into this biblical story at that moment: Ezekiel seeing this burning wheel, the question of him turning away from that and braving this cold world by himself. So that was my headspace, and beyond that, I can’t really say where I was pulling from at the time. Essentially, I was just writing from that perspective.”
The title of the album is also open to many interpretations.
“Grave of a Dog is Lee’s title, and when he brought it to us, I think it just really struck us because it just felt, like, profoundly sad on a couple different levels,” Walker says. “In one sense, we looked at it like the grave of a human that maybe had been devalued, a person whose name ceased to matter, their whole identity wiped. They’re just in a hole and buried and forgotten forever from history.
“I think for me, and Lee especially, I think a true, literal meaning of burying your own dog also just carries a pretty heavy weight. We never had to discuss what this title means to us; we all just felt like it was a really good title, and I like that it’s open to interpretation. I think that almost all meanings that people can gather from it are accurate enough.
“Nowadays, I always want the work to be open to interpretation because I feel like my most magical moments as a fan of music and art are when I draw my own conclusions. And the artist always has their intention, but when it goes out into the world, it’s everybody’s music. It’s anyone who connects to it. It belongs to them now, and whatever they get from it is so valid to me that I want to hear what they think, and I want to validate whatever they feel like it’s about.”
Adding Buford’s singular percussion and production to Walker’s venomous scream and Hayter’s virtuosic voice, the trio create a path all their own for a passionately dynamic and exhilarating experience.
“We all have so much respect for each other; there was never an intentional structuring to how we were going to approach things,” Walker explains. “We never had to say, like, ‘Well, I think there should be a little more of this or that.’ We just went in organically, and everybody just spoke up if they felt like something should be somewhere.
“I can’t overstate that enough. It was such an open project that there were no guidelines. I think that we just have personalities that are compatible enough, and nobody has an ego about making sure that their part is heard over others’, or there was never a concern about whether it was balanced equally. It just kind of worked out. It was very intuitive.”
Grave of a Dog was recorded between 2017 and 2019 at Machines With Magnets by Seth Manchester.
“He’s absolutely a genius, and he knows us,” Walker says. “I don’t know; I guess it was just fate because we didn’t have to go out of our way to make sure it felt balanced. Just whatever came out was enough for us, and I think it feels relatively balanced too, so we got lucky.”
“It is a push into a new area, and I know the record is different from anything that Kristin and Lee have done per se,” he continues. “Their music is so experimental anyway, so it’s probably the most out of my box, but it’s definitely an area I’ve kind of toyed with, with collaborations and with Full of Hell before. So it was never said aloud, but it was definitely like a new zone for me because we didn’t know where the record was going to go so we could do whatever we wanted.
But I think with The Body, they operate like that most of the time. Like, they kind of just fly by the seat of their pants, and that’s what makes their records so interesting and good, because they’re not afraid to incorporate weird stuff, maybe off-the-cuff stuff. For us, I think maybe it wasn’t like a huge leap, but it was definitely no rules.
The whole time we were making it, as it started coming together, we were definitely looking at each other like, ‘I don’t know what people are going to think about this.’ We really like it, but I still feel completely confused as to what people are going to think. I just have no expectations because I definitely think it’s a unique record.”