The Interviews: Cave Paintings

An Interview with…

Cave Paintings

In 2023, The Hometown Foundation is excited to bring various musical talents to stages around Washington County. We are looking forward to another year of our annual Homegrown Music Festival on July 9 as well as the debuts of two new festivals – the Homegrown Blues Festival on May 21 and the Homegrown Bluegrass Festival September 24. We also will be continuing our Thursday night Regner Rocks Concert Series at Regner Park (West Bend). You will see many talented folks who call Wisconsin home. Joshua M. Miller interviewed Levi Besaw of Appleton-based band Cave Paintings who will be playing at HomeGrown Music Festival on July 9.

cave paintings, homegrown music festival, west bend

Josh: You formed the band with your longtime friend Brianna Phillips. How did things come together with forming the band? Why do you think you connected so well musically?

Levi: Forming the band is kind of a long story. We’ve technically been a band for 13 years, but realistically it’s more like our 3rd year anniversary. The project started around 2010 when Bree and I started writing together either at the Universe show house or up at the farm near White Lake. It was a casual fun thing to do when spending time together. 

Around 2012 I was working on a solo record and shared some of the rough mixes with Bree. She was feeling inspired to take music more seriously. After becoming enamored with the Wisconsin band Phox, and considering our history playing together, she decided she wanted to really do music with me. Immediately things were falling into place, we recruited some friends to back us up as a rhythm section, and we were on pace to be doing what we love full-time. Enthusiastic crowds and show offers were around every corner.

That definitely helped fuel the initial spark.

Then Bree got sick, like really really, scary sick. An immune disorder was destroying her kidney function. We had to cancel everything and focus on her health. It was a harrowing year and half journey of countless hospital and emergency visits with only enough energy to survive. Thankfully she received a kidney transplant in 2016 and almost overnight, her physical health returned. 

It took another year and a half to feel okay about starting over and playing our music in public again. We decided to start fresh again as a two piece and wait to come across potential bandmates who vibed with the project. This was 2019 and we hit it as hard as we possibly could with things feeling even better than our first efforts. We found more bandmates to join us, fell in love with them, and the horizons opened up again. 2020 was looking bright. 

Everyone knows what happened then, at least globally. As a band, we were scattered vocationally and globally. Ever since it’s just been an effort to come together with whatever time and energy this messy world allowed us.

Musically, Bree and I always had similar tastes and influences, but really it was our friendship and lofty musical thoughts that connected the project. We looked for the same in other members – people who were talented, felt good to be close with, and were compelled by what we were working on.

Why was Cave Paintings picked for the band name?

This also dates back to about 2012 when one of our friends suggested it after listening to a demo we were working on. He doesn’t remember, but it stuck with us, and made sense for a few reasons once we started up in earnest. The concept of making artwork that felt good to make, without necessarily concerning ourselves with its broader reach, while also acknowledging people in tens of thousands of years could come across it and study in wonder, who knows? We also referred to the basement of that first show house as “the cave.” There are also loose ties to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, but that’s maybe too heady to get into right now for me.

The Bandcamp page describes the band’s sound as a collection of rhythm, melody, poetry, and philosophy. What do you hope to achieve sonically with this band and how do you think the band’s sound is unique compared to others? What are the band’s biggest influences?

We’ve never been strict thinking when it comes to genre…We don’t even consider it really. It’s kind of always been about serving the poetry of song, and what feels good to play. To quote one of our fans, “What I love about Cave Paintings is I never know what’s going to come next, but I know I’m going to love it.” We all listen to a lot of different music. Our biggest influence is probably the United States healthcare system, unfortunately.

The band’s latest album Primitive came out in 2019. What were your goals and things the band hoped to achieve compared to prior releases?

The plan with Primitive was to get at our roots as songwriters and put something out that was raw and unembellished, reflecting where we were as a band, and hoping to reach the full vision with subsequent releases.

What songs surprised you most and why?

They’re all surprising in their own way through the creation process, but the reception of “Pink Lady” and “Generation Anxiety” have been delightful. I feel like “Generation Anxiety” is kind of just a long-disenchanted rant…but it hits people. The room always goes quiet. “Pink Lady” seems to work along an inverse line, people are dancing and screaming along, which feels pretty cool as a band that hardly ever bothers to write a chorus.

What should people know about the new music the band’s working on? How does it compare with your most recent album?

The record we’re working on now is really the culmination of this whole project. It’s what’s going to come out of these 12 years of chrysalis. It’s fully layered and fleshed out. Good or bad, it’s probably going to be our defining record.

What are some of your favorite accomplishments of late from the band?

We hosted a festival up near White Lake, Wisconsin, near the farm where much of it began. It’s a really beautiful collaboration with River Forest Campground and their community, and a lot of really wonderful people from our community here in the Fox Valley. 2023 was the first year and it was an awesome experience, there was a clearly demonstrated desire for the fest to become an annual event.

It sounds like the band’s sound allows the band to get very intimate while other times letting loose. Can you talk about what that dynamic’s like?

Honestly, that was kind of a booking gimmick so we could play anywhere, we pretty much always just rock out. [laughs] You will hear some loud-quiet-loud dynamics in our set, but we pretty much just give it all the gas we got during shows.

What are a couple of your favorite gigs you’ve played recently?

We’ve been gigging pretty sparsely while finishing up this record and trying to keep our post-covid-shutdown lives together. The You’re Good Festival over Memorial Day weekend was our first time back together as a full band in 18 months, and that felt really really good. Other than that, it’s more about what’s ahead right now.

How has Appleton and Wisconsin most influenced the band?

While support for original music has grown a lot in the last decade in our region, it felt like it barely existed when we started. You really have to want it and develop a sense of grit about it.

Even though genre-wise I wouldn’t pin us as punk rockers, you kinda had to have that mentality about it for it to work. Just go and play. Whatever happens, happens.

What are the band members’ most surprising hobbies outside of music?

Pokémon card collecting, Aqua playlist fueled cleaning sprees, holding weirdly tiny things, eating cow-apples (just cheese), watching every dinosaur documentary.

Why is the HomeTown Foundation’s mission to help local artists important to you and the band?

It’s very similar to what I spend the majority of my life doing. I run a production collective that the band has varying levels of involvement with, where our main goal is to support the music community with high quality production and well-planned events. It’s parallel to what I do every day, so I definitely support it and understand the need for it.

What are you most looking forward to with the HomeGrown festival?

It’s always my favorite when we get to play as a full 5-piece, there’s nothing else quite like it. Connecting with more of the music community and sharing the stage with other local original acts is always a worthwhile endeavor as well.

Keep Up with Cave Paintings

Author: Joshua Miller

I'm a freelance writer based in Wisconsin who has written about music and culture since 2009. My work has been published in a variety of Wisconsin, Chicago and national publications. I’ve written for many newspapers, magazines, and sites and interviewed a variety of musicians, entertainers and people of interest, including U2 guitarist The Edge, Kiefer Sutherland, Fred Armisen, “Weird Al” Yankovic, William Shatner, Alice Cooper, Idina Menzel, Steve Martin, Steve Miller and Brian Wilson

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