Wizard Apprentice Gets Real About Emotional Abuse on Their New Album

In their new EP, 'Dig a Pit,' Wizard Apprentice attempts to understand an emotionally abusive relationship. (Wizard Apprentice)

Emotional abuse manifests in subtle ways, and experimental singer-producer Wizard Apprentice remembers the moment they realized their ex used belittling, humiliation, gaslighting and other tactics of control and manipulation. The artist left the relationship questioning their own sense of reality, with their self-esteem severely depleted.

"It was almost like a psychological thriller," reflects Wizard Apprentice (who uses they/them pronouns). "At the beginning, you might think one character is one way, and then by the reveal of the movie, you realize everything you knew about [it] is completely altered."

Once Wizard Apprentice, whose real name is Tieraney Carter, broke things off with that person, they poured themselves into research, reading articles and watching YouTube videos from spiritual healers, mental health advocates and licensed psychologists. They learned that emotional abuse can manifest through seemingly small violations—of trust, of boundaries, of respect—that are difficult to identify until they culminate in a toxic environment for the person on the receiving end.

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"It took me a full year of getting to know this person, and a year of research, to have more of a clear sense of what had happened," says Carter. "There's this really scary feeling of like, 'Damn, I've had this experience, it's really traumatic. I don't know how I'm going to explain that to people.'"

As Carter worked toward recovery, they documented their findings on their YouTube channel, U.R.L. G.U.R.L, and in their music—two therapeutic outlets that allowed them to build community with other survivors at shows and online. With their new album, Dig a Pit, which comes out May 10 on Oakland's Ratskin Records (with a vinyl release through Cruisin Records), they attempt to make sense of what happened, and to foster an open dialogue about the seldom-discussed ways emotional abuse can manifest. (In their new video series on IGTV and YouTube, "Survivor Catchphrases," they explore these topics every Thursday through June 27.)

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The tracks on Dig a Pit take listeners through the arc of an emotionally abusive relationship and its painful aftermath. The industrial, techno-inspired opening song, "Desire to Learn," narrates how abusers can use the get-to-know-you phase of the relationship to learn how to manipulate someone's weaknesses ("You were studying me too / But you were looking for openings, open wounds"). "Gloves are Off," with a funky bass line and elemental drum roll, starts with the rage-inducing realization of having been manipulated and ends with the affirmation that one can only heal oneself.

Later, on "Exorcism," Carter's songwriting gets surreal. Singing in a pitch-shifted voice so deep it's practically subterranean, they take on the perspective of someone who takes advantage of others. "I found someone who likes me / How long do I have before I hurt her?" Wizard Apprentice growls demonically. "I think she really likes me. I find her willingness useful."


Carter's stripped-down bedroom pop—music for sensitive introverts and self-help enthusiasts—is sometimes uncomfortably transparent in its introspection, like a therapy session set to synth loops. In their music and on U.R.L. G.U.R.L., Carter probes the intricacies of their relationships and self-image, always with the goal of becoming more emotionally intelligent and self-aware.

While the artist has long bared their soul in their work, it took them over a year to figure out how to talk about what happened to them. They say sharing has been healing. "I need to do that for my own sense of recovery from it, and even feeling more safe in the world," Carter says. "How are we supposed to build communities if people don't know this is a thing or how to engage with it?"

Performing the new tracks from Dig a Pit has been affirming for Carter. The artist says that audience members have come up to them and told them about similar experiences. They want to have open conversations about what healthy relationships look like, and how to spot the signs of emotional abuse, to help other survivors see the signs before they get too deep into a toxic relationship.

"What's missing is ways of understanding the complexities of these types of relationships," Carter says, "and how anybody could discern what's happening."

Wizard Apprentice performs at Elbo Room Oakland on May 16. Details here

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