It's been a busy couple of years for Peter Pisano and Brian Moen. Their band, Peter Wolf Crier, was started almost by accident, but within months of releasing a record, Inter-Be, they were snapped up by indie label Jagujaguwar. They quit their day jobs and hit the road. Now, on the cusp of releasing their follow-up, there's a palpable sense of excitement between the two—and maybe a little apprehension as well.
"I think I went down more rabbit holes as a songwriter and as a lyricist on this album, chased a lot of ideas that didn't work," Pisano admits, seated at a four-top in the back of a crowded Groveland Tap. He flashes a glance out over the bar, then adds, unapologetically, "That's what happens when you're honest enough with yourself to say, 'This could be the last fucking album I ever make.'"
It was clear from the moment the lead single "Right Away" first hit the blogosphere early in the summer that Garden of Arms was going to be something different. As it turns out, it's also something pretty special. The album's layers upon layers of looping guitars, hypnotic vocals, and crashing drums are a far cry from the comparatively straightforward singer-songwriter vibe of its predecessor—so far, in fact, that it even seems risky, half-baked.
Yet Pisano insists that there wasn't anything particularly different about how he approached writing this album from Inter-Be—which was famously written, in large part, during one particularly prolific and stormy summer night. "So much of the record I would just noodle for hours; I wouldn't even know what I was doing," he recalls, bobbing his head and motioning as if playing a guitar. "I'd just get to a point where it felt really good, go out on the porch and record, smoke cigarettes, listen to the playback over and over and over and put shit in reverse."
Of course, much has changed for the band since the last time they recorded. Most importantly, they've gone from being a solo project for Pisano to a full-fledged two-piece. "We weren't even friends when we made Inter-Be. We were acquaintances," says Moen, who initially came in as a sound engineer. "So we were still trying to get to know each other." With Adam Krinsky manning the boards this time around, the pair were free to pursue their ideas more freely, and Moen in particular felt more comfortable experimenting. "I wasn't afraid to write drum parts that commanded a little more attention or played a little harder because I knew I was going to be playing it live."
That growing rapport and almost telepathic connection to one another shines through on the new record. Say what you will about whether things sound self-indulgent (a phrase the two almost self-consciously mention on multiple occasions), the songs are remarkably tight, no matter how far-flung things get. From the bright, elliptical melody of "Beach" to the propulsive lockstep of "Krishnamurti" and the somber plod of "Never Meant to Love You," the album's 11 songs are colored by a delicate and unmistakable beauty.
If the band "threw everything at the wall" while recording, there was definite method to the madness. For Pisano, it was also a matter of pushing himself as a musician, something he says he's learned from his friends who play jazz and hip hop (and who, coincidentally, Pisano and Moen play with in improv group Coloring Time). The song "Hard Heart," for instance, came to him while he was in the shower: "I was in this weird head space where I thought, 'I should start writing songs however I want them to sound, instead of having to get the guitar and make that sound.'" Gradually, he gets more and more excited, until he's clapping his hands and slapping the table, as if channeling some unknown energy. "I got out of the shower and just learned it. I've never tried that before.... It sounds simple, but it's not. It's different writing a song, and writing the song you think you're capable of writing."
And therein lies the pull of Garden of Arms, an album that gleefully eludes definition but remains a remarkably honest and transparent work: "It goes back to that idea of the last record I ever make," Pisano insists. "I better make something that really represents me. Don't be afraid to do stuff that makes me look stupid, the thing that prevents me from doing beautiful shit a lot of the time." That, as it well should be, is cause for plenty of excitement. "Everything on this record came from a place where I thought I was in touch with all the beauty in the room at the time. My mind just felt opened to everything around me. With that being in mind, I feel great about everything on this record."
PETER WOLF CRIER play a CD-release show with Mystery Palace on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, at the CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER; 612.338.2674