Peter Wolf Crier's music is an exercise in subtlety: Brian Moen's textured drum patterns, lofty back-up vocals and hints of piano, strings and vibes bolster Peter Pisano's gritty, finger-plucked folk introspections. The collaboration started when the latter recruited the former to record his solo material. But Moen's creative drumming soon made it clear that the pair were no longer dealing with a simple singer-songwriter affair.
At times, the lo-fi, slightly old-timey nature of the tunes on the act's debut, Inter-Be, draws an easy line to another artist who recently launched a career from the fertile creative soil of Eau Claire, Wisconsin's music scene: Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver. (To further the connection: Moen and Pisano are friends with and former collaborators of Vernon.) Dig deeper into Peter Wolf Crier's beat-heavy bedroom folk, however, and it's easy to see why it's been creating a buzz all its own over the past few months. The abstract nature of tunes such as "For Now," and its mysterious, trance-inducing guitar riff, moody back-up vocals and slow-building background textures, sets the band apart. The RFT caught up with Pisano and Moen for a chat just before the duo left for a string of tour dates with Freelance Whales. The tour stops at Off Broadway tonight. Tickets are $10 for 21-plus, $13 for those under 21, and the show starts at 9 p.m.
RFT: Is it surprising or strange that Peter Wolf Crier has received so much attention in the past few months? Brian Moen: I don't know if it's strange but I don't think either of us has been in a buzz band before, so it is kind of a change of pace.
Are you looking forward to being on the road a lot this summer? Moen: I've done a fair amount of it in the past with various bands, so I'm looking forward to it again because I really enjoy being out on the road. Peter Pisano: The longest I've been out is two weeks. I lived abroad for like four months, and I really understood what it was to get caught up in that romantic thing of just getting on a plane and going somewhere or living out of a backpack. So, I definitely identify with the spirit of adventure of the whole thing. But I'm also very well aware that this is a different kind of traveling. Even though you're out with your buddies and seeing cities go by, it's different. It's like each place requires something of you, to be on stage every night and perform. With other kinds of traveling, you can just kind of blend in, which is a different kind of energy. But I do love performing so I think those things will balance themselves out.
Even though you are a duo, the song arrangements on Inter-Be are pretty involved. Did it take time to translate that to the live setting? Moen: It was kind of an interesting transition. Before we ever performed the songs at a proper venue, we had rented out a house and were performing the songs as part of a theatrical production. There were four actors and we were performing the album kind of as the audience moved with us through the house. I was playing drums in other rooms while Peter was playing guitar in a room with the audience and stuff like that. But once that was finished, we had to figure out how to perform the songs just standing next to each other on a stage. I think having that middle area helped because it made it a really smooth transition. By the time we were ready to play at a bar or something, it just seemed like we kind of had it in our heads how it would go.
What brought on the idea to perform the songs in a theatrical setting? Pisano: Well, without stretching it too far. I think that speaks more to the inception of this project. I think that the idea was that we were going to be able to do something different with this and take risks. So, I think that playing those shows in the house was a chance to perform the songs without encroaching on what our other bands were doing. I think that kind of fearlessness actually led to us taking more risks and maybe making something more beautiful than we would have otherwise.
The extra instrumentation and overdubs on the album are very subtle. Was that a conscious decision as you went along so that you could keep the project as a duo? Moen: When we started it was supposed to be Peter's solo project and he just came to me to record it. I think I was open to the idea of having more people to flush it out if necessary. But it was so much more of a focus on the songs. We recorded it as just vocals and guitar for the whole album and then we went back and recorded other things. So, the idea of it being textures was the whole point all along in my opinion. It was always supposed to be this singer/songwriter vibe but just a little bit more interesting.
At what point do you feel like that relationship changed from artist/producer to a collaborating duo? Pisano: I think that things like that happen before you're even aware of them. When I sat down and heard the drum tracks come in on "Down Down Down" I knew that the drums accented that song so well that it didn't distract from the intimacy of what was happening with the vocal and guitar tracks. I think any time that we were adding something that wasn't maintaining that focus, we knew to take a step back. All that stuff is trying to accomplish is just to flush out the rise and the fall of the song. When the song gets bigger it just kind of stands behind it, like co-signing on every emotion that's happening.
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