Hatched on sleepless nights during the final days of Peter Pisano’s prior band, The Wars Of 1812, Peter Wolf Crier has since evolved from an impromptu one-man recording outlet into a dynamic and rapidly ascendant band. Fleshed out to a proper duo with the addition of drummer/producer Brian Moen for the recording of its frayed-at-the-edges folk-rock debut Inter-Be, the band’s sound continues to swell on sophomore album Garden Of Arms. Eerie wordless vocal harmony stacks, ambient loops, and increasingly propulsive percussion combine on tracks like “Right Away” to set the group far apart from the charming folk-revival pack and lay claim to a strange new world all its own.
Prior to Peter Wolf Crier’s CD-release gig Oct. 27 at Hi-Dive 23, Pisano and Moen talked with The A.V. Club about expectations, Garden Of Arms’ more rocking sound, and how fear of death makes for a powerful muse.
The A.V. Club: Inter-Be was recorded as an after-hours side-project that wouldn’t necessarily ever see the light of day. By contrast, Garden Of Arms was crafted in the wake of signing to an internationally respected and distributed indie label (Jagjaguwar) and touring the world. Did you feel the burden of heightened expectations this time around?
Brian Moen: I was actually excited to go in and record with some level of expectation. I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years, but this is one of the first times that I was actually making a second album. So many bands have that two-year lifespan where you do well enough to make one record, and then things just sort of dissolve. When we were making first album we were really flying blind, but by the time we put out Inter-Be we were already talking about how we wanted to approach this album.
Peter Pisano: In terms of expectations of success or anything like that, none of that has really changed for me between records. I don’t feel like I’m in all that different of a place than I was before making Inter-Be, just because we got signed by Jagjaguwar. It feels exactly the same. I don’t have an abundance of money. I can walk around town freely, and it’s not like anyone’s recognizing me. This interview isn’t for some big cover story. I was just as scared of failing when I made Inter-Be as I am now. [Laughs.] In my head there was just as much to lose if I fell on my face then as there is now.
AVC: Over the course of extensive touring behind Inter-Be, the songs from that album really evolved in a more muscular rock-oriented direction, a shift reflected in Garden Of Arms’ more kinetic and amped-up sound. How did all of that touring influence your headspace when it was time to record once again?
BM: Obviously there was a significant change in our musical identity between records. Peter and I had never played together before when we made that first album. Inter-Be was supposed to be Peter’s solo album that I kind of forced my way into [laughs]. The guitar and vocals were all recorded before there were any drum parts at all, and it was really written with different intention. This new album was created as a two-piece from the get-go, and we knew it was going to be much louder, just because that was the dynamic we found working between the two of us onstage.
PP: For people who haven’t seen us live before and just loved Inter-Be, this record is going to feel like a drastic change coming from out of fucking nowhere. [Laughs.] We were definitely conscious of trying to have some songs and sounds on there that could act as a bridge between the two albums, just because they are so different. A song like “Cut A Hand” was important to us to put on the album particularly for that reason.
AVC: While the lyrics on Garden Of Arms are somewhat abstract, they’re obsessed with big issues like death and spirituality that are rarely at the center of most indie-rock material. What inspires you to write a song like “Krishnamurti”? [The song takes its name from the early 20th century Indian philosopher who openly advocated for “psychological revolution.” —ed.]
PP: Every time I write a song, there’s never one starting point; it’s very much a dance between my guitar and voice. The guitar might take the lead, and then the voice follows, and the melody is dancing between it all. I’m hearing a rhythm, and then I’m trying to turn those wordless vocal sounds into words. I end up saying words that fit those sounds. I was writing Garden Of Arms during a period where I was dealing with some anxiety and depression, not that that’s a badge of honor or anything. When you’re dealing with those sorts of issues, it gets difficult to understand yourself, and the art becomes the means of doing so. For me, the songwriting process very much became a mirror in which I saw all these things inside of myself both good and bad and was questioning a lot of my beliefs. If you’re an earnest person going about creating art earnestly, you inevitably end up settling on a few conclusions: I’m afraid of dying; I suffer needlessly; and there are ways in which I can understand the world differently that I have not been given yet that I might need to seek out in order to end my suffering and no longer fear death. That’s what led me to learning about Krishnamurti and wanting to write about him. The lyrics are always a bit vague, because it starts from a non-verbal place and I’m essentially grappling with things that are beyond vocabulary. I definitely don’t want to come across like I’m trying to package some truth for people and tell them how they should see the world.