Beautiful Suffering: Peter Wolf Crier, June 22 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 27 May 2010 09:53

Peter Wolf Crier

Roughly 100 seconds into "Down Down Down," the third track on Peter Wolf Crier's debut Inter-Be, the drums kick in. That's the duo in microcosm, as Peter Pisano's fully formed guitar-and-vocal songs are amplified by the drums and other accents Brian Moen added relatively late in the process.

The band will perform a show at RIBCO on Tuesday, June 22, and the moral of the Peter Wolf Crier story is to follow things where they lead.

Pisano, guitarist and vocalist of the now-defunct Wars of 1812, had planned to turn these songs into a solo album. He arranged and cut demos, and Moen (of the band Laarks) was supposed to record new versions.

"The goal at that point was to record these solo folk songs and be done with it," Moen said. They tracked the guitars and vocals, and Pisano asked Moen to add drums to a few songs. "I just got carried away and added drums on everything," Moen said. "Once I had laid down drums on everything, it really started to feel like I wasn't just a placeholder on the record anymore."

"Brian to me was the greatest drummer that I'd ever seen with my own eyes," Pisano said of his decision to record with Moen. "If he's not playing drums, it didn't even matter, because I trust his instincts as a musician. ...

"When I brought them [the songs] to Brian ... everything else was entirely up for grabs. ... Everything became negotiable again."

The piano that Moen added to "For Now" was one early augmentation that hinted at a relationship of equals, but Pisano said hearing the drum work on "Down Down Down" for the first time was a revelation: "Those drums were unique and they're very much Brian. They had their own subtlety to them. At the same time, it didn't distract or take away; it only complemented" the song.

From there, the pair overdubbed new textures, and the "solo folk songs" became something greater, both sonically and in the intensity of feeling. "Peter writes these really emotional songs, and then I try to live through those songs and try to bring that emotion up another notch," Moen said.

The drummer/engineer called the demos "very raw-sounding folk," but that has been replaced on Inter-Be with robust, active arrangements and big drums in an unvarnished lo-fi setting. Standout "Hard as Nails" starts patient but anxious, builds and escalates, and closes with intertwined, almost pained harmonies. "There's a touch of Bon Iver's sad, haunted-sounding balladry in the mix here ... ," wrote the Onion AV Club of Inter-Be, "but also a refreshing exuberance ... ."

Download Embed Embed this video on your site "Hard as Nails"

Peter Wolf Crier self-released the album last year, and this week the Jagjaguwar label (home of Bon Iver, Dinosaur Jr., and Sunset Rubdown) re-released it. So although Pisano initially penned much of the album two years ago, "to the rest of the world, this is something that just happened," he said.

Inter-Be originated with a writing flurry in summer 2008, following a songwriting drought for Pisano. "You don't even realize that when you're going through life, you're picking shit up, and it sticks to you," he said of that period. "It eventually got to a point where I had enough shit sticking to me that I couldn't relate to that [songwriting] part of me. There wasn't this sense of closeness and proximity to things I was trying to express, because there was so much standing between myself and my own mind and my own heart."

But the darkness of that time, Pisano said, was released late one night when he wrote six songs, four of which made the cut for Inter-Be.

Pisano speaks of that night vaguely but not evasively; it sounds as though he's still not sure what happened. "Having written those songs and having allowed that voice to escape me, things that I had written before, things I had said before, things I had experienced already just all made sense now. A song like 'Crutch & Cane,' which was [an older song] very much without a home and without a voice, all of a sudden made perfect sense to what I had started in that night."

Download Embed Embed this video on your site "Crutch & Cane"

Before, he said, he considered himself a teacher, a friend, a boyfriend, and "writing songs was something I got frustrated about sometimes. It [songwriting] just all of a sudden played a very different role in my life. ... Nothing else makes sense, and this is a thing that I do when everything else is very confusing to me. This is a thing that's very clear."

Put differently, Pisano discovered that songwriting demanded his blood: "I believe that all growth comes from suffering. ... You can either look at growth in a much more morbid sense, or you can look at suffering in a much more beautiful way."

The often-cryptic words of Inter-Be do have a certain desperation to them ("Lord I want your kiss / Would not beg for one more / If one's all you'd give"), and they are clearly deeply felt, both in the writing and the singing.

Pisano said his new songwriting process allowed him to be "completely vulnerable and lay naked." But he added that although the songs are acutely personal, they're largely products of his subconscious. "Whatever words are just falling out of my mouth just wind up on a recording," he said. He shapes them after the fact, but "they kind of live their own life outside of me. ... Lyrically, they're almost like strangers to me. ... They didn't even feel like they were mine."

The songwriter talks with similar detachment about his future and that of Peter Wolf Crier. Teaching kids has (up until now) been Pisano's vocation, but he doesn't know whether he'll return to school after the summer.

"This is a little bit bigger than us right now," he said. "Once you have other people involved, and especially when you have other people investing money ... ."

The duo decided not to tour until this summer to accommodate Pisano's teaching, and they chose the May release date for the same reason. But where it goes from here will depend on how many people buy the record, and how many show up to performances. "At this point, it doesn't even belong to us," Pisano said.

Peter Wolf Crier will perform on Tuesday, June 22, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island). The all-ages show starts at 7 p.m., and cover is $6.

For more information on Peter Wolf Crier, visit or

To listen to or download Peter Wolf Crier's Daytrotter session, visit

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