Nov. 9 2011 01:01 PM

Minnesota folk duo just wants its music to speak for itself

Peter Pisano, left, and Brian Moen get along just fine
Photo by Cameron Wittig

Peter Wolf Crier is a boring band.

No, they’re actually a pretty fantastic band. They’re talented and pop-savvy, engaging onstage and affable when they’re off. But finding an angle to write about the band is a challenge, because, on the surface, they can seem boring. Their blend of folk and percussive experimentation is well-liked by fans and the press. The two men in the band, Peter Pisano and Brian Moen, act like they’re BFFs and rarely disagree, which is remarkable considering that they’re crammed in a tour van together for much of the year. Neither of them has a drug problem; nor are they egotistically wrestling over creative control. They’ve had their hearts broken, and they’ve broken some, as well. They’ve chosen to write songs about it. So, what’s the angle here? If you ask Pisano, there is none. And that’s the way he likes it.

“As soon as I am doing something to perpetuate some idea about the band, it just feels as though it’s a step removed,” Pisano says. “The music is pretty serious, and there’s a depth to it that’s pretty intimate, but as soon as I felt that I was doing something to perpetuate the idea of that outside of the music, it would feel as though it was self-referential in some weird way.”

For Peter Wolf Crier, no angle could be more important than whether the listener wants to listen to their music.

Pisano could have stuck with his previous band, the indie-rock quartet The Wars of 1812, who were just beginning to catch buzz when he quit. He struggled with his limits as a musician when crafting what he thought would become his solo debut and soon realized that his approach wasn’t working.

“The idea was to make a solo record, but I wanted it fleshed out,” Pisano says. “When you’re in a traditional band, the fact that you have a band behind you often ends up writing the songs for you. I wanted to make a record where the instrumentation wasn’t going to dictate what the songs were going to sound like.”

He started working with an acquaintance, drummer and sound engineer Moen, a staple in the Twin Cities scene, on the tracks that would end up becoming Crier’s debut, Inter-Be. Neither was particularly excited about being in another band, but their partnership seemed too good to ignore.

“Even now, Brian and I are music collaborators before we’re friends,” Pisano says. “But we play so well off each other musically, that it’s only natural that we’ve become close.”

As subtle as the sound was on Inter-Be, the record became somewhat of a sensation via the internet food chain—small blogs wrote about it, bigger blogs wrote about it, and before you knew, it the biggest fish were catching on. The two also brought out their songs’ livelier subtleties through touring. When it came time for the band to record the follow-up, Pisano says that rather than appease the media and their newfound fans, the pair decided to switch it up.

“I think that Inter-Be, as a record, is a bit more self-contained. It has a film over it that is really cohesive, but it also limits and compresses it,” he says. “For the new record, I wanted it to be visceral. I wanted to take a really sharp knife and make some really precise cuts and dig a little bit deeper.”

If Inter-Be was the result of convenient collaboration, Garden of Arms, which came out on Jagjaguwar in September, finds them hitting their stride. The percussive accents on songs like “Right Away” and “Setting it Off” and the jangly rock on “Krishnamurti” and “Hard Heart” might be stifling to anyone who’d grown to love Inter-Be. But letting the songs soak in, the listener could get the sense that this is what Pisano had in mind the whole time when he said he wanted the songs to be “fleshed out.” Even the more folksy stuff like “Having it Out” and “Wheel,” the latter sounding like a Radiohead outtake circa OK Computer, seems more assured and anything but boring.

“To be honest with you, I’m trying to get caught up to where my heart and my brain are in the same place,” Pisano says. “My brain is getting so excited, because it’s seeing all these different possibilities when it comes to the music. I’m just trying to make that resonate with my heart, because at the end of the day, I can only make an album out of love. That’s the only approach I can take.”

Peter Wolf Crier perform with Chairs Missing and Birds & Batteries at Sunset Temple for Sezio’s Four Day Weekend on Thursday, Nov. 10.