The drummer is often the most overlooked member in any given band. Brian Moen, however, is impossible to ignore. Though he may appear straight-laced and reserved when he sits down behind the kit, once the beat starts, Moen’s energy turns explosive. This drummer bangs away with such vigor he looks like he might launch right out of his seat and into the stratosphere.
A veteran of many Midwestern line-ups, Moen is best known for his role in Wisconsin-based Laarks and Twin Cities rock duo Peter Wolf Crier (with Peter Pisano). The latter's debut album, “Inter-Be,” was released in 2009 and earned Peter Wolf Crier national acclaim. Pisano and Moen were soon signed to indie label Jagjaguwar (home of Bon Iver and GAYNGS), wowed audiences at SXSW and played 100 shows in a six-month span.
Now the boys are back with “Garden of Arms.” Peter Wolf Crier's sophomore effort is far from a slump; rather, the duo's once sparse sound has evolved into a more complex, confident collection of songs while maintaining the cryptically poetic, restless spirit that makes Peter Wolf Crier's music so irresistible.
I talked to Moen about the process of making the album as well as how this two-man band will translate their beautiful noise to a live setting.
Tell me how you came to be half of Peter Wolf Crier. It was something of an accident, correct?
Brian Moen: More or less. Peter wanted me to record a solo album for him. After recording the guitar and vocals, he said, “Hey, put some drums on some of these songs.” I ended up putting drums on all of the songs.
Describe your dynamic with Peter. Would you say you’re the grounding force or the propulsive force behind the music?
BM: I’m the grounding force. Peter is a great ideas person. He’ll come up with 100 ideas and it’s my job to filter them. Then we come to an agreement on what’s best for the song.
Are you the more experienced member of the group? You seem to have been “broken in” by the music scene in a way that Peter hasn’t.
BM: I’ve been in a lot of bands, yeah, and I’ve toured before. When we went on the road with Peter Wolf Crier, it was Peter’s first time touring.
What is the meaning behind the title of Peter Wolf Crier's new album "Garden of Arms"?
BM: [Laughs] That’s a tough one. I’m not entirely sure. Peter has a better grasp on that. The title is sort of vague but it has a more specific meaning for him. It’s from the lyrics of the first song on the album and that’s just how the words came out of his mouth. They can mean different things to different people, which is what we were going for.
Do you write any lyrics or is your contribution to the band purely instrumental?
BM: Just instrumental. Peter Wolf Crier is a singer-songwriter project where Peter brings the lyrics and the melodies and I add the percussion and the textures. He writes the songs and I shape the sound.
What instruments other than drums do you play on “Garden of Arms”?
BM: Vibraphone, bass pedals, auxiliary percussion and tambourines.
The appeal of Peter Wolf Crier for a lot of listeners is in the nuances of those sounds and “Garden of Arms” could almost be called a headphone album. How do you translate that to a live show? Are there some songs you just can’t play because those details get lost in the space?
BM: Deciding what to play live is going to be similar to our first album. It’s always a matter of finding what the core of a song is, finding those essential pieces and doing what we can with two people onstage.
We always go in trying not to limit ourselves. We make the strongest album we can in the studio, knowing the live shows will be a very different experience. Live, there’s the visual aspect of watching us perform and the energy. On an album, you want to texture the songs so that you can listen to the same recording over and over and hear new things, like a guitar line, every time.
For the live shows with this album, a third person (Kyle Slater, of Laarks) will be joining us onstage to add those textures.
Speaking of Laarks, do you have anything new in the works?
BM: We just recorded a new album. It’s not mixed yet. I’m going to mix it. I hope to have it done before Peter Wolf Crier goes on tour.
Do you and Peter still have day jobs? When Metromix last interviewed Peter, he was a science teacher on the side.
BM: Peter is no longer teaching full-time, but he’s subbed for some classes. We were on the road for seven months, so we had to have that time for the band. I used to be an Art Director at a magazine in Eau Claire but I wanted to be able to tour. Now I do freelance design. That’s about 20% of my time.
You’re having a listening party for “Garden of Arms” at the Aster Café. What was behind the decision to do that?
BM: We did a listening party for our last album, but it was a re-release and those songs had been streaming on our Bandcamp for a month straight, so people were sort of familiar with the songs already. What’s exciting about this time is that we haven’t been playing these songs live. Most people haven’t heard anything from the album yet. It’s a great way to get people together and get them excited about the release.
Peter Wolf Crier’s album release show takes place at the Cedar Cultural Center on Sept. 23. “Garden of Arms” drops on Sept. 6. The album can be pre-ordered now through the band’s official website.