It’s hard not to have high expectations for burgeoning local indie rock band The Wars of 1812. Seemingly out of nowhere, the band is preparing to pounce onto the scene with an album that recalls the pop structures of songwriting heavyweights like Spoon (who, in turn, recall the Beatles) and early Wilco. The disc, titled Status Quo Ante Bellum, is due out March 15 as a co-release from Afternoon Records (Mouthful of Bees, Haley Bonar) and Amble Down Records, the label that recently helped launch Bon Iver into the stratosphere.
In preparation for their album release, the four twentysomething members of The Wars were kind enough to invite me into their shared living space to discuss their impending breakout onto the local scene and beyond. Sitting in a circle of chairs in their living room, there was a feeling of friendship and kindness among the members of the band as they discussed what makes their group unique.
Keyboardist Peter Rosewall said that their band has already been compared by fans to some of their biggest influences. “Beatles and Wilco. I think that’s the easiest go-to answer,” he says. In truth, their songs combine folky song structures and major-chord melodies with an earnest pop sensibility, producing a clean, accessible finished product. Lead singer Peter Pisano has an unassuming voice that slides lackadaisically through layers of organs, bells, and dirty guitars. They may not be the most groundbreaking new band on the scene, but their songwriting and studio performance abilities are sharp enough to stand up most national CDs being released these days.
“When we came together the first time, it was to make an album,” remarked drummer Bobby Maher. “In that way it was very much like the Beatles—the same way they just make albums. We took the same approach.”
The quartet of native Wisconsinites originally set out to be a studio band, hoping to flesh out and record a set of songs written by Pisano. But what was intended to be a one-off recording session blossomed into an undeniable sense of camaraderie between four like-minded musicians. “We bonded musically,” explained Pisano. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
When the band finished recording, the members scattered across the world: Pisano moved to Milwaukee for a teaching job, Rosewall and Maher stayed in their hometown of De Pere, Wisc., and bass player Mei Ling Anderson moved to France to teach English. But soon after they separated, the full magnitude of what had happened in the recording studio began to sink in. With the CD being mixed and mastered back home, the band members decided that they needed to find a place to congregate once Anderson returned from abroad. Jobs were quit, girlfriends were left, and soon enough the four members found themselves looking for an apartment in the Twin Cities.
“We came in thinking of it as a good, supportive, friendly sort of music scene, and that’s the exact experience we’ve had here,” said Maher. They said they sense a feeling of acceptance in Minneapolis and St. Paul and have spent the last four months trying to get a feel for where they are headed. All four agreed that they made the right choice moving to Minnesota.
“The Cities are hip, but they just don’t know it,” remarked Pisano. “They’re hip, but they’re not stuck up. That balance is hard to find. We’ve made lots of friends with people in other bands, and I can’t imagine doing this in New York. It would be much more cutthroat.”
Rosewall believes that their band wouldn’t have made as much progress over the last few months had they chosen to live separately. “This is a trial-by-fire band,” he said. “I nearly spend twenty-four hours a day with him,” he said with a sly smile, pointing to Bobby Maher—his roommate, coworker, and bandmate.
“There isn’t a whole lot of separation between band and musical work and the rest of your life,” agreed Maher.
I asked the group if there are ever moments of tension, and for a moment we had the beginnings of a family counseling session on our hands. “Last week you told me to shut up, and I didn’t like it!” exclaimed Rosewall, and the whole room starts laughing.
“The tough thing is,” explained Pisano, “When someone leaves dishes out on the counter, you can’t go up to rehearsal thinking about that. That’s when it gets bad. Because the rehearsal room’s literally right there,” he said, pointing at a spiral staircase leading to the second floor. “It really is incestuous. But we wouldn’t have grown so much as a band in three months if we weren’t doing this.”
Andrea Swensson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance music critic and co-founder of online music site Reveille Magazine.