Due to its wildly nuanced nature, interpersonal connection can frequently be a fickle concept to grapple with. Time, life experiences, and personal growth can cause them to become as thinly stretched as a well worn sweater – often leaving tears and holes in places that were formerly tightly stitched. This concept is beautifully explored within “Ashland & Grand,” a track from Chicago-based trio Dogs At Large that hails from their forthcoming record, Overpass. Click here to listen to the track on SoundCloud.
“Ashland & Grand” exemplifies the band’s ability to generate sheer euphony. The wailing saxophone paired with flavors of psychedelia is a delectable combination that intoxicates the ear instantaneously, exuding simultaneous feelings of both emptiness and dreaminess – a sonic sensation that draws an arrow and hits a bullseye on the soul. Worth mention is the overwhelming degree of lyrical realism, as they detail accounts of human connection that are both beautiful, aching, and inherently relatable. An aspect of “Ashland & Grand” that makes it so notable is that both the music and lyrics serve as cohesive, equalized agents of communication – thus making the song’s overall tone, message, and heart even more vibrant and magnified. As a result, listeners are treated to a creative work that is all-encompassing in every single sense of the term.
A richly detailed, smooth, and ethereal account of urban loneliness, “Ashland & Grand” is undeniably masterful and establishes Dogs At Large as bona fide innovators. AMPLIFY was fortunate enough to catch up with Dogs At Large member Sam Pirruccello and ask him about the work that went into the song, Chicago’s creative community, what lies ahead for the band, and more. Read on, friends.
AMPLIFY: What’s the origin story of Dogs At Large?
Pirruccello: A couple of winters ago, I was working on some solo music alone in my living room…I was listening to a ton of The Replacements and Bruce Springsteen at the time but using this Roland keyboard/drum machine and my electric guitar to make this really weird 80’s sounding synth rock type stuff. It was a lot of fun to make but not really what I wanted to hear, I knew it needed live drums so I enlisted my friend Artie who also lived in Logan Square at the time and we just started jamming and never really stopped. We’ve added and subtracted quite a few members over the course of the band. The name comes from the legal term for an escaped dog, which is a “Dog at Large,” we just thought it was hilarious so we used that name. We are pretty frequently amused by stuff like that.
AMPLIFY: How would you articulate the band’s artistic growth?
Pirruccello: We started out as kind of a college rock, punk band and then got a little heavier but eventually I got sick of being so loud all the time. I would say the main thing is that now as opposed to the beginning we focus a lot more on writing good songs that aren’t just about thrashing around, and we want to bring a focus to the lyrics, the melodies and arrangements. We’ve also widened the palette a lot, it was all guitars and drums in the beginning but now we use saxophone, keyboards, and some additional percussion textures. Live, it ends up being a little shoegaze-ier too. I think we’ve also just gotten a lot better and know what we’re going for now.
AMPLIFY: “Ashland & Grand” has a really authentic, human feel to it – both musically and lyrically. For this track specifically, how was it conceptually conceived?
Pirruccello: Thanks! It’s hard for me to think in terms of concepts when I’m writing, it’s kind of a weird stew of random inspirations and phrases and I don’t know what it is until it’s done. I think for that song I was listening to the Mild High Club and wanting to write a song that sounded like that, which it thankfully didn’t come out like at all. It’s a song about relationships that go south. The verses are about two friends that meet up after not seeing each other for a long time, and there’s this big expectation of reunion but they’re both just so bored with each other, and kind of disappointed in the present. It’s sort of a sad song. Then the choruses are about a big romantic falling out where one person gets kicked out of the house. Maybe it’s about not living up to your own expectations and by proxy the expectations of a person who sort of holds you up to the light as something greater than you actually are.
AMPLIFY: What were the band’s overarching creative objectives when bringing “Overpass” to fruition?
Pirruccello: I wanted to write songs that I would want to listen to. I know that sounds obvious but for me it’s actually really difficult. I think my musical ability is finally catching up with my taste, which to me is very exciting. I was pretty obsessed with Neil Young, The Band, Curtis Mayfield and some contemporary stuff like Drug Cabin and Surface to Air Missive for this one. I think this is the first record I’ve done where I might actually sit down and listen to it if it wasn’t my own work. It’s a simple goal, but I just wanted the record to reflect my taste, and to be something I could be in love with – the importance of writing songs that you want to play live over and over and over again has finally sunken in with me. For the most part, that meant writing songs that were a little slower, a little prettier, and used a wider palette of instruments. Also really taking the time to dial in guitar and drum tones that we liked – it meant getting a really dry and tight snare sound (for the most part) and using a lot of chorus and phaser, weirdly. I just kept focusing on ‘”Do I like this? Would I listen to this?” when picking songs. I wrote about 20 and we used 10, which is also more editing than I’ve ever done. I was obsessed with making sure it was the best thing I’ve ever made.
AMPLIFY: If Dogs at Large could play a gig anywhere in the world, where would you select and why?
Pirruccello: Probably somewhere in Brazil, because I love Brazil and really want to go back someday. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Brazilian music lately like Gal Costa and Marcos Valle. I also have a feeling that the crowds down there would be really great.
AMPLIFY: In your opinion, what’s the most unique aspect of Chicago’s creative community?
Pirruccello: I like that it’s big enough to incorporate a variety of different scenes. There’s just so much diversity in the music and art being created that every weirdo can find their own niche. I think that’s a beautiful thing. Also people are just super nice and supportive here. There’s not a poisonous, competitive vibe or anything like that – people seem enthusiastic about helping each other out and collaborating.
AMPLIFY: Outside of music, what other interests or hobbies do you have?
Pirruccello: My only outside interest really is in ecological restoration and natural areas management. It’s my day job and I’m a big nerd for plants and ecology. Ask me what species any tree is and I can probably tell you. Also doing prescribed fires can be really cathartic and fun, almost like playing a show. I know Adam is really into Game of Thrones and works on the railroad (all the live long day) and Artie is in a dart league and a major sports enthusiast.
AMPLIFY: What does the concept of authentic artistry mean or look like to you?
Pirruccello: You know it when you see it. I think it’s as simple as that.
AMPLIFY: Which aspect of Dogs At Large’s work are you most proud of?
Pirruccello: I think I’m the proudest of the development of our band. I’m never fully satisfied with any final product, although this Overpass record comes pretty close. But I’m proud of the progress and improvement that we’ve made as a band and individually as musicians.
AMPLIFY: Lastly, what’s coming up next for Dogs At Large?
Pirruccello: We’re gonna try to release our record somehow and keep playing shows! We also need to find a couple new band members, so November is gonna be a lot of rehearsing and trying people out. We also wanna make some music videos this winter. I’m also sitting on a pile of new songs that are in a slightly more folksy style, so we’re gonna try to navigate that. Luckily I just got my stage acoustic set up, looks like I’ll be busting that out more in the near future. I also want to try writing more on piano because that’s my first instrument and for some reason I never write songs on it any more. So it’s going to be a new challenge to get back into that.
To hear more from Dogs At Large, click here to visit their bandcamp page