Some musical projects come to fruition in what seems like an instant—a supernova of inspiration and creation. Others are more of a slow burn, taking a little time to fully come into their own. The Americana-rock duo (sometimes trio) of Pilcrowe represents that slow burn side of things. The band’s members—singer-guitarist Ryan Heinsius, drummer Andrew Lauher and bassist Thom Lord—have been musical partners for more than a decade, all the while honing a style that fuses the song-focused acoustic contemplation of folk music with tube-amp-driven Americana-rock and hints of blues, country and indie rock. And Pilcrowe’s acoustic/electric split personalities have emerged from its members’ years of musical experience across the style spectrum.
Lauher’s resumé includes some of northern Arizona’s most storied bands: psychedelic country-rockers Gravy; jam-rock pioneers the In-Betweens; and the emotive folk of Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer (now Sway Wild). Heinsius has also logged many years on stage and was the longtime guitarist and singer for the Voluntary String Band along with several other roots-music outfits.
Heinsius and Lauher led nearly parallel creative lives while sharing stages and bills, occasionally jamming, and eventually striking up a tight friendship. But they’d never officially been collaborators. That changed when the folk-rock quartet Crow Wing was born around 2008. The band was fronted by Pacific Northwest-based singer-songwriter Dave McGraw, and also featured the melodic bass playing of Thom Lord. Together they released a studio album as well as a live album, frequently toured, and became a live powerhouse celebrated for their passionate, high-energy performances.
When Crow Wing’s time had run its course, Lauher and Lord joined the Voluntary String Band that Heinsius had also been performing with for years, and they continued their musical trip together, albeit with a slightly more bluegrassy flavor. But, as with many projects, the VSB also eventually dissolved, and the trio were band-less for the first time in years. There was uncertainty in the air, so they got together to jam—informally at first, and then more seriously as the songs started to materialize. Sometimes there were three or four new ones a week and the trio started to develop an electrified sound augmented with folk, blues and country twang. They’d play a few gigs and then spend extended periods going back into the rehearsal studio, grinding away at the sound they all seemed to collectively hear.
Lord would eventually also relocate to the Northwest where he and Lauher recorded and relentlessly toured the U.S. and Europe with McGraw and Mandy Fer to critical and popular acclaim. But Pilcrowe was a constant presence, and Lauher, Lord and Heinsius kept the spark for the passion project lit as life took them all in various directions.
THE BIG BURN (2022)
Now that sound comes into much sharper focus with Pilcrowe’s new album The Big Burn, a four-song EP released in March 2022. Recorded during the lockdown days of the COVID-19 pandemic with recording engineer Jeff Lusby-Breault, who also plays bass on the tracks, The Big Burn is Pilcrowe’s most fully realized effort to date as they reach for the elusive sound that’s been echoing in their heads for years. The songs are an energetic mix of their signature singer-songwriter folk and rock-Americana, but the recording process allowed the band to experiment, stacking vocals and guitar arrangements, pushing them to create lush layers of sound and expressive tones to complement the writing.
Though the songs were all penned pre-pandemic, context is key and the lyrics and music seem to have a newfound prescience in an altered world. The opening track, “World on a Wire,” is a reflection on the confusion of living in tumultuous times, and the conflicted feelings of privilege in the midst of chaos. The title track, “The Big Burn,” is deeply melodic and full of anxiety over what we’re leaving for future generations, while “The Campaigner” is a story of lost principles and abandoned idealism in favor of quick opportunity. The EP’s final track is “Wilderness of Mirrors,” a dreamy meditation on the uncertain gray areas of an increasingly polarized world.
“Storytelling communicates deeper truths. It’s about how we deal with adversity or heartbreak or joy. There’s a deeper truth communicated in the best stories."
–Arizona Daily Sun
"Heinsius says his songwriting finds inspiration in history, storytelling and social commentary ... Not only does (Heinsius') Oklahoma upbringing make its way into the bluesy folk styling of Pilcrow, it also finds its way into the timbre of Heinsius' singing. The twang in his voice is something that drummer Andrew Lauher playfully calls him out on."