Upright bass, mandolin, guitar and banjo — if those words were a Rorschach test, a typical response would be “bluegrass.” But Joey Pierog, bassist for The Four Legged Faithful, might beg to differ. His band’s sound owes more to indie folk than Appalachia.
“Our biggest influence as a band would have to be Fleet Foxes, which is not really bluegrass at all,” Pierog said recently. “Their four-part vocals, rich harmonies … that’s where we come from, not as much the traditional stuff.”
The group’s name reflects its eclecticism.
“The four of us, we’re all one leg of this awkward galloping mule. … If one of us doesn’t do our job, it collapses,” said Pierog. “We’re a strange batch of people. How our influences match up is very odd, but somehow it works.”
Pierog met guitarist Matt Migliori through a Berklee professor who’d heard about a jam band that needed an electric bass player. At the time, Migliori was on drums. After the group broke up, Pierog began hanging out at Rocking Horse Studio, a facility in Pittsfield that his uncle and brothers had helped build. On one of his first projects, he backed singer songwriter Christian Cuff.
Cuff’s rootsy Americana energized Pierog.
“Doing it every single day for a month at a time really opened me up to it,” he said. “Before I was playing upright jazz, which is really cool and had a lot to do with my style. But this took me to another place artistically.”
Meanwhile, Migliori and banjo player Nathan Pelletier were also experimenting with acoustic music, and invited Pierog to join.
“We played a show within that month — it was really quick,” recalled Pierog, and six months later when Jon Kaplan sat in on mandolin, the trio became a quartet. “The chemistry was immediate.”
What became the band’s first album, 2012’s Regret & Resolve, was recorded mostly in Pierog’s basement.
“We didn’t want to waste a lot of money if we didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” he said. “The experience taught me a lot and got me ready for coming into the studio.”
Pierog recorded and mixed the band’s new album, Devoured In the Dark, with production credit going to the entire group. They labored for nine months on the expansive disc, hewing closely to their live sound while polishing it like a jewel with repeated takes. Musically, it touches on many moods, from the rambunctious “Here We Are,” which opens the record, to the jazzy instrumental “Trust Fall” and the whimsical “Gretta.”
The latter song contains the album’s title and is an ode to artistic struggle. It employs a mythical mountain shark as a metaphor.
“The futility of aiming for perfection,” Pierog mused. “You’re reaching for something you’ll never really get — your magnum opus. When you have it in your grasp, you don’t even notice it’s there. It’s really about the toil of each artist.”
Mostly by trial and error, the band has built a following around its Boston/Cambridge base.
“We played different places until we figured out what worked. Cambridge was great because the age group and kind of people really seem to like us,” said Pierog.
With the new album, they’re planning on more shows in New Hampshire; the affiliation with Rocking Horse should help on the summer festival circuit later this year. But they won’t overdo it.
“Something we’ve learned is you don’t want to saturate any one place,” Pierog said. “Come back once a month. Play a good show and leave everyone wanting more.”
As seen in the January 30, 2014 issue of the Hippo.