Nov 11, 2022
By Caleb Campbell
Photography by Andrew Marczak
Over the past several years, indie outfit Dogs At Large have been a prolific presence in the Chicago indie scene, releasing a string of albums occupying the intersection between Americana, alt-country, and indie rock. Fans last heard from the band with their 2020 albums, Jeopardy and My Epiphone, and today they’re back with news of their next album, County Line, coming in 2023. Accompanying the news, the band are also sharing the record’s lead single, “Tennessee,” premiering with Under the Radar.
Though it would be easy to draw a line between Dogs At Large and fellow twangy folk-tinged Chicago outfits like Wilco or Whitney, frontman and singer/songwriter Pirrucello has crafted a plaintive style all his own, one that he’s been able to shift into new genres with each release. His latest effort leans even further into country, bringing to bear all of the genre’s pastoral instrumentation and longing storytelling.
Pirrucello and company craft a country song from unexpected angles, centering the core of the tune around loping acoustic guitar and gentle keys, but adding unexpected textures with organ and synths. Meanwhile, Pirrucello’s voice proves to be the perfect companion for the song’s break-up story, tracing the road to Tennessee with both delicate warmth and desolate heartbreak.
He says of the track, “This is a breakup song about a woman longing for a life in rural Appalachia and leaving their boyfriend behind in Chicago to go pursue that dream. He’s kind of an alcoholic rocker type guy and she’s tired of hanging out with his music bro friends at bars every night and watching bad bands. The song is mainly narrated by the boyfriend but both characters have dialogue in the song. The woman knows she can’t bring her boyfriend with her to Tennessee because his dream is to stay in the city and make it big in a rock and roll band. Therefore, she decides she has to leave him. By the end of the song, she’s already crossed the state line into Indiana on her way to her parent’s house in Knoxville and he’s passed out drunk on the floor of the Empty Bottle.
This song is not at all autobiographical, but it was inspired by a trip to Tennessee, listening to a lot of country music and hiking the Smoky Mountains in the summer of 2021 and just kind of fantasizing about what it would be like to leave behind all of the asphalt, concrete and guitar-slinging bros in Chicago. It’s a country song, but we didn’t want to use the most obvious country instrumentation. Instead of using pedal steel, we layered a bunch of keyboard instruments, including organ and synthesizer to sort of bring the country into the city. We also added some reverb to the drum kit and boosted the bass a bit to give it more of a lonesome club feel. I wanted the arrangement to be full but the song sort of desolate-sounding, which Doug Malone helped us really nail down in the mix. We recorded this one live and this was the first take.”
Check out the song below. The band’s new album, County Line, is due out in 2023.