Between the summers of 2021 and 2022, singer-songwriter Sam Pirruccello drove hundreds of miles across northern Illinois in a Toyota Tacoma for his day job with a vegetation management company. At each stop, he assessed whether trees needed to be pruned or removed based on their relationship to electrical lines.
But the journey itself could be engrossing. “I went everywhere from the middle of the city to extremely rural places,” Pirruccello recalls. “I had a constant blur of different towns and counties.”
All those months on the road gave Pirruccello plenty of fodder for songs, which he was able to flesh out when a double hernia surgery forced him to lie low at home in Ukrainian Village for a stretch. “As I was recovering, that time allowed me to polish demos really well.”
Many of those songs appear on his band Dogs at Large’s seventh studio album (and first vinyl pressing), County Line, out March 2, with a record release show that night at the Empty Bottle. “I think overall that open-road, semi-isolated feeling informed some of the vibe of the record,” he says — in particular, its “pastoral energy.”
Nothing is off limits for Pirruccello or the band — Dogs at Large won’t be constrained to a single yard. Since forming in 2015, the band has roamed freely into whatever genre Pirruccello gets an urge to explore. The new album’s sound ranges from what he describes as the “coked-out ’80s glam rock” of the song “Vogue Beauty” to the pure country lead single, “Tennessee.” “We like to do genre experiments with different songs,” he says, “which makes it definitely less marketable but also more fun for us.”
While previous albums have received local support — the Chicago Tribune praised the “romantic, earnest sound” of 2018’s Overpass, and 2019’s Delusions of Paradise was produced by Whitney’s Ziyad Asrar and released on his former label, Fine Prints — the band is now garnering national attention, starting with an album announcement in the indie mag Under the Radar. In recent years, Pirruccello and company have shared stages with the likes of Beach Bunny, Kurt Vile, and Jenny Lewis.
Pirruccello started Dogs at Large after compiling homemade demos while playing in a variety of local bands. Taking the advice of friends, he recruited additional players to fill out the sound. Though Pirruccello, who handles lead guitar and keyboards in addition to vocals, and bass player Adam Gilmour are the only original members, the group’s once-shifting lineup has solidified over the last few albums; the current slate also includes drummer Chris Kolodziej and guitarist Jamie Yanda. “I think I’ve finally accepted that Dogs at Large is really a band now and it’s not just me doing songs,” Pirruccello says.
Having grown up singing in choirs, he always fretted that his voice was too clean-sounding for garage rock, but County Line helped him make peace with that. “Country music appeals to me because it really showcases the vocals and you’re not trying to hide them behind a bunch of distorted guitars.”
Musical leanings run deep in Pirruccello’s family. In 1975, his father, Bo, and uncle Frank cofounded the country-rock band Ouray (which recently reunited). “That sort of music is just in my DNA,” says Pirruccello. His father and uncles also run Lakland, a respected maker of electric bass guitars, where Pirruccello helped prep parts while in high school. Dogs at Large used the building’s basement as a practice space for County Line.
While Dogs at Large will play shows around the city and beyond this year in support of County Line, Pirruccello is already eager to get back into the studio: “After I finish a record, I’m always pretty quick to want to move on to something else, to try to make something not better but just different.”