Interview: The Pigeon Detectives
Published on March 18th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
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Leeds rockers The Pigeon Detectives are back with their third album, the emphatically titled UP, GUARDS AND AT ‘EM!, as well as a UK tour which kicks off at the end of this month (dates for which can be found here).
It’s been three years since the release of Emergency, the follow-up to their number 3-charting debut Wait For Me so, to celebrate their long-awaited return to the fold, Rocksucker caught up with lead singer and thoroughly bloody nice bloke Matt Bowman in order to discuss the new album, why he’d never go solo and why he opts for Subway when in the Far East…
Why did it take so long for album number three to see the light of day?
To be honest, we released album two, then we had to tour and promote that for twelve months, so that’s one year down the drain. Then another spent writing the new record. It took us a couple of months to hook up with the right producer; we really wanted to work with somebody who was young, hungry, up-and-coming and fresh. Then we spent two months in New York recording it. In an ideal world, once you’ve recorded you’d just put it in the shops and up on iTunes but there’s a bit of red tape in the music industry that you have to fight your way through to release any kind of record. So that’s basically it, really: touring the second album, writing and recording the third and then obviously the powers-that-be, you know, they take their time in releasing it. We’ve been a bit disappointed with how long it’s taken to come out; it’s not like we’ve just been sitting at home resting on our laurels.
So who was on production duties this time around? It was Stephen Street [legendary producer of Blur, The Smiths and many more] last time, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was Stephen Street last time. This time we went out to New York to work with an American producer called Justin Gerrish. He’d basically been an engineer working side-by-side with Rich Costey, who produced things like The Strokes and Muse and recently worked on Glasvegas and Vampire Weekend. So he’s kind of been the understudy to a really well-known producer working on some of our favourite bands and he was up for the chance of actually taking the reins and actually producing the record. It was fun.
What can we expect from the album? And which are your favourite tracks on it?
Well, you know what you’re getting when you buy a Pigeon Detectives record in terms of catchy tunes, there’s gonna be some anthems on there, but we were very concentrated on delivering a record that has highs and lows, peaks and troughs. It’s not as in-your-face or rough-and-ready as the last two albums, it’s probably a more considered record and I think people will get a lot out of it from listening to it at home on their iPods as opposed to just coming to the live shows and seeing it played hell-for-leather at a hundred miles per hour. My favourite tracks…I like the single, ‘Done In Secret’, I like ‘What Can I Say?’, which starts off really gentle and unassuming and then explodes into this kind of wall of noise and then retires again back into this slow, unassuming kind of riff. So I really like that and I think it will surprise a lot of people. I like a song called ‘Turn Out The Lights'; that’s probably one of the most experimental tracks we’ve done. They asked us if we could keep a Mellotron in the studio so we were like, right, we’ve got to use that on the record somewhere. There’s also trumpets kicking off in that tune; instruments you wouldn’t usually associate with The Pigeon Detectives so I think it’s a good change.
Would you say that you’ve ‘coloured in’ your raw sound?
Yeah. Basically, we went to Justin with a bunch of guitar songs and he just broke them down to the basics and built them back up again. There was no set rule about what instruments we could play and in what part of each song. It was a good way to work.
When writing a song, are you a ‘music first’ or ‘words first’ man?
Definitely music first. I think if you try to come up with the words first then it’s almost like you’re writing nursery rhymes. I like the passion of the music to dictate what kind of words fit with a song.
Given that you’re all old friends, you’re obviously a very tightly-knit group. Do you think the band could survive a lineup change?
A lineup change would be the death of the band, really. It would never be an option [to continue] if somebody decided to call it a day. That would be the signal for everybody to think, yeah, it was good but we’ve had enough. The band wouldn’t survive a lineup change; it would just be too weird.
Would you go solo?
I don’t think I’d even go solo. I couldn’t see the fun in doing this if I wasn’t doing it with my best friends. This can be quite a difficult job to do if you’re not enjoying it and, if I wasn’t enjoying it, there’d be absolutely no point.
Do you get much time to enjoy yourselves when you’re out on the road, hopping from city to city, country to country?
Yeah. I mean, it’s the time of my life, really; I’m making memories that I’ll never forget. But you’re only making the memories because you are doing it with your four best friends. I couldn’t think of anything more depressing than waking up in a hotel room in Japan by myself, knowing that there’s no-one to go down and meet in the hotel lobby or no-one to go grab a Subway with. It wouldn’t be for me, that, really.
“Grabbing a Subway” in Japan makes you an absolute hero!
(Laughs) To be honest, that’s all I eat in Japan. I’m a vegetarian and I also don’t like fish and, in Japan, they just don’t grasp the concept of vegetables. It’s meat, fish or nothing, so I’m a big Subway enthusiast in the Far East!
Any particularly ‘eccentric’ fan stories from over there? The Japanese are known for being rather enthusiastic, shall we say, about bands from over here…
Yeah, they’re mad for it! They meet us at the airport and in hotel lobbies and they draw little comic strips with you as the main character! I must have about sixty sets of chopsticks from fans in my bedroom, and other little gifts. We’ve got two sets of fans who turn up cartons of Marlborough Lights: they’re my particular favourites!
Would you ever consider publishing the aforementioned cartoons?
I think, if you Googled long and hard enough, they’re probably on the internet somewhere! They have quite a lot of fan sites. That’s not exclusive to our band, you know, that’s just the done thing in Japan: they love to make little animations of the bands.
Going back to how it all started to take off for you guys, how did you manage to land yourselves as the support band on the Dirty Pretty Things tour? And what respective jobs did you each have to quit in order to do it?
Well, first and foremost, we got ourselves a booking agent and she was responsible for trying to get us on a support slot or a support tour. That’s easier said than done because, when a band makes it, all they want to do is take their friends on tour and help their friends out. Basically, she just kept taking our demo to the hotel they were staying at, making sure it was behind reception and that one of the band got to hear it. Eventually Anthony, the lead guitarist, did get to hear it and he was into it so he gave her a call and we kind of hooked the tour up from there. Stroke of luck, really, me being such a big Libertines fan and the rest of the band loving The Libertines as well; going on tour with Carl Barat was pretty daunting, really. In terms of jobs, me, Dave, Ryan, Jimmi all quit just standard office jobs, really boring data entry kind of sh*t; whatever we could do to pay the bills, really. Ryan worked with Staples in a warehouse so, you know, nothing glamorous there kicking off.
What advice would you have for bands, like mine, who are looking to make that next step up? For example, how did you go about getting yourselves a booking agent?
People usually come to you. I mean, you’ve just got to create a bit of buzz, really. I get asked this all the time, what advice I’d have for an up-and-coming band, and I’ve got two pieces of advice: get yourself a decent demo, a really good example of your tunes and what you’re about, and send it out to everybody. Print a hundred copies off and give it out at your gigs, but make sure you’re giving it out to potential fans, not just mums, dads, your friends and stuff. Secondly, the way we did it, we just played gigs, played gigs, played gigs. We bought ourselves a van and played in Nottingham, Sheffield, London, Manchester, Leeds, even went over to Dublin and Belfast, without a record deal. Just from creating a bit of buzz and sending our demos out to promoters. It cost us a fortune, to be honest; I understand that not every band could do that but, because it was the only thing we wanted to do, we didn’t mind chucking all our cash at it. Yeah, play live, play live; you can’t buy press so the least you can do is play live and get good reviews and, if someone reads two or three good live reviews of your band in a row, chances are they’ll come and check you out.
Which is the better cover of ‘Tainted Love': yours or Marilyn Manson’s?
Marilyn Manson’s has got pretty cool video to it, so I’ll say we did the better cover version but I really like his video!
Any feedback from a certain Mr Almond?
No, he didn’t get in touch! I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
You may have already covered this in a previous answer but what’s the most exciting celebrity and/or hero encounter you’ve had on your musical journey thus far?
(Quick as a flash) Paul Weller, Julian Casablancas and Paul McCartney.
Wow. Er…not all at the same time, were they?
No, three separate occasions. I met Damon Albarn as well but he did seem too drunk to know his own name, let alone have a conversation about anything I wanted to speak about.
What’s the best festival you’ve ever played?
Glastonbury for sheer magnitude and amount of people watching us, and Leeds Festival because it’s a homecoming and it kicks right off.
Any top musical tips for 2011?
The Sunshine Underground. They’re not a new band but I know they’re working on a new record. For some reason they haven’t made it huge but they should be massive. Good friends of mine, wicked live band, just not produced the goods yet in terms of album sales, which is a mystery to me. Also, I like the look of a band called The Neats; they sound quite Joy Division-y. A couple of the guys from Kaiser Chiefs managed them and put their singles out on their independent label. They were always telling me to check them out so I had a look into them and they’ve got something good going on.
Finally, could you name – as of this very moment – your top three albums of all time?
Yep: Definitely Maybe, Is This It and Please Please Me.
Matt, thank you.
The single ‘Done In Secret’ is out now, whilst new album UP, GUARDS AND AT ‘EM! is released on April 4th through Dance To The Radio. Pre-order the album