Exclusive: The Pigeon Detectives InterviewPhotos by Alex Ramon
When I was over in Toronto covering the Virgin Music Festival, I had the great opportunity of interviewing The Pigeon Detectives. They’re from a little place known as the United Kingdom and boy were they tall. Aside from Loose Change Trio, these guys are quite possibly the tallest band to grace any stage. Sure I’m Asian, but for a Chinese dude I’m fairly tall but when I stood up next to Matt and Ryan, I felt like a small little ant in a world of giants. But enough about my insecurities, let’s get to know a little bit about TPD.
Formed in 2002 in the town of Leeds, TPD have had success locally and internationally. Well known DJ’s such as Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley have repeatedly praised the band and even the Kaiser Chiefs have been known to name drop the band on several occasions. This led them to tour with the Chiefs on several tours in 2006 and with this support, they were able to garner fans across the nation. Riding the wave of their new-found success, they had the opportunity to perform in various high profile festivals such as Reading and Leeds Festival and T in the Park. These lucky breaks (which aren’t really lucky breaks because they put in the hard work and dedication) got them a nice record deal with “Dance To The Radio” and they subsequently released their first studio album titled “Wait For Me” in both CD format and limited edition 12” vinyl. However, before this release, some of the material got leaked out onto the internet (which quite frankly isn’t a big surprise) but this didn’t hurt them at all. It actually propelled TPD into the spotlight and garnered them #3 on the UK charts. This, in turn, led to the album reaching Gold status, which is quite a feat for a first album. With their first album under the belt and a growing fan base, they starting to play more high profile festivals that included JerseyLive and Oxegen, which had a line-up of The Fratellis and Kasabian. In January 2008, the boys returned to the studio to record a new album and what they came up with was the May 2008 release of “Emergency,” which is sure to reach Gold status as well.
With all of the band’s success, talking to Matt and Ryan was a humbling experience. To be part of the Virgin Festival myself was overwhelming and they both agreed. “It’s really cool,” says Matt. “Lovely surroundings. We came yesterday and hung out all day and night in Toronto. We missed yesterday, but we are huge Oasis fans and they are kind of one of the bands that inspired us to become a band.” It’s no surprise that Oasis, being one of the hugest bands to come out of the UK would inspire others to take on the international stage.
Considering TPD have had such great success in the UK, and are not really known here in Canada there is no doubt a difference to the fans reception. The same goes for other Canadian acts that are huge here in North America, and when they cross the waters, little is known about them. “We’ve not played that many shows out here,” admits Ryan, “and the shows we have played out here are a little different. When we were in Montreal the other day and we played with The Kooks, the crowd went crazy when we played. But when we played in New York, the crowd was a little more reserved and polite. They clap and cheer.” Matt adds that the New York crowd seemed “too cool for school.” I’ve never personally been to the Big Apple, but from all the stereotypes I’ve seen on TV and movies, I’m not that surprised. That doesn’t mean NYC is a bad place, far from it. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world, and one day, trust you me, I’ll make my way over for an extended period of time.
In the UK, which is another place I wouldn’t mind living in, TPD are huge rock stars, so you can only imagine how the fans respond to a show. “It’s a bit crazy,” chuckles Ryan. “We’re an energetic band and I think the crowd really gets into that. They are absolutely exhausted after the show.” Now that’s a statement any band can be proud of, to know that they gave it their all just so the fans would have a great time. “I think the crowds in the UK are fearless,” adds the enigmatic front man Matt. “I’m up on stage and looking at the crowd and thinking I’m glad I’m not in that crowd.”
With the comparison of North America and the UK put aside, I asked a little tougher question, something that would unnerve any band. The internet. Good or bad? Happy or sad? There are always pros and cons of a technological tool such as the World Wide Web, such as exposing unknown indie bands or leaking music from well known bands, which would essentially hurt record sales. When I asked them how the role of the internet has affected the band, Matt was on the fence with this one. “I think we would be richer without the internet. Both our albums leaked 5 weeks before their release date and that’s gonna hurt your pocket no matter what. But in terms of the early days, if you don’t have a record deal people can log into your myspace. It seems like a competition for kids these days to find the next hot band. People listen to unsigned bands a lot more.” I think that sums up our generation quite well. For me personally, I wouldn’t have known about half the bands nowadays if it weren’t for myspace, sad I know, but that is the reality. No matter how much the internet helps or hurts a band, it’s how they perform live that matters the most.
The boys in TPD have been childhood friends and, in my opinion, attributes to their success as a band, which includes their stellar live shows. “We’re almost like brothers, we argue and bicker, but we forget about it half an hour later,” Ryan so calmly recalls. “A lot of bands who don’t know each other very long fall out for a week or two which can be a problem for a band.” The success of band is not only measured by record sales, but also by longevity. The great bands out there, such as U2 and Metallica to name a few, have kept the core intact and you can really see a brotherhood. For Matt he believes that “you can almost see this gang mentality and the on stage chemistry.” This band of figurative brothers (not the movie… or Hanson… or The Jonas Brothers) has that stage presence and the drive to go far in this industry.
Their perseverance led them to a record contract with “Dance To The Radio,” an independent record label based in the UK. When asked about the decision to sign with them, Matt undoubtedly had a little pride in his voice. “We had huge offers coming in from all the big major labels in the UK. We just didn’t like the shit we were getting fed by them, and this indie label turned up and said we don’t have any money but we can give you shares in the label and let you do what you want. We kept our integrity and we have 100% creative control. We can even scout other bands we see on the road and get them in touch with the label.”
Signing to any label is a huge accomplishment, but what TPD have done is something I rarely hear of. To have that much control over your music is one thing, but to be able to control the label is entirely different, especially for an indie band. I think this will give perspective to many up and comers who seek a big label record deal. TPD have shown that you don’t need to have all this big money backing you up to be successful in the music industry.
Considering they have 100% creative control, that means they can write about whatever the fuck they want. “We always write for a certain audience in mind,” recalls Matt with a little smirk on his face, “but that audience means the 5 people in the room at the time, which is us. So far we’ve been lucky that others want to listen to it as well.” That is lucky indeed. I’ve had so many number one hits in my bedroom, but when I bring it out for others to hear, well that’s another story.
Being a musician is one thing (which many claim to be), but being a full-time musician is another. “When the band started kicking off,” remembers Ryan, “we had to get sick days off work and get home at 5 in the morning. We put our hearts into it, and you have to do that. But if you don’t have a job you can’t afford to pay your rent, but you have to balance the both. It’s really hard work but we got lucky and had a break.”
Matt adds to the simple lifestyle beginnings of TPD. “The reality of being a band in the UK, because there is so many, financially it’s not rewarding. We had to borrow money from friends and family to pay rent. It was tough at the beginning. The sex drugs and rock and roll come eventually, but at the start it’s so unglamourous it’s frightening.”
And with that statement, we come to the final question. The question all of you have been waiting for (Ok well maybe not all of you, but the indie bands for sure). What advice does Matt and Ryan from The Pigeon Detectives offer all you aspiring rock stars? “Work ethic is the biggest thing. You just have to play gigs every opportunity. Get on the phone and start plugging interviews. Be proactive and don’t rest on your laurels. There are a lot of talented people out there who won’t make it because they’re lazy fuckers.” So you heard it people, don’t be lazy fuckers.