Interview: The Pigeon Detectives

Music and Art

The Leeds festival main stage slot this August seems to be the perfect culmination of The Pigeon Detectives’ summer, having released their third album in April and played  a string of festivals across the world. Supporting shared headliners Pulp and The Strokes seem to combine both the Yorkshire roots and childhood memories of the late Britpop scene, and the New York sound that the band travelled to the Big Apple to try and capture in their latest record.

After being tipped by the NME as the band most likely to grace the main stage back in 2007, four years on The Pigeon Detectives are finally coming good on the prediction and the prospect of playing with Pulp certainly seems ideal. “We saw them in 2001 at Leeds fest, and we’ve been going since we were 16,” bassist Dave Best tells me. “It was just unbelievable how good Jarvis Cocker was. A thoroughly entertaining frontman. With them and all the other great bands playing that Saturday, its just going to be a great day.”

Formed in 2004 in Rothwell, on the outskirts of Leeds, The Pigeon Detectives are all schoolmates who emerged as part of the mid 2000s wave of indie rock bands who managed to break the mainstream market. “I guess we weren’t really aware of a scene as we were growing up in Leeds, but looking back, we were really lucky to have been in that Yorkshire group along with guys like The Sunshine Underground and the Kaisers. It was an exciting time for us and we’re really proud of being part of that scene.”

The band released two albums within a year taking “only a month to write between Wait For Me and Emergency at home in Leeds. After a hectic touring and recording schedule a decision was made to move to the Chelsea area of Western Manhattan to record their latest release, Up Guards and At Em. “We just wanted to go there and soak up the atmosphere of summer in New York. The music here is definitely one of the reasons we came. You’ve got bands like The Walkmen, Interpol…bands that have inspired our sound.”

And with a change of location comes a change of direction on their latest record, influenced partially by producer, Justin Gerrish whose main work has been in mixing Vampire Weekend’s Contra. “He was like a sixth member of the band. Compared to other producers he was really hands on, helping us to deconstruct the songs we had written and then reconstruct the best bits.” As with so many bands releasing subdued follow ups compared to more upbeat debuts (Foals, Metronomy, Hercules and Love Affair included) Up Guards and At Em marks a shift to a calmer and more contemplative sound, no longer focusing on the “testosterone fuelled lyrics” of the first few albums.

Indeed the lyrics have been a point of criticism that the band have received from the NME’s Gavin Haynes mention of how singer Matt Bowman “seems to be in danger of mistaking snarky cynicism for ‘attitude’” to the more scathing Alexis Peteridis of The Guardian blasting the  “unlistenable ugliness of the lyric[s]” such as the one-night stand promise of “When the sun comes up, there will be nothing wrong, because I will be away from you.” From the last track of Emergency, ‘Everybody Wants Me’ to the first track of Up Guards and At Em ‘She Wants Me’ there seems to have been no progression. Yet the song reveals that “She wants me to go.” An intentional challenging of expectation I ask? Just coincidence is the answer.

“Lyrically we’ve always been kind of based on an observational style so every time people were saying to us that they thought we were just being lads or whatever it was basically just commenting on exactly what we do. However now, all the band members, not just front man Matt Bowman contribute lyrics initiating a change of direction towards issues as different as the financial crisis on  ‘What You Gonna Do.’ After all, “there’s only so much you can write about getting drunk.”