Pigeon John gets down in Vancouver [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – California native and Quannum Records mainstay Pigeon John was recently in town headlining The Biltmore here in Vancouver. Once relegated to short sets opening for established Quannum artists such as Blackalicious and Lyrics Born on their past tours. Johnny has stepped up to headlining his own tours from coast to coast and beyond. With undeniable stage presence, an energy level comparable to a Tazmanian Devil in heat, and enough charisma to charm both your moms and your pops it’s easy to see why he’s reached headining status. I had a chance to sit down with this surprisingly down to earth, chill artist to talk about life on the road, his previous albums and upcoming release, and if he’s yet to get over Dick Van Dyke vs. Cali rapper identity crisis. Spoiler alert! He has indeed. Ladies and gentlemen, Pigeon Johnny.
HipHopCanada: I’ve been aware of you as an artist for a while, since your album “Dating Your Sister,” now how long have you been on Quannum Records?
Pigeon John: Um, the first Quannum release was “The Summertime Pool Party” in 2006, before that I was on Basement Records which was like a small really independent clothing store and they put out my first record. Well, I put out my very first record independently, with no distribution called “Clueless.” Ya know, the good years when business was booming.
HipHopCanada: You sold over 11,000 copies of that joint, with no distro? I guess that was all just through merch… just hustling the CDs at shows?
Pigeon John: Yeah, just pushing it at shows… that was by around 2004, which was the first time I came to Canada. And it was beautiful up here, I went to Saskatchewan with Ndidi Cascade. Yeah, and why I liked it up here was because there was still no distro, I mean the first time these people saw my album was on the merch table but there was like 500 kids there all vibing out to my set. And other spots, Whistler, Kamloops.
HipHopCanada: Right, like it’s not always how many kids are at the show but more that the kids that are there are really diggin it… Now I hear you have a new album coming out on Quannum, DragonSlayer is that right?
Pigeon John: Yeah man, DragonSlayer’s my second release on Quannum coming out in October. So I’m looking forward to that.
HipHopCanada: With your past albums there was a definite progression, from Dating Your Sister to Pool Party, especially with Sings The Blues which had a very different feel itself, it actually seemed like an EP.
Pigeon John: It was an EP originally but Basement said lets tack on some remixes and make it feel like an album but it was supposed to end at 8 tracks. Originally it was meant to be part of a poetry book. Like I did 500 poetry books with that CD in it. But then Basement heard it and said lets add some more tracks to it. Released it first as the poetry book then once the label heard it we put it out as a full album. Added one new song, took a song off of it, then added the remixes.
HipHopCanada: Damn, so the original version with the poetry book aren’t available?
Pigeon John: Naw, 500 copies, long gone…
HipHopCanada: And that album kinda seemed like a side project, but I think it’s some of your best work.
Pigeon John: And it was an accident, it just happened.
HipHopCanada: So how do you feel about DragonSlayer? You must be pretty pumped on it.
Pigeon John: It has an accident feel to it too, hicwh is great because I’ve worked on so many demos over the years and with this I kinda didn’t even know that I was writing a novel… I was just writing then I stepped back and said ‘”oh shit.” And the killer part was working with Irvin Salters who produced the record. I wrote all the music and the words so I kind of tradtionally produced it like a pop or rock record which I’ve never done before. I’d make a beat, do the whole song like the notes and everything and give Irvin the session and he would kind of recreate my beats.
HipHopCanada: But still with the original sound and theme right?
Pigeon John: Yeah totally, but when he was finished with a track it was like it wasn’t even mine, like “I wrote this shit?! This shit sounds fucking awesome.” So it became not just me it became a bigger project and I kind of just had to let it go a little. I wanted to make a quiet hip-hop album ya know, for when you’re just in the right mood. Those are the best, they’re not for all the time but when it’s the right time it’s perfect. So when I listened to it in the beginning it did feel like that and when it did turn out like I had hoped I just got real excited.
HipHopCanada: And DragonSlayer’s a full length of course right?
Pigeon John: Yeah, full length, 40 minutes. Enough time to listen to it on your way to work and back. You get to laugh, cry, straighten your shit up, smoke a bowl and pull your fuckin pants up and go to work ya know?
HipHopCanada: Yeah, I’m stoked to hear it. You’re on the road like crazy and Pool Party was 2006 so you must really be ready to push something new?
Pigeon John: [Laughing] Yeah, that’s a long time to be squeezing the lemons ya know? Trying to get as much out of one album as possible.
HipHopCanada: But that also speaks to the strength of the music of your previous work. I mean you’ve got to love those songs to be kicking them live night after night, year after year without getting bored of them.
Pigeon John: Yeah, I mean there was a time when I would be up there doin’ my thing and I’m just thinking about Pizza Hut or what I was goin to eat. But with this new album, I’m not even doing any of its songs but just the spirit of it is like a broken man, so there’s no hiding. Vulnerable, but not like in a weak way which helps me approach the shows in a different way. It takes off all the bullshit ya know?
HipHopCanada: I’m really interested in hearing the production, being that it all came from you.
Pigeon John: Yeah, I mean I’ve always been doing beats here and there, did most the beats for Dating Your Sister but with Pool Party it was different, like RJD2 and snatching beats from big names, trying to put a sound together, and it was tiring.
HipHopCanada: It was surprisingly consistent though.
Pigeon John: Yeah, but it was real hard to do, and so I wanted this new album to be the opposite, like a real short novel,125 pages, mean and lean. A less is more kind of thing. And so thinking about performing those tracks for crowds is like I don’t want to try to get the crowd hype, they already are, they’re hyper than me. I don’t want it to be like pulling teeth I just want to go up there and give them the songs as they are, and if something starts poppin’ then it’s magic ya know?
HipHopCanada: Just to get away from the upcoming joint, I hate to say it but I haven’t peeped this Rootbeer EP called Pink Limousine… You wanna tell me about that?
Pigeon John: That was released in the spring of ‘09 and that’s with Flynn Adams of L.A. Symphony. So we’ve been a crew since way back, since the 90’s. And we always wanted to do a project and we just started workin’. After I finished DragonSlayer I finally had the time. We did our thing, self-produced it and that was fun. Just showed each other the beats we were working on and worked them out together, very communal. So we toured that, plan to put out a full length, called ‘Kids On Drugs’ next year.
HipHopCanada: And to get back to touring, you’re on the road like what eleven and a half months out of the year or something? That drive you crazy?
Pigeon John: Yeah, it used to drive me crazy, but I had a child so I’ve been touring less and just doing spot dates here and there. But with DragonSlayer about to come out, the machine is starting to rev up again so I kind of know what I’m getting myself into this time.
HipHopCanada: Oh, and uh dumb question, but you’ve gotten over your identity crisis by now have you?
Pigeon John: [Laughing] Yeah I have, took a while but yeah. So it’s funny you know, doing that song, and a lot of songs but that’s how it is, and hey the kids still love it.
HipHopCanada: Yeah, and even if you’ve gotten over your identity crisis it doesn’t mean your fans have… ha… So, is there like a manual for that?
Pigeon John: [Laughing] Yeah, it’s being written right now.
HipHopCanada: Aight, gimme a copy I could use it. Thanks for your time Pigeon, good luck with the show tonight.
Pigeon John: Aight, peace see you in there.
Wrtten by Jesse Furnell for HipHopCanada
Photography by Chris McKibbin for HipHopCanada