After his track "The Bomb" metaphorically blew up and received more than 13 million plays on Spotify (and that's just to date), Los Angeles song-writer and rapper Pigeon John saw his career shoot into the stratosphere, and it certainly doesn't look to be heading back down anytime soon.
Prior to the release of his new album Good Sinner, which came out yesterday (September 23), he kindly agreed to this interview to chat song-writing, dream shows and his thoughts on social media.
PW: Please introduce yourself.
Pigeon John: Hello, my name is John. Pigeon John for short.
PW: How would you describe yourself and your music in a few words?
PJ: Los Angeles-based rapper/songwriter with roots to The Good Life Cafe. My music started in the indie-hip hop scene and has grown into its own form of pop, blending 90s hip hop and 60s rock'n'roll.
PW: How and when did you first realize you wanted to be a performer? Was there an album you bought or concert you attended that made you think 'yeah, I want to do that’?
PJ: I’d say the first time I went to The Good Life Cafe, this little open mic held on Crenshaw Blvd in the 90s. Before, I had lived hip hop with my crew in Inglewood and Hawthorne. Graffiti, skating, rapping and beat-boxing -- we did it all together in our own little world. It was everything. My brothers’ car was called The Beastie Mobile, and we’d drive around just breathing it in.
It wasn’t until I found out about an actual open mic where DJs and MCs came together weekly did I ever think about performing it. I’d made pause mix tapes with my crew and passed it around but never face to face outside of my team. So when an MC named AK told me about the Café, I ran there. I showed up late -- I didn’t know it was from 8-10pm -- and saw circles in the parking lot. It was full of MCs darting and weaving their words. I swooped up and did my best verse at the time. It made nothing more than a ripple to these guys’ rivers, and that’s when it dawned on me. My whole world opened up, and I had the desire to blow the river out the bank. I came back every week for years. So that’s when I caught the performing bug.
PW: Which bands or artists influenced you growing up, and how have those influences changed over the years?
PJ: De La Soul was a milestone growing up, sampling all forms of music to make hip hop broaden my mind. Radiohead and Oasis and 90s rock was usually my theme music unless Chet Baker crept in. My head was in hip hop, but my mind was on Blur and these daisy age bands of the 90s. It was another world for me after hip hop. After a few years passed, I wanted to get the root of it, so I dove into The Beatles, then The Beach Boys and on down to the tip of it all, Chuck Berry. I’m of a sampling mind-set, so anything outside my world, I nibble on.
PW: Is there a band or artist you might say you're similar to?
PJ: It’s hard to say. Beck comes to mind, certainly when I think about his earlier stuff. I like him, but I think I may be too close to tell. I might think I sound like Huey Lewis and The News meets Q-Tip, but I actually might sound like Van Halen and Little Richard had a baby.
PW: Your track "The Bomb" has had more than 13 million plays to date on Spotify. Did you ever think it would become so popular, and how did its success impact your career?
PJ: Man, that’s a doozy. It's amazing that a song from a bedroom studio can reach so many ears. I’m blessed -- but didn’t think about how far it would go. I was kinda caught up in making it pop. With help from Herve Salters, who co-produced the song, we were just focused on making the record ours; we had no time to think about how big it would get. I’m thankful for that, too. I heard somewhere that, if you take care of the music, the music will take care of you. That song has opened so many doors for me, and I love that I get to perform it around the world. Its success made me think that your first idea is usually the best -- to not overthink it but, instead, to be careful to follow the song that is already in you. I made a fun tune alone for me to rock out to in my bedroom, and, man, it feels good that people like my “bedroom music”, which is how I described my hip-hop back in the day!
PW: Who or what most inspires your song-writing?
PJ: My family are serious inspiration -- their moves and ways attract my eyes always. They remind me or really define what is important in life, and that makes it easy to enjoy music when I know something's bigger out there. Love inspires me. Strangers that have ease. People watching is delightful. There’s art and life all around, and I’m often taken aback by it. I’m like a butterfly -- in control but driven along by the wind, too. I’m a very easy date, so often I love to follow and write what I feel and maybe see.
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
PJ: “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys because it is so unassuming. It’s so innocent that you can smell the blood on it and so hard that you don’t feel the hit, you just get knocked out. And it’s all about a girl -- the whole thing. The simple desperation and the almost pimp-ish sway of it. You can feel the pull on her heart. The song had no care, but the whole world hung heavy on it, and it was the first time the word “God” was used in a pop song. It really is the heavy weight champion of songs. It “sounds” so pretty but holds so many bullets, and I like that.
PW: Tell me about your latest track, "That's What I Like." Is there a story behind it?
PJ: I wrote the tune in a “first thought, best thought” scenario in Van Nuys, California. I wanted to get to the basics, and I think we nailed what we were going after -- a feel good smasher about chasing girls and how that doesn’t work!
PW: Your album Good Sinner was released on September 23rd. Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it?
PJ: It’s a big album for me. Good Sinner was crazy to write. I got to work with awesome producers around Los Angeles and Long Beach in a way I never had before. We went in loose and wrote all the songs the day we met most of the time. After doing several albums in my own world, I wanted to get out and work with great musicians and minds and see how I develop around them. It was a loose, fun trip. I think, one day, I was sitting around and put on Van Helen’s 1983 album on vinyl. What I heard was mother-suckers not playing around but doing big dick songs. And I thought ‘Ima try that. In my own way’.
PW: Do you have a favourite track on the collection, and, if so, which is it and why?
PJ: “Knock Out” would be one my favorites. It’s my vision of rock and roll.
PW: If you could share a stage with four other bands or artists (who can be living or dead), who would they be, and where would you play?
PJ: Shoot, that’s a good question. I like you. What’s your name? My mighty four bands would be The Pharcyde -- all four of them -- Radiohead, DJ Qbert and Beck. We’d perform in Berlin on The Wall. The stage would cover the river and connect both sides of the city. We’d then demand everyone to strip naked.
PW: What are your upcoming tour/performance plans?
PJ: I’m playing at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood October 6th, and I’m planning on touring with some awesome acts soon now that the album is out.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media, and to what extent has it helped establish you as an artist?
PJ: Social media has connected a lot of people from around the world to my music -- without distribution, a lot of the time. It creates a word of mouth buzz easily. My friends in Paris are connected with me because of it -- it’s truly a phenomenon. The ease of people sharing what they like to their friends has opened doors. The industry was put into the hands of the listener, which is healthy. And, because it’s a web of sorts, if someone in Spain liked a song, they can easily share it with a person in Canada. It's good to be connected. Music artists and their videos on an indie level are totally in the hands of the listeners, so you get to really see what people like genuinely and organically.
PW: What else does the rest of the year have in store for you?
PJ: The lovely holidays are upon us, so I plan on spending time with family and writing very weird pop songs. Oh, and listening to a lot of Barry Manilow.
PW: Finally then, what's your ultimate ambition as an artist, and what would you have to achieve in order to happily call it quits?
PJ: A shiny, sexy, little Gold Record. I’m old school.