Interview: Matt Bowman from The Pigeon Detectives

Matt Bowman, sitting on a table with bandmates
Matt Bowman, sitting on a table with bandmates

Formed in 2002 The Pigeon Detectives are Matt Bowman on lead vocals, Oliver Main and Ryan Wilson on guitars, Dave Best on bass, and Jimmi Naylor on drums. Friends from school, they’ve known each other since they were 12 years old. The band enjoyed a meteoric rise, starting out on the local scene in Leeds then making a breakthrough by selling over half a million copies of their debut album Wait for Me.

Fifth Album Broken Glances puts the Pigeon Detectives back on the road for a nationwide tour, followed by dates in Europe and festival appearances over the summer. The album is released on 24th February and the band will play Stereo on 5th March.

Glasgowist spoke to Matt Bowman before their trip to Glasgow.

So, there’s been a bit of a break since the release of your last album. What have you been doing for the last four years?

To be honest, it always feels like a break to everybody else. But for us, we’ve kept fairly busy. Once we released the previous album, you know, you spend 18 months to two years touring and promoting, and promoting that record. That’s a process you have to go through.

You do the UK, then out to Europe, and then you sat down to write a new record. We’re on to our difficult fifth album now so we wanted to really kinda challenge ourselves and do something different. While some writing comes quite easy to us as a band, we didn’t take the easy option this time round.

It just took that little bit longer to try and go against our instincts, I suppose, in the practice room and try and craft a piece of work that wouldn’t resemble anything we’ve done previously.

Was part of that maybe looking back over the last four albums and trying to think about how things have changed through that progression musically?

We’ve always just written what comes naturally. I think because of the kind of bands we’re always listening to and the kind of reputation we get as a live band. That kind of song writing, it just tended to be quite in your face and quite immediate.

We could have done that again you know. That would have been the easy option but we decided to sit back and write songs that take you on a journey and go somewhere and don’t reveal themselves in the first verse and chorus.

It gives time for the song to develop and that didn’t necessarily come naturally to us. I think the hard work and the extra time we took over the song writing it shines through in the album. It was definitely worth it.

In terms of your live show, how does that process influence what the band will be like on stage now?

Previously, we’ve always been influenced by how a song might be put across live or how it might be interpreted at a gig. But on this record, we purely wrote kind of set out to make a listening experience for our fans at home with a set of headphones on. And, yeah we have given ourselves a little bit of a headache as to how we translate that into a live scenario now.

But, it’s a nice headache to have because, again, we’re challenging ourselves and we’re going to be doing something different. And that keeps things exciting.

Is there a particular way that you approach song-writing as a band?

Yeah, we tend to just lock ourselves away in a rehearsal room with no windows for a couple of years. All five us talking, arguing, making friends, arguing again, falling out, making friends, going for a pint, crawling out the pub.

So it can be quite arduous because there’s such strong personalities in the band. And while myself and Oliver tend to come up with the concepts of songs or do the bulk of the song-writing there’s certainly three other opinions in the room that will keep us in check and have very strong feelings on where a song should go or how it should develop.

I wonder if there is any kind of pressure when you are working on a record, do people start whispering in your ear, saying “where’s the next release?”

Well, we own our own record label which, somehow, we’ve managed to keep that a secret for five years. We’ve not been given the credit we deserve for it, but we’ve put our albums out on our own label.

So back in the day when “Wait for Me” went platinum, we were courted by all the major record labels in London. We decided that we’d put it out on a Leeds label Dance To The Radio which didn’t have two pennies to rub together so they gave us 10% shares in the label. Then when that album went platinum again, we were courted by all the major labels in London and Dance To The Radio just offered us another 10% of shares. That’s been a real good arrangement we’ve had with them.

Dance With The Radio’s always been a record label that was set up in the first place to liberate artists and give them total control over releases.

So you don’t put put pressure on yourselves, you take the time to get things the way you want them on an album?

There’s no pressure at all. There would be pressure if, you know, financially constrained. As in people needed the money. That kind of ruin the process I suppose if you were writing an album to release it out of financial purposes.

I don’t think there’s ever been any pressure by ourselves. We’ve got a back catalogue that can support any kind of job that we ever want to do. We’ve got a loyal fan base that turn up and see us play live and then go out and buy a new album if and when it’s ready.

I think we’re in a real luck position to be in. The way we’ve released our music we don’t need to put any pressure on ourselves. There’s certainly none from the record label. I think it’s where a lot of bands from our era may have fallen by the way side. You know, being dropped or not being able to handle the pressure or not living up to certain expectations or targets and kind of disbanded. But, we’ve never had that upon ourselves.

A lot of your original fan base were maybe at school or at college when they bought your first album. So you’re playing to them at a different stage of their life, and you’re at a different stage of life, so how’s the live experience changed since you first started out?

You know, it’s quite a phenomena really because our fan base seems to be growing, at least from a live point of view. Because, we’ve got the people that came and watched us 10 years ago, but we’ve also got people that were possibly, listening to Take Her Back, I found Out, I’m Not Sorry on their way to school when their mums and dads are dropping them off.

Or on their way home from school maybe on the radio in the car, obviously they weren’t old enough to go to gigs back then. Maybe we were their first favourite band. Maybe we were the first album they bought and their all old enough to come to the gigs now.

The demographic has stayed the same, it’s just different people. People that weren’t old enough to come to the gig are now coming and the people that were cheering on the band from the first, their all 10 years older and they’ve kind of taken a step back to the back of the room.

Apart from the UK tour dates announced at the moment Matt, are festivals going to be an important part of the summer for you?

Yeah I mean festivals have been an important part of every summer. It’s all I’ve done for the last 10 years. I think we be stuck sitting on our hands if we didn’t get a call to go play this festival or that festival. It’s such a great way to promote an album.

People will turn up to a festival and walk through the roster and they’ll come and watch you because they’re a big fan of the band. And other people, they’ll just be strolling around the field and happen upon you and that’s how you make new fans and that’s how you kind of get your music out to people that ordinarily would not have sat down and listened to a CD all the way through. Festivals are a real important part of every band’s summer. Especially ours. We love playing festivals.

I wonder, from a band’s perspective, when you’re on the bill at a festival and you’re standing in front of the swathe of people. Is that a slightly different test to when you’re in somewhere like Stereo, a smaller venue where there’s more opportunity to make an immediate connection with the audience? Do you approach these tasks differently or is it the same thing?

You know, I watch a lot of bands at festivals and I think we’re possibly one of the few bands that request our crew to set our equipment up the same as if we were playing a smaller venue.

What I mean by that is we played our first few festivals and we just couldn’t get comfortable with one guitarist being at one end of the stage and one at the other end. Let alone there being no interaction between those in the audience. There was actually no interaction between the band and that really doesn’t work for us.

So we always insist our crew set all our equipment up as if we’re playing a small stage and if somebody wants to run off to the side of the stage or jump off it, that’s their prerogative. But in terms of being able to make eye contact, communicate, have a laugh with each other on stage, that’s why we do it. We definitely prefer it.

So you’re still having fun on stage?

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I personally enjoy the writing and recording process but I could certainly take it out of the equation. It’s a nightmare to write. It’s a nightmare to record. At the end of it, I know there’s going to be the reward of going on a tour and a couple of summers of festivals.

Going out to Europe with my four best mates and being paid to do it. The live side of it, while that remains exciting and a pleasure, I think the band will continue. Yeah, certainly not lost any of the gusto for playing live.

The album that you’ve got coming out, what are the stand out tracks for you. The ones that when you laid them down you got real excited?

They change on a daily basis. I mean obviously we released Enemy Lines as a single because that’s one we all agreed is a strong track. There is a song there called Falling in Love which is probably the most honest, straight-backed song that we’ve ever done.

It’s almost just a piano and my vocals for 75% of the track. Then suddenly everybody kind of turns up and starts hitting their instruments as hard as they can through this kind of middle section that’s absolutely gigantic. And then, all of that falls away and it’s just me and the piano again and I think that’s quite an endearing track.

And then, Sounding the Alarm. Sounding the Alarm could quite easily have come off of the Empire of the Sun album. I’m sure it has that electronic driving kind of sound but at the same time it is full of melodies. Yeah I think there’s a few tracks on there. I think every track’s a surprise. I think every track on this album would have felt distinctly out of place on previous albums.

How do the band find life on the road? It’s a fairly hefty time investment and I suppose every time you lay down an album you have to go out and promote it.

You don’t have to go out and promote it. I mean, I think if you didn’t want to do it, you’re probably in the wrong job. We’re going out on tour in a week and we’ve got a band WhatsApp group and it’s all we talk about.

We have to jump on the bus and be in Manchester one day, Edinburgh the next, over to Glasgow, drive down to Newcastle. We make our way down to London. We have a day off and then over to Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich. You don’t have to get yourself ready for that.

That’s a three week holiday with your mates and you get to play every night. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

We know the Scottish crowds always tend to be the stand out crowds of the tour. Anytime we play Edinburgh, Glasgow, we once went up to Fort William. We’ve always had great shows. We definitely look forward to coming up there. I think the crowds just … There’s a certain kind of appreciation for bands you get from a Scottish crowd that you possibly don’t get elsewhere, especially in London where everyone’s a bit more reserved and you almost have to drag the life out of them. I think people know how to have a good time in Scotland.

The Pigeon Detectives Tour: March 2017

2 Mar: Whelan’s, Dublin
3 Mar: Limelight 2, Belfast
4 Mar: Electric Circus, Edinburgh
5 Mar: Stereo, Glasgow
7 Mar: The Leadmill, Sheffield
8 Mar: O2 Institute 2, Birmingham
9 Mar: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
10 Mar: Sugarmill, Stoke
11 Mar: Gorilla, Manchester
13 Mar: Thekla, Bristol
14 Mar: Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
15 Mar: Electric Ballroom, London
29 April: Live at Leeds

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