Pigeon John is a super talented rapper, musician and storyteller. With a home base in Los Angeles and years of experience under his belt, he holds a lot of insight on the music scene in America.
This interview was originally posted as an audio podcast earlier this year, right before Pigeon John’s newest album, Encino Man, was released. Read on to learn more about his views on the exciting genre of American hip hop, its deep connection to blues and rock, and the storytellers who make it all happen.
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This is Kayla here, with your Murfie podcast. This time, we’re featuring a hip hop artist known as Pigeon John, based out of Los Angeles, California. He’s a great character, with a lot of insight on music and life, so it was a real pleasure chatting with him while he was on tour.
[MUSIC: “Oh Yeah” by Pigeon John]
Kayla: Alright, so right now I have Pigeon John on the phone—how’s it all goin’, Pigeon John?
P.J.: It is goin’…very fine and well.
Kayla: Good, good…where are you calling from?
P.J.: I’m calling from Cleveland, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, actually.
Kayla: No way! Oh, that’s so cool!
P.J.: Yeah, yeah we have a show tomorrow in Cleveland and we had a day off today, so everyone—the whole crew—decided to come on down, visit, get inspired, check out some musical inspiration.
Kayla: Cool! Have you seen some cool stuff there today?
P.J.: Yeah, yeah, for sure, a lot, a lot of stuff…and learned a lot, too.
Kayla: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I mean…that place really goes all across the board. All kinds of legends have been honored by them—
P.J.: Oh, yes.
Kayla: So, I would find that very inspiring, too, on tour. I know you just came through Madison, so how much of the tour do you have left to go?
P.J.: Uh, actually we have twenty-five more dates to go on the tour. And uh, so far so good…it’s been a blast.
Kayla: Mmhmm. I think The Grouch & Eligh, they’re playing on Saturday the 15th in Milwaukee with Slightly Stoopid, if I’m not mistaken.
P.J. Yep, the whole tour’s gonna open up for Slightly Stoopid for like, three dates I believe?
P.J.: In Chicago, Milwaukee, and I believe Detroit?
Kayla: Oooh! So you’re gonna be in Milwaukee, too?
P.J.: Are you in Milwaukee? Are you in Milwaukee?!
Kayla: Okay, I’m in Madison but I’m going to that show in Milwaukee, and—
Kayla: Whoa, this is so cool!
P.J.: I’m gonna take you…I’m gonna take you to dinner.
Kayla: Yessssss! Let’s do it! I actually just recorded an interview with Rymo from Slightly Stoopid—
Kayla: Yeah—oh, that’s awesome! Yeah, I’ll see you on Saturday. Ooh, I love that…surprises…oh, how cool.
P.J.: It’s gonna be good—oh yeah.
Kayla: So you say you’ve got twenty-five shows left…wow, that’s quite the tour! And I know you didn’t just start the tour—you’ve been going since how long?
P.J.: We’ve been out for around two and a half weeks so far…started in San Francisco at The Fillmore, then started up into the Northwest, and then the west part of America, and now the Midwest—the mighty mighty Midwest.
Kayla: [Laughs] Awesome.
P.J.: In the house.
Kayla: Yeah. So, are you going back to Los Angeles after the tour?
P.J.: Yeah, the tour ends in L.A. at The Roxy, and then in Pomona, and so we’ll all kind of be back home, so…it’s gonna be fun.
Kayla: Mmhmm. How do you like living in L.A.?
P.J.: Oh, I love livin’ in L.A.—it’s home. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and then moved out to L.A. when I was around three. So it’s definitely home for me, and it’s the place where I found, or fell in love, with music, and the scene, and stuff like that, so it’s kind of engrained in my soul.
Kayla: Yeah, I see that, y’know, that’s kind of where you got started doing what you do—do you remember the first time you ever performed in front of people? Was that in L.A.?
P.J.: Yes, that was in L.A., and it was at an open mic, at The Good Life Café. That was the very first time I got on a—it was a small stage, maybe like six inches tall, so, if you can call that a stage—but it was a health food store that had weekly open mics. So, I went up there—every Thursday they had ‘em—and that was the first time I did like, my songs, and felt the energy from the crowd and stuff, and it was great experience…but yeah, it was right in L.A.
Kayla: Aah. Well that’s good that it worked out so well and you felt the energy. I know a lot of people, when they first do stuff like that, they’re like, shaking, sweating, nervous—did you feel any of that at all?
P.J.: Oh yeah. My routine was—I would get nervous—I would put my name on the list and then I would listen to a couple of acts, but for the most part I would take a walk around the block, over and over and over again, until it was my turn [laughs], and then I would walk in and rock my song, and then it would be easy—the whole night would be easy.
Kayla: Yeah. Oh, cool. Well, you know, you’ve come such a long way from then, you’ve been doing this for years, and you know, over time, you’ve worked with people, you’ve collaborated and everything, so…over time, looking back, what band or musician or person in general has been really, really fun to work with?
P.J.: Oh, man, I would definitely say one of them is [The] Grouch & Eligh, throughout the years. They took me on tour in ’03, like one of my first bigger tours. And I did a song on their record back then called “No More Greener Grasses,” and then we did “All In”, and now we have “Run”…so collaborating with them is definitely one of my favorites, to collaborate.
P.J.: And then along with Blackalicious and the whole Quannum crew, doing songs with them has been pretty fresh…pret-ty fresh. And then goin’ out and opening for [D.J.] Shadow, for a whole month, that was like, life-changing…seein’ his craft, and seein’ how he tours and stuff, and his audiences, so it was great.
Kayla: That’s awesome that you’ve had those great experiences so far…is there anybody that’s on your list, like, “I would love to work with this person one day”?
P.J.: Aw, man, what a great question, oh man…[singing:] Ooooo-eeeee, ooooo-eeeeee… I would love to do a song with Father John Misty, I’m diggin’ his music…and Francis and the Lights. Those two would blow my mind, cause I’m a huge fan of both of theirs…so rockin’ with them, and writing with them would be really really really really really fresh.
Kayla: Mmmmmm. In your opinion, what’s kind of the current hip hop scene looking like to you? I know a lot of genres over the past decade all have their unique areas, and blends…what does it all look like to you now?
P.J. For me, I think it looks the same as when I was a kid.
P.J.: You know, like it’s the same spirit, it’s the same diversity, like you have all types of different groups speaking on all types of different things, from whether it be straight-up partyin’, or conscious stuff, or druggo stuff—you know, all that stuff was happenin’ when I started listenin’ to hip hop, as well. Like, an example is, at the same time N.W.A. was out, you had The Pharcyde, and Freestyle Fellowship, and [The] U.M.C.’s. In the same way right now, you might have the A$AP Mob, and then you also have The Grouch & Elighs, you have the Danny Browns, and you have The Procussions on the more conscious tip.
So, it feels the same, and it’s exciting to know that it’s still…pinpoint sharp. Out of all of the genres out right now, I think it’s the most sharpest, and most uh…dangerous, quote-unquote. Most relevant. I think. Y’know, still gets people nervous!
Kayla: [Laughs] Absolutely.
P.J.: You know? Which I like…I think that should always be that way.
Kayla: Yeah, I was just gonna ask if you think it’s always gonna be that way, or if you see, you know—new developments with how music is made and everything—if you see hip hop going in a certain direction, or you think it’s gonna be pretty steady.
P.J.: It’s the youngest art form out in the world right now, it’s the very youngest. And being in the Hall of Fame right now and seeing all the influences and stuff, and how rock and roll ebbs and flows, and comes and goes, and stuff like that, I think it will definitely be the same. But it’s just, it’s so young that…it’s just alive. You know, it still gives you…you know, the goosebumps and all that stuff? It still has that uh, that vibe to it, so…
And I’m glad to be a part of it, and be doing hip hop music in my way. It’s pretty cool—it’s pretty wild. I know that it’s gonna be a “bleep” in time, ultimately, cause time moves on, but it’s definitely gonna be an addition to…what American music is. And American music is great, ‘cause no American music has gone away or disappeared. Once it’s created, it just stays there—
P.J.: So I think hip hop will be one of them, as well.
Kayla: Absolutely—you know, music, and hip hop, it’s the soundtrack to what’s going on right now, whether it’s a blip or not, and you’re exactly right: Once something is created, it’s always there. And if you really think about it, all music and all creation is just kind of like, making connections—not to sound all far-out, but it’s just kind of making connections.
P.J.: No, yeah! I agree with you.
Kayla: I totally feel that. Well, that’s really awesome, and you’re right: it’s exciting, y’know, to be a musician right now in this world where you can connect with your fans so easily, and I know your fans speak of you highly, so that’s—
P.J.: Aw, that’s nice.
Kayla: Yeah, I mean so you’ve got a good buzz going on right now, and that’s awesome that you’ve got this tour going. You mentioned you’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, surrounded by all these icons and everything, and I know you have a connection to blues music, so tell me about the connection you have to blues.
P.J.: Music really happened to me through the radio—so I was a listener, didn’t know what I was listening to, then I got into it very naturally. ‘Cause it’s like a kid that first saw a skateboarder…you say, “Aw, I wanna do that”—so that’s the same thing, when I heard rap, when I heard hip hop, I said “I wanna do that,” when De La Soul and Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest all came out. And then I got into like—loosely got into, friends started introducing me to—The Smiths, The Beatles, rock and roll ‘90s, and all that stuff…my ears were just opened.
And then when I wanted to dive into creating my own music, with the last record Dragon Slayer—meaning like, approaching it as a singer-songrwiter, like makin’ the beats, makin’ the melodies—you know, it’s really normal and traditional rock and roll to do that? It made me ask where it all came from; you know, all the genres, where they come from…you know? And then I started obviously [with] jazz, and the history, and all this stuff. And when I fell upon blues, I used to think that, “Oh, man, that’s old people’s music”, until I really dived into it and kind of sat with it, and heard the stories, and heard the country music inside it, and heard the boogie-woogie, and the bar music, and basically the dance music that was inside it—that’s what made me fall for it even harder.
And then I realized, like all the names…we’re all blues musicians: I’m Pigeon John, he’s Howlin’ Wolf, that’s Lil Wayne—you know, we all have nicknames, it’s all the same spirit, but it’s just, you know, we use different instruments. That’s the only difference: They use guitars, we use beat machines. When I thought of it like that, I thought, “Man, I’m just in the same realm”, and then it kind of freed me up to tell my stories, my little funny stories, and let all of those influences come out in my form of hip hop. So yeah—that’s how it happened.
Kayla: Yeah—modern blues.
P.J.: Me listenin’ to all the samples throughout the years and then picking up where they got the samples and listening to the original songs myself made me…made me understand that it’s all the same thing. That’s why hip hop samples those older musics, because I think they know that that’s where it came from. So it was a beautiful little circle I went through, you know.
Kayla: Yeah, I was gonna ask—and you just touched on this a bit—how it is that you make your music? You mention beat machines, and samples, and…what is it that you usually do to make your songs?
P.J.: My music, I write it—cause I spent the first four albums using samples and stuff, and then I gave up the idea of sampling, and in my mind I was like, “If they wrote it, I can write it; if they did it, I can do it.” So I just put down the sampler and picked up the instruments around my house—I’m more of a writer, and then I get my friends who are better players to flesh out my ideas and stuff. So, that’s what I did: I put myself in a box and I said, “I’m gonna write all the music, for better or worse—but I’m gonna go out swingin’ though!” Y’know?
Kayla: [Laughs] Yes.
P.J.: ‘Cause all the people who I consider “greats”…they’re songwriters. I always favored the writer—even when it came to literature, like how a book can define a generation and all that stuff. So I love that idea of uh, of trusting your own little voice, and knowing that you’re a part of a big picture, and the only way you’re really gonna shine is by…being your own planet, if you will, y’know. So I just gave up and just started writing these silly-ass songs.
P.J.: [Laughs] Basically!
P.J.: And then it really makes me thankful for when people do show up to the shows, and I’m like, “Wow, this is freaking crazy! This is a blessing,” a huge blessing, cause I really just gambled on myself and focused on havin’ fun, within the industry, y’know?
Kayla: Mmhmm. They like you! You should make that your new catchphrase: “Be your own planet.”
P.J.: Oh, yeah I like that. Yeah.
Kayla: [Laughs] Well, that’s awesome. It’s cool to see the good turn-out so far on the tour. You’re going back to L.A. where you call home…I’m interested to ask, because I lived in California for a year and I’m familiar with Bay Area hip hop, so I was wondering how you could describe the difference between, y’know, L.A. hip hop and Bay Area hip hop—or is there a difference, in your opinion?
P.J.: Oh yeah, I think there’s a huge difference. There’s the city in the Bay—it’s kind of like L.A…it’s like a west-coast New York—then you have Berkeley, you have Oakland, you have San Francisco, you have Marin County. And usually, even though they’re fifteen minutes away from each other, they never go to each other’s neighborhoods…it’s like, if you’re in Berkeley, you’re just in Berkeley. So, uh, it kind of created all, like, five different types of music: it created like, y’know, the E-40s, from Vallejo, and then you have such a diverse explosion that happened, only because they had a separation between them—I think, y’know.
Then L.A., it’s like that, but we don’t have any bridges—we’re just really wide out. We’re just like cowboy-land desert country, so you can get lost very easily, and you can just disappear right in the middle of everybody, in L.A. So, the L.A. hip hop has always been very wide. The creator of gangsta rap is also one of the creators of the jazz-infused Freestyle Fellowship, and all at the same time, and all in the same neighborhood—it’s crazy, y’know. And that’s why I’m a huge fan of Kendrick Lamar, and how it’s from the same town, but the music is absolutely different from N.W.A. Bret Easton Ellis said [in] one of his novels [Less Than Zero], “disappear here”: In L.A., you can be on the same block but you’re not talking to anyone, you’re not a part of what they’re doing…even within the same room.
So, L.A. has that weird, mysterious vibe to the town. It is California hip hop, but it’s definitely…L.A. is more, I would say, wide-open, only because it’s just a wide-open city, and the Bay Area is more condensed, but the diversity is the same—the explosion is the same.
Kayla: Mmhmm. Wow—interesting! It’s cool to hear that from your point of view, someone who’s spent a really, y’know, a significant amount of time there. And so I wanted to ask: Is there anything you’re currently working on putting out right now—
P.J.: Oh, yeah.
Kayla: —that we can see, in the next…whenever?
P.J.: Yep. I got the new album, Encino Man, comin’ out April 29th—
P.J.: And we’re droppin’ singles very soon, within a couple days, and yeah…that’s the newest new. And then I’ll be hopefully back on tour in the spring.
Kayla: Mmhmm. Awesome. Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing what you put out. Is it gonna be pretty much along the similar lines of where you’ve been going lately, or is it gonna be something that takes us by surprise?
P.J.: I think it’s gonna be like a continuation. I’m not really sure how people might receive it, but definitely, in my mind, I wanted to work with the same producer, and write it in the same way of Dragon Slayer, so that’s what’s goin’ on.
Kayla: Cool. Well hey, Pigeon John, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today. I’ll definitely see you on Saturday in Milwaukee.
P.J.: Sounds good.
Kayla: [Laughs] Alright—take care.
[MUSIC: “Oh Yeah” by Pigeon John]
Kayla: And that was Pigeon John. To learn more, check out pigeonjohn.com. What you’re hearing right now is a clip of the track, “Oh Yeah”, from his upcoming album, Encino Man, coming out April 29th, and ready for pre-order on murfie.com. Thanks for listening, everyone—I’ll see ya next time.
Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.