Martians in the swift-changing landscape of buzz bands, video premieres, and Pitchfork culture, experimental dream-pop band Pigeons quietly released their seventh album, The Bower, via the small, London-based label MIE. Their blissful reclusiveness (literally: the band lives and records in the thicket of New York's Hudson Valley) is frustrating on some level because they've gone largely unnoticed despite a steady output since 2005. And while Pigeons' discography remains a secret garden of sorts for music nerds, it doesn't make them pretentious or inaccessible. The Bower is so genuinely beautiful that it belies a bohemian simplicity. These are talented musicians dedicated to their craft.
At the core of Pigeons is Wednesday Knudsen and Clark Griffin, longtime Brooklyn residents up until their more recent move to Austerlitz, N.Y., where they built a studio and can make all the noise they please. In the past, the married couple collaborated with a revolving cast of musicians, including Jason Meagher (No-Neck Blues Band), Nathan Bowles (Black Twig Pickers), and most recently drummer Rob Smith. As frontwoman, Knudsen draws inspiration from 1960s yé yé, sometimes singing in French, while Griffin counters her plaintive sweetness with a shoegaze style guitar that morphs — at times acidy, then reverb heavy, then clear toned and folky.
Smith's drumming lends a jazz sensibility to the whole psych-folk thing, enabling Knudsen and Griffin to expand and experiment. The Bower successfully manages to reign in their breadth of influences, resulting in Pigeons' most exciting and pop-driven LP to date. That being said, listening to this album is still a kaleidoscopic experience, lending sound to color and leaving you a little bit stoned at the end. In anticipation of their Trinosophes show on July 16, Knudsen answered a few of our questions.
Metro Times: The Bower's album art seems to feature just that, a lovely retreat hidden beneath the dark shade of looming trees. How has the move from Brooklyn to wooded Hudson Valley changed your perspective and influenced your sound?
Wednesday Knudsen: This album is unique for us in that each song is a reflection of a particular environment, an interaction with the beauty that surrounds this location. Time moves more slowly here and this has affected both how we hear and how we sound. We are very fortunate now to be able to play music at any hour and at any volume, something that was impossible in the city.
MT: What has the addition of Rob Smith on drums and vocals lent to the long-standing lineup of you and Clark? Has the song writing process changed?
Knudsen: Before we met Rob, our long-term drummer was "Sammy," a drum machine. For live performances we did work with many of our friends, including the wonderful Nathan Bowles and Jason Meagher who both now play with Steve Gunn. But it was with Sammy that we would develop and write most of our songs. However, while Sammy was reliable, he was not very flexible. With Rob, the sonic atmosphere is altogether different, and the new songs owe much of their compositional character to the possibilities and dynamics that have come with this happy change.
MT: Which tracks off The Bower stand out to you or do you consider favorites?
Knudsen: "Foxglove" is certainly the most thrilling to play! Clark's favorite is "Not a Party," and Rob's is "The Mountain." Mine is "Underneath the Maple Tree."
MT: I've designated my summer 2015 the summer of the Byrds' Preflyte. What have you been listening to lately?
Knudsen: The summer's musical theme is still taking shape. We're all very taken with Light in the Attic's Native North America box set. The collection is a masterpiece. Michael Chapman and Mike Cooper are in heavy rotation along with Gene Clark and the Dillards. We have been listening often to Sublime Frequencies' Folk Music of the Sahel and 1970s Algerian Folk and Pop. Carrying over from winter, we have a newfound love for the Mamas and the Papas (particularly "Deliver") as well as for Cass Elliot's other musical endeavors. We've been acquiring a lot of new records, so we've been dipping our toes in many different musical waters. 2015, however, is the year of Moon Man, a great and very groovy record by Charles Lloyd.
MT: Your vocals have drawn a wide range of comparisons from '60s songstress Françoise Hardy to '90s Broadcast frontwoman Trish Keenan. Which vocalists do you truly consider an influence?
Knudsen: The lightness and grace of Françoise Hardy has certainly been an influence. Trish Keenan's singing is so special, it is in a class all its own! I love Karen Carpenter, Grace Slick, and Sandy Denny, the amazing jazz wildness of Annette Peacock and the dusky melancholy of Nico. Because of the particularities and constraints of my voice, I mostly think first in terms of melody and then try to find a way into it vocally.
MT: Pigeons has achieved a multi-layered, multi-instrumental sound that could guide a waking dream, and yet I'm sure it involves a very technical aspect. What have been some of the more pleasurable instruments/tools in your repertoire of sound?
Knudsen: Of course reverb and guitar pedals are first in line for the tally of favorite essentials. But equally pleasant and indispensable has been the time we've spent at Black Dirt studio with our friend Jason Meagher as he works his magic — from the capture of sound to final mixing and production. Along with the inspiration of our favorite records, awareness of the intricacies and possibilities of this process has been very important. Each song has its quickening in its arrangement, whether with the addition of saxophones or flutes, multiple harmonies or the addition effects in unexpected places. After that, the song becomes its own entity, something more than just the three of us.
MT: What's next for you guys? Do you have any advice for new bands who aim to stick together for a while?
Knudsen: Next up for us is this short tour and then to work on new songs. The length of our journey together as Pigeons has had everything to do with our musical community, which we consider to be our family. Our commitment is all to the muse, and this good company in devotion to something so fickle and fleeting has made the commitment a joy.
Pigeons and special guests Tony Pasquarosa and Andrew Barrett perform at Trinosophes on Thursday, July 16; doors at 8 p.m.; 1464 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; trinosophes.com; $7.
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