Interview - Pigeon Detectives: Bowman and crew set their course for home

The Pigeon Detectives are back with a new album and a short UK tour. Chris Bond caught up with frontman Matt Bowman.

Matt Bowman is in a good mood after he and his bandmates kicked off their latest tour with a “chaotic” gig in the North East.

The Pigeon Detectives have earned a reputation for their frenetic live shows and it seems they’re living up to expectations, which means that next week’s homecoming gig in Leeds could be a rumbustious affair.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We normally start a new tour in Leeds, but I like to be fully in our stride when we play our homecoming gig because it’s where it all started, so this time we’re going to finish there,” says their charismatic frontman.

It’s not the only change the band has made. Having recorded both their previous albums at the Old Chapel studios, in Leeds, they opted for a change in scenery, swapping Holbeck for New York. “It was amazing. I’ve been there before but to spend two months living like a New Yorker was incredible. Sometimes we wouldn’t be finished in the studio till after midnight and the streets were still busy,” he says. “Some of our favourite bands have come from New York and if we wanted to capture a bit of that on our record it seemed to make sense to be in a studio there, rather than a farmhouse in North Wales.”

Given their strong connections to Leeds – Bowman, along with guitarists Oli Main and Ryan Wilson, bassist Dave Best and drummer Jimmi Naylor all grew up together in nearby Rothwell – it might seem strange to change what has proved a successful formula.

But this is an important time for The Pigeon Detectives who are no longer the new kids on the block they were in 2007 when their debut album, Wait for Me, stormed into the top five in the UK charts and they were being championed by Radio 1’s kingmaker Zane Lowe.

It’s something the band is well aware of, which is why they wanted to push the boat out with their third album Up, Guards And At ‘Em.

“We work as hard now as we did with our first record. If anything we are more hungry and we have more of a point to prove because there are a lot of new bands coming through and we perhaps don’t get written about in the NME in the same way we used to. So you have to work extremely hard to keep your position and keep your fan base,” says Bowman.

“The only yardstick we had is we wanted the new album to be better than the last. We don’t try to be like Radiohead and make a record that fans don’t recognise, but we wanted to test ourselves in terms of trying to get people thinking about the music.

“As any band will tell you, the more songs you write, the better you get and the new songs are definitely more crafted. We had 40 songs which we whittled down to 10. Our first record was basically a live set turned into a record, but with the new album we were very aware we were making a record and wanted to do more than just plug in and play.”

So as well as upping sticks to the US they enlisted the help of producer Justin Gerrish. “We wanted an up-and-coming producer and he stripped the songs to the barest bones and then we built them up again. We also brought in different instruments including a marxophone – a wooden box with 15 keys that I’d only ever heard Coldplay use before – to help create a different sound.”

It’s a busy time for the band who, as well as a new album and tour to promote, will once again be rocking the crowds at this summer’s Leeds and Reading festivals. “I used to go to the festival as a punter before I was even in a band,” says Bowman.

“I remember going to see bands like The Strokes and Pulp and they’re both playing this festival which makes it even better.”

When The Pigeon Detectives played their first gig in 2004 at The Pack Horse pub, in Headingley, they could have scarcely dreamt of reaching the dizzy heights they have today. But they’re clearly enjoying the ride.

“It has lived up to everything I thought it would be. I’m speaking to you from the back of a tour bus, but I remember when we first started out we used to travel to gigs in the back of a white van we bought for £300.

“You wake up in Glasgow and you go to bed in Manchester and you make a living from your music, what could be better?”

The Pigeon Detectives play Leeds Metropolitan University on April 12.

The Pigeon Detectives – Homing in on success

The Pigeon Detectives formed in 2002 and were championed by DJs Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley.

Their first gig was in 2004 when they sold out The Pack Horse pub in Headingley.

The band’s debut album, Wait for Me, reached number three in the UK charts.

By the end of 2008 their first two albums had sold more than 500,000 copies in the UK.

Their new album, Up, Guards And At ‘Em was released this week, it includes the new single Done in Secret.

The quintet will be playing this year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals.