Talking Heads: Amongst The Pigeons

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

Amongst The Pigeons is the name under which Worthing-based artist Daniel Parsons makes his electronic music. Those Stolen Moments is his new album, regenerating the project after a few years’ hiatus. One of the tracks on the album, Perching, was inspired by a distinctive rhythm from the clinking of coffee cups – so it seemed only appropriate to decamp to a cafe for a discussion on electronic music and the stolen moments Daniel needed to make it.

His way in to electronic music was a heartening one. “For me it was when I was at school doing GCSEs in the early 1990s, listening to John Peel on the radio. Probably the biggest electronica influence I got in to was Orbital. I saw them a lot at festivals, and then into the mid-1990s it was The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. It was a tried and tested route I guess!”

All roads eventually led to Britain’s biggest festival. “I watched Orbital on TV at Glastonbury ’94, the first year it was televised, and then I went to the 1995 festival, which was the first time I went. I was 15 and I’d just finished my GCSEs, and Orbital played the main stage just before Pulp. On the Friday the Prodigy played on the other stage, which was brilliant. It was the first time I’d been to Glastonbury, and one of the things I remember was a lady in her fifties or sixties coming up to me and saying, “D’you wanna buy some pills?” It really freaked me out! Orbital were on the main stage on Saturday, and it was brilliant. Happy memories.”

Parsons has kept an open musical mind since then, though “probably less so as I’ve got older. Having said that in the past couple of years I’ve tried to get back into listening to newer music, and I’m following newer stuff. Growing up I was always the kid in the common room who would put on all of the new music. I used to go to Our Price on a Monday, buy new releases and try to influence everyone else.”

The shift online has been telling. “I follow a lot of blogs these days. A place I always used to go for new music was John Peel or The Evening Session on Radio 1. I don’t listen to the radio a lot but I do read blogs and follow stuff on Twitter. You get waves of stuff that bubbles up to you, like the BUNKR album that has come out recently. One of his tracks is on the playlist that I’ve done for Arcana.”

We move on to the making of Those Stolen Moments, recorded in pockets of time that Daniel had to seek out for musical use. “When I made my first album, most of the songs on it started out as two minutes long, which is the time you take to brush your teeth – and so it was called Music To Brush Your Teeth To! With Those Stolen Moments the idea behind that was more around the opportunity I had to make music. Being at work and having a family means you don’t have a ton of time to do stuff, so I would find time sitting in a coffee shop with a laptop, building up an idea, or on a train, as I have a four hour commute – or in between other things that were going on. It was taking an opportunity to progress my music a little bit more. A lot of the songs would come together late at night, so everyone else would go to bed and I’d be up between 10 and 1-3 in the morning. The stolen moment is if you don’t do it then, you won’t do it at all! I did purposefully try to keep things around two and half or three minutes with the new stuff.”

Does the album purposely fit today’s shorter attention span society? “Well my wife is one of my biggest critics”, he laughs, “and she can get incredibly bored of things. If we listen to an album you’ll get to track five and she’ll be bored of it. I always think of trying to power through but without cutting off what something could become – trying to include lots of ideas or journeys in a short space of time. A lot of the ideas do start off a big longer, but things get pruned over time. A lot of dance music is about the 12-beat introduction and the slow build, whereas I like the slow build very quickly!”

Inflight Entertainment, the album’s second track, began on the airport gravel itself. “I was recording it on my iPhone on GarageBand, and it was initially the take-off noises and the air stewardess talking. There’s a bit where I’ve cut out some of the words she says, looped them back through and they trickle in the background as a noise, building up the effect of where it was recorded. Perching is the same, with the cluttering of the cutlery turning it in to something that told a story. I was aware of the rhythm going on, and the beat in the song is very much edited to be in time with it.”

By contrast, Polly Bee Gone goes much lower. “That’s a weird one. I was working on it when I didn’t know that I was going to rejuvenate Amongst The Pigeons, and it’s one of the heavier, more dubstep-based sounds that I generally don’t go too near.”

The 25th Hour, meanwhile, celebrates the extra hour available when British Summer Time segues into Greenwich Mean Time – and was in fact made in that 60 minutes of freedom. “It links into the whole stolen moments theme running through the album, about taking any opportunity and doing something where you don’t usually have time to do it.”

Meanwhile there is a subtle warmth and humour running through tracks like Beautiful Negative Space. “I’m glad that comes through,” he says. “The earlier stuff I did was very much sample-based, trying to find unusual comedy in a way in some of the music I make. As I was making the Amongst The Pigeons stuff it started going down a route where it lost some of that frivolity, and when I was doing this I wanted it to be fun. Tracks like Thinking Is Addictive, you have the sample that takes me through and the noises in there that are all about trying to make it more accessible as electronica.”

One producer that comes to mind when listening to Parsons’ music is Andy Votel – though it should be stressed the two are individual voices, their common ground in the snapshot approach they can take to electronic instrumentals. “I listened to a lot of his stuff when I was at university, along with Lemon Jelly and Mr Scruff, and I always try to keep an element of them in there as well. I try to find that little element of humour wherever I can.”

Parsons refers affectionately to his place of recording as the ‘sheddio’, a place for his musical self in the garden, bolted onto the family home. Does the location come through to him in the music? “That’s a very good question”, he says, “and quite poignant in terms of doing this album. When I made the older Amongst The Pigeons stuff I did a lot in hotel rooms, trains and planes when I used to travel with work, and I never used to think about the context of where people would listen to it. When I was restarting I was keen to get back to doing it live, and found it difficult to find the right tempo for an hour-long live show with the older stuff. I kept trying to bring the newer songs into the live show. In terms of what I hear back when I listen to them, it’s some of those shows that I’ve done.”

Having had formative experiences with electronic music at Glastonbury, Daniel is now making them for himself. “I played The 25th Hour there this year, and I remembered the exact moment where it really kicks in, and all the people in the tent were dancing to it. I remember the songs more from live performances now than when they were recorded. When I’m in the ‘sheddio’ the majority of it is looking at triangular and pyramid tiles. The other thing I’ve been trying to do recently is to record standing up, rather than sit down to record and program, so that when I’m looping things I’m thinking of how it will work playing live. When you’re in a band you’re stood up and playing, but when you’re doing electronic music you’re sitting down and programming.”

Radio support from previous Amongst The Pigeons material was headed by Steve Lamacq, whose positive take was “I’ve no idea how to describe this, but I really like it!” “He’s played some of my stuff a few times”, says Parsons. “There was one he played where he said that, and there was another one where I made a song called Waiting In The Rain. I hadn’t realised but there is a sound that is like electronic ‘cooing’ at the start. He played it and said, “I like the way he’s captured the electronic cooing”, which I hadn’t thought about. I really like that first quote as a comment though.”

It is a phrase a good many artists would be happy with, away from categorisation or ‘amongst the pigeon’ holing, so to speak. With that in mind, what are his hopes for the album? “That a couple of people listen to it! For me it was all about resetting, a statement to say I’m back and making music again after a six-year break. If new people like it that’s great, and if people who have listened to me before like it that’s great too, and they will hopefully tell other people to listen to it. It’s not about selling loads of copies, as I’m not doing a physical release, but if people say it’s cool then I’m happy.”

There are live dates too, despite the occasionally daunting prospect of a one-man musical show. “It can be daunting, and it was the thing I found hardest doing this album. In the gap between albums I was releasing music with my friend Ollie as Exactly Zero, and within that we always had each other as sounding boards to decide when something was finished or where it should go. One of the things I struggled with on this album was questioning whether anything was good at all, and trying to get the confidence back to be able to be self-critical with it. On the live element, when it’s just you standing there and talking to people, you can feel quite exposed. It’s hard work, but it’s nice that I’m my own boss, can do anything when I want and don’t have to rely on anyone else!”

Listen & Buy

You can order Those Stolen Moments, the new album from Amongst The Pigeons, by clicking this link

Meanwhile the ATP Bandcamp site enables streaming and purchase of the album:

Daniel’s playlist choices and a review of the album will appear on Arcana soon. For more information on Amongst The Pigeons, head to the artist website

1 thought on “Talking Heads: Amongst The Pigeons

  1. Pingback: Interview with Arcana – Amongst The Pigeons

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