Pigeon Johns voice sounds watery over his cell phone. It doesnt help that hes squashed into the booth of a pizza parlor with the rest of indie hip-hop crew L.A. Symphony, enjoying a hearty repast before a show tonight in San Diego. Is scarfing down a large pie really the best thing before rocking the mike? Ive noticed that when we just meet at the venue and go onstage right away, were not clicking as good, says Pigeon (a.k.a. John Dunkin). Thats why now we kick it beforehand so were all on the same page.
Its worth noting that L.A. Symphony, at eight members strong (Pigeon, bTwice, Sharlok Poems, Joey the Jerk, Flynn, Uno Mas, CookBook and J-Beits), released their sophomore album, Call It What You Want, without splintering into a zillion side projects they cant afford to. As much theater ensemble as beat farmers, the members depend on one another. Were always trying different routines, using ourselves as props, simple eye candy so that even if its us all in sync just lifting an index finger, it looks fresh. Were actually trying to distract people from our music. Peoples attention spans are short enough as it is.
Along with Jurassic 5 and Freestyle Fellowship, L.A. Symphony cut their teeth at Leimert Parks Good Life Café on Thursdays open-mike night back in the day. I developed a thicker skin, since you learn real fast what you can and cant do, says Pigeon. Theyd yell, Pass the mike! if they didnt like what you were doing or if you cussed. But if you blew it up, theyd laugh and scream. The Good Life discipline soon gave way to Project Blowed, the label/club associated with indie-rap darling Aceyalone. They had less rules, you could cuss, and so it was like there was no one to check them anymore instead of using [the open-mike session] to grow, they were using it to claim they were Kings of the Underground.
L.A. Symphonys profanity-free good-vibin is where the similarities with other rappers ends. Take the Broadway pageantry of Champion Birdwatchers. Theres nothing in hip-hop like this musical spoof, which sees each of the MCs sabotage each others efforts to woo the neighborhood honey but she aint having it: Look yall are some busters/First of all you stank and you need some new clothes/This is Fox Hills mall to the fullest. I wanted it to be like a game-show-type setup, says Pigeon, where the theme is the same as that one Tom and Jerry cartoon, you know where all those cats are lined up on the fence, serenading the girl cat? Were no good at getting the ladies, but were pros at watching them.
From the sample-icious medley of hometown ode L.A. to the funk-lite swing of Very Expensive to the bass-snare boom-bap of lead single Broken Tape Decks and the brassed-off Latin groove of Authentic, there are simply too many flavas in Call It What You Wants sonic grab bag to list here. Thats what happens when you farm out production duties to the disparate likes of Mario C. of Beastie Boys fame, Black Eyed Peas Will.I.Am and the golden Prince Paul. But lets not overemphasize the name-brand knob-twiddlers, because the inspiration stays in-house: We always go to J-Beits when we need a hook. Hes an encyclopedia of styles.
While L.A. Symphony were kicking about for a recording deal, there was no dearth of interest from major-
labeldom, but the group decided to go with the unproven Squint Entertainment. The tiny Nashville-based labels only positive was breaking pop band Sixpence None the Richer, and it had never signed a hip-hop act. It was a hard decision, but the sense we had was, Hey, theyre not gonna drop us if we dont sell 100,000 copies our first week, because they believe in us. They were up-front on what they knew about hip-hop, and if there was something they didnt understand, they would hire someone who did.
As with their business associates, the Symphony have a knack for building an instant rapport with audiences the mass of swaying bodies and bobbing heads at Santa Monicas Temple Bar recently confirmed that. Why just the other day, the bands publicist called Pigeon up to say that Call It What You Wants lyrics helped him with relationship problems he was having. Theres no envy-creating bling-bling here just a big slice of regular-guy lives.
Urban radio doesnt like you if you dont have a track about drugs, cars or booty, Pigeon says wearily. Were not saying all that stuff isnt real or isnt art, its just that it doesnt have anything to do with our lives. Doing laundry, going to movies, hanging out in bookstores thats the stuff thats important to us, and the music reflects it.
L.A. SYMPHONY Call It What You Want | (Squint)
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