Sunday, December 20, 2009

Interview: The Commercial Success of Landon Pigg

Who says people don’t watch or listen to commercials anymore? Pish posh. Commercials for iPods and automobiles have propelled unknowns or revived classics with one thirty second television spot. Recently AT&T featured a virtual unknown singer-songwriter based out of Tennessee, Landon Pigg. After AT&T used Pigg’s single, “Falling In Love In A Coffee Shop”, a lot more people noticed Pigg than before.

What also grew Pigg’s visibility this year was his co-starring role as Oliver in the major motion picture, Whip It. Directed by Drew Barrymore, Pigg’s character was the love interest of Ellen Page’s character, Bliss Cavendar. Playing the role of musician on the big screen wasn’t too much of stretch for Pigg, but the star treatment and lifestyle during the time the movie was filmed was new for Pigg. So was being recognized from his big screen debut.

More importantly Pigg released his second studio album, The Boy Who Never. That is the album that his worldwide hit calls home as well as other songs that are in a different direction for Pigg musically. We caught up with Landon Pigg while in Austin and chatted with him about the album, how his life has changed and what was up with Oliver not calling Bliss while on tour.

Tell me what is special for you about The Boy Who Never.

Pigg: It’s my second full length. It houses the song “Coffee Shop” which is nice. Before it was a bit of an orphan with no home expect for digitally. I love the fact that it’s half and half. It’s kind of moody. It has some slow songs on it which wouldn’t have even been considered for our first album. The fact that I made an album where I can write those kind of slow songs feels good. The other half is really fun and sunny. It was recorded in California.

So do you think “Coffee Shop” sort of set that up for you to do more ballads like that?

Pigg: It did. It set the tone to be able to express this other part of me that I didn’t really get to showcase before. I had to make sure I had my upbeat songs as well because I didn’t want to lull people to sleep on tour.

Did you get more a “star treatment” on this album compared to your previous recordings?

Pigg: Um, no. The other one is where I was flying around to all sorts of different places: London, Memphis, Canada and L.A. It ended up being sporadic and didn’t have a lot of continuity.

Does The Boy Who Never feel like more of your own to you then?

Pigg: It does. The way I see it, an artist is like an onion and has a lot of layers to them. What the public gets to see isn’t necessarily the core, but it’s just a matter of how many layers can be peeled off in front of the public. Catalysts that keep layers on can be major labels that can maybe pressure you to write a hit radio single or something. It’s more my own in that more layers have been shed since LP, but they are both my own.

Is there a significant meaning or story behind the album title?

Pigg: It absolutely does. It’s all within the lyrics in that song. I’m struggling to overcome that way off life, that paradigm.

Let’s go back to talking about “Coffee Shop” for a second. How did that change your life and in what aspects exactly? I take it that it wasn’t an overnight thing.

Pigg: It hasn’t been overnight, that’s for sure. There were countless club tours that people don’t know about. The cool thing about it is my career was kind in lull after the first album. I wasn’t really talking with the label that much, nor did I have management. I was actually wondering if I should get a job at a coffee shop. I was honestly considering it. I got together with some friends in Nashville one night, one of them being Peter (keyboard). He asked I was up to do some recording. At that time it had been a while since I recorded anything, so I said “sure”. We recorded the song and we really liked. We recorded it on a day.

“Coffee Shop” was recorded in just one day?

Pigg: Just one day. We really liked it and over time I had people to play it for. I never thought while recording it that anyone would hear it. I was just coming off this uber catchy chorus, repeat chorus at the end, upbeat and all sorts of that stuff. I didn’t think my label would like the song. It’s funny when a song like that becomes your flagship song. It has changed my world in a way. I’m on more people’s radar whom I haven’t met before.

Are you at point where you are kind of getting tired of talking about it yet?

Pigg: I still don’t know how to talk about it really. I’m not very objective about them. I’m not sick of playing it. It is very subtle, not trying to beat anyone over the head. I just kind of enjoy that melody.

That’s interesting to hear you say that. So many artists, when they have a break out hit or flagship song as you referred to it, get to a point where they get frustrated by the same questions. They feel that after their flagship song, if they still have a career after it, that they are more than just that song.

Pigg: I think it may be one of those rare cases where it represents me pretty well. It has a lot of things I like. I grew up listening to George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra, people that really love melodies. I’ve heard a string arrangement of that song that I played at a friend’s wedding. It sounded nice. It’s just a luxury and an honor to hear it in a couple of different ways.

Does that make you consider recording it that way perhaps?

Pigg: I’ve thought about it. One of my friends’ dad s is a producer and he does strings at Abbey Road a lot. He’s mentioned stuff in passing about me wanting to do instrumental versions before. If I make an extra couple hundred thousand dollars, I’ll call him. In fact, if anyone wants to chip in to get a recorded version of that song, I’m going to start an Abbey Road fund.

What would you like new listeners to know about the album beside it being home to “Coffee Shop”?

Pigg: I want people to give it a chance after Coffee Shop. Listen to maybe something less obvious like “A Ghost” or “Rooftops”. I don’t know what else I could say about the album except for it has some horns in it and some wings-esque solos.

So it’s not all coffee shop? No pun intended.

Pigg: There’s a little something there for everybody. I like to call my music “mom rock”. A lot of moms seem to like my music.

While we're talking about family, I understand connection to Austin?

Pigg: My brother and sister-in-law live here. I have three beautiful nieces that I’m visiting. My mom comes to visit them. Now all the little girls (referring to his nieces) are wearing my t-shirts and asked to get on stage with me. I don’t even know if they’re allowed at these clubs or venues. They did make an appearance with me at Stubb’s before. They’ve lived here for about five years.

Where do you hang out when in town?

Pigg: Peter and I have to go have a dirty martini at The Driskell. We try to coax any employees into letting us play songs on the piano there. It’s full of magic in that room.

Ellen Paige and Landon Pigg in the movie Whip It

How has being in the movie Whip It changed your life?

Pigg: Not too drastically. It’s funny going from extremes. Actors get treated really well. The funny thing is flip flopping between those lifestyles. When I was doing the movie, there were things that were hard to get used to, like having my own driver to the premiere. It was then that I started to love it, but then I was back in the van on the road. I was once again my own personal driver.

You mean sort of like Oliver?

Pigg: Very true. My favorite juxtaposition that I had after the Toronto Film Festival when everything was so hyped up. Then on Labor Day, I was playing horseshoes with my grandparents in Tennessee. The crickets were chirping. It was two different worlds.

My last question is not for you, but for “Oliver”. The question we all want to know is, why didn’t’ you call?

Pigg: Good question. I’m still answering as Landon here, but I would have texted. That would have been the easiest thing to do. The director created this movie in a kind of timeless era. They never showed what kind of phones they used. The characters were even using payphones, so I don’t even know if Oliver could have texted. I will say that I know how hard it is to make these private calls in a van. It is weird to do an interview like this in the van when I am saying things about me, while I feel everyone in the van is getting so mad. My keyboard player, Peter, likes to listen to music while he makes his private calls so it dulls the conversation. I think Oliver didn’t call because he was preoccupied with the tour, maybe doesn’t like cell phones and lives in the moment. For the record, I personally think he didn’t do anything too compromising. His aloofness just hurt people more than he knew.

"Coffee Shop" music video for Landon Pigg from Kip Kubin on Vimeo.

(Article written for and published on Double left photo by Ajay Miranda)

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