For those of us who live in Durham or Chapel Hill, I'm sure the following excuses have been used to avoid driving to Raleigh for shows: "I have to work tomorrow," "I don't know if I want to drive that far," "I've already got one DUI ... ," and so on. For those of us living in Raleigh, this is probably kind of insulting. How many people from the Capital City come to Go! or the Cat's Cradle or Local 506 for shows every week without complaint? I would wager that the proportions here are out of whack.
Furthermore, how often is Raleigh overshadowed by the legacy of Chapel Hill's indie-rock bands, record labels and scene Gestapo? To the people living in the capital, there's always been plenty going on; it's just that us ignorami on the other side of that massive stretch of pharmaceutical labs haven't given Raleigh as much attention as it has given them. Tyler Kendall, Josh Bryant and Brad Farran, who make up Raleigh's Pidgeon English Records, want to ensure that the rest of the state will start seeing Raleigh as more than the town with that fucked-up Beltline thing.
"Chapel Hill has this mythical history, but then Raleigh's had, I think, a really prolific and great music scene and it's always been overlooked for Chapel Hill. Not to say that we're spearheading some kind of 'Raleigh vs. Chapel Hill' thing, but the point is that there's really good stuff going on all around here," says Kendall.
"We think there's enough music here to warrant people paying attention to Raleigh," agrees Bryant. "Obviously, I grew up listening to bands from Chapel Hill, and I thought Chapel Hill was this mythical music place that I wanted to see so bad ... but then we came here and it was like, 'Wow, look at all this music that's in Raleigh that nobody fuckin' knows about.' There needs to be a better support network for these bands."
Bryant and Kendall grew up together in Martha's Vineyard. ("I can't stand being there," says Kendall. "I hate it too," concurs Bryant.) Three years ago Kendall moved to Raleigh and convinced his friend to follow him six months later. Upon arriving they started going to shows at Kings several nights a week and noticed the amount of great music and welcoming sense of community in the town's rock scene. Bryant landed a job at the Rockford, a restaurant on Glenwood Avenue where most of the staff consisted of people whose bands would later end up releasing music on Pidgeon English. Farran was introduced to the duo through a mutual friend and ended up "living in a shack in the woods on [Josh's] property." He was looking to move to New York when he heard from his pals in Raleigh six months ago. They told him they'd started a record label and that he should move down and work for them.
"He has of yet not been paid," mutters Bryant, eliciting laughter from all. "We'll pay him retroactively when we hit the big time."
Pidgeon English's first three releases were a set of 7-inches: two splits from Utah!/The Rosebuds and My Code Name is Blue/Ryan Pound, and one from the Applejuice Orchestra. There's not necessarily a consistent sound running through these bands, with The Rosebuds' Kinks-style pop at another end of the spectrum from the Applejuice Orchestra's synth-driven grooves. The main criteria are that they're from Raleigh and Kendall and Bryant like their music. In a few weeks the label will release a four-way split CD from The Cherry Valence, The Loners, The Weather and The Greatest Hits, all from Raleigh. They've also got a couple of CD releases coming out later in the spring from some locals, and more and more bands throughout North Carolina have started getting in touch due to the 7-inches' popularity.
"A lot of [local bands], since we've done the 7-inches, are interested in doing those with us right now, and we love 7-inches, but we can't make any money off them," says Bryant. "We have to put out at least four or five more CDs before we put out any 7-inches again."
"Either that or we hit the Powerball," says Farran.
"I've got big plans for gambling," Kendall whispers to me.
Last September Kendall and Bryant threw a big party at Kings to celebrate their first releases, with all of the bands on the 7-inches sharing the stage. Amazingly, without any press coverage, the then months-old label's showcase sold out.
"We were like, 'Holy fuck, I can't believe this is happening,'" breathes Bryant. "At least three-quarters of the people there I had never seen before in my life. ... So many people showed up that we decided from then on to take [Pidgeon English] more seriously."
The response from Raleigh's indie-rock scene has been overwhelming. People who want to help but can't devote tons of time to the label have made fliers for the Pidgeon English shows and designed the 7-inches, and now the label even has a house engineer they plan to enlist for future recordings. All this has made Kendall and Bryant feel as if they're not in charge of something but rather a part of something.
"There's a lot of people who are interested in doing stuff for us even though we can't pay them right away, which is really cool," says Bryant. "It doesn't really feel like we're running this small record label and asking people to do stuff. It feels like the whole town has a small record label and we're taking care of it."
"Yeah, people have been so supportive that I don't think we have a choice but to continue," adds Kendall.
This community aesthetic seems to dominate the label's purpose. All three guys agree that they'd rather be "an organized force rather than a record label," booking shows for Pidgeon English bands and helping them get more deserved attention. But the ultimate goal is to make sure Raleigh gets noticed nationally.
"As soon as we were involved in going to all these shows and starting to really like a lot of Raleigh bands, we immediately realized that no one outside of Raleigh cares about them and no one's putting them out. There's no record labels that are looking at Raleigh bands. ... It takes The Cherry Valence touring eight months out of the year to get recognition out of Raleigh," says Kendall.
"We really want to be able to build a record label off this town," says Bryant. "I think we'll feel successful when bands from here ... people in California will be like, 'Hey, these guys are awesome, from Raleigh, North Carolina.'"
This Saturday, March 8, the label is throwing another release party at Kings to celebrate the upcoming split CD release. All the bands on the record will be playing with special guests Mothlight, and the show starts promptly at 9:30 p.m. If the first one sold out from word of mouth, this one probably will, too.