Very Pretty Pigeon
Rabbit and Marty Greytak were walking to buy cigarettes while on a break from their web design jobs. The guitarist and bassist were talking about jamming and maybe forming a band. Then a peach colored pigeon caught their eyes.
“It’s definitely different from any other pigeon you’ve ever seen,” Rabbit says while telling the story. “Then my buddy looks at it and says, ‘That’s a very pretty pigeon.’ It kind of resonated in my ears and I was like, ‘That’s a really good band name.’”
The name Very Pretty Pigeon stuck, and a year later the band has grown to seven members: Rabbit plays guitar and sings lead vocals, Brook Evans plays drums, Johnny D plays the keyboard and trumpet, while sharing accordion and banjo duties with Zachary Rees, who also plays saxophone, clarinet and trombone. Joining them is Allen Lyons on violin and mandolin, Kevin Reese on an African drum called the djembe, and new bassist Adam Reese. Greytak is no longer with the band.
“We would introduce a new person at practice, and it just sounded so amazing we couldn’t say no,” says Johnny D.
With varied tastes in music, the band has a hard time classifying itself. Rabbit described it as “experimental indie folk.” He said Modest Mouse, Joy Division and Animal Collective had early influences on the group.
Very Pretty Pigeon has a big band sound not only because of its seven members, but because it also shares the stage with 18 instruments. It has the same musical chaos and lightheartedness of a band like Arcade Fire.
The band branches out with songs like “Spooky Boat Ride on a Bayou,” a catchy Cajun-style song that features haunting maniacal laughter. The song indeed sounds like a scary trip through Louisiana marshlands.
The band adds bird-like “oooos” and “aaaas” to back up the vocals in many of its songs. One fan described it as a flickering falsetto. The band’s signature birdcalls are a cue taken from the Animal Collective song “Grass” that featured real bird calls in the background. Rabbit said he liked the effect but didn’t want to rip the band off directly. So, he recorded himself imitating bird coos and used them as background vocals.
Band members said they try not to overuse the gimmick. But it does give their songs a catchy, skull-penetrating aspect that will play in your head after the show. The coos also provide something for new fans to grab onto.
“A lot of people, if they can’t sing all the words there, they can’t work them out, they can defiantly sing that part,” says Evans.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool when fans immediately sing your parts with you because there are no lyrics involved,” says Rabbit. “It’s just oooos and aaaas.”
For Rabbit the band is a culmination of a lifelong fascination with birds. And the bird theme doesn’t stop with the band’s birdcalls or the name. Some songs are written from the point of view of a pigeon. Once Rabbit and Greytak performed in pigeon masks.
Each member also has their own stage name that comes from family names for different birds: War Dove, Gora and Pelecanidae are just a few.
Very Pretty Pigeon is more than a name. It represents something dirty and unwanted that’s also pretty and enchanting. It’s a dirty bird metaphor that connects the band to the city it comes from.
“That’s one of the things that appealed to me about this band was that aesthetic,” says Rees. “Especially being from Reno, which people think of as this dirty, shit town with not a lot to offer. In a larger scope I feel like we are the underdogs from Reno. We’re the scrappy street pigeons.”