On Pigeon John’s seventh album, Good Sinner, the Southern California musician begins anew, veering into new sonic territory in a way that feels innovative and fresh. The artist, born John Kenneth Dunkin, didn’t necessarily intend to reimagine himself. Instead, the music arrived of its own accord, inspired by years of playing and performing.
“The music felt like a new voice was coming out of my mouth and it sounded unfamiliar and cool,” John says. “It sounded like a new lead. For me, doing a cool pop album was a jump and it was me letting go of being critical. It’s harder to write an up song than a down song. It’s harder to smile than it is to frown. So I went in with my favorite examples – Buddy Holly, Q-Tip, Dylan – and went hammy on the songs.”
Good Sinner sees Pigeon John, who was born in Omaha and raised in Los Angeles, singing far more than he has on past efforts, which lends a more personally evocative flair to the album. Chuck Berry became a massive influence on the songs, as did the Beach Boys, and the process felt very much like a return to the ‘60s as John and his collaborators aimed to make songs “that could bang and relate around the world.” For the singer, who got his start in the ‘90s at Good Life Café in South Central LA, which was the subject of a film by Selma director Ava DuVernay, alongside artists will.i.am, Kurupt, Freestyle Fellowship and Jurassic 5, Good Sinner is a pop-centric interpretation of hip-hop. The musician has always seen himself as more of a side shooter than a straight shooter when it comes to genre and sound, and the album more fully reveals his ability to carve out his own lane in an established sound.
“My big influence is multi-genre acts,” he notes. “When Beastie Boys picked their instruments up. When The Pharcyde, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers sang instead of rapped. When Beck got taken seriously. I love doing something that I’m in love with and breaking ground around it because all my favorite bands did that. They were my examples, so I’m following suit. Hip-hop is how you make it and I wanted to make something that didn’t sound like anything.”
The album’s title track, “Good Sinner,” which appeared promo commercials for HBO’s Veep, is a boisterous number that feels both like a ‘60s throwback and like an edgy modern track. “That’s What I Like,” which has been used in commercials for Ford and Amazon Prime, surges with swagger and optimism, infused the feeling of LA, while banger “All Eyes On Me” draws on bluesy garage rock vibes. As a whole, the album is brash, exciting and filled with undeniable energy. It defies the conventions of genre while embracing an array of influences and inspirations from today and from the past. It reveals a new version of Pigeon John.
“Coming from the LA underground hip-hop scene this has been very different for me and very exciting,” he says, noting that he was specifically impacted by the vibes of Westlake and MacArthur Park, and Downtown Los Angeles.“We wanted to make a new sound influenced by Chuck Berry and late ‘40s rock ‘n’ roll, and I think we did that. And it felt very natural. At the end of Encino Man I’d felt like I had written all the do-it-yourself-type of songwriting. It was a really fun to write with everyone and with our guards down, just seeing what came out of it.”
“I can’t wait to get this show on tour,” John notes. “My goal as a musician is just really to tour around the world and perform these songs and do it in every arena of music – in hip hop, in pop. Thinking about what we can do together in the band and continuing to see where collaboration brings me is really exciting. And, of course, the goal is to rock. Just to rock it, man.”