by Joey Ammo
Django Reinhardt was a guitarist/composer of French nationality and Romani (gypsy) ethnicity. He is often regarded as one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived. After his third and fourth fingers were paralyzed in a fire, Reinhardt used only the index and middle fingers of his left hand to play. He created an entirely new style of jazz guitar technique which has since been dubbed “gypsy jazz,” and has inspired guitarists of all generations around the world. Young Berklee student Joseph River Luna of Boston is one such guitarist/ vocalist/ songwriter.
Joey, and drummer/ pianist/ arranger Jeff Crenshaw, conceived of and formed their gypsy funk punk band, Skinny Pigeons, while living in Boston’s Berklee College of Music dormitories. Originally from Boulder (Joey) and Seattle (Jeff), both currently in their fifth semester at Berklee, both musical visionaries well beyond their years of early-20-something.
My first impression upon seeing Skinny Pigeons at a live performance was “My God! These guys make a lot of music for two people!” Somewhere crossed between Primus, Pavement, and second-gen Beastie Boys you will find Skinny Pigeons, with Joey Luna stomping and kicking about the stage, occasionally doing a Pete Townshend flying leap, and Jeff Crenshaw egging him on greedily with silly grins and catcalls.
The Pigeons’ music is, like the bird flu, infectious; irresistible to most listeners. Beginning a song like “Old Monk Rum” with a catchy secret agent walking bass line Luna enters with an accompanying whistle. He joins in on spoken/ sung vocals up to the chorus, where the tempo and feel suddenly change their mind and decide to go into a heavy metal-like thrash, but not without the hook of a clever guitar riff to carry it. Just one of many such innovative approaches to their songs…
Noise: You guys met at Berklee?
Jeff: We met in the fall of 2012 and began rehearsing at Berklee’s Fordham practice facility in Allston. We shared a room together.
Joey: We learned how each other smells.
Noise: Who writes Skinny Pigeons’ songs?
Joey: I write and Jeff arranges.
Jeff: I would say the title of “songwriter” goes to Joey.
Joey: With the exception of songs like “Black/Out,” which came from jamming.
Noise: Do you feel it was risky to put out an instrumental single like “Black/Out”?
Joey: I didn’t feel like it was risky at all. We’ve always just done whatever we came out with, and we don’t really care what we’re showing people; it’s just our art.
Jeff: A lot of our stuff is about the groove and the feel of it. Joey’s got lyrics and vocals and that’s what the songs are about, but what the band is about is locking together and making some bad-ass music. We don’t need one thing or the other; all we need is to do that.
Noise: One of Skinny Pigeons’ earmarks is your tempo and feel changes, such as in “Old Monk Rum.”
Jeff: Joey’s influences come from some hard-hitting shit. One of the things Joey taught me as far as writing songs, and making something good, is that you can be simple and still rock the fuck out—it doesn’t have to be out, or technical, or weird in order to be totally bad-ass, and for people to like it. You don’t have to make things complicated in order to make them awesome; tempo changes just come with the territory, they’re not the main aim, they just sort of happen. You can switch whiplash from one thing to another, and people just rock out even harder.
Joey: It kinda… breathes, I guess is how I see it. It breathes like we’re breathing.
Noise: Would you consider Skinny Pigeons progressive, in the musical genre sense?
Joey: I don’t think so. I don’t really get into genres so much. I’m more metal or gypsy jazz, and those are the genres I know. Django Reinhardt was a huge influence on me.
Noise: He’s your idol, is that correct?
Joey: Well, he’s the fucking man, of course. He showed that if you get a disability you overcome it and become an innovator, and innovate bebop or something.
Noise: You went traveling in search of your own answers, didn’t you Joey?
Joey: When I was just out of high school I backpacked southeast Asia for six months, and before I entered Berklee I was in India for three months. Just my travel guitar and a tiny backpack. Building up all my wacky stories.
Noise: [Laughs] Do you have many wacky stories, Joe?
Joey: Yeah! We have a new song coming out about meeting a taxidermist in Bangkok and eating frogs and all this good stuff. We’ll be posting that up online soon.
Noise: What is the band’s discography?
Jeff: We have one EP and one single. The EP is called Flu and has five songs. It was released in February 2014. The single, “Seven Sins,” was put out in summer 2014. Naturally, we’re on Soundcloud too. We’ll be doing a vinyl 7” soon. We’re gonna split it with the Boston band Dent.
Noise: Did either of you have formal training before Berklee?
Joey: I had none, save for a few lessons when I was young.
Jeff: I had ten years of classical piano training prior to college, although I never read music.
Noise: Joey, you like to write humorous sarcasm into your lyrics. [Quoting “Old Monk Rum”] “…’specially if the girl’s got a perky butt…”
Joey: It’s a little rough when you’re singing that in front of the Welcome Back to Harvard crowd… it’s all like a poem or something that then, you can’t… as Bukowski said: “Once your parents like it you’re doing something wrong.”
Noise: As a guitarist I have to ask this question: Joey, what is your main guitar?
Joey: It’s a 1967 Gibson ES-330 hollow body. It’s primarily a blues guitar. The feedback is really beautiful. Obnoxious at times, but sometimes that can work.
Noise: You have a very distinctive voice Joe; to whom, if anyone, would you compare yourself?
Joey: I don’t know. What motivated me to sing was when I heard Louis Armstrong singing “All of Me.” I’m in such a lucky, beautiful place in my life where I’m surrounded by all these incredible peers and all these crazy bands, so I just take influence from all my friends.
Jeff: It’s not just the character of his voice, it’s also his delivery… in a very unique way he’s got this sort of speaking/ singing thing going on. He’s got a lot of sort of beat poet influence to him. His phrasing stands out.
Noise: Tell me a little more about the (now-defunct) Pigeon Coop.
Joey: It was the basement of the house we were renting in Allston. We would have these house shows and we would get crazy fucking bands from all over, all different types of music.
Jeff: This was a big chapter in our lives. We had nine shows last year that got around 100-150 people each. We had our EP release at our own house. Our favorite bands got to play, like Mals Totem; Gray Season—a five-piece folk rock Boston band; Bird Death from Canada, crazy grindcore shit… we got experience booking and promoting our own shows.
Noise: Joey, any lyrics that are particularly meaningful to you?
Joey: “Stem without a rose/ can’t find the reason/ maybe it’s the season/ for slouching in the breeze/ without a stem/ without a rose…” and that just keeps going,” and then at the end it says, “or are you just the stem that pretends?”
Noise: Future plans for Skinny Pigeons?
Joey: Writing a lot of new songs, recording, putting out the split 7” with Dent… we’re pulling back the slingshot.
Noise: [editorial]: Skinny Pigeons videos can be found on YouTube, their EP Flu can be found on Bandcamp, and their music is also available on Soundcloud.