ABOUT “SONGS OF L.A.”
Rebecca Pidgeon releases her 11th full-length, Songs of LA, on February 23 2024
The actor/songwriter explores the glamor and exploitation of Hollywood in 12 songs
Rebecca Pidgeon’s fascination with filmmaking, both its beauty and its seamier exploitative side, takes center stage in her 11th full-length studio album Songs of LA, out February 23 in CD and digital formats. These songs, composed with long-time writing partner David Batteau, reimagine legendary figures like the pioneering female aviator Poncho Barnes, who flew stunts in Hell’s Angels and Betty Page, the 1950s pin-up girl who mysteriously disappeared at the height of her popularity.
Sonically, Songs of LA is bright and rock-oriented, a return to Pidgeon’s 1980s indie rock beginnings. With PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake as a touchstone, she wrote several of these songs on autoharp, giving them a jangly almost zydeco sound. Says Rebecca, “Songs of LA is a journey through the insanity of this city and of Hollywood, but sonically it’s very alive and upbeat. It’s got a buzzy energy with some darkness underneath.”
Pidgeon co-produced Songs of LA with Fernando Perdomo, the producer and multi-instrumentalist she worked with previously on the Comfort section of her 2019 album Sudden Exposure to Light/Comfort. Perdomo also engineered the album and played a variety of instruments including bass, guitar and keyboards. Rebecca herself played guitar, bass and keyboards and sang. Two other frequent collaborators rounded out Pidgeon’s band: LA-based drummer Matt Tecu and violinist Andy Studer.
For Songs of LA, Pidgeon returned to songs written in collaboration with David Batteau which she’d intended to record in 2020, till the world shut down due to of the COVID-19 pandemic. A film buff, she drew on her knowledge of movies and the acting business, while Batteau brought in a fascination with the history of Los Angeles. The compositions ended up as mashups of their combined obsessions.
“Everybody Learning to Fly,” for instance, is based on the 1965 Antonio Pietrangeli film I Knew Her Well, starring the Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli. The story appealed to Rebecca because the main character tries on a variety of personas and disguises as she pursues the party life and is finally destroyed by it. Batteau added some old Los Angeles lore about the eccentric aviation pioneer, Jack Parsons and forays into space exploration, oddball mysticism and the MK Ultra LSD experiments of the 1950s and 1960s. And yet, while the song explores some very dark, spooky subject matter, it bubbles with manic energy. “I wanted it to have the frantic energy of the parties,” says Pidgeon. “It’s all about fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! And then this emptiness underneath it.”
“Happy Bottom Club,” the first song on the album, also references some deep cut Hollywood history. The song is inspired by the 1930 film Hell’s Angels, starring Jean Harlow and directed by Howard Hughes. Its main character, though, is Poncho Barnes the pioneering female stunt pilot who worked on the film, and, in her off time, presided over the Happy Bottom Rider Club, a social gathering for the most daring pilots of the day, including her friends Chuck Yeager, and future astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Rebecca has been an actor as long as she’s been a songwriter. She formed her first band, the folk-rock Ruby Blue, while in her early 20s in Edinburgh, about the same time she acted in her first film. She has continued, ever since, to make albums in between films and television series and plays.
Pidgeon says that, for her, acting and making music have always overlapped, and that they sometimes can come from the same place. “For instance on this record, I was writing and creating scenarios, little worlds that I could inhabit from my own imagination or from things that I’m inspired by, either movies or artists or stories I’ve read,” she says. “It’s the same impulse as wanting to inhabit a character, which is at the root of the desire to act. These songs don’t come from a personal place like some writing I do, but I found the stories fascinating and wanted to explore Los Angeles, and part of its history.”
Rebecca grew up in Scotland, influenced early on by both traditional folk music and the artier end of punk and goth. She loved Kate Bush and David Bowie. She and her friend Roger Fife started Ruby Blue while Pidgeon was still an acting student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. The band signed to Red Flame in 1986, then to Phonogram in 1988, and made two albums and several singles through the late 1980s and early 1990s, though Rebecca left in 1990 to pursue an acting career in the U.S.
By then living in New York, Pidgeon signed with Chesky Records in the early 1990s, working with producer Joel Diamond on her next three albums—The Raven, The New York Girls Club and Four Marys. Then, through connections with Ruby Blue, she met Joni Mitchell producer Larry Klein. She made a series of albums with him in the aughts, lounge-y Tough on Crime, the bossa nova influenced Behind the Velvet Curtain, which included her Beach Boys’ cover “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” and Slingshot. It was while working on Slingshot in 2011 that Pidgeon first started writing with David Batteau.
These albums had drifted well away from Rebecca’s brash, indie rock roots, so in the teens, she took over producing her own albums to sharpen and harden the sound. Rock-oriented Blue Dress On came outin 2013 and Bad Poetry followed in 2014. She then released Sudden Exposure to Light/Comfort, a double LP with half its tracks produced by the American pianist Thomas Bartlett, also known as Doveman, and half produced by Fernando Perdomo. Parts of Speech, Pieces of Sound from 2022 drew on Pidgeon’s lifelong study of Iyengar yoga and was a solo project, also produced by Pidgeon and Perdomo.
With Songs of LA Rebecca addresses both her indie rocker past and her current experiences in her adopted hometown blending muscular tunes with penetrating insights.
““Nuanced and assured…Rebecca Pidgeon is one of those rare singers who conveys emotion purely…””
— Rolling Stone
"...A songwriter who is in a class of her own"
- All Music
“Rebecca Pidgeon plays guitar and sings with appealing authority on her new album ‘Slingshot,’ a stunning gathering of tunes…’”
— Chicago Tribune
"Pidgeon's quirky song writing and warm, burnished vocal tone have won over an impressive roster of supporters.."
- Daily Variety
"...Behind the Velvet Curtain is her best work yet.."
- Chicago Sun Times
"Pidgeon favors a delicate vocal style serving her well on gently reflective originals..."
- All Music Guide