Pagoda is a band from Brooklyn, New York with Michael Pitt as vocalist and guitarist, along with new additions: Reece on drums, Willie on bass, and Chris on cello. Their first self-titled album was released in 2007. The name Pagoda comes from the asian-type building style. As Pitt put it, "It was really just one of the names that didn't suck as much as the others." Until early 2007, Pagoda shared its name with the Washington DC indie rock band now known as Roofwalkers.
Pagoda founders Michael Pitt and Ryan Donowho met at a mutual friend’s house one day in 2001. Knowing that Michael was a musician, Ryan asked him to play one of his original songs. He did, and soon Ryan began playing drums on it, and a visible musical chemistry was apparent from the start. Though showing signs of promise, Michael had never taken guitar lessons in his life. His friend Rodrigo of the band The Hermitt, was the one who "kinda got me off the street–he invited me to crash in this one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown with, like, seven other people. And he taught me how to play guitar," Michael says. One of the first songs he wrote was "Death to Birth" which has since become Pagoda's most recognized song. Ryan on the other hand was a semi-well known bucket drummer on the streets of New York who attracted the attention of a casting agent looking for a fresh new face to model Levi 501’s in an ad campaign.
From 2001 to mid 2004, the band brought in several friends to fill in on bass during live shows. Among them was Christian Zucconi, front man for the band Aloke. During Zucconi's history with the band, he directed a music video for Pagoda's "The Happy Song," a melodic and sarcastic song that wouldn't see the light of day until further down the road.
Audiences got their first taste of Michael’s musical ability on the soundtrack to Bernardo Bertolucci’s film "The Dreamers," in which Michael also played the lead role of Matthew. Michael collaborated with the Twins of Evil on the Jimi Hendrix classic "Hey Joe" and Bertolucci also shot a video for it which is available on the DVD release of the film. The following year, Pagoda contributed their song "Muskrat" to the soundtrack for "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things", Asia Argento's adaptation of JT LeRoy's confessional novel. Michael also had a role in the film playing "Buddy", an absent minded but good natured southerner. Soon the band began playing shows on a regular basis, a gig at The Sidewalk Café in New York City being their first. The set was so exciting and full of energy and potential that it prompted Spin magazine to include Pagoda on a list of Underground New York bands to watch.
While in Portland researching a role for Gus Van Sant's film "Last Days", Michael ran into Jamie Kallend in the park strumming his guitar. He asked to play, and Kallend was so impressed with Michael that he invited him to an open mic night that his band Kallisti was playing. Being mutually impressed with their talents, Kallend being the bass player for Kallisti at the time, a friendship was quickly formed. After the show, Michael offered to mix some of Kallisti's songs back in the hotel he was staying at and completed them before the next morning. As fate would have it, the two ran into each other again when Michael was back in town visiting Gus. A few weeks later, Kallend was offered the job of bassist for Pagoda and accepted.
Meanwhile, the band posted an ad near NYU that said "cellist wanted, please call," followed by a phone number. Their best offer came from Indigo Ruth-Davis, a teenaged cellist from Vermont who was attending a Waldorf school that focused on students' artistic pursuits. In the studio, the first track Indigo was given to play on was "Sadartha." He aced it on his first try and was quickly added to the band’s line-up.
Now having a full band, Pagoda was ready to record their demo. It contained five songs which included "Death to Birth" and "Sadartha" along with "Fetus", "I Do" and a spoken word track titled "Song 1". It was recorded at Excello Recording Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and was given away at shows for free by Michael's agent. Those who attended Pagoda's earlier shows noticed a severe improvement in melody, song writing and vocal performance, each track better crafted and more focused than previous material. Gus Van Sant also noticed the improvement and featured two songs from the demo on the soundtrack for his film "Last Days."
"Last Days" was inspired by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. In the film, Michael plays the leading role of "Blake", an introspective artist who is battling a drug addiction and the pressures of fame. In one particular scene, Blake retreats from the party his friends are throwing in his living room and plays a solo acoustic version of "Death to Birth". While this is one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Michael was apprehensive about contributing his own material. "I'm a musician and I didn't want it to just seem like I was doing it for personal gain," he says. "I think we shot the scene about seven times and every time I made up a song on the spot. The last time he asked me to play that song." Michael also contributed the song "That Day" to the film, on which he played every instrument using a loop machine. The video for "The Happy Song" was also featured on the DVD release.
On January 11, 2007, the band's website released a statement that left question marks in everyone's head. Posted was a picture of new members aside from Michael including Willy on Bass, Reece on Drums, and Chris on Cello. Bassist/producer Luca Amendolara is currently working with other bands in Italy and actor/drummer Ryan Donowho has decided to pursue acting instead of music. The change has not affected the new album in anyway as it already has been produced and recorded. The line-up is just the new look for Pagoda after its new anticipated release in February.
Written by Kevin Lenkel.
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