Interview with Pilot Speed
by Anthony Montenegro
"There's a kind of hope you hold on to when the way is dark and there's little to lose..." The lyrics from the track "A Kind Of Hope" seem appropriate as Canadian quartet Pilot Speed embarks on a journey to bring the success of their indie-rock sound south of the border. Pilot Speed launched their debut U.S. album, Into The West in late November. A follow-up to the successful 2003 full-length Canadian release Caught By The Window that garnered them scores of accolades up north, the band puts forth another impressive–possibly superior–offering.
With flowing, emotive vocals layered over heavily acoustic overtones, Into The West immediately brings to mind the vocal stylings of early-era U2 recordings and the rolling melodies of more modern alternative bands such as Doves. In what could be described as a poetic epic, the music on this record compliments the lyrical flow perfectly, and is artfully blended in such a way that musical styles as diverse as 80s euro-pop and post-grunge indie-rock are fused together seamlessly in a familiar sounding, yet original composition. If you haven't gotten the chance to experience the music of Pilot Speed yet, there's no better time than the present to introduce yourself. Into The West is an immediately enjoyable album, but also one whose depth and complexity you will enjoy for many spins to come.
Fronted by lead vocalist Todd Clark (who spent his formative musical years in his native New Zealand), Pilot Speed was formed after Clark placed a web ad looking to recruit other Toronto-area musicians who shared similar influences and tastes. Bassist Ruby Bumrah was first to join Clark, who in turn brought guitarist Chris Greenough and drummer Bill Keeley on board. They launched themselves onto the Canadian music scene with the release of their For All That's Given, Wasted EP in 2001, and have taken off from there. They began gaining a fair amount of notoriety in 2002, culminating with an award for Best Unsigned Band at the North-by-Northeast music conference, after which they were immediately signed, and began work on their first full-length recording, released in 2003. After signing with Wind-up in 2006, the band released Into The West, and is now poised to make a run at U.S. music fans. Don't miss out on this record; it's one you've been waiting for. "...a kiss good-night. The trap we spring. Don't turn me out, I've gold to bring."
Virgin Mobile caught up with Pilot Speed and threw a few questions their way:
VM: How did you come up with the band name?
PS: Well, before this record was released we found that for legal reasons we needed to change the name of the band from Pilate to Pilot Speed. We really just sat around throwing names at each other for a couple hours. I think it was important to us that the new name was in some way linked to the old one. Personally I don't put much stock in band names. I don't believe there are very many good ones, and like our own names I don't see how they reflect at all who you are or what you do. For me the naming of a band is not an artistic endeavor, for if it were it would change as the music changes. I really just look at it as a handle. Everyone needs one.
VM: What were your strongest musical influences, both individually, and as a band?
PS: I think we would all say we were quite influenced by Brit pop. U2, Radiohead, Elbow, Doves, and the Longpigs to name a few. However, as individuals we have our own unique influences that color what we do. That is even more recently the case, with influences ranging from Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, and Tom Petty. Personally, over the last couple of years I have found myself really getting into American music again. The aforementioned artists - Wilco, Springsteen, Tom Waits - being the best examples of this.
VM: Can you tell us a little about the new album, Into The West?
PS: Yeah, I think it is an album of which we are all very proud. With this industry you can't really control whether or not your album sells millions of copies, you really just want to make the best record possible. Our goal going into this album was to progress - progress as songwriters, musicians and recording artists. I believe on this album we achieved all these things. There is still a hell of a long way to go, but as long as we keep moving forward together, I reckon we'll all be happy.
VM: Which tracks on the album have the greatest significance or personal meaning to the band?
PS: I know, having listened to the guy's answer this question before that it always changes. I still really enjoy Barely Listening, as I think it is a really challenging pop tune. I like the Simplicity of 'I Won't Blame You', and the sonic qualities of 'Turn the Lights On'. I think the leadoff track 'Knife Grey Sea' is a song that everyone still gets excited about. In terms of their personal significance, I wrote the lyrics so they are all inherently personal. However some do mean more to me than others. It is always nice to hear that they mean something to others as well.
VM: Musically, how does Into The West compare with your previous album, Caught By The Window?
PS: I think it is just a more mature, organic record. We were very much unfamiliar with the recording process when we made Caught by the Window. On Into The West, our vision of the recording process was definitely more defined. We had learned from previous experiences and would apply that knowledge throughout. The most dramatic change, apart from a greater budget and better studios, happened in the recording of the core/bed tracks. We really wanted to capture the live performance in the most natural way possible. Instead of just taking care of the drums and then layering we wanted to get as much from the bed track process as possible. Therein retaining vibrant live performances not rendered stale by over-production and layering. For the most part I feel we achieved that. Vocals were overdubbed and a couple other things here and there, but essentially the bulk of the album is just the four of us playing together; as it should be I guess.
VM: You have been quite successful on the Canadian music scene. As you begin to tackle the U.S. music scene, do you feel that there are different or unique challenges you need to overcome in attaining that same level of success?
PS: I think many of the challenges are the same. You need to get into cities and play in front of people, and win them over. This never changes. I think it is doubly important for us, as I believe our live performance defines us as much as our recordings. America is obviously a much larger country, so the scale is different, but I do believe the game remains the same. Make great albums and be a great live band. Sounds so easy...
VM: How does the feel of the studio album compare with the performance of your live show?
PS: It is definitely a different experience, yet the more we record, the more we are eager to make recording like a live performance. On Into The West we really went for a live feel with a lot of the songs. We kept much of the bed tracks, seeking to retain the feel of the live performance. I anticipate that we will take this even further on the next record. Hopefully we will be playing well enough as a band to pull this off. The studio gives you many options, but I really feel the most important thing is creating recordings that feel as if four band members are in the room playing together. That is the challenge.
VM: If given the opportunity, what artists would you want to collaborate with in the future?
PS: Not sure, we'll hopefully come up with some surprises on the next record. We don't have much of a history of collaborations, but I think it is an exciting prospect.
VM: Are you guys hockey fans? What are your Stanley Cup predictions for 2007?
PS: Being from Toronto we have a handful of Maple Leaf fans in the band, but I don't think even they would put any money on the Leafs being in the finals. Anaheim looks very good, but failing Toronto I think we all would like to see a Canadian team in the finals, with the exception of Ottawa.