Sitting Down with Pilot Whale

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In a studio warehouse in Orange, Ca, there dwells a band of brothers. Brothers set to do what no other band has ever done before…alright. You got me. Though that unnecessarily epic intro may not have been essential to this piece it is quite true.  Meet Pilot Whale. A group of five guys that somehow found their way to each other to create the world’s most beautiful art form-really good music.  There’s Ryan (guitar), Jon (lead vox, guitar), Brian (bass, vox), Sean (keys), and Jake (drums). Honestly, five of the chillest guys you will ever meet. They welcomed me into their studio home as if I were one of their own, the lost sixth member (other than the one who sits outside and still remains nameless).  This was far from a conventional interview, for I really didn’t have any questions I planned on asking them, I just let the conversation go where it would.  Though the conversation wasn’t always focused on music, it was definitely entertaining. Yet somewhere in the midst of talking about zombies, the hierarchy of nerdiness and Brian’s extensive knowledge of the Philippines, we did manage to discuss the band’s process of practicing, how they met, how the album came together and how they feel about their music.

Pilot Whale’s album, New Recitals to Attend was actually recorded before the band was able to play the songs flawlessly together live.  Each member (besides Jake and Sean, who have only been in the band for about two months) recorded their parts of the songs, compiled them together and put them on CDs before they rehearsed any of the songs collectively. Jon, Brian and Ryan did a basic run-through of the songs with Jake and Sean, and now they go back and “attack” each song to sharpen it.  Though this is a backwards way of doing things, it seems to work in their favor by giving them a chance to recreate and perfect the sound and song structures as they are on the album for their live performances.  As Sean so cleverly described the process, “We’ve put up the walls and now we’re hanging the pictures.” Despite Sean and Jake’s newness to the band, the guys already seem like family and that shows in the way they interact with each other during practice.  This led me to wonder how they all actually came together…

It isn’t surprising that all of the guys were in bands before they formed Pilot Whale, and in fact that’s how they met. Jon and Brian played in a band named Stairwell that was signed to Hopeless Records. Ryan played in a band named Slow Coming Day which was signed to Tooth and Nail. None of the guys were liking where either bands were going. As Ryan explains it: “We all took a break off of music, and my band actually used to play with Jon’s band all the time and they were way bigger than we were. And kinda weird, Jon and I play this hobby called Airsoft, which is we just dress up like G.I Joes and shoot each other with little, BB guns. So, I ran into him and we’re just like chit-chatting, and he actually didn’t even remember who I was, but I’m like ‘oh I remember you, you blah blah, you used to be in Stairwell. What are you doing now, musically?’ and he’s all ‘well really nothing, but I wanted to do these songs that I recorded and thought about.’ And he’s all ‘well I know a bass player, why don’t we maybe just jam together?’ so we started jamming, but we all had busy schedules and whatnot, and we kinda just came to the conclusion, ‘well why don’t we just try and do this one last time?’ If something comes out of it great, if something doesn’t come out it hey we’re still gonna play with each other and just have fun…”

Jon had the basis of what he wanted the songs to sound like. After recording those on a CD, Ryan and Brian took it and ran with it. Using a fill-in drummer and keyboardist to do the string and keys, the guys recorded multiple instrument tracks (consisting of numerous guitar, piano and violin tracks). “…And that way, we can take away the things we don’t like rather than go ‘oh man, I wish we…you know every band has that. I wish we added that or I wish we did this,’” says Ryan.

After this process, the guys decided to add a permanent drummer and keys player, and that’s where Jake and Sean come into play, no pun intended. Instead of using many different fill-in members, they wanted to find a drummer who could actually devote and contribute his thoughts to the progression of their music.  Ryan knew Jake from his old band Mayday, and after years apart good ol’ Facebook brought them back together.  Jake already knew of Sean and his keyboarding abilities, and thus Pilot Whale was born.

Brian and Ryan sat down with me and went through a few of the tracks off the album, letting me get a better feel for the sound on the album versus what I heard during practice.  The album is comprised of a few different musical styles (because genre is a term the band and I both agree isn’t suitable to describe music at all).  Brian’s favorite, “Downtown Promenade,” is one we may not get to hear during one of their shows “cuz its just all like, an upright bass, violin and like there’s no drums or anything like that,” says Brian.

But after listening to it I surely understand why it’s his favorite.  The mixture of the orchestral instruments does delight your ears. According to Ryan, “what we did was come up with many ideas that weren’t with conventional instruments. So the only thing that’s really conventional is Jon playing guitar…”

“and everything else is outsourced” adds Brian.

“Blue Skies” is a song they felt sounded a bit more poppy.  But not your Backstreet Boys kind of poppy by any means (and thank goodness for that).  Its melodic resonance is reminiscent of Mae with little hints of old school Death Cab for Cutie, which is quite frankly AWESOME, to me at least.

Pilot Whale’s sound really isn’t one to be classified in any one category.  Each of their songs sounds different than the next and that variety is what I feel will intrigue you, reader.  Jon feels that they are too pop to be an indie band, but still too indie to be a pop band, placing them in the middle ground of the “what does your band sound like?” scale.  They list some of their influences as being Wilco, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., Piebald and Pavement, whose sounds are all present in Pilot Whale’s music.  Lyrically, they keep it pretty upbeat. “Jon actually wrote lyrics because a lot of bands, they are focusing on the bad of this and ya know whatever politics or whatever. But nobody is saying ya know, well here’s a whole different life that’s great. And everyone I think sort of kinda focuses on the negative instead of trying to focus on what we all have, the positive. So almost every song has that positive message,” says Ryan.

New Recitals to Attend will be released soon.  Aside from the myriad of dorky hobbies they have, the band of course wants to do the shows, hopefully at the Hollywood Bowl with bands that that complement them. Go to the band’s website or Myspace for updates. Oh and stay tuned for next week when I’ll be reviewing their album!