Saturday, January 01, 2005

Interview with Pilotdrift (their first ever ? interview!)

Pilotdrift’s music is epic rock for adventurers, but the guys from Texarkana who compose it are humble and passionate about their art. DMG entered their world to find what drives them to create lush musical landscapes.

It’s New Year’s Eve in Dallas and an auspicious ending to 2004 for the Texarkana band. Pilotdrift has just finished playing an instore gig at Good Records, crammed into the back of the shop with more instruments than band members. Their set not only filled the store to overflowing –by the staff’s estimate, the biggest turnout Good has had yet for an instore event- but Tim DeLaughter also came to hear the music his employees were so excited about. This is a multi-instrumental band, and everyone does everything, sometimes. When I list what they play, that’s what they play most of the time. The enigmatic Micah Dorsey and approachable Kelly Carr are the singer and songwriter team of the group, both contributing equally to the catalog. Skater-boy keyboardist Eric Russell and Jay Budzilowski on guitar are fine with kicking back and letting the others work hard for the press. Ebullient John David Blagg, with a voice as bass as his instrument, and serious Ben Rice, the drummer, help Carr and Dorsey get it right during our interview. Their slow-talking East Texas twangs are a surprising contrast to their far-from-the-hinterlands style. Pilotdrift’s cinematic sound is much bigger than any space it’s in. Someday, these guys will be scoring movies; sweeping dramas about desolate lands and men on a quest. Scratchy records, music boxes, jazz, and circus sounds all come together in the art rock of these versatile artists. Pilotdrift as a band is quiet and shy in the laser attention of a press interview; they barely speak above mumbles, but are happy for the chance to talk about what drives them.

We’re finally sitting in the band room of Trees, waiting during the time between load-in and soundcheck, wondering about the cushy foam furniture (is this hygienic?) and checking where Carr scratched their name in the wall at the last show (it’s still there, by the mirror). The guys are coming down from the artistic high of the instore performance, but recoup rapidly for the night’s New Year’s Eve show with North Texas compadres, Radiant* and Eisley. They seem a bit subdued in contrast to the expansiveness of their music. I’m about to enter the hive mind of six guys completing each other’s sentences. We’re admiring the new recorder I just scored for Christmas…

Dallas Music Guide: It’s an iTalk; this is new technology for me. It’s a voice recorder for the iPod.
Kelly Carr: I don’t have an iPod, but when I do get one, my big thing is artwork. I have to know what the music looks like. There’s a new iPod with album artwork that you can have.
DMG: Yeah, that’s cool because what a band does visually, that makes such a difference.
KC: It does. Yeah, yeah. You don’t know what kind of landscape the music’s in.
DMG: Can you start by describing your sound for me?
KC: You want to know what we think it is?
DMG: Yeah.
KC: I guess cinematic rock.
Ben Rice: Orchestral. Maybe.
John David Blagg: A lot of people would describe it as art rock.
KC: Art rock, yeah. I always feel weird describing it as ‘art rock’ because it’s like I’m saying ‘I’m very artistic.’
Micah Dorsey: (sarcastically) Yeah, like nobody else is artistic.
KC: Experimental. We do make a point to make every song a completely different world. Though it’s hard. There is a common denominator, I suppose. It’s hard to tell exactly what that is. I guess the easiest way to say it is if you like these kind of bands… If you like Flaming Lips, Polyphonic Spree, Radiohead, you’ll like this. Not to put us up with them or anything.
BR: Musically, we’re a multi-genre mix.
KC: In closing, cinematic rock, I guess. It does seem like our music we do make a point to make it seem like it plays a movie in your head for each song. It’s very visual. I like that.
DMG: At the Good Records’ instore, I was standing next to Tim DeLaughter during the show and as soon as you guys finished playing, he turned to Rubberman and said, ‘That was awesome.’
JD: Did he really?
BR: I was really surprised at the compliment. That someone of that caliber, to look up to musically, gives a genuine compliment. (sighs)
KC: (looking at hands) That’s the first time, I’ve ever… you know. I’ve seen a couple people I actually met; Royston Langdon from Spacehogs. I’m a huge fan of his. But that was really cool. Especially for him to hear our music. That was a weird twist.
BR: To get a chance to play for (Tim DeLaughter), that’s the exact opposite.
JD: It’s so weird, I haven’t really thought about that yet.
DMG: Who are your biggest influences?
BR: We kind of said, I guess. Flaming Lips, Beatles, Air, Radiohead.
MD: Elbow.
BR: U2 for me, but that doesn’t go for everyone else.
DMG: Are we split on the U2 camp?
BR: Well, not split. I’m just a die-hard fan, some are mediocre fans. My whole thing is that I’m a big fan of Joshua Tree and those are the best. And just Bono as who he is.
KC: I guess Bono’s just someone to look up to.
MD: As far as just in life and in music. Air, Sparkle Horse, there’s a lot.
JDB: Phish.
BR: Not for everyone.
KC: I’m not a Phish person, but my favorite song actually is a Phish song; ‘Ester.’
BR: I don’t think you’ll hear any Phish in our music, but we’re fans of them.
KC: But I’m also a big fan of score writing. Thomas Newman, huge fan, Danny Elfman, of course, and also regular classical; Stravinsky, Gershwin, I guess all kinds of stuff.
MD: One more: Goldfrapp. (everyone laughs)

DMG: You incorporate a lot of stuff that’s unconventional in your music. Some of your songs sound like music boxes, or you sound like circus music. Where does that come from? Can you tell me a little about that?
MD: I think it would come from the cinematic elements of just trying to capture pictures or atmosphere in your head.
BR: Musical landscapes.
MD: A dynamic like a progression, like if you were watching it as if it were a movie. Kindof hard to explain. Just going for that cinematic element again.
KC: I think you might be referring to ‘Elefant Island’ which has to do with the true story of the antarctic explorers with Shackleton, who got stranded and they were on the brink of insanity. I was just using that as a musical tool to capture that sort of insanity, the confusion of feelings.
DMG: Usually you don’t think ‘arctic explorers’ - ‘circus music.’
KC: It’s just the whole idea of things not making sense any more.
BR: Which is what happened to them.
DMG: What are your own personal favorite songs?
KC: Well, there’s a certain feeling that because there are two singers, if you name your own that’s… (laughs)
MD: Well, no, I could name the favorite ones of mine; you could name your favorite ones.
KC: My favorite song on the album is probably ‘Traitor’s Brain.’
MD: I would probably say, I think, ‘Traitor’s Brain’ actually.
KC: I think that’s a good indication of what we may do in the future, on a bigger scale.
DMG: Tell me about recording this album. Face any big challenges?
BR: We have the advantage of recording on our own gear and having our own time so we’re not pressed for paying by the hour to anybody. It’s under our own construction. That’s a big advantage.
MD: A lot of the songs were recorded right before we were even a band.
BR: Like half were.
MD: Several of mine were. Kelly had some that were recorded before we formed the band and then after we formed the band, we re-recorded some of them. A lot of mine, like ‘Winter,’ that song has been recorded for three years now. Three or four years, same as ‘Picturesque.’
KC: Towards the end of recording, we got more experimental. My mom’s a choir teacher. She teaches a kid’s choir. So they got to use them. Record them for the last song, ‘So Long.’ That was fun, just to work with other people.
MD: But it was over a huge period of time that we recorded.
KC: That’s how we like doing it. Right now we’re recording….
MD: We’ve already started recording other stuff. We haven’t ever just sat down and said, ‘OK, we’re ready to spend all our time just working on recording this.’ We just do it as we go. Work it in, work on a song at a time.
DMG: Have you been out touring?
BR: We’ve just played mainly Dallas and Little Rock, we’re gonna be playing Houston, Tyler. We have a big fan base in Tyler.
Eric Russell (who just returned from set-up, with Jay Budzilowski): Our very first show was last December. We’ve only been doing it just about a year now. Just trying to get going.
MD: I would say mostly East Texas. We’ve done Little Rock.
KC: More a 400-mile radius of our hometown (Texarkana).
BR: That’s definitely what we want to do, you know. That’s what all of us want to do; we want to tour.
JDB: We all have jobs where we’re able to… when opportunity arises, when the tour happens, that we’re able to leave. Everything’s set for us to be able to do that.
DMG: What are your day jobs?
JDB: I weld.
KC: I drive a delivery truck for a hardware company.
JB: I’m a TV producer. (John David sniggers) Why are you sneering, dude? Is that not a proper title? That’s my title. I produce videos.
JDB: It just sounds like those rap kids. (imitating rapper) ‘I’m a Producer.’
MD: I’m a painter. I do other stuff, but a house painter.
ER: Picasso!
MD: (laughing) Not like an art painter.
BR: I work in a recording studio in town.
ER: I’m a sound technician for a church.
KC: He’s a professional E-Bayer.
ER: Chopping wood, sometimes, whatever I can do.
JDB: He doesn’t want to strip his shirt off.
DMG: (to Russell) So every band has that one cute guy that’s always put out front. Is that you?
ER: I don’t think so.
DMG: You look like you’re having fun on the maracas.
ER: I have fun, definitely.
KC: (deadpan) It’s easy to be confident on the maracas. (everyone laughs)
ER: Thank you, very much.
DMG: When you look at the bands out there, who do you want to be touring with, pairing yourself up with?
KC: Polyphonic Spree. (everyone laughs)
MD: Honestly, that’s what I was going to say. It’s very similar, what they do.
KC: That’s not going by actually seeing (Tim DeLaughter) tonight.
BR: What they do is so big and orchestral, it’s the same vein of what we want to do, but it’s different approaches to music.
MD: I mean, heck, we wouldn’t love touring with Radiohead. (everyone laughs)
KC: (sarcastically) Heck. That’s shooting for the top right there.
ER: Air, Flaming Lips, any takers.
MD: A lot of the bands we list as our influences.
DMG: How about anybody local, that you could actually tour with?
JDB: Midlake is one of our favorites.
MD: We’re real good friends with Midlake. That would be the top choice. Eisley also. I’m trying to find what local means. There’s nothing in town where we live. I guess Dallas.
DMG: How about Austin?
BR: We are supposed to be playing SxSW. That’s going to be our debut. We’re working with different management people, discussing different things. All I can say is that if these deals work out, we’ll be doing showcases with them at SxSW.
DMG: You guys are not signed, right?
KC: No.
DMG: And you self-produced this album?
MD: Yes.
DMG: It sounds like you have a lot of experience producing and recording.
JDB: It’s a hobby, really.
MD: We learn as we go. I mean, I think that we all have good ears and we’re confident in that.
BR: We know what sounds good.
KC: We just spend so much time and we’re able to be tedious.
MD: Right, exactly. Because we’re not in a hurry, we just take it one song at a time. We have the chance to really take our time with it and be real tedious.
BR: Like ‘Walter Champion;’ me and Kelly were recording like hundreds of hours, not necessarily like re-recording it because we couldn’t play a part right, but just thinking. For him thinking and me trying to record it.
DMG: ‘Walter Sham-pe-own’ as opposed to ‘Walter Champ-yon’? Where does that come from?
KC: It’s a name I made up. I always thought that it would be cool to …
ER: It’s French!
KC: I don’t know, I’m not saying that Walter Champion in the story is me or anything, but it’s fun saying it. ‘Walter Cham-pi-on’ (imitating a French accent); I love saying it. It’s not a real name.
MD: And if you used ‘Champ-ion,’ it just wouldn’t fit in the song.
JDB: Sounds like a boxer song.
KC: I also like it because there’s a little bit of irony in the fact that his last name is champion and he’s somewhat…
BR: … of a nobody.
KC: Yeah. I think I got the last name from one of the guys from Coldplay; Will Champion.
DMG: What’s next for you guys?
ER: (deadpan) We've got a show at Trees. Tonight.
MD: The main objective is that we want to play as much as possible.
BR: Exposure.
KC: That’s really really hard because we don’t know how, necessarily. To be able to get people to know -who would want to see our kind of music- how they would know to come see us.
MD: There’s the obvious thing of going around to post flyers.
KC: But we’re out of town.
MD: It’s kind of like where can we even post them? There are only so many places. There’s definitely something obviously deeper than that.
KC: It’s playing with bands that people like.
BR: This is a business of connections, like anything is. We’ve been real fortunate to make good friends and that’s helped us along the way as we’ve tried our own efforts. We definitely don’t take that for granted.
DMG: Personally… You talked about that you do things for your church, what’s your philosophy as people? Are you Christians?
JDB: Yes. Devout Christians.
KC: And a liiiiiitle hint of Hinduism. (holds fingers inches apart)
(Ben grimaces, everyone laughs.)
MD: Aw come on, Ben!
KC: I was gonna say a little sprinkle. But how’s that possible? A little Hindu…
BR: That’s not fair.
DMG: But you play very mainstream music, you don’t play Christian….
KC: No, we’re not.
JDB: We are Christian people, not in a Christian band. Not singing Christian music.
MD: It’s not worship music in the sense that we’re not saying ‘Oh God, we love you.’ But we all feel that in what we are doing we are worshiping God, that we’re using our talents he give us to praise him.
KC: The big thing is that there just needs to be a positive influence on people, and there’s so much negative, especially in music. You hope that you leave a positive impression.
BR: It’s building relationships with people along the way. Sharing music with them; that’s really our influence.
JDB: Music that’s not degrading.
JB: It’s really all about relationships, who you meet and the effect that you have on people.
DMG: So you guys fit great with Radiant* then.
(All agreeing) Yeah yeah.
MD: And Eisley as well. They’re the same way; they pretty much have the same outlook as we do in our musical career, as far as their beliefs and stuff.
KC: Bono is a good example of …
BR: That’s why I feel that he’s a role model in a sense to me -not just to me, to everybody- just ‘cause of the positive influence that he’s shared with the whole world. The impact they’ve had over everybody. It’s just a tangible thing and that’s what I want to do with our life, that’s what all of us want to do with our lives. Through music. Just through being who you’ve been created to be. There’s nothing supernatural or super-special; just using the talent that we have, to create influence and build relationships with people that we meet along the way.
DMG: But some of your songs are very dark.
MD: (dismissively) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It just goes back to the… we just consider it an art.
KC: It is art.
MD: We’re trying to create atmospheres and feels, and when we say positive, we mostly mean how we …
ER: relate to people that we meet.
MD: Our music isn’t necessarily negative.
KC: It’s about negativity on some points. About negative things. The thing about us is that it gives us …
BR: Keeping it real!
JDB: It touches that dark side that everyone has and it brings you back out of it.
KC: I think there should be an honesty of even someone who’s a follower of Jesus that there’s things you just don’t understand that you struggle with and you’re honest. I’ll write songs that… I don’t know, sometimes I just struggle with things that I don’t understand about God. It’s not a preaching thing, it’s just more …
JDB: an outlook.
KC: These are things that everybody thinks about.
MD: ‘Traitor’s Brain’ is about a guy that murders a family. It doesn’t even really… That’s all it’s about, basically. It’s not like I’m trying to be dark or anything. It just so happens that the music that I wrote … I actually wrote the music first and then wrote lyrics and I just wrote whatever went with the music.
KC: As far as actual message, of any sort that would be spiritual, on the album there might be like, two? really.
ER: And mostly indirect.
KC: The other songs are just about other things.
MD: About life.
DMG: So you guys must be looking forward to your first video. I can only imagine what a Pilotdrift video would look like. That would be so cool. You’ve got such cool cover art; expand that out to four or five minutes.
KC: Oh, yeah.
MD: I haven’t even thought that far ahead, but I mean, you saying that, yeah. Definitely.
KC: He did the cover art (pointing to Micah). He’s Mr. Artiste.
MD: (modestly) Yeah, I did.
JB: He’s the painter.
BR: Maybe we should do that on the next one, just have you paint it.
JDB: He can do corners pretty good. He doesn’t even tape corners when he paints. Seriously.
KC: (faking surprise) He doesn’t tape corners?
ER: I don’t tape corners either, that’s cool.
KC: (opening his hands out to Micah) But, Micah-
ER: (sheepishly) Um, OK. I just wanted a little glory.
KC: I’ve had a video idea for quite some time.
MD: We’ve been talking to someone who’s gonna do it.
JDB: We do actually have videos we made that go with our live shows when we’re headlining.
KC: Yeah, we made about eight.
MD: There’s no video of the band or anything we shot personally, it’s mostly atmospheric images and clips of other films we use.
KC: It wouldn’t be a music video or anything.
BR: They just fit with the music.
MD: Like for ‘Winter’ we have clips from 'It’s a Wonderful Life.' It’s a winter collage.
BR: Don’t say that. It’s against the law.
KC: We’re not breaking the law. Don’t tell people that!
MD: I don’t know if it is or not.
BR: It is! You can’t show it because you’re showing….
MD: Let’s just stop. Anyway, we got videos…
ER: Something to help pull you into that atmosphere. Just a little addition.
KC: It gets a little hard to set up, so we haven’t set up the TVs in a while.
MD: It’s not to the point of Midlake, where that’s almost the focus of the song is watching the video. It’s not like that. A little extra thing that we do. It’s a lot of work. We have enough stuff to tote, really.
KC: Are we answering these questions way too much?
DMG: No, no, not at all.
MD: What if we destroyed that? (pointing to the recorder)
ER: No, she’ still got notes…

Pilotdrift returns to Good Records for the store’s birthday bash on February 19th. You can find them on MySpace, but don’t miss their website; you’ll want to get out some antique National Geographics and go off with the explorers. Rumor has it they’re confirmed at SxSW as well.

© 2005 Dallas Music Guide

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