For so many of us, the holidays are about coming home. And for Santa Barbara pop rockers Tommy & The High Pilots, no words could ring truer. Since forming in 2008, the band (made up of lead singer Tommy Cantillon, guitarist Michael Cantillon, drummer Matt Palermo, and bassist Steve Libby) has remained adamantly devoted to its live show and fans, which means long hours, endless show dates, and thousands upon thousands of miles traveled. (At press time, the guys were cruising from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Denton, Texas.) It also means that every year, right around the holidays, these four lads return home to (relatively) sunny Southern California to celebrate the season in style.
This Wednesday, the band takes to SOhO for its third annual Christmas show, and trust us when we say that 2010’s promises to be the best one yet. Together with part-time Santa Barbarans Dead Country, the Pilots will transform SOhO into a rockin’ winter wonderland, complete with lights, stockings, and the requisite stash of ugly sweaters. In addition, the guys will be mixing a whole bunch of new material in with the old favorites and Christmas classics. The show will be only the band’s second in town since they released their EP, American Riviera, in September, which means new tunes that have been road tested and tirelessly readied for this big hometown return. And with a mix of twangy folk, sweet four-part harmonies, and Local Natives-style buildups all making their way into the fold this time out, we’re certain that this Pilots show will be near-bursting with the kind of palpable, drum-fueled energy that demands to be rocked out to.
I recently spoke with Tommy from the road to talk shop about the EP, the recording process, and Christmas, Pilots-style.
You guys seem to tour constantly. When did you find time to write and record American Riviera? I try and write every day, be it on the road or when we’re home. I am always working on new songs, or polishing up and finishing ideas that have been floating around for years. Some of these songs came about years ago, while [I was] living in New York. Most of the songs on this record were inspired by S.B., its characters and events that took place here. We took two weeks in August to go to L.A. and flesh everything out with producer Marc McClusky. We recorded at Sound City Studios. [It was an] amazing experience.
You can hear a noticeable growth in your sound from the last record to this one. Did you have any specific goals or ideas for the direction you wanted to take prior to the studio sessions? Most songs originate on an acoustic guitar or piano, and a world of change occurs from there. We knew we wanted to make a well-rounded, universal record. Our main goal is always to get the best work we know we’re capable of. Our first album, Every Night, was self-produced and this time around we worked with somebody else. Going in to it we knew the outside opinion would affect the overall sound for the better. You can love every bit of your music, but until somebody comes around and slaps you in the face with a little bit of truth and tells you they’re bored to death by the middle eight, well, it changes perspective. Marc really challenged us to step out of our comfort zone. He played a crucial role in the whole process. We pushed each other the whole way.
Sonically speaking, where do you see Tommy & the High Pilots going in the coming months? Is there a full-length in the works? We are always growing, as a music group and as individuals. You find new things that turn you on, new instruments, new bands, new toys. And as far as the sound of this band goes, if we ever find it we’re toast. The continuous hunt to feel something new in your loins is what we live for. This band most definitely runs on gut. … I always write so there is always potential to make a new record. I can see us touring as much as possible for the next six months and if we do break after that it will be to hit the studio.
This week’s Christmas show has become quite the tradition for you guys. How will this one compare to years past? This year we are literally on the road leading up to the day of the show. We’re hoping without being present the month leading up to it people don’t forget about us. We are a different band than we were last year, a little more seasoned, a little older. We figure out every night on stage what works and what drags. I think people will get a tight knit band with new exciting music and some oldies they’ll be able to join in on. This time around our new CD is out and we have not played in town with it yet, so in a way it’s our homecoming release show! We’re absolutely pumped to see how people respond to it.
Any fun/scary/horrifying tales from the road you’d like to share with your hometown fans? Let’s see…. From changing tires in blizzards to losing control of our van on the hills of Seattle [and] sliding into oncoming traffic to sleeping in the parking lots of Wal-Mart awaiting the snow to stop. We saw two semis crash into each other. … We definitely watched our Midwest fan base grow substantially. For the first time we’re getting fan art! Some kids come out with comics drawn of us! And there are officially High Pilot tattoos out there now! Very cool and creepy at the same time.
Tommy & The High Pilots play SOhO (1221 State St.) this Wednesday, December 22, at 7 p.m. with openers Dead Country and Halsted. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for tickets.