Tommy (Cantillon) and The High Pilots (Michael Cantillon, Steven Libby, and Matt Palermo) have kept plenty busy since the release of their most recent record, Only Human, last spring — though it’s a cliché to say so in 2013. In the post–Sean Parker world of paltry record sales (made worse by antiquated and/or exploitive business models), musicians have to fight the tides of culture change and “relevance” more furiously than ever; now, bands tour nonstop and pray that one of their tracks will get licensed in a Lexus or Samsung commercial. That pace hasn’t done anything to stunt Tommy’s songwriting, though.
“If you’re sitting in one place for too long, your inspiration can kind of dry up, at least in my personal experience,” remarked Cantillon, who was driving north to San Francisco during our interview. “I love Santa Barbara, but I don’t think I could stay there for 12 months straight and manage to write a bunch of different types of songs.”
If the recent past is any indication (and it almost certainly is), Tommy will have no shortage of experiences on the road to draw upon. Since the release of the group’s first LP, 2009’s Everynight, Cantillon estimates that he’s spent 14 combined months on the road, driving a van through the Midwest and up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, meeting people from every corner of the globe.
“When you move, move, move, there’s always some new story, new people to meet from different walks of life,” he explained.
For all of their growth and continued success, Tommy & The High Pilots seem to put a premium on human beings, a theme that continues to shine through in their music despite it being the theme of their last record. “It still shines through when I’m writing,” Cantillon divulged, adding that narrative weighs heavily on his mind when he’s writing songs.
Something that’s tied the years together for Tommy & The High Pilots is their annual Christmas show. Not only is it a homecoming, but it’s also an opportunity for the group to flex their creative muscles. “In the past, we’ve added horn players and extra musicians and backup singers. It’s the one show a year where we’re not in the van with the trailer, so we’re allowed to make the sounds more lush and try new things.”
Though typically at the Lobero Theatre, this year’s show was booked for SOhO because it wasn’t clear whether the post-renovation Lobero would be ready in time. “I’m from Santa Barbara, and I know how that stuff goes sometimes,” added Tommy. “We’re excited to be playing at SOhO, though. We love [owner] Gail [Hansen]. And I saw that Allan, their sound guy, was one of your Local Hero awards, which is awesome. He is a great human being.”
Gifts at this year’s performance are encouraged, too, in form of jars of peanut butter in support of Unity Shoppe’s peanut-butter drive.
Tommy & The High Pilots play SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Saturday, December 21, at 9 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for info.