Pilot Airer readies for take-off
Sometimes things are just meant to be. For example, ask Milwaukee band Pilot Airer.
The members of the quintet, which just self-released its debut CD, "Emergency Take Off," have known each other for years, but life sent them off to all corners of the country. Then, as they returned to Milwaukee, they reconnected and Pilot Airer was born.
The result is a band rooted in '60s and early '70s rock, with a love for soul and blues laced with classic rock guitars.
We asked former drummer and current keyboardist, singer and vocalist Alex Gusavac about the route Pilot Airer followed to get to where the band currently is, the making of its first record and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us a little history of the band and its members.
Alex Gusavac: We formed in 2009 as a four piece: Glen Clouse on bass, me on drums, Mike Konshak on lead guitar and Matt Stankowski on rhythm guitar. Everyone but Mike sang, but Matt was really the only natural singer when we started. The fact that we do not have a lead singer gives us a lot of flexibility to change our sound, whether in a singular song or over the course of an album.
OMC: How'd you come together?
AG: We all knew each other from our teenage years. We grew up in Milwaukee, but life led us different places. The weird part is that Mike and I both moved back to Milwaukee in 2008, after almost a 10-year absence. I hadn't spoke to anyone in years, but was able to track everyone down. Glen, Matt, and Mike stayed in touch, so finding one meant you found them all. By the time we started to play again, Glen got so good at bass guitar I volunteered to play drums and we got started. As we started playing out live, drumming and singing got too tough.
So after about a year, we asked Dan Wegner (who joined after the CD was completed) to join us as the drummer, which was a great choice. Adding him gave us more flexibility during our live shows and allowed us to add keyboards to the mix, giving us a deeper sound. It also freed us up to swap instruments and allowed any given member to sing lead on a particular song.
Every member can play all of the instruments, to varying degrees of success, of course, and we all work together to compose the songs you hear.
OnMilwaukee.com:You guys have a sound that's really reminiscent of the blues-influenced rock of the late '60s and early '70s. Is that where your influences lie?
AG: Absolutely. The running joke is that we sound like the 70's. We consider that a compliment, too. If you take a look at the music that was going on from 1966 to 1976, it was a creative explosion, no boundaries. Rock and roll was expanding from its rockabilly and blues roots into all of these subgroups.
It's really Glen and I that bring that influence to the group, that danceable beat. Glen likes everything from easy listening to death metal, but we both agreed not enough soul gets made today, outside of maybe Raphael Saadiq. You hear that stuff and you just want to dance. If you listen, you can hear a lot of the songs we wrote have natural horn parts in them, those parts are just played on guitar because none of us can play brass.
Mike likes a lot of the standards: Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn are high on his list. Matt likes the more contemporary rock bands, like Weezer, The Foo Fighters, The Black Keys, and the Jack White stuff. Dan didn't play with us on any of the recordings on "Emergency Take Off," but he brings strong influences in from The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Jack White.
We all like that '60s-'70s rock, from the psychedelic to the straight rock and roll.
One thing that really influences our sound is the city and people of Milwaukee. We grew up here, so in addition to our musical influences, the sights, sounds and seasons of Milwaukee play into what we make. What we write isn't so much our band's music, but "our" music as a city and community. The music is just as much yours as it is ours, which helps people to relate to the songs.
We write about what we know, so those experiences we have had invariably come out in our music, and since we've lived it, the emotion in our songs is real. That emotion gives us some of the soul you don't often hear today. Who knows? The person in that song might be you.
OMC: Tell us a bit about making the record and where you hope it will lead.
AG: The record was a blast to make. It was recorded at Porktone studios, where Glen and Mike took care of all of the mixing. Matt and I gave our input and ideas as to what sounds to give, to clean it up, muddy it down, or throw this effect on it, but Glen and Mike did the bulk of the heavy lifting on the mixes. It was nice to have our own members mix the record, as they didn't have a preconceived "right way" to do it, the way a larger studio may opt to record things, which gave us an advantage as far as unique sound. We had the luxury of taking as much time as we wanted, since we didn't have to pay for an engineer or studio space.
Recording and writing wasn't without its tough moments, there definitely was constructive conflict. That allowed us to build on each song. Almost none of what we recorded was played exactly as it was originally written. Each member put their own spin on parts, and other guys gave suggestions on how to built on a given hook or riff. A writing process with no formal rules is a blast, you never know where the next song will come from.
The unknown when we get together is what keeps us writing and performing. We are in the process of recording our second album right now, "Cruising Altitude." To us, writing music is like vacationing in the Bermuda Triangle with The A-Team, a case of whiskey, and a bunch of mermaids. You're not really sure what's going to happen, but something cool is going to go down.
OMC: You say the band prides itself on being hard to book. What's the thinking behind your
strategy and does it seem to be working?
AG: It's not that we pride ourselves on being hard to book, but rather that we like to make it a high energy show, which keeps everyone entertained and our die hard fans fresh. By keeping it fun, and not turning it into a job, it allows us to give it our all.
There are a lot of great bands in Milwaukee that don't draw crowds the way they should because they are out playing every weekend. Even if the set varies, it's tough to get people to come out that often. Keeping our shows limited means if you want to see us, now is the time. We want to deliver a show that is James Brown tight before we hop on the backs of dragons that breathe the funk and ride into the night sky, something that leaves people wondering who they just heard, what happened and where do they get more? Playing all the time just doesn't allow for that.
Many people who have heard us are mystified at this band they've never heard of coming in, killing it and wondering why the place is packed. Since November 2010 we have played a total of 13 shows, and have been asked back to every venue. I'd have to say we're happy with this strategy for now.
OMC: When can folks see the band next?
AG: Rumor has it we'll be playing "The Ground Floor" stage at Summerfest on Saturday, July 7 at 9 p.m., but that hasn't been confirmed. It's north of the Tiki Stage, and south of the Refugee stage.
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