Column 75 — The confidence of Kite Pilot…

Category: Blog — @ 12:14 pm May 4, 2006

As I mentioned yesterday, this column was originally supposed to be a feature story on Kite Pilot in support of their CD release show this Saturday at Sokol Underground. With a word-count limit not to my liking, I moved it into my column space. Funny thing about Kite Pilot — the band is so comfortable with what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, you can tell them anything and they won’t take offense. For example, Austin’s screaming on the new album (and in their live set) — I find it disturbing and somewhat jarring. Instead of being defensive, Austin simply explains why he does it. He knows some people may not get it. Same goes for their live shows. I mentioned that going to a Kite Pilot show has become an experience not unlike going to a Simon Joyner show — you never know what you’ll get. It’ll either be transcendent or painful, but rarely boring. I am not the first person, apparently, to tell Kite Pilot this, and they revel in their inconsistency, unwilling to take out any of the variables that make their set unpredictable. This confidence in vision is why this band will be around for a long time, in one form or another, with different members coming and going in a natural progression.

Column 75: Success Hasn’t Spoiled Them Yet
Kite Pilot defines it on their own terms.
It was all the way back in August of ’05 when the first copies of Kite Pilot’s new full-length, Mercy Will Close Its Doors, began surfacing ’round town.

Fifty hand-crafted CDR copies of the disc were distributed to press (including yours truly), record labels and friends of the band with hopes of generating some national indie label interest.

Eight months later and Kite Pilot is releasing Mercy… themselves. Some might consider that a failure, but not for a band who defines success on their own terms.

“We did get a label offer,” said Austin Britton, who was joined last Saturday by fellow band members Erica Hanton and husband, Todd Hanton, in the couple’s mid-town living room. Missing was drummer Jeremy Stanosheck, while new guitarist Nate Mickish (ex-Golden Age) showed up later.

No one was willing to say who the label was, only that differences — artistic, business, personal and otherwise — kept them from signing on the dotted line.
“The label just didn’t seem to support what we wanted,” Todd said. “There was a lot of talk about them being ‘a big family’ and allowing us to put out what we wanted, but their track record didn’t support that. We wanted artistic control, and that’s something you don’t get anymore.”

“There’s this ‘friendship model’ out there now, where the labels want to be friends with you first,” Britton said. “We’re more interested in having them support the art first. They want to be bro’s. That can come later, after the record is out.”

Sound brutal? Britton and Hanton said it ain’t personal, they just want the art to prevail. In fact, they want it the way it was in the ’60s and ’70s, back when major labels nurtured bands. “They signed you with the goal of helping develop your sound,” Britton said. “Major labels were household names. You knew what a Motown artist was. Nobody knows or cares what label Britney Spears is on.”

That said, the band also admitted that they weren’t willing to make the personal sacrifices demanded by labels — specifically, to tour extensively on a low budget.

“None of us are willing to quit our jobs to go on tour,” Britton said. “In Kite Pilot, the band is subservient to the individuals; the individuals aren’t subservient to the band. We won’t sacrifice life and limb, and we don’t want music to be our sole livelihood.”

Uh, hold on a minute. The Hantons disagreed, saying they would be willing to make music a full-time career, but “we still want to live comfortably,” Erica said. “We don’t want to be obsessive about it.”

That would take all the fun out of it, Todd said. And fun is what it all comes down to for this band, both in the studio and on stage where night-to-night, anything goes.

Kite Pilot defined their fun-loving style back in 2004 with a self-released debut EP that is a pop masterpiece. It effortlessly combines bouncing indie-pop with complex multi-instrument arrangements that lean on Todd Hanton and Britton’s jazz backgrounds along with Erica’s history as part of the classic post-punk band The Protoculture. Songs like the trumpet-fueled “Tree Caught the Kite” and dance anthem “On My Lips” can be heard nightly on O’Leaver’s jukebox.
Things get more complicated on Mercy Will Close Its Doors. While the pop is still there, the arrangements are more complex and challenging — which is a fancy way of saying the band wasn’t afraid to take risks. For example, during one of Todd’s airy trumpet solos on “Tiny Portraits (Of Miniature People),” Britton abruptly screams as if in agony. It’s even more startling when heard performed live.

“There’s no ‘Kite Pilot sound,'” Britton said. “It’s whatever the song needs, whether it’s classical or jazz elements, or screaming. I listen to a lot of hardcore music. Screaming has a place as a musical tool.”

“The first time he did it, we were shocked,” Todd said. “There’s a lot of personal experimentation going on.”

Especially during their live set. Kite Pilot has garnered a reputation as one of those bands where, on any given night, you never know what you’re in for. The results can be transcendent or downright disorienting.

“We let the songs do what they want to do live,” Britton said. “If something’s lacking, we’ll change the part and do some improvisation.”

The bottom line: They do whatever they want. Which is also how they define their success. Certainly not based on a record contract.

“I’ve known bands that live or die because of a record deal,” Britton said. “They decide they don’t need to do it anymore because they can’t get signed.”
“So many bands get hooked on the industry’s definition of success.” Hanton added. “If they don’t fit that model, they’ve failed. No one ever said, ‘You guys are successful because you didn’t destroy yourselves doing what you love.'”

Kite Pilot hosts a CD release show with Eagle*Seagull and Spring Gun, Saturday, May 6, at Sokol Underground, 13th & Martha. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $7.

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