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Pilot Radio - On Course For Greatness
By Ben Ohmart
(more articles from this author)
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To achieve success today it takes a great deal of talent, heartache, luck, belief, determination and a soup full of subtleties. Cream rises to the top. So does muck. But Pilot Radio, formed in 1997, is a Texas-made band that pits a Counting Crows sound against all the muck rising up out there. They are:

Ricky Young, guitar and vocals
Drew Walters, bass
Keith Shepard on guitar
Austen Hooks on drums

'We really are just good old boys from Texas. We love meeting new people and we take pride in doing it the hard way... and we love what we do.'

MP3: "Obvious Things"

Their new cd, Antiques, is anything but old. And yet in the laconic addiction of this vastly alternative, folk-based music there is a sense of dreaming nostalgia. Just in the first lyric, Ricky remembers 'Obvious Things' like an old man recounting a life gone wrong. True, he's just a young guy, and yet when he wallows in...

Consider all this time that you've been there
I have to ask why I'm not with you
I've been troubled for so long, but not anymore
I think it's time you feel this

...he makes you believe the time-filled heartache. It is Pilot Radio's greatest natural asset. That uncanny ability to make you switch off your head and think with that bloody, pumping respirator. It isn't that they are a ballad band, or a depressing, Pink Floyd-era one. They are simply adept at forming a sad song out of the natural elements that have formed from the cooling earth. Listening to Pilot Radio, your commiseration is switched on to intense heat - or intense cold. Intense is the point, given with an uncanny precision in so young a band.

Lead singer Ricky Young explains their mode of song construction/deconstruction. "Rarely do we write songs about wonderful happy things. If you're happy, you want to go out and be happy rather than sitting up in your room dealing with things that upset you, it's your emotions at the moment that drive writing the song."

MP3: "Sunshine"

Antiques is a voice and guitar driven album. Whether they are using electric or acoustic guitars is irrelevant (though they use both). It is the emotion of songs like 'Good Thing You're Young' that puts Young in the spotlight. Like any fine actor, he will take the simple that has been set in a complex spin and he takes the listener with him on a personal journey of fire and longing and dramatics and usual, petty crimes, which makes the entire moment memorable:

But stay if you want to stay
Cause I just want you here
You know that I love you both
But it's been too damn long
It's a good thing that you're young

In just a few phrases the picture becomes clearer. The performances on these 10 songs stem from loneliness and survival and a needing to belong, even for a short time, to someone else who needs to belong. It's poetry of living, and bridges the gap between the old and the new styles of competent songwriting.

"I'm constantly putting songs together in my head," says Young, "and writing as much as I can. Whenever I have a song I take it to the band and we run with it together. It's actually a lot of fun when we get rolling. We just think of it as rock and roll. We focus on writing good solid songs, and having good solid shows. We love classic bands like the Beatles and Tom Petty, and we are really into some newer bands like Radiohead, Coldplay and The Verve. I don't know how you describe our style. If you can think of it, let me know."

And like anyone else, the constant need for touring, for getting that music out there, seeing what works and what doesn't, is the key. For Pilot Radio, it's been a non-stop ride.

MP3: "Maybe We Won't Die"

"Our fans are the coolest. I think for the most part they are grasping where we are coming from. It's about the song... if the song is good and performed well, then people will grab it."

People have been grabbing it without fail. Their radio play history sheet reads like an Atlas. "Thanks to Solar Flare Records!! They work so hard for all this to happen, we are truly blessed." They've conquered all states, from Alaska to Maine and everything in between. New stations keep asking for their cd. The continuous touring does it. They've played 60 shows so far in 2003. It doesn't look like it's going to slow any time soon. "As of right now we are completely full time. I wouldn't really consider it making a living. We have all quit our jobs and school, so really we're just living."

Still, it's always nice to be noticed. Pilot Radio is achieving more than most bands. Just dreaming doesn't help. You have to SOUND like these guys. "We just want to be heard on a bigger level," admits Young. "We would like to go all the way. I'm not going to lie, I want to be successful, and make a little money, but before all that we want respect from our peers, fans, and critics. We would love to tour with Coldplay, Travis, or The Counting Crows.'

Advice for new blood? "Work hard and pay your dues, be prolific, and use your influences in an original way rather than copying them." They don't copy much. Sure, you might find a Clash cover or a version of Tom Petty's 'You Wreck Me' in their set, but otherwise, they're doing their own thing. Breaks your heart to hear it, but like watching a majestic glacier tumble, there's deep beauty there.

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