There's no doubt that the speedy ascent of Pilots vs. Aeroplanes has been eminently noticeable in a town full of grounded hopefuls, especially considering the emo-shimmer ambience and the distant space-rock gaze of their experimental music. These things just don't happen. But by sticking to their ambitious sonic objectives and a near-saturation live schedule, Pilots vs. Aeroplanes are cutting a path all their own to the skies.
"We used to be a really, really poor band," says keyboard whiz Alan Singley. "Now we're just a really poor band."
The really, really poor Pilots vs. Aeroplanes got their start in 1999, after Brad Register (guitars/vocals) and Chris Harry (drums) disbanded their native Lakeland, Fla., outfit, Greetings from Joon. The duo casually set out on a series of minimalist gigs under the Pilots vs. Aeroplanes moniker. Singley, who had been a fan of Greetings from Joon, happened upon Register, who mentioned that PVA might be looking for a keyboard player or a violinist. Singley, in turn, was exhausting his stint as one-half of Borders regulars Coach Greene, so he offered his burgeoning keyboard prowess to the mix.
"I was already running keyboards through distortion pedals in my bedroom at 4 a.m.," he says. "So I showed up with this beaten-up keyboard -- they must have been like, ‘What is he thinking?'"
The band set out with its original bassist, Johnny (since replaced by Dave McMahon of My Friend Steve fame), on an awkward path of low-rent, chops-earning gigs around Central Florida.
"I think that of all the local bands, we have had a path that is so indie, so DIY, that it sets us apart," says Singley. "We played a really strange scene that took us around Lakeland, Tampa and Sarasota. We used to play gigs at places with names like The Atari Info Shop."
Like many bands who found themselves on the late-'90s emo fringe, Pilots also dove into the church market, playing nearly every major Christian/punk festival and taking the relatively high road to mass exposure.
"I learned a lot about the Christian market; it's really freaky," says Singley of the Bible-beat's odd bookstore distribution avenues and placid faces. "But in my opinion, the churches were good. Churches paid well, and they always fed us."
Their work paid off with a universally lauded debut, "our desire is wind and motor" ("We like it, but it's weird. It goes in so many different directions," says Singley), and an impressive array of high-profile gigs, including the local stop of the 2000 Vans Warped Tour.
These days, the Pilots live in Orlando and are about to release an in-betweener five-song EP, although they are working toward their next full-length manifesto. They're set to go into the studio with Jeff Nolan to craft an even more ambitious opus -- think Pink Floyd meets Radiohead -- pressed through the grinding pomo distortion that's fast becoming PVA's signature.
On the side, both Singley and Register nurture their own notably divergent projects. Singley's Missouri Loves Company has already produced a charming little record of sideways-glancing pop (a la Elliott Smith), while Register's Murder (with some help from Singley) offers the heavier, moodier end of the Pilots' punch, choosing introspection over big-band projection. Both acts serve as fitting openers to the current Pilots gigs. Why diversify?
"One band can't practice every day," offers Singley. "You can keep yourself busy with yourself."