Electronic and rock that dances among borders, Idiot Pilot have seen a career in making music by their own standards. Michael Harris and Daniel Anderson, the two minds behind the musical outfit, have released two full-lengths, the most recent being Wolves. In this interview, Anderson talks about working with Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Ross Robinson (Glassjaw, Korn, The Blood Brothers) on the new album, the first songs this two-man crew ever penned, and what's it like to grow up in Bellingham, Washington. Many thanks goes to Daniel and Calvin at Cornerstone Promotion for making this interview possible.
First off, can you state your name and what you do in Idiot Pilot, for the record.
My name is Daniel Anderson and I play guitar, do vocals, programming, accordion, keyboards, piano, a little bass here and there, strings etc. etc. for Idiot Pilot.
So thoughts on yesterday (Feb. 12th)? You guys have been working on this album for a long time, are you sad to see it go, or are you just thrilled to finally see it "out of your hands"?
To be honest, the record has been push back so many times that by now the release had very little meaning to me. It's been such a long time coming that yesterday was more like a "here we go again" kind of day, I fully expected to get a call saying they decided to push it back again. One thing that is pretty cool about the label finally putting it out, though, has a lot more to do with the next few months than about the release date itself. It's nice to finally see the people at our label kicking things into gear and getting the ball rolling for us.
Mark Hoppus and Ross Robinson lend their producer skills on Wolves. So what was it about their previous work that prompted you to bring them on the project? What kind of influence did they have in the bigger picture of Wolves? What songs do you think this influence is most obvious?
Ross was one of the only producers that I could name as a young kid. I would listen to Korn's first record and Life Is Peachy quite a lot. The really cool things about the albums that Ross was doing, though, is that they sort of mimicked my musical growth. Eventually, when Ross was doing records like At The Drive-In or Burn, Piano Island Burn by The Blood Brothers, which are just phenomenal albums, I was listening to those bands as well.
Those records literally defined/created genres, and the same goes for the two Glassjaw records that he did. The first Glassjaw album is probably of the most real, unfiltered record I have ever heard in my life, I love it, and whether they know it or not you can see it's influence in young bands everywhere right now. I love the Cure record that Robinson did, as well, and the latest Norma Jean album is amazing, it's probably one of the only heavy albums that I still listen to regularly anymore.
As far as Mark Hoppus getting involved, he heard we were looking for producers and came to our label and said he was interested in working with us. He knew of Idiot Pilot from a guy in the UK who worked for Atticus that we had met at one of our London shows, so he was already kind of a fan, and we had actually appeared on his Podcast, "Hi My Name Is Mark", before this. I was initially really excited to work with him because of his songwriting in Blink. It was almost as if I just wanted to know what someone who wrote so many huge successful songs would think of the Idiot Pilot tracks, because at heart I have always just considered Idiot Pilot a pop band. If someone who doesn't know us asks me what we sound like, that is usually what I will tell them, we're a pop band in wolves clothing. Kind of ironic now.
On that note, did you have a vision for what you wanted to create and unfold before you went into the studio? Or did the album figure itself out after you started recording?
A little of both actually. We had a game plan, for sure, and Wolves did end up very similar to what it was intended too. I knew that I wanted to focus on making everything feel like a big, cinematic piece where all the instruments were working together to fill in the parts. My Bloody Valentine was a big influence that we would focus on, for sure. But we also wanted to write anthems in the true pop context. I think that in some ways I wanted to show that if you can past all the production and the external elements, the Sigur Ros "anthem" and the U2 "anthem" are really the same kind of song, they are just presented differently.
Instead of your run of the mill for-hire drummers, Chris Pennie and Travis Barker shed their expertise on Wolves. Please tell me about how this got hooked up.
Well, Travis go involved with the album through Mark Hoppus, obviously, which was awesome. Chris Pennie got called up by Ross Robinson's friend, Steve Evetts, who had produced a bunch of the Dillinger Escape Plan records, and he was very interested so we flew him out and spent a few days in the studio together. It was really great to have Chris involved because you could really tell that he genuinely loved the music, he put so much of his heart into the album. We still talk a bunch to this day, such a great guy. I love Blink-182 and I love Dillinger, so I really couldn't be happier.
Where did the name Idiot Pilot originate from? This may seem like a silly question, but do you like your name?
The name Idiot Pilot just kind of came about in my kitchen when me and Mike were trying to figure out names. Kamikaze fighter planes and internet searches fit in there somewhere but I can't really remember how. I really love the name, though. I remember being in bands when I was younger with just really, really dumb names, and when someone would ask me the name of my band I could never really say it with confidence, it's like my voice would get quieter and I would mumble it out. With Idiot Pilot though, I can just shout it out, it sounds good too me and I believe in it. I can envision it places. That is the sign of a good name.
You guys started playing music together when you were 12. Can you remember the first song you ever wrote together? Tell me about it.
Well, there are a lot of answers to this question actually. We had a band in middle school together with two other friends and we had a song called "Adolescent" which I believe was the first one we ever wrote. It's weird because not only do I still remember how to play that song, but the main riff is actually pretty rad. Unfortunately, the verse is a complete rip off of "Tonight, Tonight" by The Smashing Pumpkins.
As for the first song in the style of what most people know Idiot Pilot as. I believe that would be a track that we did for our final project in 8th grade choir class. Our assignment was to pretty much create anything that had to go with music; some people played the piano, some people did reports on there favorite band, whatever. I remember going into our teachers office and asking "Is it cool if I record a song and bring it in?" and our teacher was like, No, absolutely not, which confused the hell out of me because all the other kids were, you know, singing things accapella to the class and or playing a beat on the drums for two minutes, and I wanted to do a whole entire song. He came to be after class and was like, "I'm "Sorry, you are going to have to do more than just record a song off the radio." It was so funny, I had to explain to him that No, I was actually going to record it all myself and Mike was going to sing on it. I don't think he was used to his students being all that productive. Nothing really came of that song but the next one we did was The Spartan which ended up being a B-Side for Strange We Should Meet Here and the one after that was Losing Color, which became the records first track.
I believe that a band is a product of their environment. So, in addition to all those bands and releases that you grew up with, how did living and making music in the Washington music scene shape your music?
I am so fortunate to have grown up in such a supportive musical community like Bellingham, and also just the Pacific Northwest in general. My timing was just right to so that when I was in elementary school all of my older friends and family were listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana and stuff like that. I actually went down to Seattle when I was in fifth grade and saw Pearl Jam live with my older cousin, which was amazing. It was
pretty cool so many years later to have Tim Palmer, who mixed "Ten" by Pearl Jam, mix Wolves. The Bellingham scene is notoriously supportive for young bands, as well, not so much anymore but defiantly when I was younger and going to shows with Mike. I went and saw Death Cab For Cutie a few times but at that time my friends were a lot more into them than I was. I love their record The Photo Album, though, and everything past that record I think is pretty incredible. Ben Gibbard also played drums for a local band called Eureka Farm who were rad but to be honest it's kind of hard to remember the details because I was, you know, ten or twelve.
I admire that it's just the two of you guys, especially when I see young, not-so-good bands compensate with 6 or 7 members (and they don't even have a horn section!). Even so, have you flirted with the idea of adding another body and mind?
Idiot Pilot is always going to be just a two member band, but what we do with how we present ourselves or perform may change in the years to come. I love music that is very orchestral so it's hard for me to envision not moving towards a giant band someday, especially a big-band, Count Basie kind of thing. I am actually working on a project called The Ghost And The Grace right now that I plan on doing as a full on huge band, but there is something that we want to say right now with Idiot Pilot that isn't quite in that place yet.
What recommendations can you give to a two-man band with a similar setup to yours as to how to make it work in a live setting?
We have a very dedicated sound man and running the setup that we do we could literally not do it without him. We are running around sixteen different elements out of Ableton at any given time and they are all mixable from the front of house as well as on stage. It's a very complicated set up. I would suggest that when you start off you just run the programming or some limited elements that you can't do live in a regular audio file off of your laptop, and then fill in as much else as you can. Just remember that, more often than not, limited resources are where innovation thrives.
Where did you get the inspiration for your spastic live show? Some of the stage moves are unlike anything I've ever seen.
It comes from a few places actually. I think that mostly it evolved out of how bummed I would get on watched most bands "rock out", because it's more like they are performing a series of dance moves that rock musicians have, over the years, deemed "rocking out" and "feeling it". Feeling it, to me, is something that you can't control and comes out of you in a personal way. Picture a man in a totally empty room, he has never heard music before in his life and he has never seen a band play live, he is totally virgin to culture in general and is totally unaware of how one is "supposed" to move to music. Now add music to that room. Give him a beat that he likes and a present melody and see how he interprets it. It would but totally unfiltered. That is kind of the head space that I try to get into when we perform, just let the music to its job. That isn't to say that I haven't had influences on the performance of our music, though. There was a local band called Lands Farther East who you could really see that kind of unfiltered emotion in the performance of. The same goes for the Talking Heads, who also taught me a lot about the exact opposite way of presenting things, that sometimes it's okay to turn a live music show into something else entirely.
Why iz yous so awesomez?
Cuz iz on yr stagez, playin my songz
How cool was it to have Travis Barker on drums for your song, "Elephant?"
It was really, really incredible actually. It was even more cool to be able to zoom in on the drum tracks to check how far off of the programming grid they are, and to realize that you can hardly see the difference between the programmed drums and Travis's real ones. That guy is like a fucking machine; it's truly insane to see it with your own eyes. But despite all that we still only used him when it best served the songs, because at the end of the day if it doesn't serve the song then it's meaningless. Travis actually tracked drums to the entire song "Cruel World Enterprise" but we decided to take them off and keep it more electronic.
How does it feel to be hands down the best band on this years Taste of Chaos?
I have a lot of funny answers to this but I think that it is best if I say nothing. I will let the reader make up there own little quip, for now.
Future tour plans?
For now I think that the only thing that we have booked is the Taste Of Chaos tour which lasts about a month and a half. After that, though, we plan on going straight over to the UK, hopefully. I can't wait to get a hold of some of that UK bacon, they really know how to do bacon over there.
And now, back to my questions...
What indie (or not indie, whatever you want) labels do you frequent or follow closely?
Well, our sound guy Paul still works heavily with Clickpop Records, which is the label that we originally put out Strange We Should Meet Here on before Reprise picked it up, so I generally know what is going on over there. Other than that the only label that I am consistently interested in is probably Saddle Creek. Very rarely do they put out bad records. Touch and Go put out a lot of great albums as well but for consistency I will go with Saddle Creek for my number one. I am really interested in diving into the Asthmatic Kitty catalog as well, but at the time being I am only familiar with very few of there artists.
What new bands excite you, if any?
To be totally honest, there were a few years recently where very few, if any, new artists moved me at all. There were plenty of great albums coming out but most of them were from people who had been making great records for a very long time. I fucking love Sufjan Stevens right now but he kind of falls into that category, he's been putting out records for years, and the new Feist album is amazing but she was in Broken Social Scene and Reminder isn't even really the first Feist album. Luckily I can kind of see things turning around though. Maps and Atlases are a great band and I believe that they are pretty new. I also really enjoy the new album from this band called The National and on the pop front I think that Rhianna is really fucking great.
Any last words?
Thanks so much for having me and, to everyone still reading, hopefully we'll see you very soon out on the road.