A new band of young guys caught my attention about 18 months ago with its debut single, "Chasing", on Z104.5, The Edge's 2010 Homegroan compilation CD. As it turned out, that single wasn't a fluke, as the band had just released a four song debut EP that proved to be consistent in the band's (and specifically principal songwriter, Nick Whitaker's) pop sensibility.
Looking back, that initial Homegroan appearance was a great springboard for the young band that had just formed, primarily as a vehicle for Whitaker's songwriting, in late spring and made its debut at Free Tulsa in July of 2010. Not only did it land the group some local airplay, but it started picking up live dates, raising its profile in and around Tulsa. And an appearance at Red Gorilla Music Fest, which runs concurrent to SXSW in Austin, Texas, followed in March of 2011 and the band was off and running.
Wisely, the band didn't oversaturate the local scene with live gigs, but grew slowly and steadily to build a solid buzz and land some higher profile gigs such opening for Hot Chelle Rae at Cain's Ballroom last September as the group worked on new material. The summer even brought an appearance at the Kansas City stop on the annual Warped Tour as one of five regional bands picked to play on the Ernie Ball stage.
The added live dates certainly helped the band chemistry, but perhaps more importantly, the band never lost its focus on songwriting. Late summer recording sessions yielded a new single, "No Time to Waste", which built upon the band's momentum and successfully expanded on the band's guitar oriented pop sound. That single landed the band on The Edge's Homegroan compilation for a second consecutive year and acted as an early signal of what was to come with the band's sophomore release, We Belong.
The new disc shows not only a growth in Whitaker's songwriting, but an additional strength in the band's chemistry and cohesiveness. On the initial four track EP, it was clear that this was Whitaker's vision. With We Belong, the group has started to find its identity and sound more like a band, putting a collective fingerprint on the songs.
In the Cockpit. Focused largely on songwriting, FM Pilots gain momentum with We Belong.
With We Belong, the group has delivered wisely. By including a lean five tracks and clocking in at less than twenty minutes, FM Pilots keeps it clean and direct. The result flies by and leaves you wanting more, but that works to the band's advantage, by giving the fans a quality release without diluting the product. This is a band that's still growing and finding its footing and the five tracks go a long way in allowing the band to further establish its identity without painting itself into a corner.
On one hand, the band delivers a slightly more rock oriented sound on "No Time to Waste" and "Eyes Open," with chiming guitars and big choruses. On the other, the band covers mid-tempo ballads adeptly with "Brighter" and "Counting Costs," displaying the group's versatility. Fittingly, the title track, "We Belong" ties it all together nicely by building on an acoustic guitar and layering in the band gradually for the chorus and bridge.
When discussing the songwriting process, Whitaker shared that it has definitely become more of a band oriented process. While the band was initially formed around his songs for the first EP, those songs were primarily recorded as he wrote them.
"It's still the same band members," Whitaker said, "but we've got a better feel for each other now. On the previous record, those were songs I'd been working on myself and brought them in to complete. This time it's all of us working together as a band and I think it shows in the songs."
According to Whitaker, the band started writing immediately after the last EP was completed and released. "It started off really well and we started tracking pretty quickly, but then we took our time," he shared. "We decided to really focus on our writing and to figure out exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to sound like with this record."
The results of that focus come through in the band's lean, five track sophomore release. Perhaps most telling, however, is the title track, "We Belong," which acts as a near perfect portrait of the band at this point in time.
According to Whitaker, the band came to a stopping point of sorts last October when it was on a deadline to finish the new record and only had four songs. "We knew we needed a fifth track," he explained, "and we tried three other songs that worked OK, but just didn't really fit."
"I had 'We Belong,' which I'd been randomly playing the first verse and chorus to for a couple of years. It was something I'd never showed them before, though -- I'd just played it myself. We were starting to stress over writing another song, so I played it for them and we just jammed it out and finished the second verse and finished it in one practice. We recorded it and knew we had it finished all within just a couple of weeks."
"I think that song just fits in really well," he continued. "It's about being in the right place at the right time and everything falling into place. It's the last song we finished, but it just feels right to us and really makes sense as the title track. That's really where we're at right now."
After giving the songs a few spins, I'd have to agree. Not only is it a good portrait of where the band is right now, but it's arriving at the perfect time. FM Pilots' sound is ideally suited to the spring and summer -- breezy pop tunes that are perfect for the car and carefree drive and the perfect weather to enjoy these tunes is on its way.
The band celebrates with a CD release party this Saturday night, March 31, at Hunt Club with another great pop songwriter, Stephen Speaks, opening the show at 10pm. It's an all-ages show and the $5 cover includes a free copy of the new EP which will officially be released via Interlantic Records this coming Tuesday, April 3. That gives local fans a chance to get their copy early and celebrate with one of Tulsa's promising young pop acts.
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