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Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010

I’m Not a Pilot: Guitar-Free and Efficient

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It’s not the most orthodox solution, but time-strapped bands having difficulty keeping their practice sessions on track could consider adding a cello player. It’s certainly worked for I’m Not a Pilot, the Milwaukee pop-rock quartet that features Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra cellist Peter Thomas.

“The four of us have full-time jobs, so time is always an issue for us, but Peter’s classical training has really helped us,” singer-pianist Mark Glatzel explains. “Symphony rehearsals are very efficient, and Peter definitely brings that mentality to the band. It keeps us in line: We address what needs to get done, then move on and practice on our own before regrouping.”

Glatzel’s piano and Thomas’ cello form the core of I’m Not a Pilot’s guitar-free sound, which finds a melodic middle ground between the piano-rock of radio acts like The Fray and Keane and the indie-pop symphonies of Sufjan Stevens and Matt Pond PA.

“It’s a sound that opens up a lot of doors for us, because it has a cross-generational appeal,” drummer Steve Vorass says. “It’s not too loud, and it’s not too soft. It’s right down the middle. We’re not going to blow the doors down when we play, but we’re not going to be coffeehouse background music, either. And as a drummer, being in a rock band without guitar leaves a lot more room to leave your own mark, since there’s more space to fill. It gives me more of an opportunity to add my own flourishes.”

This week I’m Not a Pilot follows up its 2009 debut EP with a full-length, Need Money for Rocket Fuel. It’s a transitional album. Midway through the recordings bassist Matt Glatzel, Mark’s brother, left the band to move to Minneapolis. He was replaced by Adrian Esguerra, himself a songwriter, and what began as essentially a solo project for Mark Glatzel began to feel a lot more collaborative.

“When we started I’m Not a Pilot, I was the only one writing songs,” Glatzel says. “Up until this point, I think that’s where we needed to be, but I think we’ve become more of a unit, so I think the next album is going to be even more of a conglomerate of music from all of us. I feel the need to keep progressing. We had only been playing for six months when we released our first EP, so I think we’ve already gotten a lot tighter as we’ve formulated our dynamics.”

Two of the most personal songs on Need Money for Rocket Fuel aren’t originals; they’re covers of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” and Radiohead’s “Creep,” both staples of the band’s live set. Vorass explains they are songs everyone in the band grew up with.

“We all love The Pixies and Radiohead, and both of those songs in particular took us right back to high school, when we kind of started getting into bands and playing music,” Vorass says. “They’re something crowds like to hear, but they’re also tributes to why we started making music in the first place.”

I’m Not a Pilot plays a free 8 p.m. album release show at Whiskey Bar, 788 N. Jackson St., on Friday, Nov. 12, with Ikarus Down, who will also be releasing a new album.
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