When you have the rug pulled out from under you, either you can lie on the ground and complain about your bare floors, or you can regain your feet, brush yourself off and begin redecorating. Tom Cantillon chose the latter in 2007 when his band, Holden, unexpectedly split after five years, jumping coasts from Santa Barbara to New York City and spending the next year soaking in his new surroundings while filling his songbook. “I was somewhat lost, only in the sense that I wasn’t sure which direction to head with my music,” Cantillon recalls. “New York was such a different world, being from the beach in Santa Barbara, that I naturally had a change of influence if only by the change in scenery and culture.”
Now, freshly inspired with a slew of new songs bouncing around his head, Cantillon started redecorating. Enter longtime friend and fellow Santa Barbarian Steve Libby (bass), Cantillon’s younger brother Michael (electrics, acoustics and keyboards) and California transplant Matt Palermo (drums). “Holden was based on a group of friends who wanted to play music together. Simple enough,” Cantillon says. “That’s our credo in Pilot world as well.” And thus, Tommy and The High Pilots was born.
The band immediately went to work on Everynight, recording and producing their debut album on their own in 2008. Two years later came American Riviera, a six-song EP that presented a unique set of challenges for the prolific Cantillon and his bandmates. “We have dozens of songs to pick from whenever we enter the studio,” Cantillon explains. “The hard part is finding the songs everybody agrees on.” It’s a good problem to have, of course, because Cantillon never stops writing. “Something always pops up and I need to sit down and flesh it out, even if it starts with one lyric, one chord, one riff,” he says. “So looking at a drawing board with 60 songs on it and shooting 54 of them down is not easy, but I think we nailed it. We love a good challenge.”
For as much as the Pilots enjoy writing and recording their songs in studio, playing those songs in front of their fans is their bread and butter, and their priority as musicians. In fact, to truly experience the Pilots, Cantillon says Everynight and American Riviera are good places to start, but watching these four friends doing what they love on stage will tie it all together. “One of our concerts may only be a 30-minute set but that stage is going to be caked in passion-infused sweat,” Cantillon says. “This is the fun part of our job and you better believe we’re having a world of it up there!”
With two albums to their name, dozens of songs in the hopper and even more yet to be written, Tommy and The High Pilots are just getting started. As is often the case in life, adversity led to opportunity for Cantillon and his fellow Pilots, and they plan on taking full advantage. “Learning from the past is huge for us,” Cantillon says. “We know what has worked so far and what maybe didn’t work too well. We get to draw from that and, in the long run, that will be very beneficial.” Barring any unexpected turbulence, this foursome sees nothing but blue skies ahead and has no plans to let their fast moving feet touch the ground any time soon.