Published Oct 25, 2011Banner Pilot's Heart Beats Pacific marks their second full-length album on Fat Wreck. Since the inception of the band in 2006, the Midwest punks have never released the same album twice, varying and progressing with age, much like a fine wine. The biggest difference is a drop in vocal range from backup singer and guitarist Nick Johnson. Songs like "Eraser" and "Spanish Reds" channel the high/low vocal duels of early Blink-182. Yet they haven't lost the blend of punk and darker post-rock that 2009's Collapser gave us ("Eraser" is a sharp nod in the direction of Lifetime). Vocal and instrumental layers weave through creative bridge melodies that mark a much different course from their days of catchy, hook-riddled, gruffer tunes. Prepare for a bigger, more concise sound from Banner Pilot that, for all it's worth, still holds the distinct, catchy charm that they've had all along. They just softened it a bit (like, an octave).
Resignation Day was re-released as a remixed/remastered version in 2010 through Fat Wreck. It sounds great and in much better audio quality. Do you feel that it may have taken the "punk rock" out of it?
Bassist/vocalist Nate Gangelhoff: Not really. The reaction has always been positive; I think the original was kind of raw, but not in a good way. It was kind of muddy and it was our fault because we rushed through mixing. I thought the remastered version worked better. The first sounded like something was missing.
Fat Wreck announced that a heavy tour will follow Heart Beats Pacific. Where will you be headed and will you finally hit Canada?
Yeah, hopefully! Right now we are for sure heading out to New York and down south to Florida for the Fest in October, with our friends Dead to Me. There's a release show in Minneapolis and we're planning for a West coast tour in January and February. We want to go back to Europe and we're also talking about Japan and Puerto Rico. We had border issues crossing into Canada last time [for Pouzza Fest] because of issues with our drummer's record, but we eventually got approval, so we want to go back next year. He has to go through this long process though. Hopefully we'll be coming to Toronto after that.
Banner Pilot have a very distinct Midwest punk sound that channels '90s punk, such as Jawbreaker/Lifetime/Sunny Day Real Estate. Who were your influences growing up and what would you tell new upcoming punk bands that look to you as influences now?
Growing up, that's mostly what we listened to and as for writing style, we looked to Jawbreaker, Screeching Weasel, Lifetime and bands like that, although you don't hear the Screeching Weasel/Queers side as much in our bands. Me, Nick and his brother grew up playing these kinds of songs in our parents' basements. Jawbreaker, Dillinger Four, Alkaline Trio all have great influence on how we make music. I would tell new punk bands to find the bands you like, that you can play along with, and get a sense of how they write songs as a springboard, and keep at it. There's a lot of temptation when you're writing to get, say, six to ten songs and then put those out right away, no matter what they sound like. But you have to give time to edit yourself and get better. We'll typically write 50 song ideas and get rid of 40. The first stuff you have isn't going to be the best unless you're some kind of genius.
This album, as well as Collapser, is less straightforward than your earlier work. It seems like before you were focusing on creating these perfect hooks, while now you've ventured into expanded instrumental and vocal territory, including layered guitar and vocals. Where do you see yourself taking Banner Pilot in the future?
When you have a certain sound and do the exact same thing for each album, it can get old. And the flipside is sometimes a lot of bands don't want to do the same thing, but their new sound comes out sounding forced or just not in their area of expertise. Like, they'll add strings and crap and it just doesn't work. We try to put out something new, but not so different that it will suck or alienate fans. Our new record is a gradual change from Collapser, with some differences, and we'll keep going with the same pattern. Between Collapser and the new record, the changes aren't dramatic, but on paper it sounds different. We dropped the guitar tuning, but I don't think you'd notice right away. We basically have a bigger sound with bigger production and bigger choruses, and we have a four-note piano solo on this album.
You've come a long way and changed quite a bit without venturing outside of the sound that is Banner Pilot. Minus the lyrical subjects, musically your sound is more developed and less in-your-face punk rock. Will you continue with pop punk with a heavy Midwest influence?
Pop punk is a narrow term, to me. We're not all that pop punk, I don't think, but we'll always be sort of in that ballpark. I like a lot of indie rock stuff from the UK, as well as Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, and it would be cool to add elements of that to our sound, as long as we can do it in a way that doesn't seem forced or ridiculous.
You have been writing most of the music for Banner Pilot. What is your songwriting style?
I generally use a guitar and laptop. I come up with riffs and chord progressions, some vocal melodies and guitar leads then send them to the other guys. They veto or eliminate the bad stuff and we start working on the other stuff. Nick will fine-tune the vocal melodies I had or come up with new ones and then we'll jam on the songs at our practice space. We do this over and over again for dozens and dozens of songs, with most dropping by the wayside, and some getting better and better until they're ready for the album. That's the basic process; we do that for 99 percent of the songs. I think it works well and it's good to have the guys to help out and collaborate with. Sometimes Nick comes up with his music and sometimes as a group we come up with a basic melody from scratch in the practice space and change it up, add stuff to it and play it over and over again until it's a song. But usually it's the long process I just talked about.
You've played the Fest six times so far. What's your favourite part about the Fest this year or in general?
The music part is great, but the bigger concept of the Fest is what I like the most. Gainesville isn't a huge city and it has a ton of music venues, so when you go down there, it's like the town has been taken over by punks, walking from venue to venue. It's a nice community vibe. The music and bands are great too, of course, but it's equally awesome to walk around and see people. Other music fests are fun, but none of them have that same element to them.
I've noticed more vocal sharing on Heart Beats Pacific than any other album, either that or more duelling vocals. Particularly in "Spanish Reds."
It's mostly Nick doing his backup vocals in a very low register. Zack from Dear Landlord did some back ups as well. Ninety-nine percent of the back-up vocals on this album are Nick though. I think the low register gives our songs more variety.
There is a surge of bands coming up that are throwing back to the mid-'90s style of Jawbreaker, Lifetime, etc. What direction do you think that string of punk is going to take after that?
I like that those bands are popping back up. I like that style of bands a lot and I remember five to six years ago when you wanted to listen to a band like that it was much harder to find. It's cool. It's kind of hard to predict what the next thing will be; I think music goes through phases and just about anything can be awesome unless you don't do it well. Cheap Girls are a punk band, but remind me of a '90s alternative band. It would be cool if bands that sound like punk but not exactly, like Superchunk and Pavement, would be the next direction or phase in music.
Where did the title Heart Beats Pacific come from?
I write music on a drum machine and I have to name each track something when I save it, so I usually think of an okay phrase as a starting point. I don't remember where [the title] exactly came from, but it might have been something from a newspaper. I liked that phrase and we made it a lyric in the last song. The actual origin was just a phrase I came up with out of nowhere.
Many bands speak of their longevity, yet you guys were signed and released two albums on Fat Wreck within six years. Did you know that it would be such a quick transition for you as a band? Was it a surprise or were you in it for the long haul?
From the get-go it was for fun. We didn't know how long we were planning to keep it up, but we were just chugging along and having fun with it. We never said that if we don't get on Fat Wreck we'd quit or anything like that. We have fun, we keep doing it and will keep doing it and long as it's still fun and we don't start to suck. Hooking up with Fat Wreck has been very fortunate. Every record has been a cooler and better experience for us. But, yeah, if we hadn't gotten on Fat Wreck we would have kept going.
You're juggling time between three bands (Banner Pilot, the Gateway District and Off With Their Heads), this new album, a summer of touring and just released a book. How do you do it?
It's kind of misleading; I don't tour with the other two bands. I haven't played a show with Off With Their Heads in probably three years; I just play bass on the albums. With Gateway District, we get together and play a lot, but don't tour as often. I mostly focus on Banner Pilot. Writing is just on the side; I write a few pages here and there when I get the chance.
Your book is a compilation of some mighty interesting zines that you worked on over the years. As Oprah says, it's full of "aha" moments. What's the craziest story you've encountered?
I've researched people who accuse musicians or products of being influenced by Satan and satanic traditions, and it's eye opening to see what people legitimately see in things from their viewpoint. Like, for example, there are people who say Strawberry Shortcake toys, Harry Potter and Christian rock bands are coming from satanic traditions. They think the devil is creating them. That was pretty out there, for me.
The zine era has faded a bit and seems to be replaced by blogs. Do you see yourself going the route of blogging when the zines run out?
I've actually been meaning to do that because blogging makes more sense, as far as the number of people who will see it, and it allows you to get around a lot more and get it out there. But writing takes a lot more editing, which I like, compared to blogging, where you're continuously plugging them out right away. I want to do that, but I'd have to change my mode or philosophy or whatever and just crank stuff out without doing as much editing or sitting on it. I do think that's the future of writing though. (Fat Wreck)