“Can We Pause Right Here?”: Friday Pilots Club Discuss Compromise, Criminal Careers, & Their Debut Album ‘Nowhere’

Friday Pilots Club © Kate Liddy
Friday Pilots Club © Kate Liddy
Chicago-based Friday Pilots Club chat with Atwood Magazine about their hopes, dreams, and “favorite part” of their coming-of-age debut album, ‘Nowhere’!
Stream: ‘Nowhere’ – Friday Pilots Club

Chicago-based Friday Pilots Club does not fit in among the garage bands that currently dominate the Windy City music scene.

The members of the five-piece band–whose influences range from Deftones to Primus – prefer to associate themselves with the city’s diversity rather than restrict themselves to any one genre. With the release of their debut album, Nowhere (May 9th, 2024), the distinct stylistic preferences of each band member shine through. From the chaos of the title track (guitarist Sean Burke admittedly loves madness), to the sentimental verses of “Favorite Part,” Nowhere proves that even with five chefs in the kitchen, the band knows how to cook up an impressive album.

Nowhere - Friday Pilots Club
Nowhere – Friday Pilots Club

Friday Pilots Club formed in 2017 when vocalist Caleb Hiltunen and bassist Drew Polivick joined forces with drummer Eric Doar and guitarists Sean Burke and James Kourafas. I spoke with Caleb, Eric, and Sean three days before the release of Nowhere, and four days before their album release show at Bottom Lounge in Chicago. They took our Zoom in the back of a tour van, crowded around a cell phone and giddy with pre-release nerves. I could immediately sense the genuine friendship they share, which Caleb confirmed as he explained how the band got to where they are today. After a former label contract proved to be the wrong fit, they took time to reorganize behind the scenes.

“We realized the only way you do this is if it is equally the five of us,” Caleb explains. “There are hardships to that, but we have learned to love each other, be patient, and be honest. I’ve learned so much about life in this band.”

The importance of compromise permeates our discussion of the band’s journey, and their album in particular.

“True compromise comes from trusting people,” Caleb elaborates. “Not forfeiting, but trusting that their knowledge and passion is going to lead to a better product or a better experience overall. And that’s something that we do probably every single day.” With Caleb in Nashville, Drew in Los Angeles, and the rest of the band still in Chicago, the group is extremely intentional about how they spend sacred time together. Nowhere was recorded, well, in middle-of-nowhere Georgia, in a cabin in the woods.

“By day three or four, everyone was losing their minds,” Sean chimes in. “So our ability to be patient with each other was,” he pauses, “I’m glad it was there.” When I ask “Why Georgia?” Sean shares that they wanted a place where they could get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and be fully present. Eric adds that the price was right, and they all agree that the hot tub was a bonus.

“We went down to Georgia with more or less 60 incomplete songs,” Eric says.

As the trio touches on the band’s songwriting process, they begin to describe a series of checks and balances. Once an idea is brought into the room by one member, it’s up to the rest of the band-mates to transform that vision into a Friday Pilots Club song. “It’s me telling Sean, ‘Do some cool shit on the guitar, please. If I do this, it’s going to sound like a song from The Strokes,” Caleb laughs, but continues earnestly, “it’s an equal sum of all its parts.” Caleb, who is lovingly teased (and lauded) by his fellow band members for producing “Shakespeare-ass lyrics,” never wants to come off as self-indulgent. “You want to be clever, you want to be poetic,” he says, “but you don’t want to be too ambiguous… sometimes that comes off as pretentious, and that’s not how we’re trying to reach people.”

Friday Pilots Club © Kate Liddy
Friday Pilots Club © Kate Liddy

Friday Pilots Club are attracting devoted fans with intoxicating instrumentals and sticky choruses.

The album’s first single, “Vampire Disco,” is emblematic of the mixture between clever, poetic, and accessible that the band strives for. The combination of driving rhythms, edgy vocals, and electrifying guitar riffs is evocative of the alternative pop rock that inundated radio stations in the late 2000s and early 2010s:

Yeah, she’s a death wish
I don’t think we’re ever gonna fix this
Backtrack ’til we’re dancing on the kill switch
What’s the point of praying for the wicked?

The chorus of “We Don’t Wanna Talk” is catchy enough to get even the greatest cynic on their feet. It’s one of Eric’s favorite songs on the album, and I can understand why. The bridge boasts the sort of bold riffs that made The Backstreet Boys an instant classic in the late ’90s, but the lyrics scratch beneath the surface:

She thinks I’m a saint
But divinity was never the aim
And we don’t wanna talk about
Repercussions babe

The album’s title track marries distorted vocals and guitars with obsessive lyrics. Caleb, taking on the persona of a lover who is in too deep but doesn’t care, sings, “Mr. Jesus, I found someone new / Swear to God she looks nothing like you.” “Coffin” takes a less frenzied approach to love, with lo-fi sounds and morbidly sweet lyrics, “She’s my coffin / Cigarettes and coffee / Sleeping in on Monday.” “Ultraviolet” delves further into obsession, masking dark sentiments with smoky notes, like a good mezcal.

Interlude “Atlas” breaks up the album with one minute and 27 seconds of bassist Drew Polivick’s vocals. The track is a case study in the aforementioned compromise that carried the album from an idea into reality. “I think that we spent a good two hours trying to get my vocals on that song,” Caleb says. “But it’s Drew’s vocals. And after we went back and forth, we were like, ‘dude, this is your piece of art here.’ And it makes more sense that it’s your vocals that people are hearing.”

Nowhere is, in many ways, a coming-of-age album for the band.

Its final track, “Favorite Part,” speaks to the change–both good and bad–that music has brought into the band member’s lives. “It’s the sad, perfect cap,” according to Sean, on an album that goes “completely nuts” (one or two songs aside) up until that point.

“Lyrically, ‘Favorite Part’ means a lot to me,” Caleb shares. “It started from this poem I had written on my phone. The song is about getting older, and as you go deeper and deeper into this thing that is trying to make a career in music, your friendships and your relationships change. It’s me saying, ‘Please just remember me when I was able to be there all the time.’”

The sentiment of wanting to hold on to those precious moments is reflected in the poignant chorus:

Can we pause right here?
It’s my favorite part
Just in case right now
Is the best that we are
Maybe then someday wouldn’t feel so far
Paint me in the light of a passing car

From the album’s grand entrance to its bittersweet ending, each song occupies its own unique space.

The final track-listing, settled on only a few weeks prior to Nowhere’s release, prompted a lot of back and forth. “I think we did a great job organizing it so you can listen through and it feels like a good flow,” Sean – who proposed the existing album order – says. “But you can also just pop anything on and it’s gonna be different from the next thing, so I think that’s kind of cool.” It’s the kind of album you can throw on in the car and drive around listening to for hours, or jam to live at a pub in Scotland on the band’s European tour. If you happen to be in Glasgow on May 20th, you can do just that.

Friday Pilots Club © Kate Liddy
Friday Pilots Club © Kate Liddy

I imagine that asking a musician, “What’s next?,” the week of a major album release, produces a feeling similar to being asked as a first-semester college freshman, “What are your plans after graduation?”

But I’m curious, so I ask anyway.

“Criminal career,” Caleb suggests (hopefully) in jest. “Because we’re gonna be in unbelievable debt in Europe. So we were thinking about robbing a bank potentially.” When the laughter dies down, he continues, “But no, I don’t know. I feel like writing an album makes you want to keep writing albums.”

With thousands of ideas for future albums spinning around in their heads, I ask Caleb, Sean, and Eric to return their focus to Nowhere. What is Friday Pilots Club’s sound? “I think that the search for it might be the greatest clue we have as to what our actual sound is,” Caleb says. “The constant pursuit of just being genuine.”

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:: stream/purchase Nowhere here ::
:: connect with Friday Pilots Club here ::

— — — —

Nowhere - Friday Pilots Club

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? © Kate Liddy


an album by Friday Pilots Club

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