INTERVIEW // Friday Pilots Club


Friday Pilots Club are a duo of friends who have a mutual passion to make music that has something to say, and to say it loud. Their alt-rock sound has touched on elements ranging from indie to metal to 80’s, all tied together with an undeniable pop sensibility and Caleb Hiltunen’s powerful vocals. This unique sound takes off and reaches a towering height on the intense and anthemic new single Breaking My Bones, the first taste of their upcoming debut EP.  

I caught up with Caleb Hiltunen and Drew Polovick of Friday Pilots Club to talk new music, the benefits of having conflicting music tastes, authenticity in the digital age, and more!

Melodic Magazine: Drew, you’ve mentioned that you are classically trained and were in orchestra and musical theatre. I’m curious to what level and with what instrument?

Drew Polovick: Yeah! So I actually started on piano, taking piano lessons. I hated it and I quit after a year, then when I was in third grade I did a guitar camp, like classical, nylon strings guitar and some acoustic stuff, and I hated it. My mom could not force me to practice. Like I refused to actually pick up the guitar. And then fifth grade I learned cello, and then sixth grade I started playing stand up bass, which is when I started taking private lessons and I started learning classical theory and kind of through that playing orchestra and doing other compositional practices. And then being in musical theatre too: I was in Ragtime musical, Phantom of the Opera, and Westside story.

MM: So you didn’t like piano, you didn’t like guitar- what made you stick with music when you were having such a hard time finding an instrument?

Drew: I think personally I liked the process of music and I liked songs, but was never really great at just playing one instrument. Like I never had a thing I was really really really good at instrument wise. I’ve always been into the recording process and the production thing, so my thought was that if I can learn a whole bunch of instruments decently I can start to put all my own songs together, which is what eventually led me to meet Caleb when I went to school for production at Columbia and Caleb was there.

Caleb Hiltunen: Aha! Music business. 

MM: And Caleb, you weren’t classically trained and it sounds like music came kind of later in your life, but you have such an incredible, powerful voice. So I want to know how you found your voice and when that came. When did you realize you could sing?

Caleb: Finding my voice was something that first of all, I’m still doing every single day. But the element that everyone has come to know, the kind of loud, sort of gritty component of my voice, that is just something that came from trying to get out of shyness and wanting to do so in a very intense way. That was the number one driving factor of it. That has helped me I guess conquer some of my social anxiety, there’s a lot of catharsis in it, and I think that’s kind of the main element in my voice.

MM: Do you remember when you decided you wanted to sing? Is there a moment that stands out?

Caleb: This is not a slander of anyone I’ve played with before, but I just got really tired of some of the narratives that I was seeing in other bands. I played for other bands as a guitarist, a very shitty guitarist, and a lot of the singers that I ran across when they went up to sing there was this whole sort of like ‘I’m going to be bad about this but I’m going to try to be purposefully bad.’ There are a few people that I’ve played with who are like American Idol contestants, they were amazing, but as far as bands that I had started or been a part of it seemed like people were really quiet going into the mic and I was like ‘step aside! I’ve got something to say.’

MM: I completely agree. When the vocals feel honest and like they’re not hiding, I think that’s something that you can hear. 

Caleb: It is. And working with Drew has been- and no offense Drew whatsoever- fucking infuriating, because I don’t know if you know this, but Drew has an amazing voice as well. So every time I have a bad day of singing and I have to step out of the booth and be like okay, so Drew is going to make a rough draft of this with him singing and it’s going to sound just fine, it’s going to sound like a song that could be released. So sort of challenging myself to get in there and be like ‘make something that Drew can’t do’ is definitely a really helpful part of that.  

And then also Drew pushing me to be like, dude go find a vocal coach, talk to somebody that can help with some of the pitch problems that you’re having especially on songs like Glory. Doing that was extremely helpful because it was not just having someone sit there and be like ‘you’re great!’ It was someone that was like ‘hey you’re doing this well but you need to bring this song down, this is not in your range this is…’ that kind of stuff. And helping me get better at some things, but also confirming that I wasn’t crazy about other things when I was trying to make small changes to songs.

MM: How do your different musical backgrounds play into your songwriting and working relationship?

Drew: I think with Caleb and I both being a part of other types of projects where we felt like we weren’t doing exactly what we wanted to do, and now we’re both in a project where we can not only do what we want to do but we’re each doing the things that we’re best at- that is such a cool combo because then Caleb and I are going to come and do something that I know nobody else in the band can do. There are influences from bands that he knows that he can draw from in the same way that I have a whole set of influences that I draw from. Caleb and my taste in music barely overlap. We like a lot of the same stuff, but there are only a couple bands that we both geek out over, like Hozier, Nothing But Thieves, Jeff Buckley. But otherwise it’s like I know Caleb loves The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys, which I like those bands but I can’t like grow up on them like Caleb did.

Caleb: You don’t love them.

Drew: But I think that’s such an important thing that every day we’ll come into the studio and start referencing songs that the other person has probably never heard. We come from such different places and it creates this really cool mix of sounds and influences and lyrical choices so it’s always fresh.

Drew, you went to a Friday Pilots Club EP release show before you were in Friday Pilots Club. How did you hear about their music?

Drew: At Columbia college Chicago when I was studying audio production my whole thing was like, I just want to work with rock bands. I just want to make rock music, I want to work with alt bands and pop bands. That was what I was there to do, and at the time the biggest band at Columbia was Friday Pilots Club. I kept thinking I just gotta meet these guys, and I went to see them play at their EP release show in October 2016 and I was blown away because I think that show was sold out at the Bottom Lounge and it was packed, the band was ripping. And I was like I have to meet this fucking band, I have to work with these guys cause they’re going to do something cool. Then by chance I happened to meet Caleb at a party a couple months later and I was really trying to not be like ‘I saw your band! You guys rocked man!’

So you recognized him at the party and went over?

Drew: Yeah, well it was at my apartment. I was trying to not do the- cause it’s the industry thing where you meet someone, and you don’t want to immediately be like ‘let’s collab, let’s make something together!’ You want to play it cool. But we ended up hitting it off and the rest is history. 

That’s wonderful because now we have Breaking My Bones, the new single. You guys have talked about how theme and lyrics are super important, so I want to know what’s the theme of Breaking My Bones and what’s the most meaningful lyric to you?

Caleb: Concept wise Breaking My Bones is about contorting yourself for people that you will never meet simply on the basis that the internet exists. But- and Drew and I have agreed on this- we don’t want this to be a ‘wake up sheeple’ kind of thing. It’s just a think piece, it’s just for someone to examine it. We’ve looked with like the Black Lives Matter movement how important the internet is for organizing and creating these communities and making people aware of everything that’s going on in the world. But at the same time there is this mental health aspect of it where you have to be aware of some of the asks of this thing, because it can destroy you and it can destroy your ego. 

Do you have ways that you find balance with that?

Caleb: I’m just really bad at the internet altogether, so that makes it easy on me.

Drew: Yeah I definitely do (have trouble finding balance), I don’t know who doesn’t especially in this day and age within our generation. Especially as someone with a platform because there is a really complicated situation of knowing not only for your career like, hey we have a song coming out, we absolutely have to promote it, we have to be on social media, we have to be posting, but also with these really important movements going on we have to be posting, we have to do this, and you have to have your own personal brand and there are days where you wake up and you’re just like oh my god I don’t want to be that person. And it really can damage you when it’s part of your career now. It wears on your psyche and also when you’re in these situations where you’re pressured to post stuff when you don’t want to, it’s performative in a way. And the song is touching on that in the way that you’re choosing a version of yourself that you present online anytime you post anything. We all like to think it’s authentic, and to some extent there is a distortion. 

You guys have on your website this place called Flight 1012. Can you talk a bit about that and the connection with the fans and what that is for you? 

Caleb: Yeah definitely! Before Drew was in the band I lived with the other guys that were in the band at the time and our first apartment that we had together, essentially the apartment that Friday Pilots Club came to be Friday Pilots Club in was 1012. So I sort of shopped this idea of having- and this plays into Breaking My Bones stuff too because there is only a certain level of intimacy that the internet will allow with people, especially if they are following you and supporting you and making your job possible, so we wanted to make another level that’s especially for people who were there from kind of the ground up. And I think it is a sweet little homage to where Friday Pilots Club came from too. All those guys aren’t in the band, they’re out doing their various careers and it is saying, you were here, you were a part of this, and I do like that a lot. 

My last question is about everything going on right now with the pandemic and Black Lives Matter and the activist movements. How have they influenced either you as people or as a band?

Drew: You know, I think it’s influenced us a lot in the way that- Caleb and I have always been independently passionate about social and political issues, but I think now as we’ve grown as a band we have recognized the platform that we have and the power we have and the ability we have as individuals and as a band to make a difference and to fight for what we want to see in the world, at our shows, and in our community, as well as all the communities adjacent to us. So I think really the movements have invigorated us and given us almost a renewed and profound sense of purpose beyond making music. Because I think personally at times- you know, my mom works at a preschool with low income families, and my dad works at the EPA trying to save the planet, my sister works at a school, and I’ve always felt like well, I’m just out here making music. My family spends all day helping people, what am I really doing when I’m just like yeah I’m going to go to the studio and make beats, you know? And realizing oh my god, we actually can make a real difference here if we continue to use our voice and to use our platform to raise up the voices of people who have been marginalized. That’s what it’s all about, and I think we’ve really found that with the last couple months of okay, this is the time to do something different.

Caleb: I think that it’s important too on another level because a lot of these conversations can become nebulous, people get lost, and they find ways to undermine what’s going on by using the rioting instead of the peaceful protesting to describe what’s going on. And when you can just dichotomize that conversation as band and as a platform, it may not be doing enough. Sometimes if people have money to give and they’re not willing to, that may be a problem. But if you can at least at the ground level say look, this is what we support, we are going to proudly say Black Lives Matter, we are proudly going to say Black Trans Lives Matter and make sure that people know that those are the virtues of the band and that the spaces that they are going to put themselves in because of the band- whether it’s at shows or whatever is going on- that those are going to be what is upheld. It’s mandatory. And it just feels good to finally be doing that in such a forward way.

Follow Friday Pilots Club: Instagram //Twitter // Facebook// Website

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