In all the years that mankind has been using the wheel, nobody has been able to effectively reinvent it—only to refine it—and that’s exactly the approach Banner Pilot took when writing and recording their new album Souvenir. “The idea was to do something that sounds different from previous stuff but not to overshoot: make sure it’s still recognizable as Banner Pilot record, but not totally out there,” says bassist Nate Gangelhoff. “On one hand, you don’t want people to say “You guys only do one thing,” but you also don’t want What are you idiots doing, you changed your sound! There’s a sweet spot in the middle, and we wanted to do what bands like Against Me! and Superchunk do, where it’s obviously still that same band but they’re always doing a few different things they didn’t do before.”
When their previous group Rivethead disbanded shortly after the dawn of the new millennium, Gangelhoff and singer/guitarist Nick Johnson started toying with drum machines and melodies, writing songs they confess were initially terrible. Their Midwestern work ethic made them keep plugging away, though, and eventually—along with a fleshed out band lineup—the two hit upon an eminently toe-tapping sound and introspective lyrical approach reminiscent of ‘90s post-hardcore greats from Jawbreaker to Knapsack to Samiam.
After several years of establishing themselves in the musical hotbed of Minneapolis and recording a debut album they describe as “kind of a mess,” they decided to step up their game and asked their friend Billy Morrisette of Dillinger Four if he could get their demos into the hands of the team at Fat Wreck Chords. With that punk rock imprimatur, and sensing the untapped potential shown in their songwriting, the label welcomed Banner Pilot to the fold starting with their splendid second album Collapser in 2009. Touring the States and Europe on that album, the band built a passionately devoted fan base and continued honing their craft, dropping the more refined Heart Beats Pacific in 2011.
With a warmer, more mature sound than their previous releases, and with recurring lyrical themes of reflecting on the past while looking to the light, Souvenir is a living document of a band approaching their ten year mark.
When it came time to lay down the tracks for their latest opus, it was a no-brainer to re-team with Minneapolis homie Jacques Wait at their favorite studio The Terrarium (which features the sound board that recorded no less a masterpiece than Michael Jackson’s Bad). Continuing their sonic evolution, the band played around with some new chord stylings while simultaneously dialing back some of the production elements from their last release. “We spent the most time on this one: 32 days, but it was all efficient. Collapser was a learning experience, then we used those lessons for Heart Beats, and now we totally know how Jacques works, he knows how we work…it all comes together really well.” And of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to top-notch gear, the studio features a lounge equipped with stereo, TV, and video games; a fully stocked fridge and pizza machine; and is situated in a neighborhood rich with bars and restaurants. “You don’t get stir crazy stuck in a single room 15 hours a day. It doesn’t feel like work—you look forward to getting there every day.”
The recording process this time around was interrupted by a trip to the legendary Gainesville, Florida punk rock cavalcade known simply as The Fest, where the band graced numerous stages. The lapse didn’t faze the Pilots, though: “Every record we’ve done, we’ve done in blocks—five days, a week off, the four days, a week off. There are always tours, jobs, and other stuff that break it up and it’s kind of nice to take a step away from it so you can come back and hear it differently,” expresses Gangelhoff. “Going to Fest and playing our old songs, then going back to listen to the mixes of what we’d done, we can actually take a fresh look at it. It seems natural to us to do it that way.”
Tour plans aren’t yet established, although at the very least you can expect to see Banner Pilot playing some festival stages this spring and summer. One thing that’s for sure is that if you live in a warm climate, you can expect a visit from Nate and the rest of the band when the cold season settles on Minnesota: “Next winter I definitely want to be on the road somewhere warmer than here. When I see bands in Minneapolis doing winter tours and then going to Canada and the northeast, I just don’t get it!”