Most bands from the suburbs and Chicago are hungry for success. But for the blues-inspired rock band Friday Pilots Club, the pieces fell together in a way that made the course clear for them.
The band has an album in the works and a headlining slot at a House of Blues showcase Wednesday, Aug. 9.
And where did it start? Batavia.
Mike Fornari, Ethan Mole and Spencer Rydholm (guitar, drums and bass respectively) grew up together in the far western suburb.
“Me, Ethan and Spencer used to play in high school bands all the time,” said Fornari. “We weren’t really good, but we were friends so it just worked out. We never actually played a show. Whoever was at Ethan’s house was just like ‘Why won’t they shut up?'” he joked. “That was pretty much the extent of it back then. We couldn’t swear because Ethan’s parents would get upset.”
But from that, chemistry formed.
Meanwhile, Caleb Hiltunen, the band’s lead vocalist and frontman, was growing up in Indiana.
“I had a lot of people I would listen to very seriously,” said Hiltunen. “Bands like The Strokes, bands like the Black Keys, the Arctic Monkeys. A couple people deep in blues. … Because of that I had a slight interest in it, but I had always wanted to be in the military.”
A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes derailed his military aspirations and lead him to his other interest.
“I had been playing guitar, I had been in bands, but I mainly just played backup guitar for other artists,” said Hiltunen.
Senior year, he tried his hand at leading a band, but never felt he had the skills.
“I ended up going to school for audio production because I still lacked the confidence to try to make a career out of music,” Hiltunen said. “I had great family members who would support me, great friends … I was just very realistic about it: I’m not good.”
At Columbia College, Hiltunen met Fornari and Mole through an audio project, and they started playing together — first covers, then some original songs based on Hiltunen’s poetry.
Guitarist Drew Polovick was the last Pilot on board. The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native dabbled in a long list of instruments, but also wound up studying at Columbia.
“Friday Pilots Club was always on my radar. … That’s THE Columbia rock band. I always wanted to become involved in some way. “
“So one day Caleb randomly shows up at my apartment to party,” Polovick said. “I was trying not to be that guy, and not talk about music at all, not like ‘Oh, my God, we need to do something together!’ We were just hanging out, and one of my other roommates said, ‘Have you guys talked about music yet?’ And then we were totally those dudes who went at it and played guitar for like an hour and a half.”
Seven months ago, Polovick was asked to join Friday Pilots Club, an offer he enthusiastically accepted.
“I wrote all of the lyrics until Drew got to the band,” Hiltunen said, “but now Drew and I go pretty much 50/50 on songs. … Drew and I just mesh.”
“It’s pretty incredible how the writing chemistry just works,” Polovick said. “It’s kind of like this perfect symbiotic relationship in the sense that my strong suit in writing is definitely melody and chords, and I am the worst at writing lyrics. It’s great because Caleb is this amazing lyric writer. He understands narrative and structure and climax, and how to do that lyrically.”
“A thing in my songwriting that I’m really proud of is a lot of the songs I write aren’t necessarily classic love songs,” said Hiltunen. “We kind of write these weird songs in the style of pop-rock, pop-blues, blues-rock.”
Hiltunen’s versatile vocals are well-suited for the music Friday Pilots Club plays — gentle when it needs to be, but heavy with a soulful edge.
“I had a lot of people along the road that were really good at vocals, a lot I really loved and wanted to be more like,” said Hiltunen. “I loved the growl in their voice. There was something about testing the limits that you find there.”
“Really what I’ve learned is that if you get excited, if you get yourself in the right head space, and you give it your all, it will sound good.”
“I can’t wait until the new record,” Hiltunen said. “It’s not just a step forward. It’s a … plane trip around the world forward. It’s good stuff.”
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Friday Pilots Club, The Pact, Ember Oceans, Ballroom Boxer, Hiber
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9
Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 923-2000 or houseofblues.com
Tickets: $10 at the door