For Chicago indie rock band Friday Pilots Club, one big secret to success is not getting too wrapped up in yourself.
“I think we take the music very seriously. We take the art very seriously. But we do not take ourselves seriously,” said Drew Polovick, lead guitarist for the band.
“It’s our favorite thing in the world to do,” Polovick said, with his signature excitement and energy. “The fact that people like it is awesome!”
Polovick and frontman Caleb Hiltunen recently led the band through the Chicago finals of Cumulus Media’s next2rock music contest, snagging a spot at the famed Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles for the national finals Oct. 4, where they’ll perform for a panel of celebrity and industry judges.
“It’s weird because there was a two-week-long period between playing Cubby Bear and finding out about L.A.,” Polovick said. “It’s hard to tell yourself don’t get your hopes up, it might not happen. I think I convinced myself so much we weren’t going to go. … I woke up to so many missed calls from Zach (Bauer, the band’s manager), seven texts. I was like ‘What’s going on? Oh, L.A.!'”
Friday Pilots Club has been finding increasing success with a string of releases since last year’s retooling of the band from a blues-informed rock sound to an indie rock vibe. Sometimes with a pop beat.
“Obviously we’re a band that functions in the rock world but teeters into the pop world, and there’s a lot of external pressure to write the hits,” Polovick said. “We’re always just gonna write the music we want to write. That’s why with every song it’s a little bit different.”
The band’s most recent track “PRBLM,” released across streaming services last Friday, takes listeners on a high-energy journey across the dance floor.
“I love the song … We have a good time playing it,” Polovick said. “We wanted to have a song that’s literally a party. That’s what the song’s about: Waking up out of your hangover and going ‘I need to get my life together.'”
But poppy tracks aren’t all that Friday Pilots Club is about. One of the band’s strengths is playing in that space between rock and pop, dark and light.
“I wanted to write music like this forever,” Hiltunen said. “We wanted to be unique. When I listen to our music I can honestly say it doesn’t sound like anything else out there. And there’s soul in it. Even a pop-rock song, there is soul.”
“We realized there’s like two sides of the band,” Polovick explained. “The happy-go-lucky Friday Pilots Club, which is like … ‘PRBLM,’ ‘End of It.’ And then there’s like the dark side, which is ‘Bad As Hell,’‘Would You Mind.’ Personally … I’m so into the dark side. It’s so fun. Caleb’s vocals shine in the dark.”
Hiltunen agreed. “I have a lot of fun with the lighter stuff. It’s interesting to have these happier ideas, these more optimistic ideas. Or to talk about dark ideas in a fun way. And I really, really like the dark stuff. I’m all about that smoky cigar bar, the distorted riffs.”
“That’s honestly an exciting thing as I’ve started to take over a lot of the production,” Polovick jumped in. “It’s awesome because Caleb’s voice is so unique and is such a big selling point of the band, it kind of gives me a lot of freedom productionwise to explore some of the avenues because his vocals will tie it all together.”
While Polovick’s instrumentation and Hiltunen’s vocals are key to the Friday Pilots Club experience, they don’t explore those spaces alone. The men manning the instruments on stage with the duo include Eric Doar from Northbrook, Northwest suburban native Sean Burke and James Kourafas from Countryside.
“They’re all so great,” Polovick agreed. “At the surface, Friday Pilots Club, we’re the face of it, but there is so much that goes on behind the scenes, and it’s all about the team. … Literally nothing would be possible without them.”
“It’s cool the way relationships work like that,” said Hiltunen. “Art happens in movements in big cities. There are bigger artists, but they’re tied to other people … the people they’re surrounded by, their go-to people. … It’s cool to see that starting to form with our band. We have people around us that really care about Chicago. They’ve helped us, and we’ve helped them. … And that’s so cool. It’s the thing I love the most about this. It’s not just good music, but it’s part of a movement.”
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Friday Pilots Club with Whosah, Ember Oceans and The Threads
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6
Where: HVAC Pub, 3530 N. Clark St., Chicago; hvacpub.com
Tickets: $10-$15; eventbrite.com
The next2rock finals
Follow along as Friday Pilots Club performs in the national finals on Thursday, Oct. 4, at facebook.com/next2rock.