Tommy and the High Pilots

As a teen growing up in Santa Barbara, Tommy Cantillon was upset when the band he led for five years fell apart. While he was willing to go as long as it took to turn his hobby into a career, his bandmates at the time did not share his vision. Cantillon ended up moving to New York for a year to do some soul searching, only to be reminded that music was what he wanted to do, and the people he wanted to make it with were all back home. Now singer-guitarist and leader of indie pop band Tommy & The High Pilots, he’s found his happy place.

Cantillon and longtime friends Matt Palermo (drums) and Mike Dyer (bass), as well as younger brother Michael (keyboards and vocals) have been named as an MTV Buzzworthy band, they’ve played on “Last Call with Carson Daly,” and they’ve released three records along the way. The High Pilots plan to return to the studio this summer to record a follow-up to 2013’s Only Human. The current material is heavily influenced by the pop of the Talking Heads, Cantillon said. Before they do, they’ve planned a quick jaunt up north, which includes Friday’s show at Yoshi’s SF.

The Bay Bridged: What did you do in New York?

Tommy Cantillon: I worked at Stan’s Sports Bar. It’s a staple among Yankee fans and Yankee Stadium-goers. Where the old stadium was, the bleachers exited off the street into Stan’s Sports Bar, and a friend of mine inherited it from his father, who was Stan. It was this whole crazy world of New Yorkers and attitude. It was funny to be a Southern Californian with long hair and blonde. I got a lot of flack at first, and then they kind of take you under their wing once they break you.

TBB: Did they break you into being a Yankees fan?

Baseball is something I’ve always loved. I played in high school. The history of the Yankees is actually one of my favorites, along with all of my favorite players: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford. I look at a lot of baseball history the way I do with rock ‘n’ roll. I was already a Yankees fan, but I was born a Dodger fan.

TBB: San Francisco’s going to love you when you say you like the Dodgers and the Yankees.

I also like the Giants. I know I’m a terrible fan. Guys like Willie Mays are heroes to me. He was on the original New York Giants. But the Giants are great, man. Buster Posey — they’ve got a lot of guys. They play as a great team. There’s a few all-stars, but really they’re a team, especially right now.

TBB: Santa Barbara has a Bay Area pipeline. A bunch of people who go to school down there decide to move to San Francisco afterward. Ever get that itch?

Not really to live up there. I spent about a month there recording an album. In fact, we’ve made our last two albums in Emeryville (at Ex’pression College). I love San Francisco. My oldest brother — I came from a family of five — went up there to go to the Academy of Arts, and he was there for about four or five years. The first solo flight I took was to San Francisco. But I love Santa Barbara. I love coming back to our hometown. It’s so beautiful.

TBB: What’s on the horizon? New EP or album in the works?

The last couple months have been a big songwriting period. We’re looking at 25 songs that are complete. We’re writing every day. We want to write as many songs as we can. We have some home demos we’re going to start in the studio in mid-July. I couldn’t tell you if it’s going to be a full-length album (or) if it’s going to be an EP. We don’t know yet. We want to get 50 songs on the board so we can pick the best, five, 10, 12, whatever that becomes.”

TBB: A lot of bands get asked about their favorite tour memories. What is your worst tour experience?

This is a San Francisco story. We were leaving an apartment in San Francisco…and this dude came up to us. He was very dirty and probably on drugs. He told us he needed a ride, and it was ‘life or death.’ We (told him) we can’t help him. So as we drove off, he runs and jumps into the bed of the truck. My guitar player, who’s driving, has the wherewithal to start flooring it and slamming on the brakes so the dude keeps smacking the window. We opened the window and were yelling at him (to) get the fuck out. He finally got the hint and got out of the truck. It was so bizarre.

TBB: Who have you toured with that has inspired you?

Touring with (Seattle soul crooner) Allen Stone was really big…a couple of years ago. We became super close. He’s like a brother from another mother. Seeing the way that their camp works; they just have everything together very well. They’re a very good live band, very well rehearsed (and have) a very passionate frontman. He gets the crowd into it. That was a big eye opener.

Tommy & The High Pilots, Will Weston
Yoshi’s SF
June 20, 2014
10:30pm, $15, all ages

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.