Men of Letters
The Workaday Rockers of All The Dead Pilots Deliver the Goods
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The four members of the local rock band All the Dead Pilots look strangely like chairmen of the board as they meet around a conference table for lunch at their corporate headquarters in Hanover, near BWI Airport. This table, usually used for the discussion of quarterly profits and the like, also serves as a place to meet and reflect for a maturing rock band.
Brothers Paul and Dave Ort, formerly of the band Moviegoer, took over their father's mailing and addressing business, BMA Inc., some years ago. Having regrouped with Moviegoer bassist Greg Anderson and later recruiting drummer Jay Novak from the ranks of their employees, All the Dead Pilots has released two albums over as many years on the local Ambiguous City label, with its latest, Steady Not Static, coming out this week.
The band takes advantage of the fact that the brothers Ort can determine their own schedule to a degree, coordinating their vacations with Novak's in order to play dates up and down the East Coast. Yet despite this advantage, the band doesn't do long-haul tours, favoring occasional weekend dates out of town.
"We're not kids who can do two months on the road now," Novak says. Anderson and Dave Ort have children at home, and then there's the business to be run.
"We make family and work our main priorities of course," Paul Ort says. "We all definitely have other responsibilities that keep us busy."
"We play four or five shows in Baltimore a year," Dave says. "That's kind of weird to play so few shows in the town that you're based in."
"It's hard to take the time to play to 10 people with all the other things we have going on," Novak adds. "We find that bands that play out every weekend when they're not on tour see their audience dwindle from packed houses to just your closest friends."
Even though the band is only two years old, its Baltimore roots run deep, with members' hands in past combinations such as Onespot Fringehead, Holy Rollers, and Skypup. "We've seen the way the Baltimore scene fluctuates," Novak says. "We used to go to Memory Lane all the time, and that pre-dates the old Ottobar. You see people and places like that come and go."
The Orts and Anderson started All the Dead Pilots after the demise of Moviegoer with drummer Chris Smith, who left last year to focus on his family and his career. Dave Ort approached Novak about filling in on drums at a company picnic, and eventually the line up solidified into its present state.
"It's easy to get together and figure out practice times because we're around each other all day," Dave says.
"Sometimes it's hard to get out of work mode and into practice," Novak says.
Paul Ort's fascination with modern literature, particularly that of William Faulkner, provided the band with a name and to some degree a direction in its songwriting. Tracks from Steady Not Static bear readings from the Faulkner short story that became their namesake.
"[Ambiguous City owner ]Mike Hilton was kind of freaked out about our name after the September 11 attack, so we've really tried to make it clear to people that the name is a literary reference," Paul says. "It's amazing to us that our record will be the 27th one he's kind of quietly released here, but no one from Baltimore really seems to notice [Ambiguous City's output]."
Steady Not Static may change that. Tense but melodic, the record pays homage to latter-day Washington, D.C., heroes Jawbox and Burning Airlines without being obvious about it. The album exhibits a manic energy best illustrated by Dave Ort's vocals and the frenetic style of Paul's guitar, all of which is punctuated by Anderson and Novak's concise rhythmic style.
"Our past work was always very much driven by one of us coming in with an idea and the rest of us fleshing it out," Paul says. "This situation is much more spontaneous. We made a lot of music up on the spot with this record. As the songs came together, the literary tie-ins came together as well."
The eponymous track on Static pulses with an electronic drumbeat as it opens, lilting guitar lines and subtle samples accompanying the reading of a passage from Faulkner's story about a World War I pilot's difficult adjustment to life after war. With Static, All the Dead Pilots coalesces to create something more than the sum of its parts, displaying a strange kind of unison as Paul Ort's literary concerns are filtered through the band's illustrating lens.
"Our last band name, Moviegoer, was a reference to the escapism of playing in a band," Paul says. "I suggested similar themes to what we're working with now, and they [Moviegoer bandmates] weren't into it. With All the Dead Pilots, they've let me run with it. I think this name, despite its being so melancholy, is fitting because of our age and our past experiences. Not to say that we're about to quit like in the story."
Concluding their lunch meeting, the members of All the Dead Pilots shuffle back to work among Paul Ort's dogs, which roam the BMA office. The band mixes business with the pleasure of making music as friends, balancing the responsibilities of entrepreneurship with the not-so-different business of being in a band.
"It's hard to push a record when you have all these things going on," Dave Ort says. "But it's like they say: If it's good enough, it'll sell itself."
All the Dead Pilots play a CD-release show at the Ottobar Nov. 8 with Two if by Sea, Pulaski, and Avec.