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Kite Pilot : Caught in a Tree

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: June 2, 2004

Kite Pilot
w/Snow Cuts Glass
In Ink Please
Thursday, June 24
O'Leaver's Pub
1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd.

The origins of Omaha indie rock band Kite Pilot span almost a decade and thread through a number of local bands, including one that has become something of a whispered legend among music followers who remember Omaha's mid-'90s golden age.

But before we get to that history lesson, what exactly does the band sound like?

The relatively new 4-piece epitomizes the concept of ensemble, with no one part greater than the other. Combining classic indie rock with a hint of lounge, Kite Pilot isn't easy to classify. The best way to explain it is to describe the first track off their 5-song self-titled EP.

"Tree Caught the Kite" opens with trumpeter/keyboardist Todd Hanton playing a golden-toned repeating 4-bar solo that would make Herb Albert grin. By the second time through, guitarist Erica Petersen's acoustic strumming quietly fades in, joined by Corey Broman's almost conga-like drums and Austin Britton's subtle, Pixie-ish bass. Lead vocalist Petersen adds dreamy "da-da-da's" that follow the trumpet line like a shadowy garnish as Hanton and the rest of the band build to a dramatic pause. "I don't see / A clear place to land / Lost in a breeze / That's caught by a tree" breathes Petersen and Britton together like a brother and sister duo singing at a birthday party, almost whispering the melody. The song then abruptly shifts to a trippy back-beat melody, with Britton echoing Petersen's lead, eventually soaring back to the trumpet line that started it off. It's sheer ethereal pop music fun, bouncy and memorable.

Though anchored by Petersen's sweetheart vocals, their sound depends just as much on Britton's every-day-guy counter vocals and brisk bass lines, Broman's crisp, steady drums and Hinton's bright trumpet, which provides an earthy, far-away dimension to a pop sound that at times (particularly on electronic-tinged "On My Lips") heralds back to The Rentals.




"It's a true collaborative effort," said Britton from the band's practice space at the McGill Bros. building on south Saddle Creek, where bands Little Brazil and Son, Ambulance also hold practices. That said, the band's origin and future clearly center on one person.

Erica Petersen's music career began on a high note, albeit a forgotten one. With her brother, Clayton, the Pilger, Neb., native formed The Protoculture in 1996 while studying art at University of Nebraska at Kearney. Shortly afterward, the band pulled up stakes and moved to Omaha at a time when the scene was descending from its post-grunge glory days and before Saddle Creek Records had become a nationally recognized indie music centerpeice. The Protoculture, with its aggressive post-punk sound and love for pop melodies, became a local buzz band often playing gigs at The Cog Factory. But just when they were picking up steam after releasing two 7-inch singles, The Protoculture called it a day only two years after it began. The split left Petersen with a sour taste in her mouth.

"I went into total seclusion," she said. "I just wrote music for myself. I didn't know anybody here and no one asked me to join them."

No one, except for a young band called The Faint which had just changed its style from guitar-based indie rock to electronic no-wave dance-bash. Petersen turned down their offer to join up, and says despite that band's success she doesn't regret the decision. "I was at a point where I wasn't ready to be in a band."

Instead she focused on a career as a solo singer-songwriter, playing coffee shops and open-mic nights. Enter Todd Hanton -- an aspiring musician with a degree in trumpet performance from UNO and experience as a performer for the touring 50th anniversary revival of the musical "Anything Goes." After being on the road for four months and seeing few opportunities beyond being a wedding musician or attending grad school, Hanton quit playing trumpet and began noodling with electronic music and recording technology.

A chance encounter at a local Dundee wine bar would change everything. "I saw Erica just hanging out there and thought she looked so cool, I wanted to buy her a drink."

Petersen's friend pointed out Hanton. She walked right up to him, thanked him for the drink and the two strangers proceeded to spend the evening talking about music, with Petersen eventually forcing Hanton to hear her solo demo tape. Shortly afterward, Hanton and Petersen's brother began backing Erica at her singer-songwriter gigs, calling their thrown-together act Erikali, which Hanton would ultimately record and help promote.








"I saw Erica just hanging out there and thought she looked so cool, I wanted to buy her a drink."












"It's a bad problem to have, but there's nothing you can do about it. We're all being pulled in different directions."



The rest of Kite Pilot fell into place with the help of Joe Knapp, the singer-songwriter behind Saddle Creek recording artist Son, Ambulance. Knapp saw Petersen perform and asked her to join his band, along with drummer Corey Broman. The new version of Son, Ambulance played a small Midwestern tour with Lawrence band Ghosty that Broman now calls "The Dirt Tour" because at one point they found themselves sleeping on the floor of a house covered in dirt and cigarette butts. They played to nearly empty college venues -- the tour having been booked in the summer when campuses were vacant. Despite that, Broman and Petersen happily remained in Son, Ambulance.

But for Petersen, Son, Ambulance wasn't enough. Having written some new material, she wanted to form a band of her own with Hanton, Broman and Knapp -- who would later drop out due to scheduling conflicts.

Petersen found bassist Austin Britton through Britton's Little Brazil band mate Landon Hedges, who also had been a member of Son, Ambulance. After playing on Britton's 5-song EP, Petersen wanted him in Kite Pilot, but Britton was skittish about joining. "I really liked Kite Pilot as a three-piece," he said. "I didn't want to tank their sound." It took some convincing, but Britton finally agreed.

The band had already recorded much of its debut EP. With Britton now adding counter vocals to songs, it only made sense to add his bass and vocals to the recording. With all the pieces in place, Kite Pilot began performing in earnest in late summer of last year and has managed to create a lot of "under-the-radar momentum," Britton said.

But Kite Pilot isn't the only band with momentum. Britton and Broman's other band, Little Brazil, recently finished recording a new CD slated for release on Portland's Mt. Fuji records. With Kite Pilot just catching on, a new Little Brazil record about to be released, Britton's ongoing solo work and both Broman and Petersen actively involved in Son, Ambulance (whose own record has been percolating in the background at Saddle Creek Records for almost a year), there's bound to be some scheduling conflicts in the very near future, and the band knows it.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there. These bands could break up next week," Britton said.

"Don't say that," interjected a hurt-looking Broman.

"None of the bands are touring," Britton said. "Everyone is willing to wait if one of them starts to pick up momentum."

"It's a bad problem to have," Broman added, "but there's nothing you can do about it. We're all being pulled in different directions."

All agree, however, that as far as Kite Pilot is concerned, they don't want to relive The Dirt Tour -- they simply can't afford it. Other than Broman's glass-blowing business, band members carry simple day jobs in hopes that music can provide a full-time living in a future filled with touring.

"It would be so much more productive to be on a tour with a band that has an actual fan base," Britton said. "We can't afford to lose money on this. We have rent and bills to pay. But no matter what happens, we're having a good time."

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Published in The Omaha Reader June 2, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.