Leveling with Tommy and the High Pilots

The band will play at Mojo’s on Monday.

By Megan Suddarth

Tommy and the High Pilots are returning to Columbia to perform with band Langhorne Slim.

Even with a whirlwind full of new music, touring and a new music video, Tommy and the High Pilots’ lead singer, Tom Cantillon, takes time to discuss food, fashion, movies, personality types of his fellow band mates, Mike Cantillon (electrics, acoustics and keyboard), Steve Libby (bass) and Matt Palermo (drums) and the future for their band.

The band just released the new video for their song “Lonely Place” from their Sawhorse Sessions EP a couple weeks ago.

“We’d been throwing around the idea of doing a video for ‘Lonely Place,’” Lead singer, Tom Cantillon says. “I just thought it’d be kind of cool if we had different apparatuses and girls hanging on stuff. The song is really mellow and kind of artsy so that went with it.”

Touring certainly is stressful on a diet, especially when touring takes place during the majority of the year. Meals packed with Seven Eleven munchies and fast food joints can take a toll. So, The High Pilots try to stock up on healthier options on the road.

“We really strive to have fruit,” Cantillon says. “We’re big on chips and salsa and tons and tons of water.”

“And coffee,” Cantillon adds. “We’re addicts.”

Clothing attire is always something that seems to stick with audiences.  Suspenders, red blazers and denim are usually the options for The High Pilots.

“The High Pilots are usually in collars,” Cantillon says. “Mikey likes his denim jacket for sure – the little country boy in him. I’ve been wearing my black jeans like every day.”

Clothing options usually make a statement to the audience.

“I feel like there’s something of a sense of fashion that ties into music,” Cantillon says. “If it’s a bar, we always want to represent ourselves and the band. Wherever we are, in whatever setting, we want people to turn heads. One night I had a collared shirt on with suspenders and I tucked it in and one of the guys in the band that was opening was like, ‘Hey man, going to work?’”

Band members have their own specific personality that shines through. A successful group is comprised of different character traits in each member. A leader, a baby, a tough guy and a sweetheart make up the men of The High Pilots.

“Mikey’s the baby by default, but he’s also the funny guy,” Cantillon says. “Mikey’s got a personality; we call it ‘The Mikey-ness.’ Whenever he’s being interviewed or talking on stage, you get a little bit of ‘The Mikey-ness.’ I like to think I’m tough but I have to give it to Steve; he’s ‘The Rock’ for sure. Matt is the thoughtful one, very sincere. We all have all these traits but if I had to categorize those three, that’s where I’d put them.”

Every band needs a leader and for this band, Cantillon takes the lead.

“[I’d say I’m] Captain. Every band has a leader and I think by default I am the leader. Everyone has input in this band and everyone gets equal say but I start that process.”

The High Pilots take time to have fun and fool around and be normal but they get down to business, too. The band has been working hard and hitting the studio lately and plan to release a new record by the end of the year.

“We recorded about 20 new demos,” Cantillon says. “I’m really pumped about our new music. I feel like all this new stuff is way better than the old stuff – you realize what works and what doesn’t work.”

As tour dates pass and new material is released, The High Pilots are learning every step of the way.

“I think as we get older,” Cantillon says. “We get better at what we do.”

Flying high: Catching up with Tommy of The High Pilots

The Santa Barbara quartet will stop by Mojo’s on Monday.

By Megan Suddarth

Published March 16, 2012

Open roads, microphones and loyal fans pretty much fill the life of Tom Cantillon, lead singer of Tommy and the High Pilots. For this California boy, life is crazy in so many ways. Touring the country all year, meeting new people, writing songs and, most importantly, bringing a certain charisma that would impress even Lennon to each and every stage he climbs, describes the life of this whole-hearted musician.

Relationships that last a lifetime

Hailing from Santa Barbara, Calif., Tom grew up with his four brothers, all of whom he’s close to. A tight group of boys from when they were little to even today, Tom and his brothers often found their own ways to have fun with what they had growing up. Referred to once as “a pack of hyenas,” the brothers were always trying to outdo each other for attention — understandable coming from such a large group of boys. From activities such as filming their own movies to skateboarding to basketball, their relationships have only grown stronger with the years.

Jimmy Cantillon, one of Tom’s brothers, refers to their relationships as best friends.

“Growing up together was really fun,” Jimmy says. “It has honestly become more fun since we’ve all been old enough to hang out as adults and go to bars together. Our age differences were obviously more noticeable when we were kids.”

Kevin Cantillon, another brother, is the closest to Tom in age.

“We have a lot of the same friends and like a lot of the same things,” Kevin says. “We talk almost daily on the phone, and he’ll run new songs by me to see what I think. He’s on the road a lot, so it’s nice when we get to hang out away from venues or shows.”

Memories underlie each and every relationship, and these brothers have some pretty spectacular ones — Jimmy and Tom once lied to get into a Jimmy Eat World concert in Texas while on tour.

“Word got back to the band somehow, and after the show they walked up to our school bus (tour bus) and asked if they could come in and check it out,” Jimmy says. “They all signed the inside of the bus for us and then talked to us about how lucky we were. After we argued about them being the lucky ones, they explained that they don’t get to see the country and meet people like we do. They are flown from show to show or in a tour bus where they don’t see out the windows. They told us to cherish every minute of it, and I think that ever since then we definitely have. It was pretty inspiring.”

Making another memory in the process, Kevin and Tom once snuck out of the house, escaping the clutches of a babysitter while their parents were out of town.

“Me and Tom took our bikes and rode down the street to the main road, where our parents would never let us go without them,” Kevin says. “We rode our bikes up and down the main street for about 20 minutes, feeling both scared and excited. It was our first experience of being out in the world on our own. When Tom’s out on the road, I often think of that day, and how he’s turned his bike in for a tour van, and the main street in for the open road.”

A lifetime of love

Tom found a passion for music at a young age. With parents who promoted concerts, he grew up in a home filled with musical inspirations like Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Cobain, Van Morrison, David Byrne and John Lennon, and his passion inevitably grew with time.

By fifth grade, Tom had formed his very first band — though it didn’t last long. By middle school, Tom was already writing songs and belting out that unforgettable voice.

“I didn’t play anything, but I sang and wrote the lyrics,” Tom says. “We disbanded due to freeing up recess time.”

Tom can play six different instruments, including the guitar and piano. He taught himself to play guitar as a teen, before his mother decided to put him into lessons.

“I decided to pick up guitar when I was 15,” Tom says. “Haven’t put it down since.”

During high school, Tom even convinced his parents to sign him up for independent studies, so he could get out of classes and do his work while on tour with his band.

Described by Jimmy as a “rare breed,” Tom’s passion and excitement for music shines through his entire life. It takes a lot to make it in the music industry, and it seems Tom has the talent, drive and zeal required.

“Anyone can join a band,” Jimmy says. “A smaller amount of those people can stick with it for a few years and actually take a chance with it. Then there is a very small number of people that you meet who you can tell are not going to accept anything less than a lifelong career in it. Tommy is that guy.”

Kevin shares the same opinion.

“Music is his life,” Kevin says. “It’s what he does all day, and it’s what drives him. Music is his connection with the rest of the world.”


Tommy and the High Pilots formed after Tom moved back to Santa Barbara after a year in New York.

“I had the itch to get a band back together,” Tom says. “Started as a cover band called Mr. Handsome. Moved forward from there.”

Their songs range from romantic lovey-doveys to fast-paced songs detailing subways and the Big Apple, and the inspirations come from all across the board.

“Some are autobiographical, some are just stories made up in my crazy head,” Tom says.

The High Pilots have been touring the country nonstop for the past two years and don’t plan to stop anytime soon. During the couple days they had off this year, they recorded some new demos and hope to release a new record by the end of this year.

“I’m really pumped about our new music,” Tom says. “I feel like all this new stuff is way better than the old stuff. You realize what works and what doesn’t work.”

In addition to hitting the studio and working on new music, The High Pilots also released their video for “Lonely Place” from their Sawhorse Sessions EP a few weeks ago.

Sometimes the trials and tribulations that accompany pursuing dreams can get a bit heavy, but The High Pilots try to keep their heads up. And with an ever-growing fan base, they count themselves happy.

“We measure our success by how many people are coming out to the shows, and that number keeps growing,” Tom says. “Little things, like MTV and song placements in TV shows are also little rays of light that keep us excited to move forward.”

As The High Pilots grow bigger and develop a larger following, those close to Tom can’t help but feel a sense of pride. All of his hard work is paying off, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by those in his life.

“We’re all very proud of him and know that the best is yet to come,” Jimmy says. “Everyone from our parents to all of us brothers, to our grandparents and his friends and girlfriend. We see the hunger in him to do this as a career. So it excites all of us to see how the High Pilots are growing.”

Kevin is also a part of Tom’s support system.

“Tom has always had people rooting for him to succeed,” Kevin says. “When he leaves for tour, they’re all rooting him on and awaiting his arrival home.”

Tommy and the High Pilots are opening for Langhorne Slim at Mojo’s on Monday. Tickets are $10.

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Tommy and the High Pilots land in Columbia

The band will play Aug. 22 at Mojo’s

By Megan Suddarth

Published Aug. 22, 2011

Home is close yet so far away for the men of Tommy and the High Pilots. They’ve been touring the country for the past two months–rocking crowds and gaining fans with their upbeat rhythms and clever lyrics.

“We’ve been on the road for about two months,” lead singer Tom Cantillon says. “We’re in the last week and a half before we head back out to Cali.”

Although touring and selling out shows seem to be time-consuming, this talented foursome still somehow finds time to sit down and produce more awe-inducing melodies. The band is planning on releasing a new album in the near future.

“We’re working on a bunch of new songs,” Cantillon says. “The hope is that when we’re home for a little bit in September we flush out as many songs as we can. The hope is that by the end of the year we have enough songs recorded that we can start really talking about how we’re going to make the next record.”

Finding time to write those songs is a bit difficult when you’re on a schedule like theirs, but not impossible.

“I’ve been writing as much as I can,” Cantillon says. “But creativity suffers a little bit on the road because you’re so busy. When I get good song ideas and I don’t have another outlet I just call my phone and I’ll just be singing the melody into my phone, which is pretty funny when you’re walking around a mall.”

Many fans may consider “Where to Start” from their EP, American Riviera, their best song yet, but a young up-and-comer may give it a run for its money.

“I think ‘Where to Start’ is one of our best songs,” Cantillon says. “But we have this new song, ‘Young and Hungry’ that blows it out of the water. For me, personally, if every song I write isn’t better than the last one, then I scrap it.”

Not only are they working on new songs, but also a new music video. A video for their song, “The Limit,” from American Riviera is currently in production.

“We’ve already filmed the bulk of the video,” Cantillon says. “We have the whole storyline, and actually Matt Palermo wrote out the storyline. We just need a little bit more footage with the actors.”

All the hard work and effort the guys have put forth has paid off.

“We just found out that Sawhorse Sessions charted on Billboard,” Cantillon says of their latest EP. “We’re in the Heatseekers chart and we’re in the top 200 records this week. It took me a second to digest that – it was pretty cool.”

Through hectic days and crazy nights, the boys still take time to enjoy the little things in life.

“I have a fresh plate of hash browns waiting for me inside,” Cantillon says. “It’s my favorite thing in the world, I could eat hash browns all day.”

Tommy and the High Pilots have little time for play

The band will play Feb. 24 at Mojo’s.

By Megan Suddarth

Published Feb. 22, 2011

Although downtime is rare for Tommy and the High Pilots, the members take time to relish in the small things.

“I’m just standing here watching my boys play pool,” lead singer Tommy Cantillon said. “They’re a good-looking bunch.”

It’s been a long and exciting ride for the members of Tommy and the High Pilots. Since their last appearance in Columbia, they’ve been working nonstop.

“We’ve been writing a bunch of songs,” Cantillon said. “We’ve been staying on the road and working on new stuff. While we’re in St. Louis, we’ll be recording an acoustic EP, which will serve as an in-between album for the kids with American Riviera.”

Taking a break doesn’t seem to be a frequent occurrence for these guys — even during the holiday season.

“We don’t ever break,” Cantillon said. “From the road, yes, but from the band, no. Over the holidays we booked the next tour. I try to write songs every day, which can take a long time. When you get as much time as you need, then that’s what we use that time for.”

The release of the band’s newest album American Riviera has been a huge success.

“We’ve taken a step up,” Cantillon said. “When we put out our first record, we weren’t correlated with Ludo, but we’re very fortunate to be incestuous with them — in a positive way. We hadn’t gotten to be under that umbrella with them until this release.”

The new EP can be expected sometime in March.

“It’ll pretty much be an acoustic album,” Cantillon said. “We’re totally working on this album and we want to put out this in-between album. We want to introduce and show people what we’re into. We want to show people the folksier side of the band.”

Touring with the same people for months at a time can be stressing and at times sickening, but that’s not the case for The High Pilots.

“We’ve been touring for so long that our relationships are really positive,” Cantillon said. “Everything totally falls into place accidentally, everything meshes. We sometimes take 20-hour drives and you really get a lot of time to figure out the personality of every person and to find out who they are.”

Sometimes, their relationship is a little more than just a brotherhood.

“It’s really like having a bunch of girlfriends,” Cantillon said. “You go down a different road to make sure very person is happy. Everyone gets to put their own two cents into everything. We’re a really tight unit. If there’s any dust between any of us, it settles so fast.”

Tommy and the High Pilots – 5 out of 5 stars

Posted to Arts & Entertainment by Megan Suddarth at 12:00 a.m., Dec. 7, 2010

Competition is tough in the music industry, especially for up-and-coming bands. However, you wouldn’t suspect Tommy and the High Pilots is a lesser-known, up-and-coming band. Its high level of enthusiasm and exciting on-stage shows would make you wonder why everyone doesn’t have all of this band’s songs on their iPods.

The band’s performance Dec. 1 at Mojo’s was definitely impressive. There was never a lack of passion in any of the band members on stage. From an eager opening filled with the love of what they do, to an ending that would fulfill any music fan’s expectations, Tommy and the High Pilots put on a spectacular show.

Songs such as “Motorbike” show the creativity and funny side of the band. Who couldn’t love and enjoy a song about a beloved motorcycle? “Round and Round” is also a great song about a couple that breaks up and gets back together so many times they become known for that. With many more songs to get the audience pumped, there’s never a dull moment when the band is on stage.

The genuine enjoyment that is derived from this band performing is enough to make any person in the audience get up and start dancing to every tune, which inevitably resulted during the show. These guys have a pure love of music and that’s obvious to the audience. For the fans, seeing such an animated performance is uplifting and can even cure the attitude of a downer.

Overall, this was a performance that won’t soon be forgotten and that needs to occur much more often. This fun-loving band would impress even the most depressed of people. Anyone that enjoys great music and a great, genuine band needs to check these guys out next time they come around.

Tommy & The High Pilots reach new heights

The band will perform at Mojo’s on Wednesday.

By Megan Suddarth

Published Nov. 30, 2010

With an ever-growing fan base, Tommy & The High Pilots are touring the country promoting their EP, American Riviera. Lead singer Tom Cantillon formed Tommy & The High Pilots after the crumble of his previous band, Holden.

“We’ve gone through a lot of different trials and tribulations,” Cantillon said. “The thing that I learned from Holden was what didn’t work and what did work. I think that whole morale of this gang is a lot more positive.”

The members of Tommy & The High Pilots have a close past. Three out of four of them grew up together in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“My little brother’s in the band,” Cantillon said. “It was pretty easy to get him involved —- I’ve known him for a while. Steve, our bass player, I’ve known him since I was like in sixth grade and we played in different bands together.

Another member of the band is Matt Palermo, formerly of the St. Louis band Ludo.

“I was in a band way back and we used to tour around with Ludo,” Cantillon said. “I stayed in contact with him and we wound up kidnapping him for a little bit.”

Together, the High Pilots take on a new, collective form when performing.

“We take on the Tommy & The High Pilots form when we’re on stage,” Cantillon said. “We’re not just Tommy, Mike, Steve and Matt. There’s a whole different energy and something else going on and we just ride with it.”

The stage is the ultimate playground for the High Pilots to express themselves.

“I always tell the other guys to take caution because I don’t know if I’m going to swing around,” Cantillon said. “If you come up on stage while I’m in the middle of a song I might accidentally kill you with my guitar because once I get up there I’m possessed.”

For the band, the interaction with an anticipating crowd is the most pleasing aspect to performing.

“(Performing) is the best representation of our band,” Cantillon said. “There is so much energy and we love trading energy with the crowd. You always want to leave them at the edge of their seat, but you can’t plan what’s going to happen.”

And no matter where the High Pilots are, the songs continue to flow from the pen, whether on the East Coast or the West. But Santa Barbara has the band’s heart -— and its lyrics.

“’Where to Start’ was written in New York and was based on what I experienced there,” Cantillon said. “Going from one place to the next brings inspiration. But most of our songs are based in Santa Barbara. We grew up there and it’s a huge part of who we are. It’s a very special place to us.”

Fans of Tommy & The High Pilots can expect much more from this up-and-coming band.

“We’re on the road through Christmas,” Cantillon said. “We’re always writing, all the time. As soon as it makes sense, we’ll be in the studio again. Then, right after the New Year, we’re going to try to get right back out on the road.”