It’s safe for fans to assume that, as an independent band or musician (read: one who is not supported by what passes as a “major label” these days), you don’t have it easy. Booking your own tours, figuring out how buy, pay for, and sell merch, pressing records - whatever it is that you’re trying to do to support yourselves and the music you make. The independent music scene has seen some fairly major changes over that past 20 years, carving out a sizable chunk of devoted fans and listeners, all paying attention to an ever-expanding set of dynamic bands and musicians.
Aviator just happens to be one of those bands that I think you should pay a little more attention to.
Finding a happy medium somewhere between fellow and former No Sleep Records labelmates Xerxes and La Dispute, the band has settled into themselves in a short amount of time, taking angsty, dramatic songs, full of distorted guitars and quavering shouts and screams and turning them into nuanced vignettes, highlighting a few tricks they’d masked before. They’ve lost none of the drama, and Head In The Clouds, Hand In The Dirt illustrates a young band becoming more fully aware of the direction they want to go. And instead of hurtling towards that destination, they’ve decided to slow things down and give themselves some room to breathe.
Ahead of their show at The Southgate House Revival on Tuesday, June 16th, member Mike Moschetto took some time to answer a few questions about the band, where they come from, and where they want to go, and highlights of the challenges they’ve faced as a young, relatively unknown band.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Aviator, can you give us a little band history lesson? Where you’re from, how long you’ve been together, etc.
Aviator began in late 2009, essentially among a few friends at New England Institute of Art in Brookline, MA. We all live about an hour or so from Boston now. TJ lives in New Hampshire.
You’re just coming off of playing Bled Fest, the annual post-hardcore/hardcore festival in Michigan, with bands like Pianos Become the Teeth, gates, and Touche Amore, among others - can you talk a bit about that experience?
It was an incredible day! We were scheduled to play first thing, right at noon, so we were a little apprehensive about it because "punk time" prevails so often. But it turned out better than we imagined or deserved, really. There were hundreds of kids there – it helped that we played a main stage for sure – and we got a great response, then we essentially had the rest of the day to chill and just watch bands. Very impressed, super well-run event.
This run you're on with Tri-State Era is part of a larger full US tour - and marks your first time in Cincinnati. Do you find it challenging or exciting coming to an area you’ve never played before?
We're actually playing a lot of cities we've never played (or even visited) on this tour. I've found it best to drop any expectations of whether a show is going to go well, and more often than not we end up pleasantly surprised. The only really challenging part of it is just getting booked in new scenes in the first place, because at this point it's not like anyone's busting down doors to bring Aviator to town, if they've even heard of us at all. But in the last few tours we've played cities like Kansas City, Boise and Lexington for the first time and had kids show up knowing the words to our tunes and that always blows my mind.
Your new full-length, out now on No Sleep Records, represents a bit of a departure from your earlier releases, most notably I’m Not The Lonely One - it’s not so much dialed back as it is more nuanced, with distorted guitars giving way to sometimes more emotive clean and reverbed strumming. It’s no less intense, but does play a bit differently. Was the approach to the writing and recording process any different this time around?
If you take Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt and juxtapose it directly with I'm Not The Lonely One, then yeah, they're pretty different. But there are two shorter releases (split 7" w/ Spirit Fangs and January 2013 cassette) between them that make the shift in style seem much more gradual and incremental - at least that narrative exists in our own heads.
But we definitely do write differently now vs. then. Mostly it's more collaborative, in that we wrote 25-30 songs between November 2011 (when Lonely One came out) and August 2013 (when we finished writing Head In The Clouds) and the ones we kept for the LP were the ones we all wrote in a room together in real time. We even started workshopping the vocals as a group in this period, which is what led to ideas like experimenting with melody and harmony and backing textures. It was also our first effort at a long-form release so there was more room to play around.
Smaller labels, and maybe the current version of independent music in general, is getting a lot more attention these days - bands are getting bigger, vinyl releases are increasing in number and popularity thanks in large part to labels like No Sleep. Compared to being a band getting started a few years ago, to how things are now, what do you see as the biggest challenge? The biggest benefit? Are there things you would have done differently?
Are bands getting bigger? The whole thing seems a lot more fragmented now. It seems both easier to get music out and find an audience but harder to keep an audience, especially a large one. We're not hyper-focused on being the hugest band in the world, just writing the best music we can under this amorphous "hardcore" umbrella, so we have no regrets and we're happy occupying the niche we're in now. Working with No Sleep has only increased our reach and we're grateful for that of course, but we'd still be playing and writing out of sheer love for the art and expression, whether we'd started six years ago or six weeks ago.
Touring isn’t easy for smaller bands - you’re reliant on individual promoters a lot of the time, and venues can range from dimly lit basements with half dead monitors to actual stages with lighting and sound techs. Does that have any effect on morale or does it, at the very least, keep things interesting enough so that you’re given unique experiences wherever you go?
You're definitely spot-on about uniqueness, no two shows are alike and it makes each one memorable, good or bad. After a few tours, we've become inured to the bad nights and morale doesn't really factor in, because if we have a bummer show a) we were probably expecting too much and b) there will be a good one another night. But yeah, the range of shows we play as a small band on a big label is wild. One day we're main stage at Bled Fest, the next we're coughing up black stuff in a basement that smelled like piss until the smell of B.O. took over.
Follow-up: Along the same lines, as a smaller band, you’re often in the position of relying on strangers to open their homes to you - do you have any locales or experiences have made a lasting impact on you?
We truly appreciate everyone who does anything thoughtful for us while we're on the road, and that's why I think some of our closest friendships are formed on tour - we're at our most vulnerable, essentially living out of a lifeboat, and when someone feeds us or lets us sleep or shower it makes a world of difference to our experience.
One of the things I find most fascinating about the last few years worth of excitement over indie labels and releases, is the way it’s all incredibly fragmented and niche reliant, but still very much cohesive on occasion - something like Bled Fest and The Fest representing this particular scene, a very definitive statement about cohesion to me. That being said, there is certainly a differentiation made when a band like yours makes the jump to one of the more notable and respected indie labels - do you find your reception is different - both by those who might not have heard your music, and/or by bands who might find themselves on either side of that differentiation? (By this I mean: unsigned bands, or bands on smaller DIY labels, and bands who have had label support equal to or greater than your own).
It's impossible to know how we would be received if we hadn't taken the path we did. I will say that we come across as a bit of an odd fit in the context of No Sleep, at least when you think of the "typical" No Sleep act. But what drew us to them when we looked more closely was a tendency toward diversity on the roster that we didn't find elsewhere, and we've seen it reflected in the kids we've met since signing with them. Open-minded listeners are crucial to bands like us that don't fit neatly into any one genre or subculture. The way people classify music is so ridiculously granular at this point that it perpetuates pointing out these minute differences between "niche" genres, when in reality they've got more in common than listeners care to admit.
Follow-up: I see where things are now as a direct effect of the DIY ethos finding its footing in a much more corporatized and organized setting - the equivalent of anarchists setting up a governing body. Where do you see things heading in the next few years? Is this something that can sustain itself?
As subculture gains more attention, it's inevitable that some snakes will find their way in and try to co-opt DIY for their own gain. But for every scene that falls victim to some degree of establishment hegemony, there are plenty that fight top-down politics tooth & nail, even to the point of being exclusive and insular. Do whatever works. To some extent though, communities need to take steps to adapt or die, especially when times are tough. But things ebb and flow, and DIY will likely always find a way and we're thankful for that because without it we'd have gotten literally nowhere.
What’s next for the band after this run? Anything you’re able to talk about?
Not much in the immediate future - these month-long runs take a lot out of us and we're lucky to have jobs that let us get away with it, at least for now. So we'll go back to work for a while and keep writing; we've got a bunch of new songs already and plenty of ideas to work with. Then touring down to Fest and back in the fall.
Anything else you guys would like to add or mention?
Thanks for reading!
You can (and should) catch Aviator with tourmates Tri-State Era, as well as NKY’s Sheet Ghost and Chicago’s Gardens (who have some significant ties to the Cincinnati area) at The Southgate House Revival this Tuesday, June 16th. Ticket and time information can be found here: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/843157
Thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer my questions.