Flying into new territory

Winnipeg rock band goes to Sudbury and gets treated like pop royalty

  • Jumping for joy: Local rock band Take Me To The Pilot are currently competing on the MuchMusic show Discovered. – Ryan Russell

If all else fails, Mike Bilenki will still be able to say he understands what it feels like to be like Justin Bieber.

Bilenki and his Take Me To The Pilot bandmates felt that in a high school gymnasium in Sudbury of all places, as they played two 45-minute sets sandwiched in between student council election speeches for a pack of likely bored and musically ravenous teenagers.

“It was the most incredible experience. They acted like we were Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers,” Bilenki said in a phone interview. “They were screaming. We went on Facebook after and had like 200 more fans. We sold a ton of CDs and merch, everyone was giving us handshakes and high fives. We never experienced such frenzy.”

It was a bright moment on the band’s first ever tour, a 17-day sojourn across the Canadian Shield into southern Ontario, bringing their finely-tuned radio-ready pop-rock to new audiences.

“It’s moments like that that allow you to put up with the 100 crappy shows in between,” said Bilenki. “Touring was really incredible. It’s an exercise in love for the music you’re playing and really makes you realize whether or not you want to be a musician.

“What we learned is that playing in your hometown is one thing, but being in a different town, a different night sleeping on floors and playing to absolute strangers, is an absolute beast but is absolutely essential and comes with the lifestyle.”

Rounded out by guitarist Eric Grabowecky and bassist Adam Brown (the band recently lost drummer Richard Eliuk as he pursues his studies), Take Me To The Pilot is competing with five other young Canadian acts to be featured in an episode of MuchMusic’s reality show, Discovered.

The show exposes bands to producers, labels and A & R reps who evaluate the bands to see if they’re worth a record label contract.

Playing in your hometown is one thing, but being in a different town, sleeping on a different floor on a different night and playing to absolute strangers, is an absolute beast but is absolutely essential and comes with the lifestyle.

Mike Bilenki, Take Me To The Pilot

The show helped push bands like Stereos onto the masses.

Though the show comes with its criticisms, Bilenki shrugs it off.

“I’m a big believer that you make your own luck,” he said. “If you’re going to go on a show like that, it’s a sign-on-the-dotted-line kind of thing. And if you really believe in what your band is doing, you don’t necessarily have to sign the contract.

“I think the choice reflects more on the band themselves than the industry, because it’s about what you’re willing to do and what you’re comfort zone to change is as a band,” he continued. “We feel what we have works and we hope whoever we deal with in the industry feels the same way.”

None of it is getting in the way of the band, though, as they’re planning another quick tour before the end of the year.

“We were all nervous. We all had our reservations because none of us had been on tour before,” said Bilenki. “Now that we’re back and getting ready to do it again, it’s like ‘Yeah let’s do it, let’s go.’”

To vote for Take Me To The Pilot, visit www.muchmusic.com/hp. The band’s next Winnipeg show is Friday, Nov. 5 at the Gas Station Arts Centre (445 River Ave.). Visit www.myspace.com/takemetothepilot.

Published in Volume 65, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 21, 2010)

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