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"gogoPilot goes pop... Jeff Williams returns to guitar rock roots on new album"

"I always thought bombing the Grammys would be a good idea," laughs gogoPilot's Jeff Williams, "but the problem is, right behind those assholes is a new level of assholes that are probably even worse."
For the humor-impaired, the 41-year-old veteran of the Charlotte music scene makes music, not Grammy bombs, in his home studio. But on the eve of his band's CD release party this Saturday, July 21, at The Evening Muse, Williams' expectations for Mañana, Mon Frère, gogoPilot's first full-length, are tempered by years spent in the local music trenches.
Williams cut his teeth in the early 1990s playing with Cellophane and Iodine, and the latter morphed into Lodestar, his longest running gig, in the mid-90s. It was during that era when Williams got to experience the music business' ugly side up close and personal.
"There was a period from '94 to '98 where people were kind of brutal to each other," he says of the local scene. "Everybody was out on the road trying to kill it to try and get signed, and it just got kind of catty. There was a lot of shit-talking and backstabbing. The mentality of the bands was like gangs -- us against them. And that's one great thing about Charlotte now, everybody's playing with different people and the scene's more fertile because of it."
Williams' latest band was a product of that cross-pollination. After Lodestar imploded, Williams formed gogoPilot from the ashes in 2003. The band's 2005 six-song maxi-EP, Armageddon Lullabies, featured a seven-piece collective and eclectic instrumentation like violin, cello, accordion and lap steel. Fueled in part by the disappointing '04 elections and the tortuous reign of George Bush, Williams' songs were outlets for his political angst.
But these days, Williams is just as content grinding the coping at the local skate-park as he is grinding out guitar chords. After 20 years concentrating on music, he picked up his skateboard two years ago and now rides five days a week if time allows. It's all about balance, he says, and he's not just talking about staying on the board.
"It's great to have a physical outlet, just tearing it up for a couple hours every day," he says. "I've been in bands and listening to live music from the time I was 15 to the age of 36. And you get to the point, surely there's something else."
If skate-boarding's proven to be a fountain of youth for Williams, the new album's songs are a return to his guitar pop roots. His band's been trimmed down to a four-piece comprised of Williams, Chris Ravenscroft (guitar), Matt Mangum (bass) and Tom Stanfel (drums). The stripped-down arrangements suit Mañana's hook-happy songs, an infectious mix of guitar pop, twang and indie rock with touchstones running the gamut from Elvis Costello and the Jam to Wilco and the New Pornographers.
The narratives may be less overtly political, but there's still plenty of Williams' trademark biting satire in unflinching songs about divorce, familial alcoholism, evolution, salvation and, unsurprisingly, the stupid side of rock & roll. Song-of-the-year candidate "Young Dumb Narcissus" takes on wannabe rock stars trying to hoodwink their way into the spotlight: "I'm a half-ass poet running full-speed down a dead-end road/I'm just some nobody who plays a guitar/Writes down generalities and clichés/And hopes you're dumb enough to buy it."
"I don't worry any more about whether a record I make fits in with what anybody's listening to," says Williams, "I do it now because I enjoy it. If I make a record, and one person likes it, or likes even one song, then I win. It's just one thing that I like to do; it's an outlet that helps keep me sane."
- Creative Loafing, Charlotte, NC July 2007

"A Handful of Local: Interview with Jeff Williams of gogoPilot"

gogoPilot seems to have been straying from the mellow Americana in favor of more raw, straight ahead rock. Was this a conscious transition? Can you think of what triggered this transition?

Definitely... When I got gogoPilot off the ground back in late 2002, I was completely burned out and done with rock music. Lodestar had ground to a halt right after 9/11 and I made the decision to re-focus my life by doing and experiencing some different things away from music. Four guys traveling around in a van playing in bars every other weekend gets old, especially after doing it off and on for almost 10 years. My wife and I were in Sorrento, Italy during the 9/11 thing and it had a profound impact on me. I honestly thought the whole band thing had just become completely petulant and ridiculous. I also felt there was a self-destructive 24 hour a day party vibe in the local and regional scene and I just wasn't digging it anymore. I took some time off from performing and eventually started doing gogoPilot with some friends who I liked hanging out with. A few had done some stuff with Lodestar, others were from other bands and still others had never really even played in an original band. No set line-up, just whoever would or could play with me. I wanted the music to be organic, topic oriented and real. I didn't really promote, and we never really took it seriously, and that was fine for a while. Of course, that didn't lend itself to making the club owners too happy, but I found a home and good friends at the Evening Muse who were supportive through thick and thin. We all became very good friends just by staying up late, talking politics, sharing ideas and hanging out which was exactly what I needed.

I like to listen to and tend to write chaotic, tense, fairly complicated music. I also love a clever three minute to-the-point pop song. Even when I was writing acoustic music I was still listening to a lot of indie rock, old punk rock, and power pop. Most of the songs on Armageddon Lullabies were initially acoustic/americana songs. During recording, I sort of morphed a few into more of a rock thing just to give them some nuts. It was fun making that record and having those guys provide me with the palette of sounds to pick and choose from.

It was early this year when I decided to move gogoPilot in more of a rock direction and to change things up. Glenn Gibson, an old friend and former Lodestar/Iodine member phoned me up and had played a few shows with us. Chris Lonnon, Rodney Lanier and Chad Wilson were getting their new project, Fence Lions, off the ground at the time and I was wanting to sort of formalize a ggP line-up to start working a little harder and to get a little more serious. Gibson, Chris Ravenscroft (gogoPilot’s lead guitar player), and I started working with Tom Stanfel from Clifton, who had expressed an excitement and desire to play with us.

We recorded 13 songs for the new record, and will probably be adding three or four more to that next month. Just recently, the songwriting flood gates have opened up... I'm not even going to talk about it, because I don't want to jinx it. As a songwriter, you take it when comes and just hope it doesn't stop. I am having blast playing and writing again. Maybe I just needed some time away from it, I don’t know… I also think it's completely asinine to limit yourself in any way... An artist should always do exactly what they want to do.

gogoPilot's songs have always had a very orchestrated feel to them. They have always felt very carefully arranged. From the birth of an idea to a completed song, about how long would you say it takes for you to feel a song is complete?

They present themselves in all kinds of ways... Sometimes you will work on one for years ("Alcohol" on Armageddon Lullabies) and over the course of that time they will morph from one shape to another… but really, the best ones never take more than 30 minutes… I shit you not. During recording, you may tweak a song a bit, make some arrangement decisions here and there, but the good ones always seem write themselves naturally and quickly. For me, there’s never really a time when I don’t have an idea running through my head. Been that way since I was kid. Probably an escape or defense mechanism.

It's rare that I ever hear a song with one guitar part or without some other sort of melodic tension. I like to hear a lot of things going on. Layers, melodies, counter melodies, harmonies... however, THE most important thing is editing. It is hugely important to know what not to play. Just because you can play something almost never means that you should. Songwriting is not about virtuosity, it’s about translating an emotion and painting a mental picture. It’s also about getting to the point and not boring people. Hank Williams never had to play anything but cowboy chords to get his point across. Guided By Voices could squeeze a huge, epic song into one minute. Dave Shouse (Those Bastard Souls - Indie Matters, Charlotte, NC

"CD Review: Armageddon Lullabies - gogoPilot"

After the 2002 release of "National Cheer," the last (and for my money, the best) release by Jeff Williams and Lodestar, the band slowly morphed into the Gogopilot juggernaut that now gives us this EP. And the journey appears to have been worth it. Williams, who arrived in the early '90s with the popular outfit Iodine, continues the psychedelic musings that first appeared on National Cheer, and tightens that focus with an array of talented musicians from various local bands.

Lullabies floats in like an open-ended, sleep-deprived dream, with Williams leading the narration with tales of life and changes that one sometimes wants to make, but is not sure how. For as many musicians that grace this record, the music does not overpower the listener, which makes the EP all the better. Ben Kennedy, Chris Ravenscroft and Rodney ("Wow, he's in your band, too?") Lanier deserve special mention for their efforts.

Where to go after this EP? One hopes that Williams & Co. returns soon with a full album, and continues to set the controls for the heart of the sun.
- Amps 11 Magazine, Charlotte, NC

"gogoPilot - manana mon frere review"

Jeff Williams has been pottering about he Charlotte music scene since the early 90’s delivering indie pop gems with a number of bands including Lodestar, and his current incarnation, gogoPilot. His latest may be the best of the batch, a 12-song primer in 3-minute hook writing across a range of styles – Old 97’s twang, Teenage Fanclub power pop, Replacements bar-rock – worthy of a wider audience. Featuring his razor-sharp lyric bent- think Graham Parker or Rhett Miller – and a voice reminiscent of the Fannies Raymond McGinley, Williams turns one unflinching eye to divorce, evolution, alcoholism and salvation, and one withering eye to rock star poseurs and night-life vampires. A couple of cuts pass without distinction, in part because the best sound fresh enough to recall the glory days of guitar-happy indie pop without any trace of nostalgia hangover. Proof again that quality pop never ages. - JG Mellor, Shufflezine, October 2007

"Quick Spins - Review"

Charlotte power-pop outfit gogoPilot’s 2005 “Armageddon Lullabies” was a tease at only six tracks. The 12-track “Mañana, Mon Frère” (meaning “tomorrow, my brother”) is a bright, upbeat collection that offers enough to satisfy. The self-produce disc is a cohesive career best for bandleader Jeff Williams, with its clever lyrics, appealing memorable popp songs, and mixing of styles. “Forget Me Knots” flirts with reggae rhythms, Beatles-style pop harmonies and crunchy metallic riffs, all in under three minutes. Although disparate elements like twangy honky tonk an jangle pop snuggle tightly on “Mañana”, a defining lyrical, vocal and sonic thread holds it all together. gogoPilot treads the same respectable pop territory as alternative rock innovators Material Issue, REM, and Cracker with nods to the Clash, Stone Roses and Dinosaur Jr. Anyone craving those classics should check this out. - The Charlotte Observer


Armageddon Lullabies - Released in 2005
6-song maxi-e.p. Available at www.CDBaby.com/gogopilot
Tracks available on I-tunes and most other digital media outlets

Mañana, mon frère - Released in 2007. 12 song cd. Available 12/07 at www.CDBaby.com/gogopilot and on I-tunes.

Streaming at www.myspace.com/gogopilot



gogoPilot is an indie rock/pop outfit from Charlotte, NC. The band formed in 2003, as a mostly acoustic ensemble featuring pretty, melodic songs, eclectic instrumentation such as violin, cello, accordion and lap steel, and the standard bass, guitar and drums. Original influences included a diverse collection of artists, ranging from the Beatles, Burt Bacharach and the Zombies, to modern acts such as Wilco, Guided By Voices and Those Bastard Souls. gogoPilot also mixed post-punk influences like early Echo and The Bunnymen and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions with the political leanings of the Clash thrown in for good measure. The band is the brain-child of singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeffrey Williams, whose past projects have included Lodestar, Iodine and Cellophane.

Though band members have fluctuated in past years, 2005’s six song “maxie-e.p.”, Armageddon Lullabies, was primarily recorded with the help of guitarist and sidekick Chris Ravenscroft, drummer Chad Wilson and bassist Chris Lonnon. Other musicians appearing on the record include Rodney Lanier (on lap steel, accordion and guitar), Ben Kennedy (on cello and violin), Vance Carlisle (on piano), Reeve Coobs (on vocal harmonies) and Chris Walldorf (on percussion). Produced by wunderkind Joe Kuhlmann (owner of 36th Street Studios, as well as Charlotte's premier acoustic venue, The Evening Muse), the result is a c.d. that features strong song writing, melodic instrumentation and introspective songs about everything form the current political environment to very adult problems such as alcoholism, the drudgery of working life, relationships falling apart, and people-watching in an Italian train station…

In mid-2006, gogoPilot shifted artistic directions. Williams’ songwriting drifted back to the familiar terrain of his former band, Lodestar. The band’s power pop/indie rock/Americana sound has thrust the band into the spotlight as one of Charlotte’s more popular and influential original acts. gogoPilot is currently playing Charlotte’s premier venues, such as the Visulite Theatre and the Evening Muse, and playing shows in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Currently, the band's sound is moving in the direction of established indie acts such as Wilco, Josh Rouse and Pedro The Lion, while staying true to the roots of time-honored acts such as Elvis Costello, The Police, The Jam, The Who, The Beatles and the Clash. As always, strong songwriting is the focus and Williams is still penning often-challenging songs that show no fear of subject matter that some writers consider tough to handle: divorce, alcoholism, right-wing fundamentalism, the Iraq war and salvation, just to name a few. Williams’ gift for cloaking sometimes gritty subject matter in delicate and beautiful melodies is a rare find. Never maudlin, the end result for the listener is cathartic and uplifting.

Released in September of 2007, the band's second studio album, “Manana mon Frere” (Tomorrow, my Brother) was recorded in Williams’ home studio (Wasteland). Williams is also filling his time playing the role of producer for Reeve Coobs' debut solo recording, which is due out in 2007. (Coobs is a member of gogoPilot as well as one of Charlotte’s most popular female folk outfits, The Near Misses.)

gogoPilot’s current line-up is Williams on guitar and vocals, gogoPilot veteran Chris Ravenscroft on guitars and Tom Stanfel (formerly of Static and Clifton) on drums and percussion. Matt Mangum joined the band on bass in 2007. Reeve Coobs plays piano, percussion and provides harmony vocals with the band when her Near Misses' schedule permits, and Ben Kennedy, from local band Pyramid, joins the band on violin and cello occasionally.