Combining an edgy, modern and elegantly dynamic take on the traditional rock genre, Sierra Pilot is that rare band that has no qualms about celebrating their musical influences, while at the same time forging a new, adventurous musical path, unconcerned with bending to the will of trends or conforming to expected norms.
Propelled along by the skills and tenacity of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Taylor Leith at the helm, Sierra Pilot is set to release its debut album in 2018, bringing to the Canadian rock music community a sense of renewed energy, confident purpose and evocative songs that will embed themselves into the hearts, minds and spirits of all who hear them.
In a manner similar to acclaimed veteran Canadian rockers Ian Thornley of Big Wreck and Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, Leith provides the creative songwriting impetus for the project, but yearns for the give and take, the internal energy and strength of purpose that can only be provided in a band atmosphere.
Thus he brought in a trio of talented, driven musicians to help push the vision and creative artistry of Sierra Pilot to new and uncharted musical waters, including long-time friends Jay Thibault (lead guitar) and bassist Ryan Ramsay. The final piece of the puzzle came in the fall of 2017 with the addition of innovative drummer Spencer Heaslip.
There is a remarkable cohesiveness and unbridled energy that cascades through the band which projects out into the audience. Individually the quartet of unique personalities and influences ensures a delightfully unpredictable and continuously cutting edge tone to Sierra Pilot’s music for many years to come.
“Jay is the most energetic one in the band. He is the talker and is always optimistic and keeps everyone else loose and upbeat. He is also an amazing guitar player, and has a lot of 1980s metal influences, like Slash and George Lynch [Dokken, Lynch Mob]. Ryan is the true rock star of the band. He has such presence both onstage and off and he just loves every aspect of being a musician. But he is also very serious about his craft and looks to guys like Flea, Billy Sheehan and Geddy Lee for inspiration,” Leith said.
“Spencer is a real find for us. He comes from a very different musical background doing a lot of live drumming for rap and hip hop artists. He brings a whole new level of ‘tight’ to the band. He is the band’s weirdo and he loves it; he owns it. And I guess my role is I am the zookeeper or beast master of the band.”
The music for the forthcoming debut Sierra Pilot album was penned by Leith alongside producer Ian Smith in a truly collaborative process that took place prior to the assemblage of the band’s line-up. Once Thibault, Ramsey and Heaslip were on board, they laid down their tracks under Smith’s guiding hand, creating songs that have equal measures of polished elegance and gritty, ragged edginess.
It’s indicative of the amorphous, forward thinking brand of rock music for which Leith wants Sierra Pilot to be the standard bearer.
“It’s heavier rock, but we have integrated it with a lot of different, innovative and cutting edge cultural elements, and that goes to our look, our stage presentation and how we will market and promote our music. We call it New Age Rock, something that will allow us to flow in and out of different genres and appeal to audiences looking for something that still rocks, but which offers a different flavour and tone – something that’s classy, yet still powerful.” Leith said, adding that there are elements of ground-breaking bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Foo Fighters in the Sierra Pilot sound, with electronica and even EDM beats meshing seamlessly with crunching riffs, soaring vocal lines and insistent melodies.
Leith’s personal story has informed much of the music he has written from his earliest days of picking up the guitar. As a newborn, he required emergency surgery on his trachea and esophagus to repair a birth defect. At that time, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team told his family that they may have nicked Taylor's vocal chords when they intubated him and that his voice may not sound normal. He proved everyone wrong. As a kid, he struggled with severe and life-threatening asthma and the accompanying bullying that took place when he wasn’t able to participate in gym class and other athletic pursuits. As a teen, Leith’s dad took him on extensive hikes to far flung locales such as the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the southwestern United States. The memory of those excursions prompted the name for the band, as well as a new outlook on life.
“When you’re up 11,000 feet, the silence is deafening. I found it to be a great place to think and be creative. It was a very cool experience and was also very good for my asthma. I realized that doing different things and having unique experiences and unique challenges was actually a good thing,” he said, adding that it inspired the first single from Sierra Pilot, Demons Awake.
“It’s an anthem for outcasts. It’s about living with your flaws out in the light and owning them. The bullying pushed me outside of the norm and I developed habits that were at odds with the other kids. Every time I would get made fun of I would fight back, I wouldn’t accept that I was different. But then I learned that it was good sometimes to not be part of the pack. Once I decided that, people started to accept me and I accepted myself. The song is about embracing our own uniqueness and that it’s much better to be true to yourself than to conform to what everybody else thinks.”
Overcoming great odds has always been a thematic element to Leith’s music, from his early days of learning to play and write music, to his first bands at age 15 and through his time with other acts as he honed his stagecraft, built his confidence and developed his own creative persona.
Surrounded by three other musicians who possess the same core drive, enthusiasm and commitment, Leith has constructed a rock solid foundation for Sierra Pilot. Add the framework of powerfully evocative songs, an incendiary stage show and an artistically adventurous spirit, and fans of intelligent, inventive rock music are in for a treat!