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Long Way Up

music ThreeMileThree Mile Pilot revels in uncertainty on new EP, ‘Maps’

San Diego, Calif.-based indie rock band Three Mile Pilot put fans at ease in 2010, when it re-emerged after a 13-year silence with an emotionally stirring 12-track LP, entitled The Inevitable Past Is the Future Forgotten.

The album closer, “The Premonition,” has left a somewhat spooky impression to this day, not simply because of its booming piano and organ, but because of singer/guitarist Pall Jenkins’ pensive final lyrics: “I miss the sun.”

Those words couldn’t ring more falsely now, as Jenkins—whose first name is pronounced “Paul,” or, as he explains, “Pall Mall, like the cigarettes”—gets ready to discuss the band’s latest five-track EP, Maps, released in July.

Before he is able to begin, Jenkins goes on a scavenger hunt inside of the studio, in search of his sunglasses. Minutes later, he’s still empty-handed, forced to either look the mid-July sun dead in the eye, or squint.

Despite the faint glimmer of hope left by The Inevitable Past, Jenkins seems to prefer embracing the darkness, or the unknown, as demonstrated on Maps. The EP marks a first for 3MP, in that the title is reduced to a simple monosyllable, rather than a baleful one (see The Chief Assassin to the Sinister), but the lyric content and melodic elements are just as introspective and gloomy as ever.

In the magnetic first track, “Long Way Up,” for instance, Jenkins’ gritty vocals are heard singing, “there’s no road to this town/there’s no map to the underground.” Meanwhile, singer/bassist Zach Smith chants sweetly, “it’s a long way/it’s a long way up.”

“The concept of the lyrics is kind of [about] getting older and moving along into different things,” explains Jenkins. “People seem to think they have a map, [yet they’re] struggling to find a way. [The concept] also has to do with the band a little bit. Building it back up again has been this map to find out where we’re going, who we are.”

The band—which formed in 1991, when Jenkins, Smith, and drummer Tom Zinser were finishing high school—began working on material for Maps at the tail end of crafting The Inevitable Past, and split their recording time between Stereo Disguised Recording Laboratories in San Diego, Smith’s house, and Jenkins’ house.

Asked about the inspiration behind the abstract lyrics on songs like “Blu”—“I climbed down to the bottom of the sky/inside, outside, upside-down”—Jenkins said, “I think a lot of lyrics writing is a weird, unconscious, cerebral moment. They just come, they float into your head, [and] you write ’em down.”

On Thursday, Aug. 23, 3MP will head to the Catalyst Atrium, where they will perform some of their new material off Maps, with Chris Fulford-Brown on keyboards. The show is one of seven that make up the band’s West Coast summer tour.

While the last time Smith was scheduled to rock the Catalyst for The Rob and Zach Show, he was unable to make it because his wife went into labor, Jenkins assures fans that none of the band members are expecting a baby this time around, and that a live listen to the new EP is the only thing that’s due for Santa Cruz. 

Three Mile Pilot plays at 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at The Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 423-1338.

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