San Diego's Three Mile Pilot are perhaps best known to the indie rock world at large for supplying key personnel to Touch & Go buzz band the Black Heart Procession. Still, they spent much of the '90s near the forefront of a surprisingly active local indie scene. Three Mile Pilot made their mark with distinctively moody, bass-centered arrangements (in fact, they started out with no guitar at all) and a prog rock aesthetic that often resulted in long, winding, multi-sectioned song structures. Their abrupt shifts in key, rhythm, and volume earned them comparisons to math rockers like Slint and Don Caballero, but their poppier moments were more akin to the Pixies or Nirvana. After several unique albums for local indie Headhunter, the band went on hiatus as its leaders focused on other projects.
Three Mile Pilot were formed in San Diego circa 1991 as a trio featuring vocalist Pall A. Jenkins (aka Paulo Zappoli), bassist Armistead Burwell Smith IV (aka Zach, aka ABS#4), and drummer Tom Zinser. At times, they were augmented by horn player Jim French. This lineup signed to Headhunter and issued its debut album, Na Vucca Do Lupu, in 1992. In its wake, Jenkins took up guitar, giving the instrument a dry run on the 1993 EP Circumcised. For the group's second album, 1994's The Chief Assassin to the Sinister, Smith contributed piano and cello, further broadening Three Mile Pilot's textural palette. The album caught the attention of major label Geffen, which reissued it in 1995 with several additional tracks. However, the band's tenure at Geffen was stormy and very short, and it soon returned to Headhunter.
Three Mile Pilot added a full-time pianist, Tobias Nathaniel, for the recording of their third album, Another Desert, Another Sea, released in 1997. A self-titled five-song EP followed on the Gravity label, as well as a series of 7" singles for assorted tiny indies. During this period, Jenkins and Nathaniel broke away to form the Nick Cave-influenced Black Heart Procession, who earned a deal with Touch & Go starting with their second record, and built an underground following that grew to eclipse Three Mile Pilot's. While both Jenkins and Nathaniel remained official members of Three Mile Pilot, the band went on hiatus indefinitely, during which time Smith and Zinser joined with San Diego native Rob Crow (Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, etc.) in the off-kilter indie pop band Pinback. In 2000, Headhunter released a double-CD compilation of Three Mile Pilot singles, outtakes, and rarities titled Songs from an Old Town We Once Knew. Although Three Mile Pilot continued to work on new material from time to time, the relative success (and touring commitments) of the bandmembers' alternate projects effectively precluded an end to the hiatus. Then, seemingly out of nowhere 13 years after Another Desert, Another Sea, Smith, Jenkins, and Zinser reunited to record a new studio album titled The Inevitable Past Is the Future Forgotten, which was released in the fall of 2010. ~ Steve Huey