Ottopilot Is Ready to Take Off

Ottopilot Is Ready to Take Off

Writing for something like the Troubadour can be a mixed blessing. Getting occasional requests to write features about up and coming musicians comes with the territory. Sometimes these musicians turn out to be pretty good, other times not so much. But of all the new artist leads that I have ever been given, the best by far is the one that I received recently. It guided me to a talented alternative acoustic rock brother act called Ottopilot. 

Brandon and Chad Vogt grew up in a musical family in the North County. Brandon, the eldest of the brothers at 24, was pushed into piano lessons when he was very young but didn't get really excited about music until he entered middle school. Since Brandon is the oldest of the Vogt brothers I began our interview with him and concluded it with 22- year-old Chad.

"I started taking music seriously from about 14 on. From there it has just been progressing. I don't read music as well as I should, but I do have a good ear. I play everything by ear," Brandon told me.

Over the last eight years the brothers have made numerous trips to the Bahamas to work on the house that their father is building. Those trips have made a tremendous impact on their songwriting and their growth as a band.

"We shoot out there for a month at a time and we always bring our guitars. Our foundation as a band was formed when we starting going to the Bahamas. I think we connected there more as brothers too. When we were younger, we used to fight a lot, but there we are always working together. Every time we go out there our minds become clear. Personally, I think we have written our best songs there. I am not sure what it is. There is a certain lifestyle there that we portray in some of our songs. Songs like "Take Me Far Away" and "Lightbox" are very influenced by the Bahamas. That is where our name comes from too. Our dad is building a hangar out there and like him, we want to become pilots one day."

Their flight plans will have to be put on hold. Having painstakingly perfected their craft, the duo is now brimming with enthusiasm. They are seeking management, looking for a label, and hoping to expand their fan base through increased exposure. Ottopilot clearly has a lot to offer.

Brandon Vogt handles most of the lead vocals and what a voice! He can reach the high notes effortlessly and owns a voice that is both warm and mellow. If you combined elements from the voices of Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and the Fray's Isaac Slade you would have a voice similar to Vogt's. He plays rhythm guitar and piano, but for recent gig at the Kensington Café he just accompanied himself with a guitar.

Chad Vogt picks out most of the guitar leads and displays a good ear for harmony and singing backup vocals. As brothers their voices naturally blend together. At times, they have been known to add a drummer and or a violinist.

Up to now they have been doing weddings and private events primarily, but they do perform on alternate Sundays from 5-9pm at Rimels in Cardiff and at Tierrasanta's Bellagio Restaurant. They have also performed at the La Costa Grille in La Costa.

There are plans for a West Coast tour after which the duo will seek out a studio to record some new music and redo some of what has already been recorded using their own in-home studio. The goal is to have a polished, professional six-song EP that they can start shopping around.

In the last couple months we have made considerable progress," Brandon said. "We just signed a contract with a music attorney who wants to handle our music. He has a couple of labels that seem interested. We also have a high school friend who works for [the Los Angeles talent management agency known as] the Firm. He heard our newest song on our MySpace page called "Streetlight." He says it's a hit and he wants to go up there and sell it to [an established] artist. So, right now we have a couple of lures out in the water and we just keep writing and keep trying to make a living. This is our only job right now and it barely pays the rent."

The brothers Vogt have developed into a solid writing team. Their ability as songwriters is showcased on their MySpace page and soon will be displayed on their new official website: www.ottopilotmusic.com. Their success as songwriters is no accident.

"My brother and I spend about 50% of the day every day just writing new material," said Chad, the duo's younger member. "At the moment we have three new songs or at least progressions in the making. It is definitely our best work so far. We are really good at starting songs. That comes easy and natural to us. The hardest part is finishing them, by cutting out the bad parts, but keeping the heart in it and being satisfied with the final product. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months."

The process of songwriting was once a source of competition between them as each brother sought to outdo the other with a better song. At this point, it is more of a collaborative endeavor. Sometimes the songs are mostly written by one brother with a limited amount of help from the other. Other times the process is more of a true collaboration where both brothers play a major role.

"Recently, I think we have meshed really well. I think we both realize that we have to put food on the table. We need to dig down and get serious about this," Chad said.

Brandon had a different take on their collaborative efforts.

"You can't rush things. Sometimes, you have to sit back and give it a couple of days. Sometimes you do that and realize that what you wrote was nothing compared to what you thought it was initially. We have different styles both lyrically and with the progressions."

One of the common themes running through our songs is escape.

"We have always liked the idea of escaping from here. I think it is because we go to the Bahamas a lot. Our older songs tend to involve that idea of escaping. Our newer songs are more about finding what is special to you. We try to give people hope with our songs or sometimes provide ourselves with a little hope ."

"It is hard to get away from writing love songs. I think everybody does that. Probably 30% of our songs are love songs," Brandon added.

Being in a brother band naturally has its advantages and disadvantages. Both brothers agree that, in their case, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

With the international success of San Diego performers like Blink-182, Jewel, Jason Mraz, and Switchfoot, the Vogt brothers have seen that major success is not impossible. Whether or not their dreams of reaching a much larger audience are ever realized, Ottopilot is a band with tremendous talent and potential. It will be interesting to follow their career in the coming years and see just how far they can fly. 

John Philip Wyllie