Three Mile Pilot was one of the most engaging and influential left-field bands in San Diego rock-roll; their progeny looks like Slint’s family tree, with the top branches occupied by international indie darlings Pinback and Black Heart Procession. Not bad for a bass, drum, and piano band.
Lead singer Pall Jenkins, like many of his late-’80s contemporaries, began in a sort of hardcore band — a cross between Bad Brains and Slayer — called Dark Sarcasm, a pretty hard band whose audiences often violently slammed each other at shows.
In 1989, Jenkins formed his second band, Plum Daisy, with Lane Miller — later of Corrugated and the and/ors — and former Neighborhood Watch/future Pinback members Armistead “Zach” Smith, and Tom Zinser (whose uncle Bob Bereley played in Neighborhood Watch and ran a local record label). Plum Daisy was a major departure from hardcore; it was more melodic and a little funky. After three years, Lane Miller left the band, and in 1992 the remaining members formed Three Mile Pilot.
The initial lineup included Armistead Burwell Smith IV (aka Zach Smith from Pinback, Systems Officer, Neighborhood Watch) on bass and vocals, Pall Jenkins (the Black Heart Procession, Dark Sarcasm, Mr. Tube) on vocals and guitar, and Tom Zinser on drums.
They 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, multisectioned 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.
Three Mile’s first album, Ná Vuccá Dó Lupá, featured only a bass, drums, and vocals, giving the band a deep, serious, and slow sound, a texture apart from other bands. Jenkins comments, “We threw people for a bit of a loop. There was a lot of grunge music back then.”
They were briefly signed by Geffen Records, for whom they recorded their second album in 1994, Chief Assassin to the Sinister. During the ’90s, the band released five albums (mostly for local indie label Headhunter), as well as an EP, through 1999.
With the late addition of Tobias Nathaniel on organ and piano, the band’s later albums are spacious and resonate a deeper tone. Jenkins’s poetic lyrics often follow symbolic themes relating to water, horses, devils, ghosts, and things lost or forgotten. Jenkins says of his writing, “I always wanted to paint pictures in people’s minds, and the music was just melodic enough to go along with that.”
The band went on hiatus as its leaders focused on other projects.
Three Mile Pilot reunited in 2008, signed to indie major Touch and Go Records, and began writing material for a new album. Their first three San Diego shows in around a decade were booked at the Casbah in January 2009, as part of the Casbah 20th anniversary events. The lineup featured the original trio of Zach Smith, Pall Jenkins, and Thomas Zinser, along with Tobias Nathanial, Kenseth Thibideau, and Brad Lee.
In early 2009, Three Mile Pilot signed to Touch and Go Records, after which they released Six, a two-song 7-inch, and booked a summer tour starting July 16 at the Belly Up. Zach Smith's side band Systems Officer released its debut album Underslept in November 2009.
The band’s first new album in thirteen years, the Inevitable Past Is The Future Forgotten, was their first full-length to be written, performed, recorded, and produced entirely by the original three members in their own home studios.
The following year, their first two albums were reissued on vinyl by Hi Speed Soul, limited to 200 copies each, with Na Vucca Do Lupu on clear wax and The Chief Assassin to the Sinister on silver vinyl.
An EP called Maps was released in summer 2012, available on CD, limited vinyl, and digitally on Temporary Residence Ltd. The reunited band played the Griffin on November 26, 2012, before taking off later that week for a stint in Europe.