Charleston soft pop-rock artist Erel Pilo just dropped “Red Dress,” the first single under the artist name P!lot from her aptly named debut EP, Takeoff. The minimalist lyrics, jangling tunes and lighthearted melodies on the spellbinding album transport the listener to a simpler time.
“It took me a while to learn this: You actually can say very little and have a lot said,” Pilo told the City Paper.
The pop-lacquered serenades and alt-rock infusions on Takeoff unfold a twinkling, layered sound wrought from collaboration with several local and regional musicians, including local producer and multi-instrumentalist Wolfgang Zimmerman and guitarist Brett Nash. Pilo’s airy vocals float above a clinking, quirky sound foundation she fills with keys, omnicord, mellotron, guitar and ukulele.
The newly released tune, “Red Dress,” emotes a chic attitude with twinkling notes and an entrancing build. Pilo’s dazzling voice is languorous as she sings: “When a smile / Plays on her lips / It’s like a hook / Inside a fish / She was born / With a red dress on.”
“It might seem to people that I had a cohesive plan — but it was pretty accidental,” she said of the album. “The songs themselves were written over a great stretch of time — maybe 10 years.”
Pilo, born in Tel Aviv, Israel, received her bachelor’s of fine arts in film and television from New York University in 2003 and worked in the film industry and dabbled in acting during her years in New York City. When the NYC grind started getting to her, she turned to songwriting on her acoustic guitar to process her thoughts back in 2012.
“I generally had a blue feeling in my life at the time,” Pilo said. “I think I was expressing that. I’d taken a smattering of lessons — so I felt adequate to pick it up and write on it.”
She mainly played and wrote on the acoustic guitar before she embraced the simplistic charm of the Casio keyboard she bought off of Craigslist in 2013. It was the NYC open mic scene, especially the old Bar 4 in Brooklyn, that helped her dive deeper into songwriting and performing in 2016.
“As an artist you get to feel the room,” Pilo said. “You see [if] the song’s not working, or ‘I think the song has potential but it’s not quite there. What do I do differently?’ It was essential to me and to my friends that were part of that music scene and building our craft.”
By interacting with listeners and networking with other singer-songwriters, she built the confidence she needed to take her music forward. In 2013, she released her first acoustic EP Drone under Erel Pilo, which is composed of five “cute indie” tunes that leaned a bit toward folk. She went on to perform in the female trio Sky Diamonds, which she described as a “three- headed monster” playing original tunes and switching up lead singers and instruments.
Pilo regularly brushed shoulders with Charleston musicians, including melodic pop artist Grace Joyner and drummer Nic Jenkins, and eventually she moved to the Holy City in November 2019. She said the 20th century NYC culture she loved reading about in literature had materialized as an unending uphill struggle, and she was ready for a change.
“New York in that time was this fertile ground for all this art to be created,” she said. “I felt like the New York that I was experiencing … wasn’t really supportive. I was like, ‘This is too hard. I can’t do it anymore.’ I had an idea that Charleston was going to be easy living in comparison, [and I would] have space in my life for music. That was a priority for me. And it turned out to be the case. I think I was intrigued by the South in general, because I really am into Tennessee Williams.”
Since she’s landed in Charleston, Pilo has ventured onto stages throughout the South with local dream pop outfit Leopard and the Diamond Sky, which includes drummer John Renaldo, bassist Russell Green and guitarist Matt Varner. Pilo said a lot of her spare time is spent in the band’s home studio, The Secret Cottage, tinkering with music.
“I’ve been experimenting,” she said. “I have a new concept album that I’m working on. It’s very different. It’s much more synth based. The theme is pretty sensual.”
In the meantime, “Balloon,” the next song from the forthcoming album, will drop April 21 ahead of a trail of additional singles released before Takeoff is unveiled.
“I find a lot of joy in creating music and playing music live,” Pilo said. “It’d be nice to have recognition, but I follow the path of joy. It’s not a practical decision to play music and it [can] wreck your life. I would like to be healthy and be able to continue to create pieces as fully as I can and collaborate with people.”
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.