Flights Over Phoenix Interview with Sean Stroh

By Sean Stroh

It seems odd to say, but a simple ad seeking talented musicians on Craigslist served as the springboard for the Los Angeles based pop rock band Flights Over Phoenix.

Keith Longo, the man behind the posting, was originally met with a number of unimpressive responses before one particular e-mail–from his future bandmate Chris Santillo–caught his eye.

Now just a few years later, Flights Over Phoenix looks poised and ready to break out onto the national scene.

The band, comprised of Keith Longo (lead vocals), Chris Santillo (guitar), Mark McKee (keyboard) and Jordan Nuanez (drums), released its first EP Runaway California last year as well as a music video for the title track.

Coming Up Magazine talked to Keith Longo about his first meeting with Chris Santillo, the benefits of being an up and coming band in Los Angeles and his experience recording a song for Disney.

What was that first in-person meeting like with Chris and what ultimately sold you on bringing him into your band?

It’s funny… I have a pretty clear recollection of my first impressions of Chris, both online and in-person. When he answered online, he was one of the only people who responded in a way that you’d hope for if you were looking for a potential band member. He gave some background information on himself, provided some recordings, videos and pictures of him and his playing, gave some compliments on what I was doing and told me his goals. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people just don’t do those things.

As far as first impressions, I had high hopes since he seemed cool through email and I really wanted to find a guitar player. I remember opening my door and he was just like ‘what’s up dude,’ kind of as if we already knew each other. We jammed through some stuff and he was well prepared  with some of his own ideas, which I appreciated, but more importantly, I really liked his ideas and creativity. On top of it, he was a really cool guy, so I asked him that very night if he wanted to be in the band, and we went from there.

How did you meet Mark and Jordan? How long have the four of you officially been a band?

Putting this band together has been a slow process. I’ve been writing for a while and always wanted to find the right group of guys who could take the songs I was writing to the next level.

Mark came into the picture about 6 months after Chris.

Chris and I had been writing and playing as a duo and making some demos. We wanted to find a keyboard player, and it was a similar process as with Chris. I found Mark on a musicians website and saw that he was a multi-instrumentalist and had a lot of experience with producing and engineering as well. I listened to his stuff and thought he’d fit in well so I messaged him. Long story short we played phone tag for a while, but eventually we all got together and would jam and write and soon Mark became a full-time member.

So the three of us did our thing through 2015…writing, recording and playing some shows. This past October, Chris told me that Jordan had messaged him on Facebook saying he had heard through a mutual friend that we were looking for a drummer. It’s funny, we weren’t actively looking for anyone at the time, but we always knew that if we found the right guy, we would want him to join. Jordan had been on the road with some national acts in the past as a hired musician, but was looking for something more permanent that he could contribute to creatively.

So we all jammed and right off the bat I think we all clicked musically and personally. We were kind of thinking it was too good to be true because Jordan was an amazing drummer and an awesome dude, and on top of it he was local, available, and really dug what we were doing. You couldn’t ask for a better situation. So it all worked out nicely.

Long winded way of saying, as a 4 person unit, we’ve been together for about two months. We’ve done one show with the four of us and we had an awesome time. Can’t wait to play many many more.

What is your practice schedule like as a band? Is there a particular day of the week where you guys always meet and practice or is it more fluid?

We rehearse on Thursdays, and usually do 2 to 3 days of recording together per week. We also individually write and come up with ideas and are always emailing them to each other, so if we aren’t meeting we are still active. We all have very full schedules so we have to do what we can, when we can.

One aspect of being a front man for a band that I feel often gets overlooked is the preparation that is attached with every show. Do you follow any specific routine or set of vocal exercises when you know you have a show coming up?

I do. As any singer will tell you, the voice is a very fickle instrument. Unfortunately, you can’t just tune up, plug in and always get the same sound. I don’t go too crazy, but I make sure I’m rested and hydrated, and I’ll run through some scale warm-ups that I have on my phone.

I’ve talked to some singers who emphasized how their confidence as a front man was something that didn’t magically appear overnight but rather a trait that came with experience and getting out of their comfort zone. Was that the case with you and Flights Over Phoenix? 

I think that’s a great question. And quite relevant to me actually. I didn’t grow up singing or performing. So, to say I didn’t have confidence with it is an understatement. I’d say it was probably my biggest fear. It was, and still is, something I’ve had to work at to overcome. With a lot of hard work on my singing, I was able to get to a point where I could do it in front of people. The more I got myself out in front of a crowd, the easier it has gotten. I still get nervous, but I’m better at managing it.

You were asked by Disney to record vocals for “Live the Magic,” the theme for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary, which plays every night in the park. How did Disney discover you and what was that whole experience like of recording with them?

Yeah, that was amazing. It kind of just fell into my lap. Disney had been looking for a male singer for “Live The Magic” and wanted someone with a sound that was a little more rough around the edges than what they usually go for. They came across some videos of me singing on YouTube and asked me if I wanted to come in and do a demo for them to see how it sounded.

I remember my voice was really worn out the day I went in because the day prior I was doing this commercial shoot where I played a rock singer and had to sing this song about 60 times. So after recording for Disney I was certain I’d blown it and wasn’t going to get the gig. But, I ended up getting hired and went in a few weeks later to record the final vocals.

Honestly it’s still surreal to me. I have to remind myself it actually happened. Five years ago, I had to take two shots of whiskey just to perform for a small crowd at a dive bar. To think that Disney wanted to hire me blows my mind.

Do you feel that being an up and coming band in a big city like Los Angeles–where there are so many talented musicians, artists, etc.– improves the quality of your music?

I think it does. When you’re a big fish in a small pond, you can get complacent. When you’re in LA and the guy at the open mic sounds like he could’ve won The Voice, or you hear another unknown band and they sound like the next big thing, it forces you to dig a little deeper with your own stuff. On the flip side, it’s harder to stand out. But, at least you have a good idea of what you’re up against.

There are literally countless number of places for a band to play at in Los Angeles. What are a few of your most favorite venues to play at and why?

Hotel Cafe has been cool for us. We also did an acoustic show at The Library in The Redbury Hotel. That place had an awesome vibe and the sound was great. But we still have many places left to play. Hopefully in the not too distant future, I’ll be able to tell you how much we enjoyed playing Staples Center.

How beneficial have social media sites like YouTube and Facebook been in promoting the band and getting your music out for people to hear?

Social media is still something we are trying to get a handle on. It’s crucial nowadays for bands to be working on it, which really isn’t what any band wants to do I’m sure, but it is what it is. It’s tough, we are trying to find the balance between not releasing too much material until we have a big enough platform and fan base to hear it, but how do you build a fan base without releasing material? It’s kind of a catch 22 and we get a lot of conflicting advice from people, but YouTube has helped us reach people that we otherwise wouldn’t, so that’s been good.

I saw some posts on the band’s Instagram that alluded to some new music. Is there any timeline for when people can expect some new songs? 

We are always writing and recording new stuff. We will most likely post some on SoundCloud in the next month or so. We are excited to see how people respond!







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