The Story We Heard
Blind Pilot pedals into the heartland of indie-folkster bliss
by Chuck Adams
|Blind Pilot 9 pm Wednesday, 9/3. Sam Bond’s Garage • $3. 21+ show
On an organic farm 10 miles north of Portland, dark, threatening clouds are hanging in the air at dusk when the core duo of Blind Pilot (Israel Nebeker on vocals/guitar, Ryan Dobrowski on drums) pull up on their bikes. Logistically, the band is testing out its gear at this early August gig in advance of the West Coast bike tour that will take them from Canada to Mexico. But really they’re here to have a good time.
Blind Pilot is a group that can still play to a large group of friends and fans at birthday parties, but not for long. Recently dubbed “the next big thing” by both the Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury, thanks in no small part to the Billboard Top 200 appearance of their independently-released debut 3 Rounds and a Sound, the band has quickly picked up a growing legion of fans across the country. So what happened?
What happened is what Nebeker calls the “iTunes thing.” The popular digital music outlet selected Blind Pilot’s song “Go On, Say It” as a Single of the Week in early July. On the basis of that one free song, iTunes users moved 3 Rounds into the top five best-selling albums for the week. Next, Aimee Mann personally asked them to open for her July gig in Portland. Blind Pilot was met with a standing ovation at that sold out show, and bookers were soon clamoring for them to make an appearance at their venues. But first they have to do this bike tour thing.
Aside from Nebeker and Dobrowski, the bike tour will include Luke Ydstie (upright bass — towed using a hand-built, coffin-sized bike trailer) and Kati Claborn (banjo/dulcimer). After reaching Mexico, the band will swell to a nine-piece mini orchestra and tour from Chicago to New York by rented bus. From there? Who knows. But Nebecker has an inclination: “[The iTunes thing] is going to happen in Japan next week; it’s going to be a Single of the Week there.” He adds, with muted glee, “I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan.”
Back at the farm, the band takes to the makeshift “stage” of an outdoor kitchen and launches into “Two Towns from Me,” which tones down the raucous party scene with its toe-tapping two-part harmonies. “When we’re not amplified,” Nebeker explains, “I just tend to strum really hard and break strings.” At this show, without a PA, Nebeker’s vocals (trained in the UO’s voice program) are beautiful but soft in an Iron & Wine kind of way and, sure enough, he’s breaking strings left and right. But tonight, it doesn’t matter: A woman loans him her guitar, and the audience gladly sings along.
Blind Pilot is an Oregon band through and through: Nebeker grew up in Gearhart while Dobrowski attended high school in Eugene. In fact, the genesis of Blind Pilot started in the Emerald City, where Nebeker and Dobrowski met while attending the UO. 3 Rounds was born in the summer of 2006 in an abandoned net shed in Astoria, where the two friends sought creative refuge. Shortly thereafter an attempt at a West Coast tour ended with their bikes stolen in San Francisco. This time they’re hoping to go further, both on tour and with more backup, and their intimate Sam Bond’s billing should not be missed.
Read an extensive interview with Blind Pilot at blogs.eugeneweekly.com