Blind Pilot. Photo by Fawn DeViney.

This is Your Pilot Speaking

Blind Pilot, a Portland-based indie folk band with two UO graduates, debuts new material in Eugene

Israel Nebeker says WOW Hall changed his life. The Blind Pilot lead singer and primary songwriter was a University of Oregon student in 2002 when he saw Bright Eyes perform at the storied Eugene venue. 

Blind Pilot returns to WOW Hall on June 26, promoting In the Shadow of the Holy Mountain. Out in August, Shadow is the band’s first new album in eight years.

Ryan Dobrowski is Nebeker’s longtime Blind Pilot collaborator and drummer, a Eugene native who graduated from Sheldon High School and the UO. Nebeker grew up in Astoria, and he met Dobrowski as a student in Eugene. Blind Pilot’s WOW Hall show is like a homecoming for both musicians and the final stop on a West Coast run of dates, fine-tuning the new material and reviving classics from the catalog.

Remembering his UO days, Nebeker, whose father is the late Royal Nebeker, an acclaimed Pacific Northwest painter, says WOW Hall was the first place he saw a “real” concert, and Bright Eyes plays a similar style of indie folk rock to the band he and Dobrowski would later form. “It feels great to get back to Eugene,” Nebeker tells Eugene Weekly. “That’s still one of my favorite places in the world,” he says. 

Eventually, Nebeker and Dobrowski relocated to Portland, and 3 Rounds and a Sound, Blind Pilot’s first album, came out in 2008, around the same time The Decemberists, The Head and the Heart and Fleet Foxes popularized Pacific Northwest acoustic indie folk with unique instrumentation like trumpet, vibraphone and dulcimer. Blind Pilot belonged in that scene, and these days, Dobrowski hears that style revived in Noah Kahan’s recent hit, “Season of the Sticks.”

After 3 Rounds, Blind Pilot released two more albums and an EP, toured the world and performed at Lollapalooza. But playing an Oregon style in its stormy yet hushed simplicity, Nebeker’s Astoria childhood still informs his songwriting. “I associate my connection to music with that place and that landscape,” he says.

This time, however, Blind Pilot recorded In the Shadow of the Holy Mountain in upstate New York. Nebeker says he wrote the new songs in a burst of creativity last summer when, after five years of working on new Blind Pilot music, he suddenly put that material on an upcoming solo record and started over. 

The new Blind Pilot album, he adds, better captures the band’s energy performing live, with less introspection than the solo work. “The album is more open,” Nebeker says of Holy Mountain, compared to older material. “I think it’s my favorite collection of songs I’ve written. We moved quickly, trusted our instincts and did what felt good at that moment.” 

Angela Autumn, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, supports Blind Pilot in Eugene. Nebeker says online algorithms introduced him to Autumn, whose work recalls early Gillian Welch. After hearing her music online, “I reached out to her on Instagram and said, ‘You want to open a tour for us?’” Nebeker says, and Autumn agreed — a happy outcome, he says, for the mixed blessing of social media.

Blind Pilot and Angela Autumn perform 8 pm Wednesday, June 26, at WOW Hall; $30 advance, $35 door, all ages. 

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