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Blind Pilot

Indie-Not: Portland's Blind Pilot: regular Joes, cool jobs.

By Randy Harward
Posted // July 29,2009 -

Just over the border from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Blind Pilot’s Israel Nebeker marvels that customs agents didn’t search the van. “First time ever!” he enthuses. The border crossing interrupted a conversation in which Nebeker aimed to convince the band’s bass player, Luke Ydstie, that Bill Callahan makes great music.

Conversations like these are the luxury of vehicular touring, which is kind of new to Blind Pilot. Their last two tours were bicycle-powered. Forty- to 80-mile trips through their home state of Oregon and into northern California left the six members fatigued by the time they dismounted. But, like true cyclists, each “exciting, engaging, experience” helped pump them up.

Though their music is vital and exhilarating in its own right, Blind Pilot are more of a listener’s band. Nebeker sings character-driven story-songs like a laid-back raconteur, reliving their inspiration and conveying their emotional significance to his audience in calm, dulcet intonations. Behind him, the band plays spare accompaniment, likewise mellow and sweet. It’s well-suited to the itinerant musician archetype, and a lot of song ideas came on those pedaling sprees, outside backwoods groceries, around campfires and in homes of kind strangers who’d invite them in after hearing them play.

“It proved to be one of the more productive songwriting sections of my life,” says Nebeker. “I felt vulnerable to everything—the land, the people, the cities, the crowds. Being on a bike and without certainty of what was coming—that was a good time for writing.”

Clearly. Blind Pilot’s debut album 3 Rounds and a Sound (Expunged Records) gets universally gooey praise from publications like The Onion’s AV Club, Boston Weekly and the Philadelphia Inquirer. And tastemaker radio network NPR has championed the group, inviting them for in-studio sessions and interviews and to play at its shindig at South by Southwest. Blind Pilot are a band on the rise, much like past-current-impending tour mates Gomez, Andrew Bird, The Decemberists and Josh Ritter.

Interestingly, these acts are stylistic kindred spirits to Blind Pilot, elegant outfits that value songwriting and composition— and they share a common career arc: All were once the indie act du jour, all have retained their critical acclaim and even indie status. They’re breaking out but not necessarily blowing up, without doing much different musically than when they started. That, perhaps, is a clue as to the direction of the music industry, and Blind Pilot.

“It says quite a lot,” tells Nebeker. “The driving forces that make bands known in the world, are no longer music TV and radio but rather streaming and downloading online. It’s wonderful. It seems to make less mega-stars and more semi-well-known bands, which seems like an honest movement toward how things actually exist. ”

Both men savor the idea that indie-not-indie medium cool may become the model de rigor. The way things are going, rock bands could be less rich and famous—more like regular Joes with cool jobs.

“The biggest change now is the internet and the explosion of media everywhere, all the time and at once—the change will hopefully be transparency, not mediocrity.”

For their part, Blind Pilot strive to follow that ideal. Hence, their name, which comes from watching pilot boats off the Oregon Coast. To Nebeker, “It has something to do with not following people blindly, because leaders don’t always have sight. It has even more to do with stepping out to do before you’re completely ready.”

And so, they continue to travel the country, playing their music wherever someone will listen, whether it’s that woodland grocery store or a huge festival (Lollasomething) in Chicago, making good listeners out of the worst. “I’m not sure which affects the other more: music or the environment it is in,” says Nebeker. “I think any music that has a personal resonance goes well with any time and place, because it changes that time and place.”

BLIND PILOT
w/ Gomez
Murray Theater
4959 S. State
Wednesday, Aug. 5
8 p.m.
All-ages

 
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