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.”
4959 S. State
Wednesday, Aug. 5