Sure, sure, the thing to do nowadays is to “Go Green.” It’s in, it’s now, its flippin’ sweet. Many people recycle. Some buy a Prius. Some even make a living working towards technology that will eventually be better for the environment. But Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski of Blind Pilot have really gone above and beyond – they’ve found a way to help the environment through their music… and it isn’t through a charity function. No, their green methods probably make their lives a bit more difficult, but boy does it send a message. These guys literally tour… by bicycle. No vans. No planes. They take themselves and all of their gear on the road via two pairs of wheels and legs.
And they’re not riding one town over to play their gigs. No, we’re talking about a trek from Canada to Mexico, cruising down the entire west coast. Their motivation isn’t totally for green purposes however; Israel recalls, “I can’t say exactly why we did it that first time. We didn’t feel the need to preach about car pollution because that seemed obvious. I guess I’d like to see more people doing the crazy ideas that come to them that they think are impossible.”
No matter what message you receive from Blind Pilot, you can’t deny their success in getting the word out there. Their just released debut album, “3 Rounds and a Sound,” is grabbing tons of attention. The single, “Go On, Say It” was chosen as the “Single of the Week” on everyone’s favorite, the iTunes Store. Israel and Ryan are smiling about the entire album, “As it formed, we knew we’d made something good and what we were trying for. For that, we were just beside ourselves with giddiness… I think we’re making music that is inclusive; that anybody could be a part of if they want.”
The duo kick off their latest bike tour this week, so I hope you’re reading this from the west side. The guys will be posting blogs and podcasts on their site, http://www.blindpilotmusic.com through out the trip, so check it out. There’s a lot more to learn in the XXQ’s, so get into it.
XXQs: Blind Pilot - Israel Nebeker, lead singer/songwriter of Blind Pilot.
PensEyeView.com (PEV): Growing up, in Gearhart, OR, what kind of music were you listening to? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?
Israel Nebeker (IN): The first concert I went to was in middle school- my dad took me to Autsen Stadium where Cracker opened for The Greatful Dead. It was the last thing I ever wanted to do. At the time, I was mostly into Dr. Dre “The Chronic” and Snoop’s “Doggystyle”. By the end of it though, I was thanking my dad for making me go.
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a profession rather than just a hobby?
IN: Definitely. For a long time I was waiting for that day to come to me- I was hoping for it. But then at one point I just decided that it’s who I am and it’s what I’m going to do, and that beyond that success is relative.
PEV: What were your first years in the music business like for you? When you were first starting out – before the press, before the accolades? Did you ever think you’d be where you are now, then?
IN: I’ve been making music and recording albums myself for a while, but the way I see it this is the first year of my music being “in the music business”. It’s the first time recording in a real studio and the first time releasing something on a label. What I’m writing and what we’re doing is still the same, but I’m really excited to see what will happen with so many good people working on one project. I feel incredibly lucky to be playing music with these musicians, and everything that’s coming is unexpected and awesome.
PEV: What can fans expect from your latest release? What kind of reaction did you first have to the finished product?
IN: We went into the studio trying to capture something honest. We didn’t have anything but the most basic parts of the songs planned out. As it formed, with the help of Skyler Norwood (Miracle Lake Studios), we knew we’d made something good and what we were trying for. For that, we were just beside ourselves with giddiness. Everything felt lucky. I think we’re making music that is inclusive; that anybody could be a part of if they want- that part just seemed to happen without deliberation.
PEV: How is this album different from your previous works or collaborations?
IN: The intent is different. I didn’t care at all if the songs were smart or impressive enough. To me, it’s not all very different from my earlier albums… but it’s something we couldn’t have made two years ago.
PEV: Last year, you two embarked on a West Coast “bike” tour. I use this word sincerly because this wasn’t a tour where you road bikes, and had a van hauling the equipment. You hauled everything on your bikes. No gas. One hundred percent leg-powered! Why did you decide to tour this way and was there at any point where you thought, “We are out of our minds”?
IN: There was one point when we almost bailed. We were both feeling like this was an insane thing to do and nothing was working like we hoped it would. That was up in Northern WA. The bike trip was Ryan’s idea to start so it’s ironic that it was my stubborn nature that won out for us to keep going a bit further. But, things just got better and better as the trip went on. By the last weeks, we were just “in it”. There’s never been a time in my life when my path was so clearly laid out in front of me. I don’t mean for that to be a pun. It was hard work physically, but in another sense it was easier than trying to deal with daily distractions of my normal life.
I can’t say exactly why we did it that first time. Maybe just because it was an adventure. We didn’t feel the need to preach about car pollution because that seemed obvious. I guess I’d like to see more people doing the crazy ideas that come to them that they think are impossible, and that they would do in an ideal world.
PEV: Bikes and hauling your own equipment, aside – What is life on the road, as traveling musicians like for the band? Best and worst parts? Was it a hard adjustment?
IN: It was a hard adjustment. I went from 170 lbs to 150 by Eugene, and I’m 6’1″ so I’m skinny to start. We both learned as we went and I’m sure next time will be slightly less “trial by fire”. The best and worst parts were the same I’d say: People didn’t know what to make of it. Sometimes people didn’t know if we were biking because we were maybe without a home, or we just couldn’t afford to do it by car so this is our last option. Sometimes, though, people got it and were inspired in ways we weren’t expecting. It’s a fine line, and I kind of hope it’s still there on our next bike tour.
PEV: Tell us about the story behind the name “Blind Pilot”.
IN: We were living in that cannery building in Astoria and it was out in the water on pilings. The bar pilot boat would come by about ten times a day with a huge sign that said PILOT on the side. Before the bike tour, I thought that the name, at it’s deepest, had political connotations. But after the bike tour, now I think it has a lot more to do with doing things before you’re ready.
PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourselves in when you sit down to write music? Or is it just a “when it happens – it happens” mentality?
IN: The initial ideas often blind-side me- in a dream, on a hike, in good conversation. There are definitely things I do when trying to make a song come out more. They don’t always happen when I expect or want, but the best thing I can do, I’ve learned, is give all my will and time to a good idea or feeling when it comes.
PEV: How have all your friends and family back home reacted to your success?
Success is a funny word. Honestly, I just left midway through this to go paint a house (my part time job that keeps me afloat as a musician). Maybe you know something I don’t, but I don’t think that kind of success has come to us yet. There’s just a lot of hope on the horizon.
PEV: Which city do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?
IN: Portland is pretty great. Introduce yourself to a random person here and the odds of them playing in a band or two are fairly good. I’ve never been to Austin, New Orleans, Nashville, or New York- so I’m no authority on the best.
PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?
IN: There’s SO much good music that deserves to be listened to by everybody. A few offhand are: Hockey, Horsefeathers, Junkface, Starfucker.
PEV: Is there someone you have not had the chance to work or collaborate with, that you would like to?
IN: The world is chock full of amazing people. Of course there’s tons of musicians that I would jump at the chance to meet or play with, but I’m still trying to grasp how lucky I am to be playing with the ones I’m with now.
PEV: When you are not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?
IN: Lately I’m really into breathing more and making my journals more “beautiful”. But I probably spend way more time watching movies and hanging out with my Portland buddies.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about both Israel and Ryan?
IN: What? You mean together? No… we’re not. We’re totally not.
PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio what would we most likely find?
IN: Lots of paintings on the walls and the random people that often walk in.
PEV: What is a live Blind Pilot performance like?
IN: It’s pretty chill.
PEV: In one word, describe Blind Pilot.
IN: I don’t know, but if we were an animal, we’d be like a tiger-headed giraffe that lives in the ocean.
PEV: So, what is next for Blind Pilot?
IN: We’re gearing up for our next bike tour, which starts on August 16th in Bellingham, WA. We’ll post blogs and a podcast on our website (www.blindpilotmusic.com) and this time we’re bringing two more musicians with us. It’s the most excited I’ve been about anything since our last one.
For more information on Blind Pilot, check out www.BlindPilot.com.