For touring bands, a bicycle may not be the optimal form of transportation, but for Portland, Ore.-based Blind Pilot guitarist/singer Israel Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski, riding velos and seeking adventure along the West Coast sent them soaring down the fast track to success. The band has appeared on NPR: Morning Edition and is slated to play Chicago's Lollapalooza in August. Poised to embark on tour with The Decemberists and opening for Josh Ritter in Boise next week--the first time they've shared a stage with him--Nebeker explained what the road is really like on two wheels.
Blind Pilot began in 2005 while both Nebeker and Dobrowski were involved in other bands. Neither of them anticipated this would replace not only their other musical projects but their day jobs as well. Nebeker enthusiastically describes how fortunate he feels to now play alongside artists he admires, such as Counting Crows and The Hold Steady, whom they opened for on a recent European tour.
Commonly placed in the ambiguous genre of "indie folk-pop," Blind Pilot's warm acoustic guitar and melodic harmonies draw comparisons to The Shins or recent acoustic work by Modest Mouse. Nebeker feels content with this label, although he believes his music encompasses more than a category alone can convey. In 2008, Blind Pilot recorded and self-released their debut album 3 Rounds and a Sound, reflections on fading youth, confessionals of love lost and a recurrent road theme.
An honest approach to songwriting, focusing on the intangibles of emotion, beats at the heart of Nebeker's philosophy. The album holds surprises such as a subtle trumpet on "Things I Cannot Recall." Melancholic guitar and minimalistic drums are predominant in songs like "The Bitter End" and in the subdued but passionate "One Red Thread," wherein Nebeker's voice wavers whimsically with a touch of sadness when he croons, "I can't remember the age that I was / but not the story that pumped in my blood / when you were the savior / and I was the taker of where I was."
The catalyst that launched the duo on their first bike tour was none other than a winter in Portland. Weary of the gray bleakness of the city, the two felt the need to embark into the unknown. The solution? A loosely planned trip down the coast.
"We'd roll into a town, ask around where people play music at, and then try to set something up," recalls Nebeker. Sometimes that show ended up being at a venue or sometimes it was just 20 people gathered around a campfire. The tour route, originally planned to take them all the way to the Mexican border, was cut short when their bikes were stolen outside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But that didn't keep Blind Pilot down for long. They later went on to complete a second bike tour. And although they've graduated to a van for recent touring purposes, Nebeker is pumped on the idea of a future return to two-wheeled transportation.
Tuesday, July 14, Josh Ritter with Blind Pilot; Wednesday, Josh Ritter with Tift Merritt; 8 p.m., $24 each night, $40 both. Egyptian Theatre, 700 Main St., 208-345-0454. Tickets available at Record Exchange, Boise Co-op, The Egyptian Theatre or brownpapertickets.com.