Portland’s Blind Pilot takes its music to a higher plain

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 1:41am
Blind Pilot's Nebeker and Dobrowski

Those who attended the initial Nashville show of the Portland, Ore., ensemble Blind Pilot might have tabbed them as strictly or mainly an acoustic duo doing intimate folk tunes, and occasionally delving into more rock-influenced numbers.

But their live show’s quite different these days, as fans that catch Thursday night’s Mercy Lounge appearance alongside The Low Anthem will see. What was once a tight, two-member unit has now expanded into a six-piece band, and the new personnel has greatly expanded Blind Pilot’s musical options.

“It’s been a collaborative process, not one where someone sits down and just scripts out parts for everybody,” drummer Ryan Dobrowski said. “The idea behind adding the new members came while we were doing the songs for the CD (their debut 3 Rounds and a Sound). We enjoyed having those additional instruments and the voices and colors that it provided for the songs that we felt why not bring them on the road with us when we started to tour.

“It’s been a great experience, particularly because everyone has been really dedicated to making things work, really exploring the music and seeing what can happen from this expansion.”

Vocalist/guitarist Israel Nebeker and Dobrowski began playing together about four years ago, crafting over time a sound fueled by Nebeker’s light, fluid leads and acoustic guitar backing and Dobrowski’s carefully calculated, yet also rhythmically precise textures. Their tunes had enough intensity to attract the interest of folk types, but also had enough melodic favor and attitude to hook both rock and pop lovers.

Their single “Go On, Say It,” generated plenty of online buzz when it was released last summer, eventually hitting the 2-million-download mark on iTunes. The song’s popularity in turn helped 3 Rounds and a Sound reach the number 13 spot on the “Billboard” Top Digital Albums chart.

But they also got plenty of exposure from a 2008 West Coast bicycle tour, one that featured them carrying their instruments on custom bicycle trailers that they’d designed for shows in some 24 cities.

However, Blind Pilot’s profile has steadily grown this year with the addition of bassist Luke Ydstie, keyboardist/trumpeter Dave Jorgensen, vibraphonist Ian Krist and multi-instrumentalist Kati Claborn (banjo and ukulele). Highlights have included a European tour where they opened for Counting Crows and The Hold Steady, plus some June dates with The Decemberists.

The band also appeared at the Sasquatch!, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands Music and Arts Festivals. Dobrowski added that all these dates enabled them to steadily tweak and adjust the dynamic of their evolution from a duo to a six-member group.

“In a way the challenge for us as a band is finding ways to incorporate the new instruments into the band without it sounding like a gimmick or something that’s forced,” Dobrowski continued. “But that’s been another great thing about the new members. No one’s afraid to speak out if they think something shouldn’t be included in a song, or if one instrument or sound just doesn’t work.

“At the same time, we don’t have any set feelings about what should or shouldn’t be tried either, so it’s really been one of those things where after about 100 shows we’re really got something here that’s exciting.”

Dobrowski said they’ve already written new songs and are getting ready to do the next album.

“Everyone’s got lots of ideas, especially Ian and Kati, as well as Dave and Luke, so what we’re going to end up with eventually will no doubt be much different from what we did on 3 Rounds and a Sound even though we’re still not sure what that will be, which is also creatively exciting,” he said. “I know we won’t be bringing an orchestra on the road anytime soon, but other than that, everything is pretty wide open musically.”



What: Portland folk-rockers Blind Pilot along with The Low Anthem

When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Mercy Lounge, 1 Cannery Row

Cost: $10

Info: 251-3020