BLIND PILOT Touring on bicycles? Yawn. Touring on rollerblades? Now we're talking.
Ben Moon

"PLACE" IS A WORD, like any other, that loses its meaning after excessive use. When visited frequently for short spurts of time, cities can quickly meld into a soft blur of waitresses that serve you up the same weak coffee with corresponding false cordiality, while the country in between stretches too wide, and home becomes a nebulous term for old memories.

For Blind Pilot frontman Israel Nebeker, it's been increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of place after keeping in constant motion for a few years. With Nebeker as the vernal troubadour, backed by co-founder Ryan Dobrowski on drums, the band garnered a sizable amount of attention with 2008's 3 Rounds and a Sound—and thus found themselves swept up in the unruly tides of tour. Sometimes they were in a van, sometimes on bicycles, but most recently they've been toting gear in a 1971 school bus with a gutted and rebuilt interior, using reclaimed wood from old houses in the creaky coastal town of Astoria, Oregon (which many in the band tend to call "home"). "Typical tour vans are so sterile," says Nebeker. "The bus feels more homey when you feel far from everything.

"Plus, by the end of the last tour, we were just dying to get back," Nebeker continues. "Though, now it's the opposite; we're excited to get out and play some of these new songs." Such is the cyclical nature of the working musician; make the long drives, come back to whatever safe base you can tag and see what stories you can conjure, set up the microphones, and then reemerge with a new export (which, in this case, is their most recent album, We Are the Tide).

The studio process—taking place here in Portland at Type Foundry Studio with Skyler Norwood and Tucker Martine—wasn't the easiest for Nebeker and the band this time around. It took a year of devising detours around creative blockades. While 3 Rounds and a Sound was an album of songs without any previous expectations from an audience, We Are the Tide was an ever-evolving effort to deepen an established sound, this time with a full band (rounded out by Kati Claborn, Luke Ydstie, Ian Krist, and Dave Jorgensen). Blind Pilot had much more pressure to deliver—the curse of the dreaded sophomore release.

"I had to keep telling myself, 'Okay, I'm going to come back tomorrow and try again, without thinking about how it will be received or if it will be a great song or not," says Nebeker. "A lot of my time was spent getting back to how I used to write songs, before they meant anything more than themselves."

However, once Nebeker divested himself from various constraints and allowed the lunar rhythms to take over, the songs found their swagger. The excellent title track—which actually references a time during a lunar eclipse when Nebeker sensed an overwhelming interconnectivity to everyone and everything around him—carries on exuberantly in favor of this idea. Meanwhile, the album is spattered with older staples as they've been beautifully repurposed with the full band (namely "Get It Out" and "White Apple"), and new numbers rife with a divine sense of ever-fleeting elements.

"Place" is a relative term; it will always be subject to what you're feeling internally. Blind Pilot has made a record you can take with you as a gentle reminder of that, no matter where you are headed tonight.


Read the rest of the Mercury's Officially Unofficial Guide to MusicfestNW