After the most unforeseeably, inarguably successful summer a previously unknown local band like Blind Pilot could ever have hoped for—one which saw the folk-pop outfit release their critically lauded debut album, 3 Rounds and a Sound, garner significant national airplay, land a coveted featured download spot on the iTunes store, and open for Aimee Mann at her personal behest—the group deserves a victory lap. And they are taking one.
For the months of August, September, and October, four of the musicians who constitute the full Blind Pilot live ensemble will be touring the West Coast by bicycle, playing shows from Bellingham to San Diego. Among them are Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski, the two friends who founded the band on a similar two-wheelin' tour in 2006. Given Portlanders' well-documented love affair with making music and riding bikes, there are no doubt other local bands who could benefit from Blind Pilot's insights into cycle touring, which Nebeker shared with me, fittingly, from the road.
MERCURY: Do you find yourself playing places that you wouldn't play on a van-based tour?
ISRAEL NEBEKER: Yeah, and it's absolutely the point of the bike tour. We really wanted to see and meet people in every small town, not just the big cities, and we really wanted to see if our music would work playing for all those people, too. I really recommend doing less miles and playing smaller towns for any band that's thinking about it, because, seriously, smaller towns, they tend to really appreciate live music because they don't get it all the time.
How are you hauling all your gear?
We all have trailers. Ryan, Kati [Claborn], and myself are using a BOB Yak trailer, which are really great because they just have one wheel and you can fit quite a bit on them, so they don't slow you down. I carry a lot of the camping gear, and I just strap my acoustic guitar on top, and Kati's taking three instruments (banjo, mountain dulcimer, and ukulele), so that takes up a lot of her trailer. Ryan has his modified drum set which is really heavy, so that takes up a lot of his load. And Luke [Ydstie] actually had to hand-build a trailer for his upright bass this trip. It looks kind of like a hand-built kayak. Well, it looks like a coffin, is what it looks like.
In your experience, what type of bike is best suited for this kind of trip?
I'd recommend using what you're already using and comfortable riding around town. For Ryan the mountain bike worked great last tour, but I really liked the road bike. I think probably ideal is just a pretty standard cyclo-cross bike or touring bike, something with cantilevered brakes so you have good stopping power and definitely three rings on your crankset helps a lot.
Are you guys hardcore cyclists, or do you think this kind of tour is within regular folks' means?
Ryan and I are not hardcore cyclists at all. We just ride recreationally and around town to commute. Luke has only done one bike tour before this, and Kati has never done one before, and she's doing great. The trick is get an early start in the morning and you can take as much time as you want. If you get tired you stop and eat. And before the end of the day you've covered 60, 70 miles or something.
Blind Pilot will play the Doug Fir Lounge (830 E Burnside) on Saturday, August 30.