To think, less than six months ago most of us were unaware of Blind Pilot. There was no 3 Rounds and a Sound (their staggeringly gorgeous debut, which is primed to top many a year-end best-of list), no bike lanes traversed by their peddle-powered tours, and no ensemble cast of musicians (which can balloon from a pair of members all the way to a firecode-violating stage of nine performers). Six months ago, there was none of this. Because, for all intents and purposes, the odds that we'd still be feverishly discussing Blind Pilot months after their debut were miniscule at best. The band was essentially new to Portland music, lacking connections, and armed with little more than a handful of songs and a desire to share their music by bike. If there ever was an unlikely success story in the unforgiving musical landscape, this is it.
First came the release of 3 Rounds and a Sound, which moments after becoming available was nearly impossible to ignore. The modestly assembled songs beamed with an air of confidence and a deep sense of importance, something generally not associated with newer bands. The bare structure of Ryan Dobrowski's minimal drumming alongside the vulnerable delivery of singer Israel Nebeker is a simple, yet utterly irresistible, presentation of polite indie-pop. What followed was a stars-aligning favorable turn of events for the band: There was the iTunes store incident—where the band's "Go On, Say It" was prominently featured—that begat a personal invite from Aimee Mann, a CMJ showcase, a fancy new booking agent, and so on. And, don't forget the concept of touring via bicycle, something the band did—at the height of the $4 gasoline panic—for most of the summer.
It's no gimmick—although to be fair, when you think about it, Blind Pilot just might be the greatest thing to happen to the world of spandex bike shorts and rock 'n' roll since Axl Rose combined the two elements on the Use Your Illusion tour—the band truly is inspired by not only the rides themselves, but the opportunities that come with them. As Blind Pilot travels on their own two-wheeled terms, the band encounters a level of interaction with outsiders seldom experienced in a typical van tour.
"We tried to play at a prison. It was the only establishment in between Eugene and the coast on the road we were taking," explains Nebeker, referencing the band's strict policy to try and perform every night, either at booked gigs, or as unannounced visitors looking for a show, even if it's outside a locked prison gate. "The caretaker came out and he was like, 'Oh, that sounds like a pretty good idea but all the prisoners are gone, this place got shut down last year.'"
Of course, modest bike tours require a healthy amount of time, which can impede the swelling popularity of a band. This has forced Blind Pilot into a Catch-22 situation where their growing reputation—in some part derived from their unorthodox devotion to bicycle travel—will eventually be what forces the band off the bikes and into touring by vehicle. But no matter the cost of success, the band isn't ready to let their ideals go by the wayside. Explains Dobrowski, "I think we'll always find a way to tour by bike even if it's going to remote places where people haven't heard us. But I don't think we'll have to worry about that for a while."