When Blind Pilot frontman Israel Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski were looking for an isolated place to finish writing the band’s debut album, 3 Rounds and a Sound, they settled on a defunct cannery on the Oregon coast they called “Big Red”—not to be confused with “Big Pink,” the house in upstate New York where Bob Dylan and the Band absconded to write and play in solitude.
Nebeker says that while he doesn’t necessarily see the group as an extension of the American folk tradition (his songwriting idol was Billy Corgan, not Dylan) his music very much of a piece with the band’s own roots. “I think we wanted to make music that would fit in that idea of moving out to a cannery that was built in the late 1800’s,” he said in a phone interview. “We wanted it to fit there. And we also wanted it to fit in the land and the towns going down the West Coast.”
In other words: small, organic, honest. “Maybe about half the songs on the album I wasn’t even going to share with people, because I was sort of going through a phase writing songs that [only] made full sense to me,” Nebeker said. “I’m always surprised when it translates.” Sure, the lyrics on 3 Rounds and a Sound can be impenetrable. But the album’s tone requires little translation; in its melancholy warmth we glimpse love, guilt, and regret—indeed, Blind Pilot’s stripped-down ballads are destined to inspire reckless romantic impulses among audiences of whatever Fox Searchlight film inevitably features the band on its soundtrack.
Happily, you don’t have to wait that long; Blind Pilot plays tonight with the Low Anthem at the Black Cat—$15, doors open at 8. More from City Paper’s conversation with Nebeker after the jump.
On writing his first song at age 15:
“I really remember it as being such a completely unknown thing that I didn’t know what I was doing until I was doing it, and then there was this song and I was like ‘Oh, I guess I just wrote a song.’ It was some months later before I had the courage to share them with anyone else. Definitely, on some level, why I make music is something to do with a hope of connecting to people… But also there’s some madness in it without reason. There’s something about all of art that’s contrary to reason.”
On his musical influences for 3 Rounds and a Sound:
“I don’t know if I was trying to write like somebody else anymore, I wanted to get out of the Portland music scene. So Ryan and I just went to the coast just to be alone and see what we could create in that setting. But you know, I was listening to pretty much nothing but Joanna Newsom and Neutral Milk Hotel.”
On the origins of “The Story I Heard,” his current favorite song from the album:
“I was putting in some final weeks at a waiting-tables job in Portland before moving out to Astoria for a summer to write the rest of the album. And I was waiting at a bus stop to go to work, and a guy named JoJo came up and started talking to me. He was asking for spare change and I started talking with him. And he was this guy from Jamaica, and he had this something about him that was just almost contagious, so appealing, even though he was obviously in a pretty rough part of his life. I’m generally a pretty shy and reserved person, but he got me to sing Bobby McFerrin songs at the top of my lungs at the Portland bus stop with him. And it just really got me thinking—not that I judge everybody that I see purposely, but it got me thinking about how I see everyone and judge them without really thinking about it. And also thinking about how myself, and how we’re all judged in each other’s eyes.”