By Arielle Lessard
CALGARY – Blind Pilot has a rich, candid sound and has seamlessly expand from two pieces to six, and is getting a little bigger still with the addition of a young child. Frontman, singer, and songwriter Israel Nebeker tells BeatRoute this came about after he received a phone call from bandmates Luke Ydstie and Kati Claborn’s 3-year-old daughter. She was asking why they don’t have a saxophone in the band, and, after struggling to find and answer, was met with a determined, “Well, I’ll play saxophone.”
Their third album, 2016’s And Then Like Lions, was created five years after their last. It’s deeply felt and glimmers resoundingly with wisdom, a soft focus on vulnerability and the artful use of symbols. Recollecting the loss of a parent after a two-year journey of care, the end of a 13 year-long relationship and the courage that’s forged in time with growth, Nebeker produced the album with long time collaborator Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Neko Case, My Morning Jacket).
“I’ve been really enjoying people being willing to share their personal stories and telling me about their life. At first I was a little overwhelmed and then I realized that’s what I was asking for with this album” he says. Despite the unavoidable hiatus and reasonable fears that it would be detrimental to the band, Nebeker is humbled that their most recent release has seen many loving responses over the last year.
The album is well thought-out and sensibly passionate, but it didn’t come without work. “Everyone’s style comes naturally but words are always the thing that are the most painful, aggravating, frustrating part of the process of song writing for me.”
While being able to pick from melodies and song ideas is an easier part of the process, Nebeker continues, “Lyrics are so revealing that my inner censor kicks into overdrive as soon as I’m in that part of the process.”
He plainly labours, “To let whatever is at the core of the issue be spoken” but has tricks to stay above water.
“I’ll write a line in a song and maybe it’s particularly vulnerable or really addressing a wound,” he says. He continues, “Maybe in that moment it’s pessimistic, and then I’ll think about the idea that maybe I could be singing that line on stage for years down the line, which makes you double check yourself, do I really mean this sentiment?”
Nebeker is no stranger to the astonishing, shocking and sometimes incomprehensible pull of circumstance itself and talks brightly about life’s shaky ground. He addresses this especially keenly in “Packed Powder,” which builds around repacking fireworks with different insides, and working various jobs in the hopes that it will foster certain things within.
“That song is kind of funny to me because I’m writing about all the different directions I’ve thought about going in my life, and how they seem like dead ends, and the general notion that you have to wait and see who you are and life is full of these ‘surprise! That’s not really the direction you’re meant to keep going in!’ moments.”
Looking back he realizes, “It makes me feel a little spoilt but I can’t imagine doing another thing besides this and truly loving my life doing something else. […] It’s been pretty amazing actually… it’s kind of remarkable how well we do get along, and the times there’s been bad blood, we’ve all grown enough to make things even stronger between us so I’m pretty lucky with the band members I’ve had.”
Nebeker explains, “That’s my goal of writing and performing is to have those moments of deep connections that are maybe not quite explainable.”
In fortitude, Blind Pilot continues to make decisions mindfully all the way from their early days of bike touring to hold down both grand and difficult paths. Maintaining a sensitive spirit, Nebeker’s unhurried, accepting approach hopes to nurture some growth into another album after this tour is completed.
Blind Pilot performs August 4 with Anna Tivel at Good Will (Winnipeg), August 6 at The Starlite Room (Edmonton), and August 7 at Commonwealth Bar and Stage (Calgary).Anna Tivel, Blind Pilot, Commonwealth Bar and Stage, Good Will, Israel Nebeker, The Starlite Room