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The “vision” of any great song is that it practically writes itself.
There is perhaps no more intriguing image than that of a sheer moment of inspiration streamlining itself into a song, from the mind of the writer directly onto a sheet of paper. Or onto a cocktail napkin. Or onto the back of an old airplane ticket while coasting down the driveway at Neil Young’s ranch.
(FYI, that last one was a story told by Eddie Vedder at last year’s Bridge School concert, as he quipped “I’m not saying that I wrote the song quickly – just that Neil has a really long driveway.”)
Such was the inspiration of the title track on Blind Pilot’s euphoric sophomore album, “We Are the Tide,” which Israel Nebeker wrote while gazing at a piercing red lunar eclipse for over an hour, having just disembarked a bus, guitar in one hand, suitcase in the other.
“When I realized that it was the moon affecting my mood so much, I felt fragile and small,” Nebeker has said of the song. “We think of ourselves as so separate from change by nature. We change nature, not the other way around. And that was significant, that like the tide, we are changed.”
As the popularity (and with it, demands and expectations) of Blind Pilot continues to grow, does it become harder to let a song just write itself?
“Sure,” he said in a recent phone interview. “That was a pretty intense song, it just kind of hit me that night. I think it’s harder to let go and let those moments happen, but it still is the only way to come up with great stuff.
“The hardest part right now is just remembering to take a step back and realize that, we’re analyzing things more now than we were before.”
Very little analysis is needed to discover the pristine, captivating beauty in “We Are the Tide,” an album that forced the burgeoning group to kick things into a higher gear, but still aptly displays that which has made them a beloved indie sensation.
Accompanying last week’s release of “We Are the Tide,” Blind Pilot’s coast-to-coast tour brings them to Harlow’s (2708 J St.) on Tuesday, September 27, with Dan Mangan opening. The show begins at 8 p.m. and tickets are $12.50.
The pet project of Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski, Blind Pilot was impossible to ignore when the Portland-based duo’s 2008 debut record “3 Rounds and a Sound” gave the world “Go On, Say It” and other plush ballads that had people arguing whether they’re “indie pop” or “indie folk.”
Who really gives a rip how they’re classified. The two were content to load up their modest concert rig in bicycle trailers and hit the road on a bike tour up and down the Pacific coast (yes, it’s true, they toured on bikes), showing off the combustible creative energy that the two of them have forged as musical BFF’s.
“The way it began when we started this band, I had been writing lots of songs on my own, but wanted to write some new ones specifically for Blind Pilot,” Nebeker said. “The way Ryan and I work is to sit down and just come up with tiny bits of ideas, just a groove or a melody. He’ll start playing drums, I’ll play guitar and just see what happens, and we’ll come back to it later on.”
As “3 Rounds” emerged a tour de force, the band very quickly evolved from a duo into a six-piece, which is has been for the last three years. The group now includes fellow Oregonians Luke Ydstie (upright bass, backing vocals), Kati Claborn (banjo, dulcimer, backing vocals), Ian Krist (vibraphones) and Dave Jorgensen (keyboards, trumpet). The “We Are the Tide” sessions marked the first time the new incarnation of the group was in the studio together.
Too many cooks in the kitchen?
“We always encourage every member to come up with their own parts and add whatever they feel,” Nebeker said. “Ryan and I sort of established a certain sound and then brought in people after that, but because we were trying to include everyone’s ideas, it was getting pretty complicated with so many ideas flying around. For the first few weeks we were just trying out different things. At some point, someone needed to cut off some of the fat and have the vision for some more streamlined songs.”
“It was definitely different than last time, where it was just record a drum track, record a guitar track, record a vocal track and then that’s the song,” he added. “(3 Rounds) was such a D.I.Y., in a purposely lo-fi kinda way, but (the process) was pretty quick compared to this. We wanted it to have a sturdier sound.”
“Sturdy” is perhaps a perfect way to describe “We Are the Tide.” Some albums, especially in Blind Pilot’s genre (whatever that genre may be) will attempt to grab a listener and take them to several different places from song to song. With a captivating connective fortitude tying all ten tracks together, “Tide” has its way of taking you to just one place, and keeping you there.
Perhaps that place is sprawled out in a hammock under an awning to protect you from the occasional Pacific Northwest drizzle, craft brew in hand and Moleskin pad on your lap, waiting for your thoughts about the record to organize themselves – it will take a few listens before that happens.
Israel Nebeker himself may not even be certain that “We Are the Tide” turned out exactly how he intended it.
“I think that’s always there, every album we’ve ever worked on that’s been there,” Nebeker said, referring to the inevitable “what ifs” that ensue any recording process. “Probably because I’m kind of a perfectionist, but that’s what keeps people writing good songs.
“I think (the flaws) are what makes every process special and personal. We tried really had to tried to accomplish something special with this record, but it’s the ways we didn’t achieve that as well as the ways we did that make it special.”