Blind Pilot’s Israel Nebeker chats with Atwood Magazine about his upcoming solo album, the band’s current mini-tour, and getting back into the studio to record their long-awaited fourth LP!
It’s been over seven years since the last Blind Pilot studio album.
And for most fans of the indie folk band, that’s perfectly fine; we’ve long since learned to be patient, understanding that there’s a method to Israel Nebeker and his bandmates’ madness; that in taking their time to carefully write and record each record, the resulting music will not just be beautiful; it will be breathtaking.
This ideology (if you can call it that) has served Blind Pilot well through their first three studio albums, released between 2008 and 2016. As I wrote in Atwood Magazine‘s 2017 Blind Pilot interview, “each [record] captures sincere moments in our greater human experience: Love, loss, hope, doubt, and more fill a beautiful repertoire with themes that are not only relatable, but also deeply meaningful.”
Still, seven years sounds like a long time because it is a long time – and no one knows that better than Nebeker himself. Earlier this summer, he recorded his first solo album with Josh Kaufman (of Bonny Light Horseman) up in Woodstock, New York, and he and his bandmates are set to return to the same studio, again with Kaufman, in early December to record Blind Pilot’s fourth studio album as well.
Ahead of those sessions, Blind Pilot are playing four shows at intimate venues in the Northeast: The Columbus Theatre in Providence, RI, the State Theatre in Portland, ME, Stone Church in Bralleboro, VT, and Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock. Playing a set that’s equal parts released and unreleased songs, the four-piece band of Nebeker, Ryan Dobrowski, Luke Ydstie, and Kati Claborn (Ian Krist and Dave Jorgensen couldn’t make it for this run) are essentially road-testing their new album’s material before they hit the studio the following week.
“We’re kind of using the audiences as our rehearsal room,” Nebeker chuckles. “There’s a different energy that the whole band brings when you’re sharing music with other people, and it’s not just in a rehearsal space or a recording studio. And that’s what I want to gather on our way into the studio.”
Fret not, Blind Pilot fans: The wait is almost over.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Israel Nebeker to chat about Blind Pilot’s mini tour, his solo material, and his excitement about getting back into the studio with the band. Be sure to catch Blind Pilot’s remaining shows in Vermont and New York (tickets are available here), and stay tuned for more news from the band as Israel Nebeker prepares to release both his own first solo record, as well as Blind Pilot’s long-awaited fourth studio album!
CATCHING UP WITH BLIND PILOT
Atwood Magazine: Hey Israel, it’s great to see you! How's it been being back on the East Coast?
Israel Nebeker: Man, it feels good. We just got in night before last. Last night we played our first show in Providence, and tonight we’re in Portland.
A few months ago back in Brooklyn, you told me you'd just finished some recordings of your own – a full album of solo material. How’s that coming along?
Israel Nebeker: Actually, the night that I saw you, I had just finished that record that day. I was at Josh Kaufman’s studio in Kingston, and we finished and then got in the car, put his amp and guitar in there, and drove down to Brooklyn with his wife, Annie. And so that album is finished, and I’m really excited about it. And I’m equally excited about this Blind Pilot one. We’re recording it at the same studio, so I know what to expect. We’re going to record the whole thing in two weeks, and then next year will be two albums of Israel songs down in the world. [laughs]
Basically what happened is we had a six or seven year drought, and then you're going all in on 2024!
Israel Nebeker: [laughs] Exactly, yes!
What spurred this mini tour that Blind Pilot are doing this week?
Israel Nebeker: Oh, yeah, that’s the main thing. We’re recording with Josh up in Woodstock starting on the 4th, so next Monday. I just wanted to do a short run of shows to play all the new material… I’ve just found in the past, we’ll rehearse for two weeks solid, and then after we play them live, the songs take on new life and new energy. I always wish that we did that before going into the studio. So we’re doing that!
So, this is the road test?
Israel Nebeker: Yeah, half the set is our old songs, half the set is our new material. So we’re kind of using the audiences as our rehearsal room. [laughs]
When you're playing a track live, it takes on a life of its own. You get to experience what it's like for the audience to hear it, not just for you to be making it. What were the takeaways from the first show so far?
Israel Nebeker: Exactly. Well, pretty positive responses to the new songs. I was really pleased. But hard to tell. But it’s less so about getting the feedback and more so just like… There’s a different energy that the whole band brings when you’re sharing music with other people, and it’s not just in a rehearsal space or a recording studio. And that’s what I want to gather on our way into the studio.
Why these cities? Why these venues?
Israel Nebeker: I told our booking agent that I’d like to play smaller shows in not the biggest cities, just because I didn’t want to go to New York and play the biggest show that we can and just be like, “Well, now that I have you all here, here’s all the new material.” It seemed like the better thing to do at smaller venues, where it’s a closer-up interaction with the audience, and we can just invite them in. That’s why these shows, these cities.
That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned you were doing a little bit of half old, half new. What can fans expect to hear at these shows in terms of old material? What's been really fun to revive?
Israel Nebeker: So, well, one difference about these shows is the touring band Blind Pilot has been six members since forever, almost since the beginning. But we’re just with four of us on this tour, and we’re going into the studio with just four of us because Dave, our trumpet and keyboard player, and Ian, our vibraphone player, couldn’t make it in the studio. They’re gonna record remotely, and Dave’s gonna fly in one weekend. It’s a little different playing the older tunes without the vibraphone and the keyboard. We’ve changed some things to make them work in a different energy kind of way.
That's cool. What are the most exciting songs to play?
Israel Nebeker: There’s one that I wrote about the trees in Mexico City, the Jacaranda trees. I’m really excited about that one. [laughs] You know, it’s a good mix. It was fun choosing which songs… Well, honestly, I didn’t even choose the songs. I just wrote the last album, and it took me years to write that album. And I thought it was gonna be ‘The Blind Pilot’ album, but it ended up being a solo one.
Basically I ran into some problems, and I realized the solution would be, I should just make a solo album, and that it should be these songs, and then I could just write a Blind Pilot album in a summer, and that’ll be great. It’ll fix everything.
And it sounded crazy because it took me so long to write one album, but it was really fun writing, just having the intention of songs that maybe were more open space and less intricate and less… I don’t know, an energy that was more specifically catered for this group of musicians, and that’s what ended up being this summer’s album. And it’s worked out really well! My band is so much more excited about it than recording the last album that ended up being the solo one.
So it took freeing yourself, in a way, of this bunch of songs – song that were initially supposed to be for the next Blind Pilot album – by just putting them out under your own name. And then you were able to put an entire album together in no time at all!
Israel Nebeker: Thanks. Yeah. It was a very different writing intention. Like with the last ones, I was just like, with every song, “Okay, here’s an idea. What do you want to become? What’s the best way I can possibly make you?” I just really took my time with each song. And this time, this intention was just like, “Okay, I have two and a half months. I can’t be delicate. I need to finish. I need to write this song. And I’m gonna give myself four hours.” And it was just with a different energy, and I think it works a lot better for Blind Pilot.
Do you see a differentiation between this upcoming solo work and the upcoming Blind Pilot work, in terms of the stylistic contours of the music itself?
Israel Nebeker: Yeah, I do. Although I’m holding it still a mystery purposefully, so what will happen in the studio, ’cause I don’t know. And the way that Josh likes to work is really just like nothing’s off the table. A few of the songs on my solo record turned out completely different than I was expecting. And I love that. So I’m not sure yet, but I do know there’s a certain vibe and sound that happens with this group of musicians with Blind Pilot, and that’ll be different. I don’t know what to describe it as, but it’s like communication thing… Knowing each other for 15 years and playing, it’s just a different thing that happens. So that’ll sound different.
That's so exciting. What are you most looking forward to at the end of this tour? Do you go straight into the studio essentially right after when you guys finish this round of shows?
Israel Nebeker: Yeah, that’s the idea. I was talking with Josh about this. He gave me the idea because his band, Bonny Light Horseman, records live a lot. He recorded an album where Hiss Golden Messenger did this. They did a tour that ended at the studio, and then they just set up and played a set like they did every night on that tour and recorded it just live on the first day. And they had weeks booked, but they came back the next day and were just like, “That’s the album. That’s it.” I’m not expecting that kind of fortuitous luck, but I definitely want to try recording live more than we have in the past this time around.
That’s great to hear - I wish you all the best on these live shows and on the recordings, and I'm looking forward to the Woodstock show!
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