One indie-rock trend of the 2000s has been the success of unconventional band formats, most notably the bassless guitar-drums duo and the eccentric co-ed folk orchestra.
Adding its own twist, the Oregon-based group Blind Pilot has morphed from one to the other over the past 18 months while riding the critical success of its debut album, 3 Rounds and a Sound
. Between national media appearances and transatlantic tour dates, they've been too busy to write the follow-up.
"It's been amazing, although it's a little hard to process," says drummer Ryan Dobrowski. "It does get exhausting, but it's what we do, and it feels pretty good right now."
As noted elsewhere, Dobrowski and vocalist-guitarist Israel Nebeker once had an act so compact they barnstormed the West Coast on bicycles. Their initial repertoire was built around a spare skeleton of acoustic guitar and brushed drums, putting the focus on the catchy melancholy and thoughtful wordplay of Nebeker's songs. But in the process of recording 3 Rounds
, they also called upon friends to flesh out the arrangements.
Released by the Portland indie label Expunged in the summer of 2008, the album saw little initial response, but the winds changed when it showed up on many critics' year-end lists with adjectives like "gorgeous," "perfect" and "wonderful."
"It was almost like the album was re-released in January or something," Dobrowski says. "All of a sudden, there were a lot more people who found it, and there was a lot more need for us to go visit the rest of the country."
Thus the lineup grew to include Luke Ydstie on upright bass, Kati Claborn on banjo, Ian Krist on vibraphone and Dave Jorgensen on trumpet and keyboards. They've been on the road steadily since March, including a May gig at Indy's Vollrath Tavern, a slot at Lollapalooza, supporting dates with the Decemberists and a brief U.K. tour opening stadium-sized shows for Counting Crows and the Hold Steady.
"It was a really odd bill for us to be on," Dobrowski admits, "but we liked the idea of going over to Europe."
After Tuesday's show with guest Laura Viers at Radio Radio, Blind Pilot will tour its way back west in December before starting work next year on the sophomore release. Though the expanded lineup broadens the options for arranging and recording, Dobrowski expects much of the writing to begin at the acoustic duo level.
"When you strip it down to just guitar, drums and vocals, then you get a really good core of a song, and that's what this band is about: the songs," he says. "But we're in a much different situation now, so it will be impossible not to be aware of the fact that we have other musicians who also have some great ideas, and we just have more space now to make an album that we can be really excited about."