It took two albums for the pop-folk band Blind Pilot to break through to indie rock music lovers, and five years to follow up on that success.
2011’s single “We Are the Tide” helped the band reach the modern checkpoints for success within the music business: a song acting as the soundtrack for a beer commercial; multiple television appearances on talk shows; appearances on NPR programs. So, while the band’s lead singer and main songwriter Israel Nebeker fought against the impulse to just knock out a new album’s worth of material and hope for the best, life delivered the hard inspirations to forge an album.
Within a single month, Nebeker found himself contending with the dissolution of a 13-year romantic relationship and his father being diagnosed with cancer. Having just stepped off the road to concentrate on writing new songs for the planned follow-up album, the singer now found nothing but uncertainty ahead.
“The time felt so strange, and like everything was coming at once,” Nebeker says during a break in Blind Pilot’s winter tour, one that will lead them to Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle on Tuesday. “It just made me start thinking about loss in general. It made me want to write about just the idea of what loss means, and the sense of community and connection that comes with it.”
Community is something Nebeker quickly became reacquainted with, as he left the band’s home base of Portland, Ore., to return to his small hometown of Gearhart, Ore., to help care for his ailing father. Moving from a major city to a town with just under 1,500 residents would be a culture shock for any artist, but there the young singer found inspiration for the songs that would make it onto 2016’s critically heralded “And Then Like Lions.”
“(The move) was actually pretty comforting, to be honest,” Nebeker says. “I’ve always felt pretty connected to that place really strongly; the landscape is just a beautiful part of the world, and to have those beaches and those mountains while going through that was a good thing. It kind of helped make sense of the idea of looking at your father’s mortality, and life in general, as the place where you are born and continues until it ends. It just helped make it feel like a natural situation.”
The band’s new record has led to many changes within the dynamic of an outfit that first began as a duo (drummer Ryan Dobrowski serves as the second half of the original pair). Expanding to a six-piece, and working for the first time with a major record label via their partnership with ATO Records, Nebeker looks back fondly on the early days of Blind Pilot. The band’s nascent days featured a West Coast tour via bike with homemade trailers for instruments, and no emails or phone calls needing to be returned to managers or publicists. One might assume those times were easier, but Nebeker makes it clear that he is trying to maintain musicianship that evolves with the future while remaining true to his past.
“Ultimately, the thrill has always been the same, whether playing in front of 20 people when we first started out to playing in front of ever how many it is now,” Nebeker says. “You’re connecting with other people wherever you can, you’re connecting to your band when you’re playing, but it often becomes easy to forget that. You’ve got a big record label behind you, so you start feeling all of this pressure that you have to be something else, but you’re just doing the same thing you did years ago starting out.”
Who: Blind Pilot, with Quiet Life
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro