q&a with Blind Pilot’s Israel Nebeker
— These songs were written on the ocean in North Carolina, in your hometown of Portland, and some even in a tree house in Astoria, OR. Does the sense of place help you or inform the songs?
I think there was more so a sense of place in 3 Rounds and a Sound. Recently, since we’re traveling all the time, my home in Oregon became less of a home. Traveling was fairly constant so I was thinking about that sense of “what is my place?” and “what is my home?” and some of that got into the lyrical content. It felt appropriate to be writing in multiple places.
— You went into the recording process for 3 Rounds and a Sound as a 2-piece band and came out a 6- piece. All six members played on We Are The Tide. How did having more band members change the instrumentation, production, and arrangements?
We left a lot of the arrangement to chance, to happen in the studio in a natural way, and I think that has a lot to do with why it has so much layering and different textures and at the same time is not entirely polished sounding. We were constantly trying different approaches and because of that a lot of key elements came by chance like “that was an accident but now that’s the sound…”
We had a much broader palate. I feel like the last album was guitar songs with other instruments over top and, for this one, the other elements were essential. One big challenge was that midway through I was trying too much to come up with parts for people. I was being really specific when really all I needed to communicate was the general emotion or the basic idea. And if people could get that, they could come up with just the right thing — something better than whatever I would have.
— The band began with just you and Ryan. How has adding new members changed your relationship together and his influence on the music?
I would say he had even more of an impact on this album because almost all of the songs started with us sitting down, putting a beat and a melody together. On the last album, I had already written most of the songs before we formed Blind Pilot. Recording was a process that was pretty quick, just getting out what was already there. This time, there was a lot of work to be done in the studio, figuring things out, and he has an incredible ability to keep on track for what we set out to do. It’s easy to get distracted and he was always really good at reminding us of our first intention.
— A few songs on the record, like “We Are The Tide” and “White Apple,” were staples of previous tours; was it more challenging to record these songs that you’ve lived with for quite a while than the brand new material? How different are the recorded versions from when you first played them live?
Those were definitely the hardest, just because we’ve been playing them so long that there was a solid idea what those songs were, so we just had to have that come across on the album. Surprisingly, with both of them, it just didn’t do the same thing on the recording as it does live so we had to try out different things, like the backwards pedal steel that made it into “We Are The Tide.” I’m surprised that was something that belonged in the song because, of course, it was never in it live. Same thing with “White Apple:” Luke playing piano or me playing EBow guitar or other things that we never do live…
— You said you had to overcome writer’s block for this record. How did you manage to break through? Did the band spend a lot of time together during the break?
There were a couple songs that came in a natural way — that came in a day or two like “Keep You Right” and “Half Moon” — but for the most part, it was way more difficult than it ever has been for me. A lot of starting to get into it and then sort of letting my mind go into that space where I’m thinking about the end result. I had to keep telling myself “okay, I’m going to come back tomorrow and try again, without thinking about how it will be received or if it will be a great song or not.” It was a tight spot I’d never been in before. A lot of my time was spent getting back to how I used to write songs, before they meant anything more than themselves.
— The album was mixed by Tucker Martine. What was it like working with him? What was the process like?
It was a little intense because of the way he mixes, where everything’s done through an analog board and it all is a performance in its own way. We mixed a song a day and by the end of the day, whatever runs through that analog board, that’s how it’s going to be mixed. There’s no going back. I always think that it’s better if you can make decisions now instead of putting them off and having options later. That’s his whole philosophy with mixing, and it’s really cool.
— Let’s talk about the title, We Are The Tide. Why did you decide to on that title? What does that phrase mean to you?
The title comes from the song that I wrote when I was living in Portland. I was riding the bus back from rehearsing at Ryan’s painting studio and I was in a very unusual and heightened mood. Everything seemed connected. At my stop I saw — huge in the sky — a red moon. It was a lunar eclipse. I couldn’t stop staring at it and most of the song was written right there. I was holding my suitcase in one hand and my guitar in the other, and for about an hour was just staring in the street. When I realized that it was the moon affecting my mood so much, I felt fragile and small. 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.
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