The Story I Heard: An interview with Blind Pilot’s Ryan Dobrowski
Lo-fi, indie folk pop band Blind Pilot stopped at the Casbah Oct. 24 for a show with openers The Low Anthem. After the soundcheck, drummer Ryan Dobrowski gave us an interview to share insight on bike tours down the West Coast, playing in English beach towns and recording along the Columbia river.
Full Interview Audio Interview with Blind Pilot’s Ryan Dobrowski
Ryan Dobrowski’s roots trace back to Portland, Oregon where he picked up the sticks very early in life. “My parents got me my first set of drums when I was seven or eight, then put me into drum lessons. I did that for a number of years, in school bands and everything like that–full kid jazz bands. As nerdy as it was at the time, it was pretty good to learn how to play with other people,” said Ryan.
After parting ways with the elementary musical education, Ryan ventured off to get a collegiate learning in art. “When it came time for college, I was torn between going with the music degree and the art degree because I was really into painting. I decided to go with the art degree. And just play in bands. I was more interested in playing in bands then being a real academic player. I am the only one in Blind Pilot that didn’t go to music school. The rest of them are all music school drop outs. I don’t think anyone of them finished. They all made it about three years and left.”
Later down the road, Ryan met guitarist and lead vocalist Israel Nebeker in Eugene, Oregon–home of the University of Oregon. Shortly after, the two departed Oregon to cross to Atlantic. “ We spent a summer in England playing on street corners and things like that. We played on the South west coast in Newquay, which is kind of a touristy surf town. So there was people from all over Europe. It was a good party scene. It was great fun at the time. When we started Blind Pilot a number of years later after floating around with other musical projects that didn’t seem as rewarding, we were trying to get back to that energy when it was just the two of us, some songs, street corners and an open guitar case.”
After returning stateside, the duo took up the moniker Blind Pilot and began a pair of now famous tours in which they biked down the West Coast, beginning in Northern Washington. The first tour ended tragically, when Ryan’s bike was stolen in San Francisco. “ It was pretty unfortunate. You get really attached to your bike after living with it for so long. But it was alright, Israel ended up actually getting his bike back. He found it on Craig’s List, someone was selling it. We had friends living in San Francisco so they confronted the person and got the bike back for them. My bike was never found. It’s gone forever, at least to me. But I got another bike, and I love that one. It was just a thing. It actually made getting home quite a bit easier, we didn’t have to pack up the bikes or anything.”
Shortly after, Blind Pilot retreated to the town of Astoria, Oregon. The town sits where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and for the record, Goonies was filmed there. “It’s a beautiful area. It’s really inspiring. We’re all from that sort of area, not specifically Astoria except for Luke our Bass player The building we were staying in sat on top of the water, so it would sort of sway when the tide would rise. It really affects you in everything you’re doing, to be out there like that. It’s a gorgeous area to be in. And it’s nice to get out of the city, not as many distractions and you can focus on your work.”
While Israel worked out the melodies and vocals, Ryan got a chance to put his art degree to the test. “We were working on a handful of songs out there. So we would work together, but then once the basic idea for the song was there then Israel would spend a lot of time working on the lyrics. So in that time I got quite a bit of painting done. I started doing a lot of paintings out there, and that one became the cover of the album. [The 3 Rounds and a Sound album cover] is almost the exactly the size as it is on the CD cover, about five and a half inches.”
Since the seaside recording, Blind Pilot’s “Go On, Say It” was the iTunes Song of the Week with over 2 million downloads and 3 Rounds and a Sound reached #13 on the Billboard Top Digital Album chart. “Its definitely been a change. It was a bit of a tough transition at first, because we were used to being outside, and just exercising all day feels pretty good compared to sitting in a van or a bus all day and then eating at highway fast food stops. You don’t sleep very well and all sorts of things are hard about touring. On the flip side, we’re getting to go to a lot more places in a lot shorter amount of time. It’s not the same, but we’re meeting a lot of people out on the road and that’s great. Every time we go to a city we haven’t played, there’s people that have connected with the album and are singing along.”
Blind Pilot has been featured in major festivals such as Sasquatch, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands. “The festival scene is strange. Festivals are fun and have giant headliners on the final nights. They have this real presence as aspiring musicians. In actuality though, they’re a little overwhelming with the amount of people there. It can be a little frustrating, there are so many bands. At the same time, its great to play these festivals we’ve either been to growing up to see bands we loved. Or just heard a lot about and wanted to see the workings of it all. Its been great in that way. The gorge is amazing. It’s such a beautiful place. That was a particularly nice festival. We saw some really great shows. The backdrop of the Gorge is amazing on the main stage.”
Just prior to playing at Sasquatch in George, Washington, Blind Pilot went on a European tour featuring dates with Counting Crows and the Hold Steady. “We had just come back from Europe the night before and then left first thing in the morning to get to Sasquatch. We didn’t know too much about either one of those bands. But like most bands, we wanted to get over to tour Europe and it was a great opportunity to go. The Counting Crows have been around a long time. I don’t think they’ve had a real hit since the mid nineties, but they have so many fans over in Europe. You know, playing to five to ten thousands people a night in arenas, it was wild. The arena scene is interesting. It was a good experience, though its not necessarily the best musical experience. A lot of the sound gets lost. And were more interested in having a connection with the audience then selling as many tickets as we possibly can.”
Blind Pilot’s current tour is the last for the 3 Rounds and a Sound album, which wraps up at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. “We’re done with this tour in December. We’ll probably see friends and family for the rest of December. But this is what we’re doing now, so we don’t want to take too much time off. We’re pretty eager to keep going and get back into the studio. It’s what we love to do. Even though touring is hard I almost prefer it because I am not quite sure what to do with myself in the down time. I’m excited for the next album– to just be creating again. Israel and I really feed off each other creatively in that way. It will be good to be focused on that instead of focused on getting onto the next city, which we’ve been doing for some time You get ideas, but there’s never really time to flush out the ideas into complete songs. Or complete paintings.”