A conversation with Israel Nebeker, Kati Claborn & Skyler Norwood
Interview by Amber Henson
Although I don’t feel sorry for a band that got to play on “Last Call with Carson Daly” and at the Los Angeles bar Molly Malone’s all in one night, I will admit that it’s got to be tough. But then, Blind Pilot can handle tough. They’ve made a name for themselves by both making great, folksy, uplifting music and touring on bikes. Bicycle bikes. So I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that when they went on at ten-thirty PM they were able to put on a very energetic and entertaining show. I’m sure the crowd helped a bit (a little too much, really. Thank you, 6’6” man with powerful lungs standing behind me. I’m glad you know the lyrics, but I actually came to hear the band). But really, the seven band members took everyone on a great ride, and bonded with the audience by sharing how nervous they had been making their first TV appearance.
Meeting up after the show, I wanted them to elaborate on their feelings about Last Call.
“I was so nervous,” said singer/guitarist Israel Nebeker, clearly still trying to take the big night in. “Yeah, definitely nerve-wracking,” Kati Claborn (banjo, mountain dulcimer, vocals) chimed in “but it was fun.”
Earlier, in the show, they had confided to the audience that they’d messed up slightly on one of the three songs they’d played on Last Call and asked if they could fix that now. The audience, which had filled up the bar and was clearly thrilled to see the band, wholeheartedly consented. And so they played “One Red Thread” to an audience for the second time that night.
Small bars are familiar to the band after their bike tour. Because they were on bikes, and had all their equipment with them in the most compact way possible, they were able to make stops at some places that hadn’t seen outside acts in many years. Tiny bars in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit intimidating, and I wondered if they’d ever found themselves at one and said “no way.”
Nebeker: “Oh, it was never quite that bad.” Claborn: “Although we were definitely willing to play anywhere—” Nebeker continued her thought, “It was kind of scary at times.” Here, Skyler Norwood, who had played the upright bass that evening, popped into the conversation, “I don’t think it was ever scary! There were a lot of people we had to win over a bit, but everyone was nice.” “So nice!” Claborn agreed. “We took it all as a bit of a challenge.” Nebeker added. Norwood: “Yeah, most people were happy to listen to us once they found out we weren’t Nirvana, since that’s what a lot of people up there think comes out of the main cities of the Northwest, like Portland or Seattle. We did actually go to Aberdeen and it took a little time for them to warm up to us.”
Since I had Norwood for the moment (there was a lot of shuffling during the interview, which took place shortly after the show), I wanted to know about his upright bass bicycle trailer that he had made himself. It strongly resembled a coffin, which was weird enough, but I really wanted to know if anyone ever got in it. Norwood laughed. “Yeah, people would take naps in it,” he joked. “Having that bass case was interesting on the road. We got a lot of people in cars yelling things at us about coffins and things.” I then asked if the vibraphone that Ian Krist had been playing that evening had come along for the ride. “Sort of,” Norwood answered. “Ian actually traded the vibraphone he had tonight with a friend for a smaller kit, and that we brought along.”
So between all these instruments and up to nine band members (the core is Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski), was it ever hard to fit everyone on stage? The answer was, surprisingly, no. Claborn continued “Sometimes we have two more members with us than who you saw tonight, Shawn McLain on violin and Dave Jorgensen on trumpet. But somehow we managed.” “Luckily, we don’t have a tuba player,” Norwood joked, before leaving to talk to the lingering crowd.
I had read that the band enjoyed M.I.A., so I asked if they had seen her and her extraordinary performance while nine months pregnant the night before at the Grammys. “No,” Nebeker answered, “we were having Mexican last night at El Compadre, with some really weird mariachis.” I told them what had been unusual about her appearance and they were quite flabbergasted. Once they were done exclaiming, Claborn mentioned that McLain, their violin player, wasn’t currently touring with them because she was pregnant, but clearly the Grammys are a little different than Late Night. “You can’t pass that up,” said Nebeker, which was, in fact, exactly what M.I.A. said.
In a January 2009 interview with Randomville, Nebeker had been asked about his creative process and had stated that every time he thought he had a system, his method changed. I asked if he thought there was such a thing as a perfect process for making the perfect song. “No,” he answered, “I don’t think it exists. Does Bob Dylan have a good system? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone else. It’s more than that.” Claborn added “I agree, it’s not just mathematical.” Nebeker: “It’s like, I have an idea, and that means it could be a pop hit, or be club genre . . . Beethoven had a system, but songwriting depends on much more.”
I had also read that they were going to be in an M. Ward video. Both Nebeker and Claborn smiled at this recent memory. Nebeker: “Yes, we did that. I’m not sure which song it was for, I can’t remember now, but it was supposed to be a high school prom thing and we were extras, we were high school kids. There was lots of glitter and lots of confetti. There was confetti in my bed for days.”
After getting that quote, I didn’t think I could top it, so I simply finished with asking what they were listening to currently – Helio Sequence and Fleet Foxes for Nebeker, Laura Gibson for Claborn – and then left them to finish packing up and get ready to drive to their show in San Francisco scheduled for the following day. Although the band hasn’t quite gotten out of the West Coast just yet, touring in a van will help, as will the national exposure late night television will bring. Blind Pilot’s sweet, engaging music and rollicking, all-inclusive live show are sure to keep this band busy.
Blind Pilot - 3 Rounds and a Sound
More by this writer:
Johnathan Rice - Further North
VERT - Some Beans & An Octopus
The You - For the Masses
The Whitsundays - The Whitsundays