A Service of Saddleback College and
California State University, Northridge

Turn Me On: Blind Pilot


What’s that old Yiddish proverb? Man plans, God laughs? Or as Woody Allen put it, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Life certainly does have a way of letting us know that our own plans pale compared with the bigger picture, as Blind Pilot songwriter Israel Nebeker rudely discovered in 2013.

Just when he was beginning to write for what would become the Portland, Oregon, folk-pop band’s third full-length CD, his own footing crumbled from the onslaught of rapid-fire losses of his closest friends and his relationship of 13 years, followed quickly by his father being diagnosed with life-ending cancer. Plans for the album were understandably put on hold for a couple of years.

It was in 2007 when singer/guitarist Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski began playing together in college, and later around northwestern Oregon. Soon they’d conned themselves into biking hundreds of miles down and back up the West Coast, instruments in tow on homemade bicycle trailers, while making a couple of dozen stops to play shows and sell EPs. Back in Portland they made 3 Rounds and a Sound, an indie CD that came out in the summer of 2008.


A few months later Nebeker and Dobrowski grew Blind Pilot into a sextet by adding Luke Ydstie on bass and backing vocals; multi-instrumentalist/singer Kati ClabornDave Jorgensen on trumpet and keys; and vibraphonist/percussionist Ian Krist.

AllMusic.com wrote that the additional members “add bigger, brighter colors to the mix” in a 4.5-out-of-5-star review of We Are the Tide, their 2011 sophomore CD.

By this point, Blind Pilot had performed at the Newport Folk Festival, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza, and shared stages with The ShinsLocal NativesAndrew BirdCalexico, and more, and their elegant songs had been heard on many TV shows, including Californication and Private Practice.

Things were going according to schedule.


And that’s when the wheels fell off Nebeker’s plans.

Given the time to process the emotional upheaval from 2013, Nebeker wrote the songs for Blind Pilot’s third CD, And Then Like Lions, and produced the album with Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Neko Case, My Morning Jacket).

When it was issued in August 2016, And Then Like Lions showed the band to have built upon the style and charm of their We Are the Tide, with lyrics that, at times, touch on the trauma that Nebeker endured.


The vulnerable and soaring Umpqua Rushing hints at his now-ended lengthy romantic relationship—“Are you over me? Are you? Are? You are/I will not hold you. I will not feel your sway/I will not miss you”—while Don’t Doubt takes on the broad topic of courage in the face of overwhelming sadness—“Don’t you doubt/Everybody’s seen the winter/Don’t you take the dark way out.” The triumphant album-closer, Like Lions, stands as a final fist-in-the-air paean to personal strength against all odds.



“Avoiding suffering, is avoiding real happiness too. My reason to tell this story,” Nebeker says of his own anguish, “isn’t because it broke me and pinned me breathless. There was suffering, but those two years, as I moved to my hometown to help my parents through my dad’s sickness and eventually his death, also brought me true closeness, a deeper will to care and hope, and many moments of beauty I can barely describe.”

See more Turn Me On at Rock Cellar Magazine