Ryan Dobrowski would like to announce that he is not a whiner. With all the melancholy music he sees coming out of the Northwest, the 28-year-old Blind Pilot drummer feels it necessary to let everyone know that he and his bandmates are, in fact, extremely happy people, even if their music might sound otherwise.
“We want there to be a sense of hope in our music,” Dobrowski says by phone from Oregon. “We're happy and thoughtful and not so wound up with everything, but there's a lot of melancholy in Northwest music that can get tiresome. We're not all whiners up here.”
If Blind Pilot avoids the melancholy, they cling to adjectives like “wistful,” “bittersweet” and “reflective.” This duo is folked-out indie pop so rich that Natalie Portman might say it could “change your life.”
Dobrowski and singer-guitarist Israel Nebeker are a relaxed pair. Their small, DIY operation is stretching out to include tours with Gomez, The Decemberists and Counting Crows. For a band that came of age through street-corner busking and bike-powered tours along the West Coast, these gigs aren't exactly intimate jaunts.
“It was strange to play big arenas,” Dobrowski says. “You're playing in front of 5,000 to 10,000 people that don't know you at all. Being the opener there with just the most basic of lighting with acoustic instruments and trying to fill this stadium with noise and no tricks, just the songs, was a new challenge.”
Dobrowski is phoning from his hometown in Eugene, where he enjoys riding his bike around the river and taking time to be outdoors, away from the van to which the band is tied three-quarters of the year. The rousing success of Blind Pilot's debut full-length, 3 Rounds and a Sound, was what put them there.
When influential Los Angeles radio station KCRW started to play “One Red Thread” in heavy rotation, it wasn't long before tours by bike were out of the question. Critics and fans were raving about the album's layers of horns and strings with comparisons to Fleet Foxes and The Shins. But to bring that sound to a fuller life, the band is traveling with four additional players. The sounds of banjo, dulcimer, vibraphones, trumpet and upright bass fill out the live show, he says. But Dobrowski doesn't want to go overboard.
“We created a very lush sound when we first started touring and it got a little out of hand,” he says. “There would be band members not playing for entire songs, and that's very awkward to have people just standing on stage.
“I love Sigur Rós because they have the band and then they have Amina, which is the string section. Amina always open and then join the band as the headliners, too. I would love to find that because my favorite part of our songs are the string elements.”
When Dobrowski and Nebeker met at the University of Oregon a few years back, Nebeker had a band of mutual friends. But it was the duo that seemed more manageable, more inspiring. The two ended up in England for a summer as camp counselors, and due to paltry pay, they went busking for change in the evenings.
“We had so much fun doing that, and when we started Blind Pilot, it was with the intention of getting back to that same energy,” Dobrowski says.
The duo still busks on corners, but they try to keep it light. Dobrowski likens it to the benefits of playtime for children: He and Nebeker are healthier and more creative when they play for the sake of play and not because they want everyone to watch.
“Blind Pilot happened very easily, very seamlessly,” he says. “Since we decided to abandon playing music as a method and start playing with each other for the fun of things, it just clicked. I think it's our relaxed nature that draws people in to us in the end.”Blind Pilot plays with Gomez on Sunday, Aug. 2, at House of Blues. www.myspace.com/goblindpilot.