INTERVIEW – Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley

Portland-based band and veteran “road dogs” hit the tour trail

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Folk rock Oregon-based group Blitzen Trapper have made a name for themselves as storytellers–peddling dark American fiction to the tune of catchy rock. Now as the band finds themselves on the tail-end of a near two-decade stretch of being together, rather than simply pumping out fresh tunes the group has found a way to take their extensive road experience and turn it into entertainment gold. Blitzen Trapper just finished a run of their theatrical musical Wild & Reckless in their hometown Portland–a star-crossed criminal lovers sort of epic–and are ready to be back on the road again. One of those stops will include Vancouver’s own Biltmore Cabaret on June 15th.

From the now-classic and beloved Wild Mountain Nation, to hit album and Rolling Stone-adored creation Furr, to the upcoming Wild & Reckless record (due to be released in late October), Blitzen Trapper have proven that they are anything but repetitive and, frankly, have really seen some shit in their time. Vancouver Weekly spoke with frontman Eric Earley on the group’s upcoming plans, and fans can expect a wild time.

Vancouver Weekly: I know that your last album All Across This Land was a bit more of a throwback to classic rock than Furr was—is that what we can expect with upcoming album Wild & Reckless? Or is it going to be a bit of a combo?

Eric Earley: I kind of ended up fashioning it in certain ways like the play we did. There are songs within songs, some dialogue…it’s music but there’s definitely other elements involved.

VW: It’s a little more theatrical?

EE: Kind of, yeah.

VW: A lot of people really enjoyed your live Neil Young album, especially here in Canada. What does Neil Young mean to you as a songwriter and an artist?

EE: Our dads all listened to him—so we heard Neil from the time we were born. That music is so formative to us, it’s kind of always been. I listen to a lot of contemporary stuff too, and I have a lot of vinyl.

VW: Do you find that you have to listen to music when you need to get into the headspace to write, or do you need to have a quiet room?

EE: When I’m in the writing mood I’m not listening to a whole lot. With everything, I go through phases. When I’m writing I just focus on that. I go through spurts [when it comes to writing]. I can’t consistently write because I can’t consistently put out records. When I have a record that I know is all there, I can’t just stop myself. Because I know that I have the material backed up. There are two songs on the new record that were recorded for the old record that never got mixed. They both got used for the show we did, so we were like…they have to go on this record.

VW: Your songwriting style has a lot of storytelling elements to it, rather than just being repetitive. What are your influences there?

EE: Yeah, yeah. I like stories. And the new one is mostly stories honestly. A lot of it is on homelessness—people living in their cars and RVs. And Bonnie and Clyde style love…kind of love on the run. The first song is a story about this guy whose dad was a cop, and he tries to do the right thing but he can’t. And he falls in love with a girl so he settles down but in the end, he can’t settle. He ends up selling cocaine and his wife leaves him. So I think it’s just these dark American stories.

VW: You were homeless for awhile, right?

EE: Yeah, I was living in a car for awhile and I lived in some crash pads that people had, that we snuck into. That was a long time ago, over ten years ago. That life was non-consistent, as I would call it [laughs]. Now with the way the country is, there’s a lot of that going on in all areas.

VW: Do you ever miss it?

EE: No [laughs]. I think there are certain elements of it that I miss, like the headspace is one.  There’s freedom in a way, but there’s also a lot of fear and not knowing what is coming around the corner.

VW: You were in Blitzen Trapper at the time?

EE: Yeah but we weren’t touring at all—we grew up together so we were friends and were playing stuff. But we weren’t really making any money, that’s for sure.

VW: Seventeen years is a long time to be together as a band. How are you guys keeping that friendship strong?

EE: I don’t know, that’s a good question [laughs]. It’s like a family basically; we have so many shared experiences and we grew up in the same place. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, when somebody like you says that. Seventeen years you’ve been hanging out and playing. I’m like, man…that’s kind of amazing that we’re still hanging out and still have fun. I mean it’s cool because it’s like having a family that you just have all the time.

VW: I bet you’ve seen each other at your absolute worst and your absolute best.

EE:

Yes, there’s definitely been some shit that went down where things got really real. In those ways that’s how we get along…we know each other that well.

We generally tend to jive—I bring in some material and they say, let’s give it a try. In the end, it always ends up being Blitzen Trapper.

VW: What can fans look forward to on this tour?

EE: We’re going to be playing some older stuff that we haven’t played in like ten years. Like some really old stuff from Wild Mountain Nation, just for fun. We’re also working on a podcast right now—we’ve been touring for like ten years and we have so many crazy stories. Like legitimately insane stories. So we’ve started doing a podcast of us telling these crazy stories.

VW: Can you give us a little snippet of one of the stories?

EE: The first one is called “The Day of the Death Walker”, when out on a reservation this kid tried to kill himself with our van. We were like flying down the road at 70. But that was just one story of that day. There’s a lot of different stories of that day, so the first podcast is that day. And the Grand Canyon, the Death Walker, getting hit multiple times by this guy in a truck…a high-speed chase, a cop with a shotgun…like you just have to hear it to believe it. That will be out in another month or two. It’s called Confessions of a Road Dog.

Guys like us who tour all the time…we call each other road dogs. These stories are usually pretty crazy and kind of heinous and sometimes gross. Just frightening.