Singer/guitarist Eric Earley has been writing songs since a very early age, combining the gentle spirit of his early Oregonian surroundings with his own interpretation of classic and modern rock. Over the last ten years, he’s poured some of his best songwriting into Blitzen Trapper. Confidently throwing weirdo guitar rock into intriguing alt-folk/country, the group nudged their own way into the hearts and minds of music fans with three self-released albums, culminating with the breakthrough Wild Mountain Nation. Their Sub Pop debut, Furr earned accolades from everyone from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone.
Blitzen Trapper are currently on tour in support of their new album, Destroyer of the Void, and will appear at the Southgate House in Newport on June 20th. Days before the release of Destroyer, Earley talked to Each Note Secure about his love of music, his early influences, and how Blitzen Trapper’s success has changed the members’ lives.
[Each Note Secure] Your new album, Destroyer of the Void, is set to release in a few days. Can you tell me a little bit about the album and how it’s different from your past releases?
[Eric Earley] The other albums had a more lo-fi sound, but this one will have a more classic sound to it. There’s all kinds of stuff on it… folk songs and hard rock. It’s definitely different from Furr. We were in the studio for this one. I had other people come in and work on the record with me and do string arrangements. It was more collaborative.
[ENS] Blitzen Trapper has received a fair amount of notoriety for mixing the familiarity of folk and country with explosions of rock music and electric guitar. Early on, was it hard finding an audience as a band who married these sounds in a way other bands might not?
[EE] Well, in the beginning we were really just trying to put a record out and start touring. There’s always sort of been an audience for it. We’re hoping it keeps slowly growing and keeps calm. I always just do my thing, and I’ve always enjoyed writing in those ways.
[ENS] There are a lot of narrative themes throughout a lot of your songs. How do you approach them in the context of the album?
[EE] Generally it’s not about the record; it’s more about the song. Although the new record seems to feel like a weird concept album to a lot of people because there’s a lot more narrative on it, and [the songs] are more tied together.
But I never really set out to do that. I usually will write song by song. It’s more about how I was feeling when I was writing that song and the inspiration I had at the time.
[ENS] There are a lot of “naturalistic” themes on your albums. Are you expressing a connection with nature on your songs?
[EE] Well, any good writer will write what they know, and that’s just what I know from growing up in Oregon. The imagery I use… I just use it because I know it. I didn’t grow up in the city, so I don’t really know that life. I think it’s just a matter of terrain … and it happens to [result in] more “natural” imagery. [This kind of music] is also more like what I listen to myself.
[ENS] That’s interesting. Are there certain artists that particularly influenced your work in Blitzen Trapper?
[EE] Well, Blitzen Trapper is more about me going back to my childhood and what I was raised on, which was mostly folk music, country music, and storytelling music. And also classic rock, which my father listened to. As I got older, I got into different stuff like punk and alternative and hip-hop and all these kinds of things. [In Blitzen Trapper], I’m just trying to start from my own general direction and make something interesting out of it.
[ENS] Do you think that all the attention Blitzen Trapper has gotten over these past few years for Furr and Wild Mountain Nation has changed your songwriting process or how the band relates to one another?
[EE] You can’t really ignore things like success or touring or changes. They have their effect on the way I write songs and what I write about maybe. But as far as [the process] of me or the band writing songs, that hasn’t changed. It starts with piano or guitar, and centers around something interesting that I’m trying to talk about. There’s still very little thought that goes into it at the beginning. I just do it because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to, you know, be something [laughs].
[ENS] Have you had any crazy “wow, we’re making it happen!” moments since Blitzen Trapper started getting a lot of attention?
[EE] For me, the best thing about all of this is being able to hang out with great bands and play shows with them, like Wilco and Stephen Malkmus. It’s pretty great just to meet new people who are making music you care about and writing songs that are important. That’s cool.
I’m not really a crazy guy, to be honest. Not anymore. Most of my crazy days were from when I was much younger and had no success at all [laughs]. Now I just work and enjoy it all.
-Interview by John Crowell @terriblesounds