Blitzen Trapper’s ERIC EARLEY talks magical realism, his scant regard for genre and some of the finer fishing spots in eastern Oregon. ANDY HAZEL listens carefully.
Already a week into Blitzen Trapper’s mammoth North American tour, singer and songwriter Eric Earley sounds like a man ready to curl up in a hidey-hole for a month and sleep out the winter. “Right now, we’re in Illinois, heading to Atlanta,” he mumbles into his mobile. “We’ve already played 4 shows or 5 shows and yeah they were great.” With the news that this tour is expected to grow throughout the year, taking in summer festivals in Australia, things got a little more excited on the line. “Yeah, some of those shows in Australia we were really, really happy with.”
With the release of Destroyer of the Void, their fifth album in seven years Blitzen Trapper have received some of the best reviews of their career. “Does five albums sound like a lot? Yeah sure, I guess so, but it’s spread out over a long period of time so it’s not that weighty to me,” justifies Earley. “Also, I didn’t actually name the album, [Keyboardist/guitarist] Marty [Marquis] did. We were just thinking for a name of the first track and I thought it sounded good, so I don’t have any particular void in mind,” he says laughing.
Branded as part of the Americana stable by some critics and listeners, Earley leaps on the suggestion that they actually have a particular musical style. “I’d say we have scant regard for genre,” he says laughing. “That’s accurate. I play what like; that’s my genre. I mean, I don’t think any sounds are off limits…not really…I think in general I stick with what I know, what I’m comfortable with which is American sounds. I don’t use sitars and things, just because, you know, I’m not from there,” he says with a lazy chuckle. “Americana doesn’t influence our music, I think it’s actually the opposite of that. Living in the US and growing up here makes our music what it is, I’m not influenced by it; I am a part of it. I grew up in Salem an hour south of Portland; I lived in Eugene for a while too. It’s me writing what I know; I didn’t grow up in the city so I can’t write about that.”
Destroyer of the Void is an intriguing mix of the folk singer and psych rock band with a healthy dose of animism informing the lyrics and a bizarre sketch of a bull’s head encircled by dragons on the cover. “I think the cover has mythical elements going on with the animals and the style of the drawing,” Earley explains. “The record has a dreamlike quality, and a lot of dreamlike imagery, which I think is partly because I’m so interested in magical realism. That kind of thing I picked up as I went along reading things like [Georges] Bataille and [Jorge Luis] Borges, I don’t know why I connected with them especially; a lot of different authors I’ve got into for various reasons and they’re all important to me and my writing. I think it has more to do with growing up with older sisters who forced me to read and listen to things at a young and impressionable age,” he says sleepily.
“When it comes to writing songs, generally I…uh…don’t put a lot of effort into it,” he says with another wry chuckle. ”I try to be effortless, any effort is in trying to let the song come naturally and not get too much into obsessively creating or analysing, so yeah, I guess I feel more like a conduit for a song than an actual scribe.” Anyone with a passing interest in Blitzen Trapper will know the band’s love for the authentic and the organic so it comes as no surprise that the inspiration Earley speaks of often comes from time spent in the wilderness.
“I go fishing, a lot,” he says with another laugh. “There are a few places outside of Portland I like to spend time. I wouldn’t say all the inspiration comes from nature though. A lot comes from my relationship with people and what happens between us and I think that I use a lot of natural imagery when I’m talking about that sort of thing. There are so many parallels when it comes to describing them. I think about what I know and because of that. A lot of what I write take place in places I grew up in or places I know and I kind of stand back and let the imagery and lyrics come so I don’t have a choice as to what I write about.”
In justifying his chosen modus operandi, Earley is keen to distance himself from other bands currently mining the late 60s for its earthy glory. “I don’t know about this late 60s thing,” he says with an audible frown. “We aren’t thinking about ‘going back’ to a time when it comes to playing music. Whatever we write will seem like a ‘throwback’ to someone else because we’re using certain instruments and the human voice. You can choose how much you want to play and how much singing you want to do, and a lot of bands are choosing to do both, and a lot of bands don’t do this as much because they use a lot of technology. I think there is a medium and it depends on the song and the record. For us, we tend to mess around with it depending on the song,” though he doesn’t need to mention it, the album's storming progtastic opening track is a perfect example.
Choosing to work with producer Mike Coykendall is another example of Earley and the band sticking with what they know. A veteran of albums by She and Him, Bright Eyes and M Ward, Coykendall saw Blitzen Trapper through the making of their previous album Furr. “Mike Coykendall has a great studio and is a really cool guy, plus the studio is a few blocks from where I live,” says Earley a little more energetically. “We all have time in January and February, which is when we’ve recorded albums over the last few years. I guess the album is different from Furr though a lot of the songs were written around the same time. Some of the songs from Destroyer of the Void are five or six years old, but a lot has changed since they were written. I think that there will be changes on the next album, longer songs, perhaps. That’s just how I’m writing at the moment.” We’re all ears.