Blitzen Trapper 7 (2011)

Blitzen Trapper

Earley Years:
Blitzen Trapper’s Furr Still Fits ’Em Just Right

Songwriter, guitarist and singer Eric Earley founded an experimental group, Garmonbozia, in Portland, Oregon in 2000. The group’s material shows a band grasping for its signature style; free-form psychedelic excursions characterized its output. Eventually, hints of the band’s future style emerged; Earley’s songwriting coalesced around an alt-country, folk-rock style. By late 2003 the group had changed its name to Blitzen Trapper; the band would self-released three albums between 2003 and 2007. Blitzen Trapper’s third album, Wild Mountain Nation, was released outside the U.S. by Sub Pop; the success of that arrangement led to a major domestic deal for the band. 2008’s Furr was the first product of that new contract. Furr would be the first Blitzen Trapper album to chart. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the release of the group’s breakthrough album, Blitzen Trapper are embarking on a tour in conjunction with Sub Pop’s reissue of Furr, both featuring bonus songs that Eric Earley wrote and recorded ten years ago.

When you listen back to those songs from a decade ago, do you recognize the guy who wrote them?

“I guess so, in certain ways. I think there’s things about everybody that don’t change over time, but and in other ways, yeah, it’s hard to recognize that person. A lot of changes take place: life changes, career changes.”

Do you find yourself thinking, “I wish I had done this or that differently”?

“With that record, not really. No. I listen back and it all still sounds good to me. Of course, not every record’s the same. But with that one, yeah; I feel like I was definitely in something that was pretty cool.”

I hear some common values between some of Buffalo Springfield’s music and the kind of musical textures that Blitzen Trapper explores. You balance rock and folk better than most.

“There’s a lot of rock [in our] music. But then there’s always a few folk songs thrown in as well. All of that is in there.”

In terms of musical style, what was the original idea for the band?

“There wasn’t really a concept. I think I was just writing lots of songs and just sort of following wherever the songs took me at that time.”

Looking back, do you think that Furr represents a turning point in the band’s creative development, or was it just the next album?

“When I was making that record, we weren’t even really signed yet. I made most of it a couple of years before it came out. So when I was making those songs, I wasn’t really thinking about it in terms of an album or albums. I was just writing and recording lots and lots of material. Some of it turned out to be [2007’s] Wild Mountain Nation, and then a lot of it turned out to be Furr, the record after that. It was just a time in my life where I was really super-productive … for whatever reason.”

Furr got all kinds of critical acclaim. Going forward and coupled with the band’s increased profile being on Sub Pop, did that put more pressure on you when it came to making the next album?

“Yeah, maybe a little bit. A lot of stuff changed. We were touring all the time. And I was working on the next record for a while; I never really quit writing songs, really. I was working on the next one while we were touring [in support of] Furr. They all just kind of meld into each other; in a certain way, each album is just another step on the way to my songwriting process, yeah.”

When it came time to put Furr together, did you sort of just pick and choose from what you had, or did you sort of say, “Well, these are the ones that will make an album”?

“It was a pretty big group of songs. We just picked out the strongest ones. I had help doing it, too, from the people at Sub Pop and our management. We just kind of figured out which ones would be best and in what order. And there was a lot of extra material;  that’s why the reissue has a whole record of extra material that comes with it from that same group of songs.”

When the Black River Killer EP came out, I assumed that it consisted of the leftovers from the Furr sessions. But as the new deluxe edition of Furr makes clear, you still had a lot of unused material. What do you think that was behind that prolific nature that you had during that period?

“It was just one of those times in my life where I was kind cut loose from a lot of stuff. And so I spent a lot of time writing and recording. I was kind of living in the place where I was recording, so I would basically work all night. It was a pretty transient lifestyle I had at that time, and that just kind of made it easy to get in that kind of creative mindset.”

What are some of the folk traditions that informed the music you wrote and recorded in and around the time of making Furr?

“I think I was just sort of building on the sort of storytelling, folk kind of thing that Springsteen took from Dylan, and that Dylan took from Guthrie and Guthrie took from … there’s just a long line of people you can take from and copy or sort of make your own or whatever. And Neil Young is in there, too; all of the acoustic storytellers. But I think that, lyrically, I was more attuned to traditional kinds of folk songs. I think a lot of those lyrics have metaphorical stories – or just straight up narratives – going on. But then some of them are sort of poetic in nature. I was drawing from a lot of different places.”

Most every album Blitzen Trapper has made had earned positive critical notices. Why do you think that Furr stands out from among them?

“I think that for most bands, their early work is admired more, regardless. And I think the song ‘Furr’ itself is kind of timeless; people connect with it all the time, depending on whenever they discover it. I think that’s part of why Furr has maintained its value. The Black River Killer EP is another one that people discover, and then it seems like it’s just always been there. You’re lucky if you can write any songs that have that that kind of value to them.”

I listen to some records that came out ten years ago, and I think, “Oh, that sounds really 2008.” That’s not the case with Furr. It doesn’t have dated pop trappings. Did you set out to make a record that had a timeless vibe?

“I didn’t really think about it. The instrumentation that I was using was just the stuff that I had around. The whole idea of it being timeless is tricky because what makes it that way? Is it the lack of technology or the use of other specific technology? At least in production, ‘timeless’ seems to allude to an early- to mid-1970s kind of aesthetic. And I’ve always listened to a lot of classic rock and ’70s stuff. So, I think that that informed a lot of it, and that’s kind of the sound that we call ‘timeless’ now. I think it has to do with sort of the golden age of recording when it was all on tape, all the effects were sort of naturally occurring. People using actual springs for the reverb – there’s this sort of earthy quality to that music. And I think it’s easy to put that label on it.”

On this tour you’re going to be performing Furr start to finish, along with other songs. Are you going to do any of the bonus tracks as well?

“We’re going to do a few bonus tracks, a few covers, and then we’ll probably do a few other things. Going through all these songs, I’ve realized that we’ve only played about half the record over the years. So we’re adding a bunch of songs we haven’t played in a long time, or ever. We’re trying to do them as close to the record as possible, and a lot of them have jams at the end. So any time we run up against something that we can elongate, we’re doing that. And there’s a lot of that kind of material on Furr. It will be cool, I think. And it will be fun for people who know the record.”

Once the tour is over, what’s next for the band?

“I don’t know. I’m not sure. Nothing, at this point. We’re just focusing on this tour.”

Photo by Tyler Kohlhoff.