Blitzen Trapper: The Open Road Leads Back Home | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Blitzen Trapper

The Open Road Leads Back Home

Aug 19, 2011 Web Exclusive
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Blitzen Trapper's gnarled musical roots are so diverse and far-reaching that when they make a "back to their roots" album such as American Goldwing it's not a retread of past glories. Instead, the Portland, Oregon quintet's sixth album is another delightful tinkering with the dusty engine of Americana music. These Pacific Northwestern mechanics aren't interested in admiring from afar. They get on their backs and give the old jalopy a much-needed overhaul. (It comes as no surprise to learn that singer/songwriter/guitarist Eric Earley's father was a musician-cum-mechanic.)

As such, we took some time to talk with Earley in the wake of sustained critical adoration, various television performances, and touring like mad men. The Blitzen frontman opens up about an album where he surrendered a bit of his formerly strict creative control to mixer Tchad Blake and his co-producer Gregg William. Soak in conversations about family, hometowns, and Earley's critique of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. Also, stick around for Earley's track-by-track analysis of the '70s-leaning full-length. American Goldwing streets September 13 via Sub Pop.

Kyle Lemmon: American Goldwing is a very interesting tile for a roots album set in postmodern America. Does it come from the 1980 Honda Goldwing you referenced in the press release? What does it mean to you in the context of the hometown-centric lyrics?

Eric Earley: At the heart of America is the desire to wander, to travel, I guess the bike reference is a sort of metaphor for that, growing up in a nowhere town and wanting to leave, and then growing up and realizing you want to return to where you came from as a means of finding some sort of continuity. This doesn't necessarily mean go to your hometown, it could mean returning to the music or the lifestyle you remember from your younger days.

Tell me a little bit about your hometown. What's your relationship with it now?

I grew up in Salem, Oregon, not much of a town back then or now really. I pass through occasionally to see the old neighborhoods and the areas where I worked on farms, and the rivers I grew up swimming in. Memories and reality rarely meet up, I guess that's where music comes in. [It's] a way to harness the longing for something familiar and connective.

Tchad Blake (Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Tom Waits, Phish) mixed this album, and your friend Gregg Williams co-produced all the songs. What's your working relationship like with these two professionals?

Gregg's been a friend of mine for years and we've worked together on lots of different projects, he's always been a big fan of Tchad's work and Gregg has done work with him on occasion so it seemed a good idea to send it off to Tchad and I don't regret it one bit.

What kind of sound were you shooting for with this record?

Something rough but classic, with that simplicity of arrangement that I love about old records.

The guitars on "Street Fighting Son" really reminded me of Led Zeppelin and other '70s heavy metal and hard rock groups. What were your artistic touchstones for that cut?

I'd been listening to a lot of early Judas Priest, back when they were playing more psych proto-metal stuff [1974's Rocka Rolla]. Love their arrangements and tones.

Tell me a little bit about your father, who was a musician and mechanic. I've heard that he was quite the tall-tale storyteller. How has his influence manifested in your songwriting for Goldwing?

He was a funny guy, a person of strong faith and before he got sick and died he was planning on getting back on the old motorcycle and doing some traveling since he was retiring. He also talked of traveling around Portugal on a mule. I crossed the U.S. with him a number of times in beat-up old vans and Volkswagens, at nine years old we lifted the engine out the back of a Super Beetle and rebuilt it in the garage, but he always wanted me to be a musician, a songwriter, not a technician, so that's what I do.

What is your mother like? How did she respond to your father's stories?

Most of those stories were for me, for me to know him and his family since I grew up away from them, my mom is Mexican, brown as a buffalo chip and always looked like an Injun princess and acted like one, too. She's a woman of exotic beauty, strong faith, and a stubborn constitution.

Do you have any murderer stories on Goldwing? It sounds to me like a thematically calmer record.

This record is more directly personal and autobiographical, so it's subject matter is less fantastical.

What do your parents think about of your music? Can they be critical since they were artist themselves?

My father is dead, so I don't know. My mother loves my music though sometimes she finds it marginally disturbing.

Your first few records had sort of a punk rock aesthetic. Do you think that's a young man's game or will Blitzen Trapper ever revisit that type of music on future releases?

It's a young man's game and a young man's prerogative to kick at whatever he's working on, to rough it up and rename it his own.

Did you record these songs in the same place as Destroyer of the Void?

No, I did not. Destroyer was recorded at Mike Coykendall's Mississippi studio [in Portland].

You're quite the sci-fi, fantasy, and literature geek. What books are you reading of late?

Flannery O'Connor and the Bible, and also Jorge Luis Borges.

Do you like George R. R. Martin's books?

I've read the Game of Thrones books. They're very good, but a little too soap opera for me in parts, but they're pretty flawless aside from that.

Tell me a little bit about Goldwing's cover artwork.

It's simple, especially compared to [Destroyer of the Void]. I wanted something stark and iconic. It's sort of Easy Rider meets Black Sabbath Vol. 4.

What do you think about the U.S. national debt situation? Any possible solutions, or are we just screwed?

Just screwed, pretty obvious.

You guys sold beer koozies for the last record. Do you have any other cool products to sell this year?

I think there's a steel keychain this time. That's pretty dang cool.

Do you think you'll ever settle down and have kids or something?

Don't know. I'd like to.

I know you're not on the Internet very much, but do you watch TV at all?

No, don't have a TV.

What do you like about the Portland music community? Do you ever hang out with the other bands when you're not all touring?

Yeah, I hang out with the Alela Diane's crew a lot, Fruit Bats, and The Parson Red Heads. Actually most of my friends are in pretty amazing bands.

What's an instrument you want to get better at or learn to play outright?

I love playing pedal steel. Tough instrument.

Judging from the characters in the songs you're attracted to hopeless romantics.

True, true. I'm a romantic myself, less hopeless these days.

Some of your songs also grapple with the concept of God and the afterlife. What are your thoughts on all that?

I believe in God and the afterlife as well. I didn't for a long time. Watching my father die, and his peace and strength, made me a believer.

You guys usually have several songs prepped for the next record after finishing the current record. Is that the case this time? What will the new songs sound like?

Too soon, but thanks for asking.

If you don't mind, can you tell me the first thing that pops into your mind when you see these track titles?

"Might Find It Cheap": The neon sign that prompted the title.

"Fletcher": My buddy I grew up with whom I won't name. 

"Love the Way You Walk Away": A very specific, very beautiful girl I loved and still love.

"Your Crying Eyes": Another very beautiful girl who is gone and who I got the words for this song from.

"My Home Town": The Willamette River going under the train bridge in Salem, OR.

"Girl In a Coat": East Burnside Street after a show, a black haired girl in a leather coat.

"American Goldwing": My father on his '64 Bonneville Triumph.

"Astronaut": The moon in the daytime.

"Taking It Easy Too Long": Tall brown grass along the Willamette River.

"Street Fighting Son": An angel sitting in the top of a tree.

"Stranger In a Strange Land": Jacob [from The Bible] wrestling with the angel in the desert at night.

(www.blitzentrapper.net)

Listen to/download - Blitzen Trapper: "Love the Way You Walk Away"

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