Blitzen Trapper: More than a feeling
by Grace Moore
After 13 years as a band, Blitzen Trapper’s new album continues with a sound less indy than Furr and more country than Wild Mountain Nation. Still full of the stoic Ozark self-analysis fans have come to expect, one sole difference found in VII is Eric Earley: resignedly penitent, and a little bit older.
As Blitzen Trapper prepares for their upcoming U.S and Toronto tour, the band’s lead singer seems to have found his stride in songs reminiscent of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, or rather any member of The Highwaymen super group. Possibly, bringing this record closer to true country than ever before is Earley’s recognition of love, faith, and opportunities long-past.
Though Blizen Trapper has touched on this theme many times before, Earley seems older in his words. No more is the ideological belief in young and family love once expressed in Blitzen Trapper’s early album Furr (2009). Or even the celebratory hard-times, won’t-you-be-my-woman, ballads of American Goldwing (2011). In VII, Earley reflects on the ones who got away, and the real complications of relationships.
“I have a few relationships to draw from (while writing),” said Earley, in a phone interview from his home in Portland, Oregon. “Neither of which ended well. Everyone struggles with relationships… the world can be harsh, relationships can be harsh.”
The songwriter, who grew up outside of Salem, California, is no stranger to heartbreak and the disappointment it inflicts. This idea is perhaps compounded by the idealistic working-man imagery found in Blizten Trapper’s songs. Working in tandem to create the longing, gospel, blue-grass sound of VII, these concepts arise from two external points, Earley said. His ancestral relation to the Ozarks, and his struggle to keep his heart open, despite disappointment in past relationships.
Growing up in a small Oregon logging town, Early saw the same day-to-day laborer lifestyle his father and grandfather had experienced in small town Missouri. Sensitive to this kind of life, his grandfather’s and father’s attachment to the grit and lines of hardworking, labor-class folk, vested itself Earley’s creative process.
“My grandfather was a harmonic virtuoso,” Earley said. “Maybe I channel him… I have hours recorded of him playing with my uncles and my dad. It’s pretty amazing. Pretty historical.”
Earley’s father died 11 years ago. Two things his father taught him were faith and a love of stringed instruments.
“For me the question of God as a supernatural power plays a pretty large part in song writing. I enter into a dark existential… whatever…” Earley said.
Along with this connection to home and hearth, VII, released Oct. 1, acknowledges the unrelenting cycle of life and the opportunities one misses the first time around.
Though the subject matter stems from personal realism and a sometimes dark and private process, Earley says it is also one of the most grooving albums Blitzen Trapper has produced thus far.
VII received a lot of attention after its release for combining hip-hop and country. In reality, Earley said, it doesn’t so much combine the two as acknowledge the similarity in genres.
“It’s not so much the sound as the feeling.” Earley said. “Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, they sang about crime, weapons, drugs and women. That’s what hip-hop is… it’s the same exact vibe, it just seems natural.”
Earley also pointed to early country honky-tonk, which consisted of two chords and a singer talking over the tune. An idea prevalent in Blitzen Trapper’s sound even in 2009, when the band wrote Black River Killer.
“You’re working through all kinds of things,” Earley said of his musical process. “You can write songs that are simple and apparent. I tend to write music that is more darker and personal.”