Photo: Robbie Augspurger
Two years have passed since Blitzen Trapper’s release of American Goldwing, and the release of VII confirms the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. They’ve traded in the Gibsons and Tube Screamers for a five-string banjo and pedal steel guitar (though not entirely), but lead singer Eric Earley retains the same lyrical styles and songwriting that made their 2008 release, Furr, so well received. With VII, Earley takes the listener from the open highways of American Goldwing and into the deep and dark woods of Oregon, both musically and lyrically. This is true as well considering the cover art for the album, done by Blakely Dadson, which depicts a colorful train pulling through a black forest landscape.
Earley spends as much time, if not more, with books as he does music, which makes him apt at writing a tune that fits well with the mood of the lyrics. “I had a space when we first started touring where I wasn’t listening to much music because we were around it so much. I listen to more music these days, but I probably do read more,” says Earley. He writes from the first person perspective, piecing together his life experiences into mostly narrative style writing. “Depending on the song, that’s just the way it ends up being,” says Earley. “I’m just telling a story that I feel like would make a good song, and it comes readily into lyrics.” Perhaps it’s the mesh of the band’s musicianship and Earley’s knack for writing stories that allows them to blend so seamlessly the styles of rock, folk and blues into a sound that is unmistakably Blitzen Trapper.
The album opens dark with “Feel the Chill,” a song depicting a rollover accident in which the driver’s lover is ejected from the truck: “My lover lies down the hill, she wont get up and she wont say nothin’, but baby I feel the chill.” “Shine On” picks up with a similar groove, featuring soulful licks from the harmonica and electric guitar, as well as some great gospel background vocals on the chorus. On “Oregon Geography,” the three-finger style banjo, coupled with the rain in the background of the track and the simple drum kit, create a gloomy, bluesy feel while Earley sings of the sights and experiences of train hopping and wandering around Oregon. Other tracks like “Drive On Up” and “Heart Attack” pick up the pace with fuzzy, Joe Walsh-like guitar riffs.
Aside from the songwriting, Earley did most of the producing and mixing of the album through his own studio, also working with Gregg Williams, a well-known producer based in Portland, as well as Daniel Hamlin. Earley also brought in Paul Brainard on the pedal-steel guitar, a Portland-based session musician who had worked with them on American Goldwing, as well as sat in with the likes of M. Ward and the Decemberists.
If you’ve been to a recent Blitzen Trapper show, like their set at this summer’s Twilight Concert Series with Belle and Sebastian, you’ve most likely heard a few songs off the album already. After a 10-show teaser tour this summer, they’re set to head east and kick off the first of a two-leg tour in support of the album on September 17. After taking a brief break, they’ll be back out and touring the western US, stopping in Salt Lake City on November 16 at the State Room. When I asked Earley if extensive touring ever got to the band, he said, “You travel so much and you get into so much adventure and weird trouble and you meet lots of people, it keeps it from getting repetitive. It just depends on how you tour.” Blitzen Trapper will be on the road this fall for nearly three months, yet they seem poised as ever to sling their brand of rock music around the country for a seventh time.
Check out the new record here.