By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com)
Jackson Hole, Wyo.-Scouring music blogs and browsing a band’s discography with a focused set of ears is a blessing in disguise when you discover a new artist that should have been in your personnel rotation for years. This is how I felt after digging deep into the range of elements that makes Blitzen Trapper one of the most hyped bands in the last few years.
My previous impression of the Portland, Ore. quintet was that of a rollicking, experimental, moody, emo/prog-rock band. That wasn’t entirely squashed once I gathered the broader picture, but its latest Sub-Pop release, American Goldwing, clued me in on this band’s eclectic range to include folk, country and Southern rock. A blitzkrieg, if you will, of acoustic and electric rock escapades through a decade-long career, the new album takes a classic direction towards other West Coasters like The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Grateful Dead, but also The Allman Brothers and Cat Stevens. It seems conservative, even traditional, when compared to earlier albums like Furr, which ranked No. 13 on Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of the 2008, and Destroyer of the Void (2010).
“I don’t know, it’s all rock music,” said frontman/singer-songwriter Eric Earley. “All good songwriting is personal, but I wanted this record to be fun to play live. The live show is the most important thing right now and we’ve focused on that more. It’s tighter. That’s the part that is enjoyable for me, and that’s how we make money.”
Perhaps due in part to multiple dropped calls, background noise on his end, and the long haul to Austin for South by Southwest (SXSW), Earley seemed distracted, even a little indecisive, during our phone conversation. His introspective writing, though, comes off as focused and deliberate as any ambitious band out there right now. The schizophrenic nature that breathes hard rock to delicate acoustic to Americana-on-mushrooms is part of Blitzen Trapper’s appeal.
And while scores of fans will be awaiting the band’s arrival to Austin, they might not understand the full gamut of what the mammoth event demands from the artist’s point of view.
“It’s a grind,” said Earley of SXSW. “It’s not super enjoyable for bands. It’s more of industry kind of deal. Its weird, it supplies the music critic industry—or whatever you want to call it—material for the whole next year; it’s kind of like a rock ‘n’ roll trade show. I enjoy it though, to an extent.”
Earley grew up in small town Salem, Ore. In his early 20s, he dropped out of school and began writing and recording tunes with his roommates. He was even homeless for a stint and recorded Wild Mountain Nation (considered Blitzen Trapper’s breakout 2007 album and recognized in Pitchfork’s Best New Music) in an old telegraph building, a place where “old crack whores and dealers nodded off in the alcoves and alleys around the street,” as Earley put it.
If you’re ready for heavy-riffing, fuzzed-out slide guitars with blasting drum fills side-by-side with a plucking banjo, strummed acoustic guitar, and soaring harmonies, there’s a little bit of Trapper for everyone.
Tartufi—a San Francisco-based pop-rock looping duo featuring a drum and bass foundation, laced with keys and ambient vocals—will open the show.
Blitzen Trapper, 10 p.m., Sunday, at the Pink Garter Theatre. Tartufi opens the show. Tickets $20 advance or $22 day-of-show at PinkGarterTheatre.com or at the door.