Features February 1, 2018

Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley Explains The Road To Americana Gold

by Kyle Eustice

When Eric Earley gets on the phone, he doesn’t seem like he wants to talk — at first. But the longer the Blitzen Trapper vocalist/multi-instrumentalist speaks, it soon becomes clear he’s just super laid back. Earley, who has fronted the Portland-based band since 2000, has always played music, but it didn’t really evolve into a “career” until later in life. In fact, he started touring and making music on his 30th birthday.

“We started playing in 2000, but we didn’t tour, have a record deal or make money doing music until seven years later,” Earley says with a laugh. “We weren’t really trying that hard. We were just messing around for a long time.

“I guess I wasn’t very deliberate or thoughtful about the future,” he adds. “I was just doing whatever I felt like doing. It got me somewhere.”

Nine albums and several Rolling Stone nods later, Blitzen Trapper — Earley, Erik Menteer, Brian Adrian Koch, Michael Van Pelt, and Marty Marquis — is at the forefront of modern Americana. Serving as a follow-up to albums like 2008’s critically acclaimed Furr and 2015’s All Across This Land, the group’s ninth studio album, Wild and Reckless, is filled with personal anecdotes about a bygone era. From the moment the album opener “Rebel” begins, it immediately draws comparisons to Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, something he hasn’t grown tired of… yet.
“Everybody does that to everybody,” he says. “It’s just the way it all works. I don’t really care, personally. I listen to all those guys and steal stuff. Their influence is definitely there. It doesn’t really bother me.
“Music is just a long chain of artists,” he continues. “In my opinion, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen were both kind of copying [Bob] Dylan. Dylan was copying Woody Guthrie and I’m sure Guthrie was copying some black blues guy. It all goes back and back and back. To me, that’s how I look at it.”

Earley refers to Blitzen Trapper’s rise to notoriety as “dumb luck” – it started with MySpace (remember MySpace?).

“I wasn’t doing much of anything at the time,” he recalls. “We were just kind of hanging out. It was kind of just dumb luck. Getting a record deal back then wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. It just happened without us really trying.”

He goes on, “When I was making Wild Mountain Nation, we were just putting it out ourselves. Before we did that, I put a song up on MySpace and an A&R guy from Domino over in England just randomly heard it or something. He wanted to sign us, but wanted us to re-record the record, and I didn’t want to do that. So they sent our demos to Sub Pop and Sub Pop signed us, so it was kind of a random thing.”

Fast forward to 2018 and Blitzen Trapper is preparing to embark on another extensive tour in support of the new record. Wild and Reckless marks a return to the group’s own label. They’ve had stints on both Sub Pop Records and Vagrant, but find doing it independently makes things less complicated.  

“This time we were like, ‘Oh we don’t really need to do that,’” he explains. “They take such a huge cut of everything and nobody buys physical copies, so it doesn’t really make sense. We got a distribution deal instead. It’s kind of our own deal.”

Although he’s now married with a child (which naturally brings along more family responsibilities), he hasn’t slowed down. He’s still touring like a mad man.

“The thing I enjoy the most is performing every night,” he says. “That’s kind of where I am now. It’s fun to play on stages [laughs]. It’s hard for me to say, ‘Well, having a family now I don’t care about the music as much.’ That’s just not true. I still love music. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t.”

Blitzen Trapper will perform with Liz Cooper and The Stampede at 6pm on Thursday, February 1st at Washington’s in Fort Collins. Tickets are $15 to $18. Visit www.washingtonsfoco.com for more information.