Eric Early, frontman and primary songwriter of the Portland-based Blitzen Trapper, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. In fact, he often goes looking for one.
In 2010, he followed up the freak-folky Furr—his band’s pastoral, dreamy and critically acclaimed 2008 Sub Pop debut—with a sweeping, prog-rock throwback. Destroyer of the Void, which took cues from Cream’s Disraeli Gears, was filled with psychedelic washes of synthesizer, effected guitars and intricate, flowering vocal harmonies.
Blitzen Trapper were rewarded for their risk-taking, as critics once again praised the group.
“I definitely think I like to try different things with every record,” Early says, speaking from his home before hitting the road with Blitzen Trapper, who are slated to play at Don Quixote’s in Felton this Saturday.
Though he likes to keep things fresh, the songwriter’s experiments do not follow a linear path. Instead, they have zig-zagged over the years—ranging from meandering trips down Laurel Canyon-tinged, acoustic guitar-and-harmonica arrangements, through expansive, starry-eyed, flower-power revival, and finally back down to the dry and dusty earth. Since Destroyer, Blitzen Trapper have hewn to the cardinal tenets of good old-fashioned country and rock & roll.
Their latest effort, All Across This Land, is no exception, as it finds Early following in the footsteps of his heroes, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen—who he identifies as exemplars of “the platonic foundation of rock”—while also looking to contemporary arena rock acts for inspiration.
“I was listening to a lot of My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon,” Early says. “Groups that have a much more live-sounding approach. But I was listening to a lot of Coldplay, too.”
Early wrote the bulk of All Across This Land on an acoustic guitar over the span of a few months. Blitzen Trapper was taking a break from touring, and the cold and wet Pacific Northwest winter was just giving way to spring.
He and the band had just come off the road from a tour with Brandi Carlile—a singer songwriter, who had fleshed out her solo material with the help of a hired backing band, like so many rock legends of years and decades past.
“I wanted to tap into that,” Early says. “What would happen if I did my narrative songwriting approach and laid it on top of this big, live-rock sound?”
It worked out pretty seamlessly, he notes, which is a good thing. As one who is easily bored, Early isn’t a fan of standing still on stage—something that is inevitable when performing technically demanding riffs and tapping effects pedals on and off.
Early also took his less-is-more approach into the studio during the All Across This Land sessions.
“With this record I took a real simple approach,” he says, explaining that the band shied away from studio trickery and post-production fussing. The idea was to just let everyone do their jobs and then go home. “We just got the best sounds we could and then shipped it to a really good mixer.”
Early is pleased with the resulting album, which he says is “really fun to play live” and has a great flow—a lot like the straight-shooting piano, guitar, bass and drums records of his idols from the ’70s.
“To me that era has the most honesty to it and simplicity to it,” he says, speaking of singer-songwriters, like Springsteen, Petty, Jackson Browne and others. “There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles.”
Reflecting on the current state of alternative and indie rock, Early likes what he sees—especially among the bands that are finding inspiration in straightforward rock & roll.
“I see that happening a lot now, as bands turn to rock music from folk music and roots music,” he says. While Early may be predisposed to seeking out challenging paths, he sees nothing wrong with bare-bones rock. “I think the important thing is to write a good song and then you can treat it however you want.”
Blitzen Trapper play Don Quixote’s Music Hall in Felton, Nov 14, 8pm.