Q&A: Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper takes the stage at the Riot Room tonight.



Eric Earley is now into his 12th year leading Blitzen Trapper. The band spent the first half of its life mired in Portland's local indie-music ghetto. Struggling with his father's death and his own indifference, Earley wound up homeless for a while before pouring his energy into late-night recordings in the band's practice space. Those sessions produced Blitzen Trapper's critically acclaimed third album, 2007's Wild Mountain Nation and its Sub Pop debut, Furr, which were recorded concurrently. They were followed with 2010's Destroyer of the Void and last year's American Goldwing, which blends a '70s classic-rock mien with Earley's rootsy swagger, and lyrics that express longing for another time or place, or just somewhere to call home. The Pitch recently caught up with Earley in Portland, where he was preparing to leave on tour. (The Kansas City stop is Thursday, May 31, at the Riot Room.)

It sounds like the death of your father, and the grieving that followed, ultimately inspired you to re-evaluate what was important to you. Could you tell me a little about those couple of somewhat "lost" years before you recorded Wild Mountain Nation (2007) and Furr (2008)?

That was, like, 8 to 10 years ago. I don't know. I think, as you go along, you become a different person. Different people, different times.

Well, as I understand it, you started to drink heavily and eventually were homeless. It sounded like a pretty involved metamorphosis.

Yeah, I think it was. It was sort of the journey from having very low ambition and being sort of a slacker in a lot of ways to becoming somebody that's willing to share my music and travel.

How would you describe yourself? Comments expressing a lack of faith in our selflessness and noting our predilection toward violence suggests a somewhat dim view of human nature.

Absolutely I have a dim view. I don't think that trumps my ability to love other people, though. I think that's what the divine is: the ability to love even though somebody doesn't love you back, or to love someone that is not lovable. In the end, I think that's the most powerful force there is.

The last time we talked, you mentioned humility and faith, and their importance in helping you negotiate your sometimes self-destructive tendencies.

Yeah, definitely. I've worked on a lot of that stuff and the way I relate to the world. I think that's always in the back of my mind. I'm just naturally a person that doesn't get too hung up on what I'm doing. Or what I've done, I guess. I just like to live in the moment. I think it takes more humility to do that. Oftentimes we can rest on things that we think we've accomplished.

... . It's an interesting sentiment coming from someone involved in music, which can tend to be a very self-aggrandizing, look-at-me kind of pursuit.

I guess it is. A lot of it is how you approach it. For a lot of years, I approached it very selfishly in that I always preferred recording to performing. But now I'm starting to enjoy performing a lot more because I feel like I'm giving something to an audience that's physically near.

Something I thought was interesting about this album, you made an attempt to write more simply and straightforwardly - almost like a country song.

That's definitely true. It's much sparser, stripped-down arrangements. And I they're more direct in their subject matter, maybe.

I know you kind of changed your lyrical approach this time, too: less narrative, more first person.

Definitely. It's just the songs I ended up writing. I don't think I ever write deliberately, "I'm going to tell a story on this one." It's just the way the songs worked out.

Where's your head at now? Is life pretty good for you? Have you found a balance between home and the road?

Not really. I don't think there is one. It's tricky. At some point, I may just have to make a decision to stop, you know? I've felt that.

What would you do if you did stop?

I don't know, probably just some kind of menial labor. Be a cook or something.

Would you continue to write and record songs?

I don't know. Probably not.

Has the success you've seen changed your feelings at all about what you do? Or do you still feel the same way as when you first plugged in your guitar?

No, I don't think it's changed how I operate writing songs and playing music, really. I still like to play. I still like to write songs. But I don't still have the kind of ambition I had when I was starting to taste a little bit of success. I see the music industry more for what it is, and it's kind of like a card game or gambling. There's no real mind. You just kind of throw your thing up and see what happens. And there's so much out there that the more and more you do it, the less you get back from it. It's definitely diminishing returns in today's industry. What keeps me touring is that I love to perform, and I like performing every night.

Blitzen Trapper, with Sydnay Wayser, Thursday, May 31, at the Riot Room, 8 p.m., $15.

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