With their successor to 2008′s acclaimed Furr, Blitzen Trapper have released an album which must surely rank among the strongest rock efforts of 2010′s first half. Destroyer of the Void begins with a six-minute prog/glam-rock title track and runs through another eleven warm and inviting tracks which have had critics the world over falling over themselves to exhaustively identify each of the band’s disparate influences. In asking questions of the Portland band’s frontman and songwriter Eric Earley, I singularly failed to avoid this temptation but did manage to learn some interesting insights about Destroyer of the Void‘s creation and about what the situation is for Blitzen Trapper at this moment in time.
How are you today?
Pretty alright, just got off tour and been enjoying a nice 4th o’ July.
To begin with a big, blunt question if I may – what would you say is the collective feeling from Blitzen Trapper about what music is for?
I try not to speak for others so for myself music is for interpreting all the gambit of emotions we feel as humans, making sense of these emotions and the events and situations that create them, it’s also to make you feel good and cool and like a god or a child or a creature.
How does it feel to be in this position, in terms of the band’s career position right now?
It feels like working and traveling and writing and wondering what’s next and not caring too much about where the road leads.
To a fair propotion of people, your new record Destroyer of the Void might seem like a second album or third. Is that a strange situation from a band perspective, to have the early material largely unknown?
I guess it is, we’ve been playing music for ourselves and doing a whole lot of nothing for a long time, that people are responding now is fine and there’s nothing I can do about the timing but be surprised and know that the music is making its way out.
How did the writing process for this album tend to operate? In what ways did writing and recording differ from your previous records?
I don’t really write in terms of records, when I’m not touring I’m writing and it’s a real steady stream of material that then solidifies into records because that’s the way the industry works but for myself I’m always moving forward and writing about what I’m experiencing at the moment, Destroyer was made over two years in two different batches of songs between extensive touring so it feels different to me from earlier records in that it’s the product of alot of travel and alot of experiences condensed in a short period of time.
You’re often labelled as “wearing your influences on your sleeves”, and the list of mainly 1970s bands you’re said to have been inspired by is a long one. That idea has come up again in reviews of the new album, how do you feel about this perception?
I guess I don’t really care a great deal about other’s perception of my music, it’s really music for those that are attracted to it, all music is influenced by previous music and the history of rock music is a relatively thin thread as far as modern art forms go, the influences and production values I use are used because it’s what I like to hear and what makes me feel cool when I’m driving my car on a lonely road.
Speaking of influences, I’ve read a lot of perspectives as to what or who the album’s title track sounds like. ELO, CSNY, The Beatles. But surely Queen are the big influence there, am I right?
There’s alot of glam sort of stuff going on in that track and I think Elton John is another influence here as well as Zeppelin and more hard rock stuff, definitely a collage of influences but it’s really just an experiment on my part that I feel turned out pretty alright. I wanted to try my hand at a long conceptual piece that made a sort of journey because that just doesn’t happen on records much anymore.
How did the collaboration with Alela Diane on “The Tree” come about?
She’s a good friend and we’ve taken them on tour here in the States, also she lives in the neighborhood and I love her voice. I felt this track would be perfect to get a sort of Gram Parson, Emilou Harris sort of vibe and Alela was into the idea.
“The Man Who Would Speak True” and “The Tailor” both seem to be continuations of Blitzen Trapper’s narrative song tradition. What do you think is the appeal or advantage of that kind of song?
Well, story songs are fun to write and challenging and also maybe the oldest form of song which humans have used to impart information. There’s a deeply human aspect to a story and I try to lay a ground work which is both ambiguous and familiar, mythological imagery as well as biblical imagery play a part as well because so many people are familiar with this sort of language and the associations that accompany it.
How far would you agree with the notion that “The Man Who Would Speak True” represents or sounds like “Black River Killer” Part II?
It’s another dark story but to say it’s just like the Black River Killer is silly, there’s no rhythm section for one and the story is more complicated and has its own message. They are definitely in the same vein, which I guess stems from the fact that I wrote them both and my influences and inclinations run in certain ways.
Why was it that “Heaven and Earth” was chosen to be given away as a free download?
I don’t know, I guess the folks at the label and such liked the song.
Is there a song on the record that you feel is the strongest? Why?
I have favorites on the record but I don’t really know what strongest means, like commercially? or emotionally strong? or it’s the best song? Very subjective ground, I think my feelings about the songs changes as I perform them and figure out what I’m really saying with certain songs.
What do Blitzen Trapper have planned for the near future?
Mostly just touring and hanging out with our friends.
Musically, might we see you go in a more “cosmic” direction, perhaps like the one implied by Destroyer of the Void‘s title track?
I don’t think so. I guess I take sort of a switchback trail up the hill, we’ll see.
Is there an ultimate aim for Blitzen Trapper?
To make music that we like and enjoy playing for other folks, that’s the only reality to music in general I feel.