Eric Earley, the main songwriter in Blitzen Trapper, feels he’s always written the kind of album he’s wanted at whatever time it was during the band’s 12-year, eight-album history.
While artistically satisfying, it’s debatable if it’s been a good move for the group’s career.
“I think in ways it’s probably been, you know, one of the reasons we’ve never gotten super big or anything,” Earley said in a recent phone interview. “I think it’s because I haven’t settled on one sound and just done it over and over again.”
Blitzen Trapper will play on the first day of the Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que Music Festival. The seventh annual festival will be May 28-29 at Evans Towne Center Park, 7016 Evans Town Center Blvd. in Evans. Tickets are $35 daily or $60 for both Friday and Saturday at banjobque.com.
With the band’s eighth album, All Across This Land, Earley, who also produces the group’s albums, still followed his muse. But he said he was more aware than ever of trying to make a specific type of album.
“I think I go back and forth between making records that are kind of lo-fi/DIY and then records that I want to be more pristine and just big sounding,” Earley said. “And I think with All Across This Land, I deliberately wanted it to just be huge and just sound really pro basically. I wanted to focus on the sounds and the tones.”
Indeed, Blitzen Trapper’s albums have tended to alternate somewhat between albums that are a bit more free-form, jammy and rootsy (such as 2010’s Destroyer of the Void and 2013’s VII) and ones (like All Across This Land, 2011’s American Goldwing and 2008’s Furr) that rock more and favor concise songcraft.
All Across This Land definitely fell into the latter category.
Earley needed only about four months to write and demo the songs for the new album. And he had some clear ideas about the kind of album he intended to write.
One priority was for the album to speak to a couple of key facets of Blitzen Trapper’s music that seem to appeal to the band’s fans.
“People seem to be drawn to a lot of my sort of narrative songwriting stuff lyrically,” Earley said. “So a song like Across The River on the new record, which is just a narrative folk song, a lot of our fans, that’s kind of what they are into in a lot of ways. And then, extending that narrative idea into more like rock and roll music, we have songs like Fletcher, and people really resonate with songs like that as well for different reasons. And so on the new record, I was wanting to blend the story telling with the rock because I think that’s where our fans really, that’s what they like.”
These ideas dovetailed nicely with the kind of music that was inspiring Earley at the time he was ready to write the new album. More than any other Blitzen Trapper album, All Across This Land reflects the rock music that first captured his imagination.
“I think in my teen-age years, my influences were, yeah, they were the ’80s alternative bands, really, R.E.M., the Replacements, Pavement, even the early ’90s,” he said.
“Then in my 20s, I got into the older Americana, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, you know, that kind of stuff,” Earley said. “And I think because my 20s were spent listening to a lot of that, it’s been sort of a pretty heavy influence in my music. I think with this record, I was wanting to go back to the sound I was into in high school, really.”
As such, it’s no surprise that All Across This Land moves away somewhat from the rootsy/folkier elements that strongly informed albums like VII and 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation.
On tracks like Rock And Roll (Was Made For You), Nights Were Made For Love and the title song, the band rocks briskly, while Earley’s writing, more than ever, shows a knack for piling one ear-grabbing pop hook on top of another. Cadillac Road, meanwhile, goes for more of an expansive, anthem-ish rock sound, while the band dials back the tempos and intensity on Mystery And Wonder and comes up with one of its most graceful pop songs yet.
All that said, a few songs lean toward the ’70s-influenced rustic/folk-edged sound many associate with Blitzen Trapper, such as the harmonica-spiced Let The Cards Fall, Even If You Don’t and Lonesome Angel, and the dreamy, yet rootsy, ballad Love Grow Cold. Whatever the style, All Across This Land features some of Earley’s most cohesive, most fully realized songs.
Blitzen Trapper, which includes Earley (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Erik Menteer (guitar/keyboards), Brian Adrian Koch (drums), Michael Van Pelt (bass) and Marty Marquis (guitar/keyboards), started debuting songs from All Across This Land last year and the latest material has since become more of a centerpiece of the live show. Unlike some of the band’s earlier material, Earley doesn’t expect the album’s songs to get reworked into longer versions live.
“The songs on this record are definitely more sort of contained. So in that way, I don’t know how much we’ll be doing that (expanding the songs),” he said. “But I think the songs on this record, they definitely lend themselves more to live performance, which is cool. They’re definitely fun to play.