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Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013

Songs Come Easy for Blitzen Trapper

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Some bands switch labels to march up the ladder and expand their reach, while others do so seeking reinvention. For the eclectic Portland country/folk outfit Blitzen Trapper, their longtime record deal with Sub Pop—which released four of the band’s previous six albums, including 2008’s critically acclaimed Furr—had run out. Looking for a change of scenery, the band began searching the market for a new home, but they didn’t have to look far. Fellow Northwestern indie label Vagrant Records expressed interest, signing on to release the band’s seventh album, VII.

With a name that possibly nods to Led Zeppelin’s titling system, VII is more sonically ambitious than its predecessor, American Goldwing, but by and large the album is a fairly natural progression of the band’s growth. Credit that to singer Eric Earley and the band going about the album like business as usual. “My goals were just to write the songs that were appearing in my head and then record them and then make a record out of my favorites,” says Earley.

Earley says he usually writes groups of songs in spurts and that the songs on this album came from one of those. “Generally I write a lot of songs and choose out of that. So I knew there was an album in there somewhere,” says Earley.

In addition to his typical sources of inspiration including folk and country music and songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings, Earley also drew on a variety of hip-hop music he was listening to. There’s no lack of diversity on the album, from banjo-led songs to hip-hop beat driven and more danceable songs. Together they create an eclectic Americana album that displays the band’s dynamic ability to jump between styles.

A constant on all Blitzen Trapper albums is Earley’s poetic knack for spinning unique and heart-tugging narratives. “Feel the Chill” features imagery of a woman in her underwear, deer hunting and getting drunk at the local bar. The idea for the song stemmed from old memories of a dive bar he used to frequent.

“I think all songs are like that—they start with something small where there’s a little riff or little line or some memory or something,” he explains. “Then you extract it and expand it and work on it like anything.”

In another song, “Thirsty Man,” Earley sings that “love like rain falls in the wasteland and slips through the fingers / For love is a thing that cannot be held but only felt and released.”

Earley self-produced the album. The band recorded at Earley’s home as well as several studios in Portland with the help of friends in the area. Thanks to the band’s tight-knit chemistry, which they developed by playing around the country over the past 13 years, recording has become almost as natural as breathing.

“I don’t really remember writing songs; I just sort of write them and they’re there,” says Earley. “‘Shine On’ and ‘Thirsty Man’ were fast to write. ‘Don’t Be a Stranger’ was written pretty fast. I just wrote that song down. I’m not sure why, that’s just how I work.”

Blitzen Trapper headlines the Turner Hall Ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 8, with opener Phox. Doors open at 7 p.m.