A vision of America

Part of the same feeling: “In the end, says Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley, “it's all just American music, you know. It's guitar music, whether it's rock, country or folk music.” Photo by Tyler Kohlhoff

There's something inherently American about the songwriting of Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley. A deep longing for freedom, the inquisitive fearlessness of exploration and a stoic realism on matters of the heart permeate his craft. 

The instrumental vehicle for his expression is more eclectic, but it too is deeply rooted in the the country's history. Whether channeling the sparse, harmonica-tinged folk of Townes Van Zandt on "Stranger in a Strange Land" or the boisterous guitar howls of Ted Nugent on "Your Crying Eyes," Blitzen Trapper's latest record, American Goldwing, is like a history lesson in national consciousness and tastes.

Remarkably, those disparate elements and opposing attitudes hold together, even complement one another, forming what Earley considers the band's most cohesive collection to date.

"I just write from this vision of America that is my own," he explains. "In the end, it's all just American music, you know. It's guitar music, whether it's rock, country or folk music. It's all part of the same feeling, of America and travel and spaciousness and the freedom, I guess, of travel. To me it all hangs together."

"And maybe it's consistent just through my sheer will," he adds with a laugh. "I want it to hang together. But for me, it's all part of the same story."

That said, American Goldwing is also specific to Earley's experience, more so than any of the band's previous five releases. The album is a direct reflection on his childhood, relationship struggles and, most notably, hometown of Salem, Ore. Perhaps because of the intimate connection to his personal life, the songs poured out with a staggering effortlessness. The experience was a departure from the on again, off again approach to his previous work, which, he admits, also lent to the cohesiveness of this collection.

"I think it's more representative of me," Earley says. "This record, I wrote really all in one sitting almost. [2010's Destroyer of the Void] was a record of a bunch of different things that were put together, but it wasn't a cohesive record to me because I didn't write all those songs at the same time. I kind of made it over a two-year period. American Goldwing, it means more because of that fact."

Earley's remarks about the freedom of travel and his obvious appreciation for the American experience might suggest that he would feel right at home on the road. However, the multi-instrumentalist is conflicted about that part of being a musician. Leaving for months at at time can have a devastating effect on relationships. And, he points out, touring is just a lot of work in general.

"I think there's a real love and hate relationship with anybody who tours. I think that's what makes it poignant. There are things that are really beautiful and amazing about it, and then there are things that are really hard about it; because it is work. But that's what makes it worth thinking about and writing about. And that's also what makes it powerful as far as changing your perspective once you start touring and seeing the country."

But seeing the country, from Earley's perspective, is more about personal interactions than experiencing a connection to nature. Which, not surprisingly, can be frustrating for an outdoorsman who spends summers swimming in rivers and winters cross-country skiing. Nonetheless, the influence travel had on American Goldwing and Earley's urge to explore his roots is apparent.

"Really, touring is more about cities and towns than it is the space between. But you get to see a lot of it as you drive. America is great. The place you live, if you live somewhere small or something, you enjoy the country around you, and it's yours and you know it. So when I'm home in Oregon, I don't know, I enjoy Oregon a lot more now after having seen the rest of the country. I appreciate it more. And you appreciate the familiarity of where you are or where you grew up."

— Dane Smith can be reached at dsmith@mountainx.com.

who: Blitzen Trapper, with Dawes
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, Oct. 21 (9 p.m. $15 advance/$17 doors. theorangepeel.net)

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