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If brevity is truly the soul of wit, then Eric Earley, the lead vocalist and guitarist for Oregon's Blitzen Trapper, is the cleverest man on the planet.
Earley's not the slightest bit rude during an extended interview even though he's stuffed into a Dodge Sprinter van with his bandmates — guitarist/keyboardists Marty Marquis and Erik Menteer, keyboardist Drew Laughery, bassist Michael Van Pelt and drummer Brian Adrian Koch — en route to a gig in San Francisco. Throughout the conversation, he laughs easily and often. But ask him a question most of us would need the equivalent of a paragraph to answer, and he'll generally respond with a single word: "Yeah," which he uses as often as Lil Jon. In this context, a full sentence — like, for instance, "I've got two sisters" — is cause for celebration.
Luckily, on Wild Mountain Nation, the group's 2007 breakthrough CD, Earley is a lot more expressive, both lyrically and musically. The title cut has a rustic feel matched by lyrics that advise listeners to "Come out from the town/Build stone by stone a wild mountain home." (It's no surprise to learn that when he was a kid, Earley played along with John Denver albums.) As for numbers such as "Devil's A-Go-Go," they sport a crazy quilt of quirkier influences, from cosmic blues to twisted psychedelia. In Earley's view, the resulting blend isn't as madly eclectic as it initially seems. "The thing about Wild Mountain Nation is that it was an accessible record, but it was produced in such a lo-fi manner that it comes off as being very experimental," he notes in what qualifies for him as a veritable soliloquy. "I think the production and how the record sounds has a lot to do with the appeal of it in a certain way."
The folks at Sub Pop agreed, promptly adding the band to the label's portfolio. Still, Earley, a free spirit who spent most of the past several years without a permanent address, didn't simply hand over Blitzen's fortunes to the label. The musicians self-distributed Wild Mountain Nation in the States even after inking with Sub Pop, and they're peddling an EP featuring "Shoulder Full of You" and other relatively sedate ditties at shows on the current tour. Granted, Sub Pop will handle Furr, a fresh full-length due later this year. Rather than taking advantage of the contract to record in a cutting-edge studio, though, Earley produced the tracks himself under pretty much the same bare-bones circumstances as the previous disc.
So why does the new material sound more polished than the previous stuff? Is it simply because he's gotten better at producing?
"Yeah," he replies good-naturedly.
That's saying a mouthful.
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley.