Q + A with Blitzen Trapper

Images courtesy Jacob Click

Americana band Blizten Trapper came through Indy this weekend and Pattern got to chat with their frontman Eric Earley before their show at the Hi-Fi. Earley shared his thoughts on his early years, the transition in the music industry, his dislike of phones, and everything in between!

Aubrey Smith: Talk to me about your father’s influence. Were you close during his creative process?

Eric Earley: He’s just a player, but yeah we were close. He taught me how to play guitar and banjo.

AS: What age did he teach you?

EE: I started playing banjo at age four or five. I mainly just learned to play from him. Writing songs, I figured out on my own.

AS: What did you take away from his musicianship overall?

EE: He just liked to sing and play songs in the evening. It was a way to wind down, you know? Because he was blue-collar, worked for the phone company. From him, I mainly just got a love of playing music, listening to it, singing other people’s songs. I started using that to figure how to write songs.

AS: Did you want to sound more or less like him?

EE: I didn’t really want to sound like him in any way. I mean, he was so simple in his playing. I passed him on guitar when I was pretty young because I was really into it. For him, it was just a hobby, more cultural I think. For me, I just got really into learning it. So it’s a little different.

AS: Well it’s no news that Bob Dylan and Neil Young were heavy influences in your writing. Could you describe your creative process with those dynamic lyricists always lingering in the back of your mind?

EE: I’m always trying to write about stuff that I know or that I’ve lived. I think that those guys kind of did the same thing. I think that any writer that is trying to give thought to his lyrics is going to do that. You know, write from their own lives. I think people figure out quickly if you’re just making up shit. That’s what I take away from guys like that – their honesty. Not that I try to emulate them necessarily, but I’m sure I do to a point. I mean I’m working in the same genre as those guys were. To me, it’s more like a musical legacy that I’m a part of. There’s just this continuum of songwriters that expand out. I approach it from that perspective.

AS: New bands tend to have the trend going on of having one definitive sound. The West Coast in particular has that beachy chill vibe going on. With your sound being all over the map, do you see that as leverage or a hindrance as you continue forward with your musical career?

EE: It’s hard to say. Nowadays, all that matters is the live show. Nothing else makes money really. So I think if you’re writing music for the live show or that audience, try to write music that works in the setting emotionally. I think that’s more important than trying to have some kind of sound. And our sound is generally pretty consistent. I mean, we play guitars and play rock music. Ha. But we pattern ourselves after the more longevity kind of legacy bands like Wilco, My Morning Jacket – bands that have a big stretch of material and aren’t so much concerned about as making it. They are just being who they are.

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AS: Is understanding the audience and setting and writing for them just an acquired experience?

EE: Oh yeah, we’ve been touring for eight years. And we have kind of figured out what works and what doesn’t. We’re always learning.

AS: Do you predict the trend of having a distinctive sound continuing on or fading out?

EE: At this point, there’s so many different bands doing so many different things. It is hard to say that bands will do this or that. It’s kind of a niche market now. In the industry, you have to figure out your niche and then go in that direction and then spread out as much as you can. We’re an Americana band. We use harmonicas and harmonies and guitars. So we spread out, but in the confines of that.

AS: What’s the best response you have received from an audience during a set?

EE: I mean we’ve had tons of times when the audience is loud. They can do all kinds of things. One time we had members of the audience, about four or five couples, just jump on the stage. While we were playing the song, they started slow dancing. It was really weird, but it was cool though. It was some kind of country waltz thing. I remember wondering what’s happening. One of the girls was like, “oh, this happens on occasion.” College town.

AS: That explains a lot. What about your most dedicated fan? Do you have a specific run in with someone that really creeped you out or maybe you were like “yes, you get me”?

EE: Haha, there’s a lot. That might even happen every night. Everywhere we go, there’s tons and tons of fans. We’re not huge or anything, but our fans that we do have are generally into us. And so we do definitely have some of those crazy fans who are… you know… really really… want you to touch them. Haha.

AS: What about the transition of the audience reaction of the years? Do you get more people asking for selfies now as opposed to autographs then?

EE: People still want you to sign stuff because it’s easy. But there will always be those people who ask for a picture with you.

Blitzen Trapper

AS: So do you miss the flip phone era when that wasn’t even an option?

EE: I don’t care either way, but that’s a whole other can of worms. I mean, yeah, I hate phones. They’re just annoying. I probably just don’t use it as much as others.

AS: You’ve mentioned that there’s obviously no money in albums. Was that always the case when you first started or did it hit you huge when digital streaming took listening by storm?

EE: W got in right at the last split second of record sales. Furr sold pretty well, considering. After that, the following albums went down in sales as the industry changed. So we’ve experienced that gradation firsthand with every record.

AS: How do you feel about digital streaming?

EE: It’s cool. I do it, I pay for Spotify. You can listen to almost whatever you want, whenever you want.

AS: Where do they pull the bio from bands on Spotify?

EE: I’m not sure.

AS: So did you read yours? Is it accurate?

EE: I really don’t know, haha.

AS: So you don’t stalk yourself?

EE: Ha, no. It’s funny. It’s gotten more personal now. It used to be very specific avenues of contact with fans. But now it’s more personal and interactive. You can post something on Instagram and get feedback on it. Or you can play a show and scroll through the pictures that people took. And you can like it if you want, and they get stoked if you like it. So it’s all these weird touch points, which is cool. But totally different that it used to be. It’s a way more democratic deal now. You know when people like what you’re doing because they’re touching all these surfaces that you have out there.

AS: Does it give you more affirmation?

EE: It gives you a more accurate picture of what you’re doing and where. Where people like you and why. You can see people’s lifestyles now. You can see “oh, all these people in Colorado love us, and they are all into the outdoors.” We can see everything.

AS: What one musician or band would you want to have dinner with?

EE: I’ve hung out with some of my heroes. Stephen Malkmus and Jeff Tweedy are people we have toured with. Jim James, I’d probably like to hang out with him. He seems like a really interesting guy. Yeah, Jim James and John Prine.

AS: What are you expectations for tonight’s show? What are the stereotypes of a Midwestern audience?

EE: It’s funny, America is so similar in certain ways no matter where you are. It’s pretty homogeneous with the people. In a lot of ways, it’s the same old same old, but there’s subtle differences between the people and places. It’s funny though, our band attracts pretty specific types of people all across the country. And they are generally really cool. Thoughtful, music lovers.

AS: So to you there is more difference between countries as opposed to from coast to coast?

EE: Oh yeah. Well it’s funny because we did a week in Canada. And the Canadians are different. They’re so polite.

AS: So you’d say we are more aggressive?

EE: It’s hard because we are Americans, but yeah. Canadians don’t have the same mindset toward authority that Americans have. American’s mindset toward authority is more like this [collides fists together]. Which is good.

AS: Then does your overall thought process, what goes through your mind, is that different now that you have been more exposed to not only different places but the people in those places?

EE: I think touring bands might be the only people that have a real, solid grasp of America. Because we’ve been through every nook and cranny. We see culture more in shifts. And we see the underbelly of everything because we’re driving everywhere. We drive through everything – conservations, crazy storms, over the mountains, cross through rivers. It’s a weird environment, but it’s a lifestyle. It gives you a feeling of what’s really happening in this country.

Photos by Jacob Click.

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