Talking to Eric Earley, leader and founding member of Portland's Blitzen Trapper, can be something of a disheartening experience. Earley's not an unfriendly guy at all—quite the opposite in fact.
The problem is his soft-spoken nature. He might be the first frontman in history who has trouble speaking up.
"We had a longer time to record the new record," Earley says in a whisper that borders on a mumble. "Maybe that's why it has more things going on within the songs."
Blitzen Trapper perform Thursday, October 14, at the House of Blues.
That new record is Destroyer of the Void, a collection of laid-back alt-country that also dabbles in progressive rock. Despite how odd that concoction might sound, Blitzen Trapper is one band that successfully pulls it off.
Since 2000, Earley and his collection of able cohorts have experimented with and expanded the common notion of alt-country. And Earley's Neil Young fixation has evolved to include influences as diverse as Electric Light Orchestra and David Bowie.
"Americana is a pretty broad and general term, I think," he says with all the energy of a dental patient on codeine. "I don't give much thought to the different labels people might use to describe my music."
Such detachment is probably a good thing in the case of Blitzen Trapper. With a name that conjures up images of everything from Santa's reindeer to linebackers moonlighting as backwoodsmen, Earley and crew have created a challenging catalog of music with songs that belie Earley's languid demeanor. Take, for example, Destroyer's opening title cut, an epic offering that wouldn't sound out of place on Queen's Night at the Opera.
And yet, elsewhere on Destroyer, Earley's love for alt-country godfather Gram Parsons shines through in spades. Songs like "Laughing Lover" and "The Man Who Would Speak True" are touching examples of folk/country that show Earley is equally adept at writing extremely literate, yet simple fare.
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"I read a lot of classic stuff, books from Hemingway and Steinbeck," he says. "I know that I am influenced a lot by what I read."
His success with such disparate genres is probably one of the main reasons why Blitzen Trapper find themselves at the precipice of major national recognition. But even Earley sounds unsure that commercial success is something to aim for in the first place.
"There's so much music out there, so much music made by so many different people and much of it is forgettable and dishonest," he says. "It's like there's too much of everything being made now. You have trouble finding the unexpected. I don't know where my music fits in with all that."
Despite his doubts, Earley's music fits in just fine. But let's get this guy some coffee—and quick.