Analogue Music | Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper

By Matt Conner

Rock and roll may be a young man's game, but Eric Earley is still at it.

Earley and the rest of Blitzen Trapper have crafted 10 studio albums (along with numerous side offerings) over the last 20 years, a lengthy lean into a craft that once required much more from Earley to make his imprint. These days, he's past it all—the drive, the ambition, the ego. Well, no, the ego is still there.

On the eve of releasing Holy Smokes Future Jokes, we caught up with Eric to talk about his longevity as a musician, his hopes (or lack thereof) for a new album, and his willingness to shelve multiple albums in order to arrive at the one that excites him.

Analogue: I want to get to the new album, but few artists or bands ever make it to this point in the journey: 20 years, 10 albums. Does the work still feel the same at all as when you were first starting?

Eric Earley: No, not really. For a long time, I had the ambition, the drive, the tunnel vision, which is what's necessary to make it into the industry. [Laughs] But after 11 years or whatever, I don't really have any goals left. I've toured. I've played on TV. I've written a lot of songs that other people really like. I don't have any ambitions left other than still trying to make the fans happy with whatever performances or recordings I can do.

I'm 43 now. It's just a different time in life basically. Rock and roll is a young man's game anyway, so my head just really isn't in the same place anymore. I feel like over the last couple years, my ambition towards... there's so much ego that goes into being a performer. You can be the humblest performer in the world, but your ego is still going to be bigger than most people's. You're assuming that the things you write and say are things other people want to hear.

I feel like in the last couple years, that's also disappeared. I'm just happy to work my day job. I'm putting out a new record, which is great. I'm not sure if I'll perform any of it—hopefully some of it at some point, but I don't have a whole lot of drive in that direction anymore.

'Holy Smokes Future Jokes'
'Holy Smokes Future Jokes'

Analogue: What parts of this are still enjoyable for you? Is it just the songwriting process?

Eric: No, I like everything still. I just don't feel driven to do it all the time or be some huge success or something. I still like performing, talking to people and other bands. Recording is super fun. I've been recording so long that I know how to work. It's easy. It's fun to be able to make a record or two or three. [Laughs]

Analogue: Does the songwriting process itself, the ability to find the muse, become easier? Is it ever-elusive?

Eric: I think it's elusive in the sense... it's not hard to write a song, but it's hard to tap into a song that you're going to really like later on, years down the road. I feel like I have whole records that now I usually don't care for them, but there's always a song or two on every record—occasionally a whole record—that I just like the whole thing.

For this new record, I wrote two whole other records and then ditched them, because it didn't feel right. Then on this one, the whole feeling and vibe of this record, I was like, 'Yeah, this is what I want to do. This feels more like a unique statement of my own.' Does that make sense?

Analogue: It does. It also makes me curious about what you tossed aside, because those are also statements from you, expressions of you, snapshots from your life.

Eric: Yeah, they're snapshots of different ways I'm trying to communicate. On the new record, a lot of the songwriting is more cryptic and veiled or riddled, whereas a lot of the songs I was also writing were a little more straightforward narratively. But I wanted to go with something that was more mystical almost.

"For this new record, I wrote two whole other records and then ditched them, because it didn't feel right."

Analogue: Why decide on that turn? Were the others too vulnerable or on-the-nose?

Eric: They were too straightforward. I wanted to make something that was more... not abstract but I was obsessed with the Tibetan Book of the Dead, so that kind of imagery and language was what I was really into. I felt like it meant more to me for some reason.

Analogue: How typical is that for your process, to toss a lot aside to get to where you want to be?

Eric: It just depends. The last couple records haven't been that way, really, but this one definitely was. I went through a couple cycles of writing.

Analogue: That sounds like a prolific season.

Eric: I've generally always been writing that much, but there's also a big gap between this and the last record. We put out our last album in 2017, maybe [Wild and Reckless], which means I recorded it in 2016. That's four years ago, so that's a pretty big gap without putting out anything. I mean, we put out Furr, a new re-release for the 10th anniversary, but that was already written and recorded ages and ages ago. So in four years, yeah, I can definitely write three records, two of which I'm not attached to. To me, that's quite a while.

Analogue: Do you shelve it? Do you give it permission to return?

Eric: Yeah I shelved it. We released a couple records for Record Store Day that were just going through records I'd shelved years and years ago. Maybe at some point, I'll put out another. Because Record Store Day is an easy one and happens every year, I can always put out one of these records if I wanted to. [Laughs]

We're putting out another one this year. We're doing a Volume 2. Record Store Day is getting broken up into Record Store Month or something because of COVID, so we're putting a Volume 2 of Unreleased Recordings, and that's from even earlier—a record I worked on in 2004 or something like that. So there are ways I can put a lot of material out, but it's a different kind of thing.

Analogue: You mentioned being cryptic on the new record, but there are definite songs here that reveal the machine, so to speak. The songs tell the truth about our world, our culture, our politics, so it seems there's some level at which you're wanting to inform or provoke or inspire. Does that say something about your view of art?

Eric: Well, I'd like to think that art tells the future. It writes the future prior to the future happening. So on a tiny scale, with my songs, I'm telling someone's future. Does that make sense? I think all art creates these massive reality waves, a gestalt. It writes the future. That's what I believe anyway, and I think it's the main way humans evolve basically.

Analogue: How does that specifically play out on Holy Smokes Future Jokes?

Eric: I don't know. I just think that's what art does in general, whether it's painting, music, literature, dance, whatever it is. It's the human mind expanding outwards, creating. With these songs specifically, I think I was obsessed with Bardo Thodol and death and the intermediate state, which I think are ideas that humanity needs to think about. I was stepping into ideas about humanity's place in the world.

Whether we like to think about it or not, humans have only been here for a few hundred thousand years and we'll probably only be around for a few hundred thousand more until we evolve or go extinct. So I think we have this overblown view of ourselves and I wanted to tap into a cosmic humility, as I like to call it, in that sense.

VISIT: Blitzen Trapper

Photo credit: Jason Quigley