Over the course of 15 years and seven full-length albums, Blitzen Trapper has crafted one of the more compelling and varied catalogs in contemporary rock and roll. Indeed, singer and guitarist Eric Earley, who is also the Portland, Oregon-based band's primary songwriter, is possessed of a musical and lyrical sensibility that is remarkably deep and wide; big ideas and universal emotions are wrung from the seemingly plainspoken details of small-screen and often highly personal stories, and set to music that reaches way, way back to old-timey folk and bluegrass, travels through everything from country, psychedelia and soul to prog, garage and metal, indulges gloriously in the classic rock of the 70s and 80s, and makes occasional side trips into hip-hop, skewed pop and noisey freakouts.
Even while continuing to explore broad stylistic territory, Blitzen Trapper's eighth studio album, a 10-song collection titled All Across This Land, stands as an exceptionally focused and immediate effort. Though it follows 2013's somewhat experimental VII, a futuristic hip-hop/country-rock hybrid, All Across This Land, in contrast, is a top-down, tightly defined piece of classic rock and roll, full of big riffs, bigger hooks and compelling, instantly relatable lyrics. In sound and scope it recalls two of the band's more beloved albums, 2008's breakthrough fourth effort, Furr, and 2011's landmark American Goldwing. "I think it's a return to the sort of more 'classic' Blitzen Trapper thing, for sure," Earley says.
It also follows something of a pattern. "It seems to be that every other album goes this way," Earley continues. "After Furr we did [2010's] Destroyer of the Void, where we were exploring all these different things. Then came American Goldwing. After that, VII. Now we're back to that rock thing again."
Something else All Across This Land shares with Furr and American Goldwing: the fact that these new songs came quick, and in a very concentrated period of time. "Those two albums, I wrote all the songs at once and they all hang together. But the records that came in between, they were written over the course of a year-and-a-half or so," Earley says. For All Across This Land, he continues, "I had all the songs written and demoed in a three or four month span. And I think they work together because everything came in such a short period."
Music also serves as the inspiration behind the record's third track, the pulsing and atmospheric "Mystery and Wonder." "In a lot of ways this one is me reminiscing about the songs I've written in the past and my reasons for writing them," Earley says. "And it also looks at how we got into playing music as a band. Because we all came from much smaller places and then we moved to the city, which was Portland. Now, Portland isn't really that big a place, but to us it was. And that's where it all started." Another cut, "Nights Were Made For Love" finds Earley examining his life and band from a more nostalgic perspective. Over a quick-paced but laidback country-rock rhythm, he sings about being "stupid, strange and young at heart / and all we wanted was to rock and roll." "It's looking back at our high school days–going to football games, playing music," he says. "In certain ways, it's sort of the story of the journey of our band."
Earley's childhood comes into play in a much different way on the dark and driving "Cadillac Road." "That song is about a small mill town in the mountains outside of where we all grew up," the singer explains. "Around '83 or '84, they shut down the mill and everyone was told to pack up and leave. And everyone did–but one guy stayed. People said he lived in the woods, and that if you listened you could hear him at night. It was this odd story that stuck with me, and I felt like I should tell that story." But in telling the tale of one man, Earley manages to touch on much larger themes of loss, regret and perseverance in the face of a shifting American landscape. "Gotta change with the times," he sings at one point, "but I dont have the heart."
Earley's father comes up often in the context of his lyrics, which is understandable–the elder Earley has cast a long shadow over his son's musical life. "My dad and my grandfather both played instruments–guitars, banjos...my grandfather was a harmonica virtuoso," Earley says. "So there was a lot of music around me as a child. And it was old-timey stuff. Like mountain music–the kinds of songs where no one knows who wrote them, basically."
Earley's childhood was so rooted in this music that he didn't get turned on to rock and roll until much later, when he was already in high school. "So to me," he says, "the 80s is kind of my foundation for rock. A lot of my influence is from the Replacements, R.E.M., that kind of stuff. Even Pavement in the early 90s." As a result, on All Across This Land, "when I'm thinking of rock and roll, I'm thinking of Paul Westerberg, to be honest," Earley admits with a laugh. In addition to Westerberg, he also cites Joe Walsh as one of his main rock influences: "He's always been one of my favorite guitar players, and you can hear it on the album. The riffs and chords on 'All Across This Land,' that's straight from Joe Walsh."
That love of a particular type of rock and roll helped guide Blitzen Trapper's approach on All Across This Land. "We recorded it specifically to be a two guitar, bass, drums and piano record," Earley says. "Every song is a band song, and arranged just how we'd play it onstage. Because at this point, we've made tons of records and we've played tons of shows. And the people who come out to see us, they understand what we're doing and they don't care about genres or anything like that. They're more interested in our actual specific unique personality as a band."
Which, in essence, is exactly what Blitzen Trapper puts forth on All Across This Land. "I was trying to distill everything down to those two things," Earley explains. And if, in doing so, the band happens to pick up a host of different sounds and styles along the way, so be it. "We're never going to be a band that plays the same song over and over again," he says. "We like to explore. And sometimes that's not so easy for people to deal with. But we're going to just keep on doing what we do."