Since Blitzen Trapper became a band back at the turn of the century, they’ve won fans from all over the world with their blend of simple folk melodies, gutsy back-country blues and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. As they catch their breath and prepare to record a studio album this spring, they’re giving their fans a gift: a live album recorded at the Doug Fir Lounge in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. Lead singer and main songwriter Eric Earley spoke with CMT Edge about the new set, Live in Portland.
CMT Edge: After 15 years as a band, what inspired you guys to cross “live album” off your bucket list?
Earley: I think it’s mainly because we had somebody who made a good recording of the shows. We recorded the album through the sound board with a couple of our house sound guys working on it. Then we had Martin (Gonzalez), one of our old sound guys, mix it. And he did a really good job on it. We had three shows in Portland in two days. They recorded all of them so were able to choose the best one.
So it came down to getting the right recording.
Yeah, pretty much. Strangely, we’d never really thought about doing it. These guys were like, “Hey, we can record this show … and it’ll sound good.” We were like, “Really? OK.”
The middle of the set has a definite country-rock vibe, but the opening cuts are pretty raucous. “Fletcher” is gritty compared to the album version, and you take “Thirsty Man” right to the very edge of the blues, as if you’ve been listening to Humble Pie. Are you secretly a British blues band?
(Laughs) Oh no, we’re an American band! Our live sets have always crossed the lines between a lot of styles. Our studio records have a lot of variety. That enables us to do a lot of different things live … and some of that’s just rock ‘n’ roll music.
For people outside Portland who don’t know Liz Vice, her Facebook description says, “sometimes people ask me to sing with them and I say ‘yes’.” She said “yes” on “Shine On,” and she tears it up.
Oh yeah, she’s great. I met Liz at my church in town. She was singing there on Sundays. I started playing piano and such, occasionally, and we became friends. I asked her to sing on one of our tracks simultaneously while she was recording her own record. So, I helped her produce parts of her record and played on it, too. So, yeah, I’ve worked with her in the studio quite a bit over the last four years. She’s a great singer.
You recorded this show at the Doug Fir Lounge, which is a room that kind of defines the Portland music scene. It has an earthy elegance to it. What does the Doug Fir mean to you and the rest of the band?
It’s the club that has the best stage sound and the best venue sound, in my opinion. There are some big places we play around town but I just think the Doug Fir — as far as the sound quality goes — is the best. And it’s smaller, which is why we’ll do three shows there, as opposed to one big show somewhere else. And a lot of the people who come are friends of ours, so we want it to sound as good as we can. So that’s generally why we choose that place.
It’s all that wood, man. All that fir!
It’s true! It’s a pretty good spot.
Comments on the album’s Bandcamp page indicate that “Black River Killer” is a preferred track. Where does that fall on the list of Blitzen Trapper fan favorites?
“Furr” [from the band’s 2008 album] was a favorite for a lot of years and for some reason “Black River Killer” has kind of taken over as the one everybody likes. (laughs) It’s funny to me. It’s such a dark song. And it’s simple. Just a little country-folk song.
What are your favorite tunes on the record and why?
I really like “Fletcher” a lot. It’s one of those songs that’s fun — and easy to play. It’s got a cool rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it. I like “Thirsty Man” because it travels, like you mentioned. And I like the country stuff. “I Love the Way You Walk Away” is one I like a lot.
What inspired you to offer this one as a “pay what you like” purchase?
On a fundamental level, our label didn’t want us releasing a full-release record because we’re going to be working on a new studio album for them. So we said, “Can we just give it away to the fans as a kind of gift for the holidays?” and they said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” We had a recording we liked. We didn’t want to let it sit, so that was the only way we could do it at this time. And it’s cool. We’d never done anything like that. And people have donated a lot of money to us for it, so that’s nice.
And of course, I have to ask for that exclusive insider tip on what’s next for Blitzen. Hit me up with something!
(Laughs) Well, I don’t know about that. We’re going into the studio in February and March to start doing some recording. It’s been over a year since the last record, so it’ll probably be another year until the next record comes out. Well, maybe eight months. And we’ll be doing some short tours over the spring and summer. We’re just going to take our time making a record, figuring out what we want to do next.