Over a 20-year career and ten full-length albums, Eric Earley has written, recorded, and toured extensively as Blitzen Trapper. He has amassed a devoted fanbase and earned critical praise from a vast array of media that includes The New York Times, NPR Music, Rolling Stone Country, Paste, Pitchfork, SPIN, New York Magazine, and Consequence of Sound. Here, he talks with Esthetic Lens about how the pandemic has altered his creative outlets.
1. How are you holding up?
Doing well now that the smoke has cleared, had a pretty apocalyptic week over here in the PNW. Otherwise, I’m blessed with a great community at work and a peaceful home life that keeps me going.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
It brought all the tours to a halt so playing music hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been exploring other creative channels. I have a painting studio at the back of the property that I spend a lot of time in on my off days. I work full time as a case manager at a homeless shelter, a really strange life-altering job and community that I spend most of my time wrapped up in lately.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
In the evenings to decompress, I do pencil drawings of people I’ve come across during the day. I’ve also been collecting early 80’s vinyl that my daughter and I have dance parties to in the living room. That must continue.
4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?
5. Are there any artists, albums or genres of music you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?
Obsessed with Cecily Brown, her paintings are pure chaos and beauty, like seeing shapes in a campfire. Of course, Enya is on repeat lately, also Jessica Pratt, extremely mellow vibes all around, like floating peacefully on a life raft while sharks circle.
6. Please tell us about your upcoming release, Holy Smokes Future Jokes.
It’s a record full of riddles and acoustic guitars, based on the Bardo Thodol and Shirley Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, imminently listenable, strangely hypnotic, and intimate. Song titles were chosen using a pair of seven-sided dice as per request.
Singer-songwriters have been tackling existential questions about life and death since time immemorial… or at least the 1960s. But when it came to Blitzen Trapper’s newest album, Holy Smokes Future Jokes, frontman Eric Earley looked beyond mere existence—or even the end of it—to contend with grander cosmic explorations: namely, the intermediate period between a person’s separate lives on earth, “and what it means to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth,” he explains.
Weighty stuff, to say the least. But then again, Blitzen Trapper has never been the type of band to just skim the surface. Over the course of 20 years and ten full-length albums, the Portland, Oregon-hailing act, with singer, songwriter and guitarist Earley firmly at the helm, has crafted a singular catalog of songs—sometimes wrapped in impressionistic imagery and scruffy, singalong melodies (the fan-favorite “Furr,” for just one example), and other times rendered in sharp-focus, needlepoint detail and imbued with driving, electrified rhythms (“Cadillac Road,” about a depressed and deserted mill town in the Oregon mountains where Earley’s father once worked, comes to mind here)— that celebrates the human experience in all its triumph and tragedy.