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Oregon band brings narrative-driven songs to Iowa City

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | JULY 16, 2009 7:15 AM

mp3 samples: Blitzen Trapper

"Furr"

"Gold for Bread"

Blitzen Trapper’s name is about as indefinable as its sound.

“I make something different up every time I am interviewed,” frontman Eric Earley said. “Technically, Blitzen Trapper was the name of a Winnebago from the late-70s.”

A Google search appeared to show otherwise: There is no such thing as a Blitzen Trapper Winnebago.

The Oregon band will stop in Iowa City, on its way to the Pitchfork Music Festival, on Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Picador, 330 E. Washington St. Loch Lomond will open the $12 show.

The Blitzen’s most recent album, Furr, received much critical acclaim, hitting the 13th spot on Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of 2008, and the title track landed at No. 4 on the magazine’s Best Singles of 2008. Critics and listeners have compared the group with Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but its sound is difficult to place.

“I’ve said we make American music, but in a way, that’s sort of a cop out,” Earley said. “We’re Americans, we can’t help but make it. I think Western is probably more accurate. Music in a ‘wide open spaces’ idea of the West.”

Earley cites literature as a heavy inspiration for his narrative-driven songs, such as “Furr” and “Black River Killer.”

“I read a lot of classics — Steinbeck, Hemingway, those guys,” he said. “I enjoy that stuff as far as overall feeling. I also read a lot of French poetry. I also read a lot of pulp fiction as well and fantasy.”

The band will release its next EP on Aug. 25, titled Black River Killer. The album’s title track centers on a murderer chased by the police — with a twisted music video not only depicting murder but metaphysical talk-show scenes featuring people wearing demonic masks.

“It’s sort of taking the old-style movie ballad and modernizing it in certain ways, making it almost postmodern,” Earley said. “You get the feeling that the killer isn’t really a bad guy — it’s more complicated than that. The idea of the talk show gets that across I think — visualizing his character or his mythological meaning.”

Blitzen Trappers’ fusion of genres may make the group’s live shows confusing. Take UI student Marshall Stephens, who saw the band when it played in Iowa City this past fall.

“[The band] is pretty up and down,” he said. “At one point, it’s rocking hard, and then the next, it’s pretty quiet. It’s really invested in the show, though.”

Earley enjoys changing the energy levels of concerts because it keeps the crowd on edge and engaged.

“It’s not so much the songs as it is the crowds, you know?” he said. “I like the exchange of energy between the crowd and performer; it’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s fun to play with dynamics live, because it’s a very manipulative art form.”


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