Aspiring music journalists take note: you can’t believe everything you read about a band on the Internet, even if the information is coming from official sources. According to the Sub Pop Records Web site, the piano that Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley used when writing much of the group’s fourth and latest album, Furr, met an ignominious end. Earley apparently found the ancient, rickety instrument in the hallway of Sally Mack’s School of Dance, a former telegraph building beside the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, that now houses rehearsal spaces. The sextet’s bio says, “The beast has gone away to the landfill now,” a notion that comes as a surprise to Earley.
“I don’t know who said that,” he says with a chuckle when the Straight reaches him somewhere on the road between Nashville, Tennessee, and Denton, Texas. “I don’t where that comes from. I don’t know where it [the piano] is—probably still in the building. We just left it when we moved out. Some band moved out of their space, and that piano must have been in their room, because they just moved it out into the hall. It was too big to move, so we just left it.”
The old piano’s clacking keys can be heard on several Furr tracks, most notably the plaintive ballad “Not Your Lover”. That’s one of the quieter moments on a disc that also features the electric stomp of “Fire & Fast Bullets” and the Boognish-worthy boogie of “Saturday Nite”. On the whole, though, Furr is an unapologetic ode to vintage American folk rock, nodding to the proto-jangle of the Byrds, the ramshackle grandeur of the Band, and the Ventura Highway harmonies of America.
“I was going for that kind of early-’70s, After the Gold Rush style of production,” Earley admits, referring to Neil Young’s third solo album. “But really, for me, it’s just about writing songs. I just want to write something timeless, something that’s familiar but is new.”
That’s an apt description of the album’s title track, a haunting campfire tale about a young man who abandons his civilized ways to rove with a pack of wolves. Before the song is over, the narrator has settled down with a wife and children, but he can’t quite shake the pull of the woods: “I still dream of running careless through the snow.”
“Man is always torn between civilization and the wilderness,” Earley explains. “He’s torn between being a part of the surrounding environment or being at odds with it. It’s like a parable. I mean, any song that’s a story like that, you’re striving to make something that’s at once ambiguous but that people can connect with. I think that song and ”˜Black River Killer’ are the two on the record that have that thing going on.”
As for “Black River Killer”, whose title character repeatedly evades punishment for his dark-hearted misdeeds, Earley is in no hurry to clarify his intent. “That’s a strange one. People always want me to explain that one and stuff, but I don’t really like to,” he says, then adds, with a laugh: “It’s just another parable.”
Blitzen Trapper plays the Media Club on Saturday (December 6).