It’s news to no one that the Northwestern United States is a relative hotbed of musical talent. In the early ’90s, it was grunge god Kurt Cobain who introduced the world to the brooding sounds of the cold left coast. Since then, bands like Modest Mouse, the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Decemberists have kept the scene alive, taking hints from their predecessors as they mold the future of indie rock.
Currently, the area is once again attracting attention, thanks to the music-makers who call it home. All along the Pacific seaboard, bands like Portland’s Fleet Foxes, Berkley’s Howlin’ Rain, and Seattle’s Band of Horses are garnering critical acclaim (and gaining industry momentum) thanks to their alt-country-meets-folk-revival-meets-Southern-rock soundscapes. These shaggy-faced neo-hippies are succeeding by way of homage, melding musical influences into sounds that are altogether new and yet undoubtedly American.
Last summer, Portland’s Blitzen Trapper was the newest to join these ranks. With their third disk, Wild Mountain Nation, the sextet turned some big-name heads, drawing comparisons to everything from Pavement to the Beatles to Simon & Garfunkel and scoring themselves a lucrative record deal with Sub Pop. Since then, it’s been all touring and recording for the guys, resulting in the highly anticipated release of the band’s fourth disk, Furr, in September.
Mixing influences that range from psych rock to bluegrass to ’60s pop, Furr is almost impossible to categorize. Yet it still manages to make sense, geographically speaking. “I know that that region has been pretty isolated,” said Blitzen frontman Eric Earley of the current Northwestern rock resurgence. “And it was pretty economically depressed for a long time. : As a kid, the musical stuff going on was really the grunge movement : and I think there’s a sense of isolation there. The weather’s pretty dark and it lends itself to sort of working on your own thing without distractions. Also, you’ve got all the different aspects of the country [there]. You’ve got the oceans, you’ve got the mountains, you’ve got the desserts, and it’s all pretty close. You sort of get this well-rounded experience of the outdoors, I think.”
It also helps things that Earley grew up surrounded by music. “I started playing when I was a little kid,” he explained. “My father was a musician. I was maybe six or seven when I started. : [They listened to] a lot of folk music. My mom loves Joan Baez. My dad listened to bluegrass, and then Bob Dylan and all that-a lot of American music.” Today, it’s that appreciation for the past that comes through most clearly on Blitzen’s recordings. In fact, the driving force (besides Earley) on Furr was none other than a beat-up piano that the band discovered outside their studio during the early stages of the album’s creation.
“The piano we just kind of found in the hallway where we were recording,” laughed Earley. “I’m not really sure whose it was. We don’t have it anymore-we just left it there when we were done. I’m sure someone else is banging on it. Or maybe they dismantled it, I have no idea. There were other bands that would rehearse during the day there,” he continued. “But a lot of [Furr‘s] recording was done in the middle of the night when it was empty. [The studio] was in the warehouse district, so there weren’t that many people, just hookers and crack heads.”
Next up, the boys will roll through Texas (and Thanksgiving) by bus, coming to a stop at Muddy Waters Cafe this Monday, December 1, before taking a much-needed break for the holidays. Trust us when we say that this is one little show that promises some big-time talent.
Club Mercy presents Blitzen Trapper on Monday, December 1, at Muddy Waters Cafe (508 E. Haley St.) Call 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com for details.