Eric Earley, main songwriter in Blitzen Trapper, feels he’s always written the kind of album he’s wanted at whatever time over the band’s dozen-year, eight-album history.
While artistically satisfying, it’s debatable if it’s been a good move for the group’s career.
“I think in ways it’s probably been, you know, one of the reasons we’ve never gotten super big or anything,” Earley said in a phone interview. “I think it’s because I haven’t settled on one sound and just done it over and over again.”
With Blitzen Trapper’s eighth album, the 2015 release “All Across This Land,” Earley, who also produces the group’s albums, still followed his muse. But he said he was more aware than ever of trying to make a specific type of album.
“I think I go back and forth between making records that are kind of lo-fi/DIY and then records that I want to be more pristine and just big sounding,” Earley said. “And I think with ‘All Across This Land,’
“I deliberately wanted it to just be huge and just sound really pro basically. I wanted to focus on the sounds and the tones.”
Indeed, Blitzen Trapper’s albums have tended to alternate somewhat between albums that are a bit more free-form, jammy and rootsy (such as 2010’s “Destroyer of the Void” and 2013’s “VII”) and ones (like “All Across This Land,” 2011’s “American Goldwing” and 2008’s “Furr”) that rock more and favor concise songcraft.
“All Across This Land” definitely fell into the latter category.
Earley needed only about four months to write and demo the songs for the new album. And he had some clear ideas about the kind of album he intended to write.
One priority was for the album to speak to a couple of key facets of Blitzen Trapper’s music that seem to appeal to the band’s fans.
“People seem to be drawn to a lot of my sort of narrative songwriting stuff lyrically,” Earley said. “So a song like ‘Across The River’ on the record, which is just a narrative folk song, a lot of our fans, that’s kind of what they are into in a lot of ways. And then, extending that narrative idea into more like rock ‘n’ roll music, we have songs like ‘Fletcher,’ and people really resonate with songs like that as well for different reasons. And so on the record, I was wanting to blend the story telling with the rock because I think that’s where our fans really, that’s what they like.”
These ideas dovetailed nicely with the kind of music that was inspiring Earley at the time he was ready to write the new album. More than any other Blitzen Trapper album, “All Across This Land” reflects the rock music that first captured his imagination.
“I think in my teenage years, my influences were, yeah, they were the ‘80s alternative bands, really, R.E.M., the Replacements, Pavement, even the early ‘90s,” he said.
“Then in my 20s, I got into the older Americana, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, you know, that kind of stuff,” Earley said. “And I think because my 20s were spent listening to a lot of that, it’s been sort of a pretty heavy influence in my music. I think with this record, I was wanting to go back to the sound I was into in high school, really.”
As such, it’s no surprise that “All Across This Land” moves away somewhat from the rootsy/folksier elements that strongly informed albums like “VII” and 2007’s “Wild Mountain Nation.”
On tracks like “Rock And Roll (Was Made For You),” “Nights Were Made For Love” and the title song, the band rocks briskly, while Earley’s writing, more than ever, shows a knack for piling one ear-grabbing pop hook on top of another. “Cadillac Road,” meanwhile, goes for more of an expansive, anthem-ish rock sound, while the band dials back the tempos and intensity on “Mystery And Wonder” and comes up with one of its most graceful pop songs yet.
All that said, a few songs lean toward the ‘70s-influenced rustic/folk-edged sound many associate with Blitzen Trapper, such as the harmonica-spiced “Let The Cards Fall,” “Even If You Don’t” and “Lonesome Angel,” and the dreamy, yet rootsy, ballad “Love Grow Cold.”
Whatever the style, “All Across This Land” features some of Earley’s most cohesive, most fully realized songs.
Blitzen Trapper, which includes Earley (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Erik Menteer (guitar/keyboards), Brian Adrian Koch (drums), Michael Van Pelt (bass) and Marty Marquis (guitar/keyboards), made songs from “All Across This Land” a centerpiece of shows last fall and earlier this year. But this fall’s set lists figure to feature a cross section of material from across the group’s career..
“There are a lot of songs at this point in our career,” Early said. “We’ll be pulling some older songs, doing a few covers and doing new songs, doing long sets actually.”
What: Blitzen Trapper
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City
Tickets: $15, this is a 19 and older show