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Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley on His Father, Murderers, and Why He Hates Park Rangers

Portland, Oregon, is famous for its lush environs, DIY aesthetic, and a sci-fi–fantasy subculture. Amazingly, the indie folk-rock band Blitzen Trapper, which hails from Stumptown, has managed to fold all of the above into its work — most potently on Furr, the 2008 album which won the group rapturous comparisons to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Wilco, and other earthy white rock dudes. Today, Blitzen Trapper drops its fifth full-length, Destroyer of the Void, a gorgeous exercise in storytelling that’s laced with weightless harmonies and rootsy guitars. We checked in with the band’s songwriter, front man Eric Earley, as he and his band were touring through, rather fittingly, the majestic, verdant mountains of Montana.

Who exactly is the Destroyer of the Void?
Uh, it’s just sorta like the void is that moment before creation or whatever, you know?

Not really.
I didn’t come up with that name. Marty [Marquis, Blitzen’s multi-instrumentalist] did. I couldn’t think of a name for it [laughs].

Some of your songs, such as Destroyer’s “The Tailor,” are rooted in fantasy. Are you a fan of that genre?
I read a lot of fantasy novels, but I also read a lot of science fiction and literature, too. I can get real nerdy. Right now I’m reading Matter by Iain Banks. He’s easily the best science-fiction writer probably in the past twenty years.

Who’s your favorite storyteller?
Probably Ernest Hemingway. He’s the master of the iceberg, you know? Says very little, but means a lot. My favorite book of his is For Whom the Bell Tolls. I read it when I was a kid, but it’s the kind of book that as you get older, it opens up in different ways. A lot of really good books are like that.

One of the most popular songs off Furr is “Black River Killer,” which, like this album’s “The Man Who Would Speak True,” is sort of morbid.

They’re not literal, but in many ways symbolic — the nature of man, you know. We’ve all had run-ins with all kinds of people: people who kill, people who’ve chosen not to.

You’ve had run-ins with murderers?

There are people like that around us all the time. There were twins in my high school who killed this old couple. I went to grade school with [someone who’s] in jail for raping this girl. I got an uncle who was a criminal my whole life. I don’t always write about it, but on occasion I will.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up outside of Portland — a very rural town. Now that I travel, it seems very backwoods and isolated. You grow up in small-town America, and you’re gonna drive trucks into the woods and fish. All that imagery [in my music] is what I grew up in.

What did you learn from your dad, who was a bluegrass musician?
He taught me how to play the banjo when I was a little kid, about age 6. I grew up playing music with him and my mom and my sisters and his brothers.

If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing?

I’d probably be a mechanic. That’s what my dad was. I was a car enthusiast when I was younger, but not now really. But if I were to quit music this instant, I wouldn’t know what I would do.

A number of musicians won’t play Arizona now because of the state’s controversial immigration law. Will you?
I don’t know. I have family in Arizona, so I spend a lot of time there. I have very specific thoughts about that whole thing, but I don’t think we’re banning Arizona. I mean, I’m Mexican, so they must not want me in anyway.

You’re in Montana right now. What’s that like?
Missoula is beautiful — surrounded by mountains, hills. There are a lot more fir trees here. These woods here are big and dark. Have you ever been to the Rockies? All evergreen — very dark and tall and very tight-packed. The Appalachians, those mountains are smaller: The vegetation is much shorter. You should check it out.

Maybe you’d be a park ranger if you weren’t a musician.
Park ranger? That’d be like becoming a cop or something! As a kid I was always the enemy of the park ranger, because I was always trying to get away with fishing without a license or, like, trying to fish over my limit.

That was the worst thing you did in the woods?

No! Definitely not! [Cackles.] I can’t say. I’m not going to say. It’s terrible, illegal. I mean there’s nothing to do in Oregon as a kid.

Back to touring: You’ve played a number of times with your Sub Pop label mates Fleet Foxes, to whom you’re often compared. Would you ever collaborate? You could call yourselves Fox Trapper!
[Laughs.] You’ve thought about this. This is very interesting. No, Robin [Pecknold, the Foxes’ front man] is not much of a collaborator, and I’m not either. I work pretty solitary. Maybe in a few years, when we’re older.

Your band self-released its first three albums. Did you ever think you’d achieve even a marginal amount of success?

I never even thought about it, and we really only released one of those albums. The first two, we just made them and halfheartedly distributed them around the Northwest. So it was definitely a kind of thing that was casual and slow.

Have you been able to buy anything that you couldn’t afford before?

I bought a car, a '95 Subaru four-wheel drive. It’s kind of a beater. But I haven’t had a car in a decade, so that’s kinda nice.

And here I imagined something shiny and new.
This is definitely not shiny. In fact, it’s discolored in a few places. It runs real good, but I think it needs a new belt. I’ll do that when I get back.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images