Blitzen Trapper’s new album, Wild and Reckless started as a project that came out of left field for their frontman and songwriter Eric Earley—an opportunity to write songs for a theatrical production by The Portland Center Stage, but the project was so successful that those songs became Wild and Reckless.
Eric graciously gave us a few minutes of his time from the road to talk about how the album came together and his perspective on writing for the theater.
The band is on tour now. You can find the new album and upcoming tour dates at blitzentrapper.net.
How were you all approached by Portland Center Stage to create a production for their Northwest Stories series? Were they admirers of your music? Was there something in your previous work that made them feel like you’d be a good fit for this project? What sparked the collaboration?
One of the directors knew us through Brian, our drummer from college, and I guess he figured we could come up with something for the stage—was pretty out of the blue and they seemed to have a lot of confidence in us from the beginning. To be honest, I'm not sure why entirely, but it turned out really good—a total success from our perspective and super fun.
Has producing/writing/performing for the theater been something you'd ever considered before this project?
Never considered it before; never crossed my mind. The budgets and crews involved are definitely beyond what an indie band could wrangle.
What’s your creative process like? How do you decide what to focus on and prioritize? Do you think about where you want to go creatively in advance or do you throw yourself into something, and then when that’s done, take time to process it? Or something else, entirely?
I generally write songs without much deliberation. There will be several I'm working on and the ones that stick I record demos and then start to tweak from there. It's a longer process as far as arrangement goes, but the song itself is generally a pretty fast genesis.
Was creating a follow-up record to the theater production the natural next step because of its success?
The songs were demoed-out before we were approached by the theater. There was this sort of narrative thread I could see in the songs, which is why I felt confident about coming up with a script. So the album existed first and we're putting it out now because the play was such a local thing. We wanted to share the songs with everybody.
Wild & Reckless is a rock-opera, and obviously not the first, what are some of your favorite rock-operas? Were there any that inspired your approach to creating this one?
I'd never really paid much attention to rock-operas before to be honest. I watched some clips of Tommy when they were performing it live without the bells and whistles, which was great, and I've seen some more modern musicals and the like, but not sure that I have a favorite.
Because this music was originally written for the theater, we'd guess that it takes a different writing process than anything you’ve done previously. Is this true? If so, did you find it easier? More difficult? Constraining? Liberating? Did you enjoy it?
This music was not originally written for the theater. I tweaked the songs quite a bit for the show, changed lyrics, arrangements were totally different, not all the songs were in the show. So my process was really quite similar to the way it's always been. Some of the post-production was definitely influenced by the show though—some of the more psych and theatrical elements I infused into some of the arrangements.
What’s the most important item that you take on tour?
Hate to say it but probably my phone so I can stay in touch with my family, get pictures of my wife and kid and such.
What’s the first thing you do when you get home from tour?
Cook up some good homemade breakfast. Don't get much of that on the road.
Other than your record, what’s one album that came out in 2017 that you’ve listened to the most?
Been listening to Honest Life a lot lately, Courtney Marie Andrews.
We’re working on an oral-history project where we ask artists to share their brief thoughts on other artists. Don’t take too much time or over-think it. No one’s judging, we just want your gut-reactions when you think of these other artists. And…go!
Some of the best driving music ever created.
Thick as a brick.
Love Janet's drumming so much.
Shakespearean as all hell.
Blue collar vibes for days!
Eerie voice can't help but love.
Riding in my sister's car when she was in college and I was a teenager she'd blare the Chapman.