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February 18th, 2004 Matt Wright | Music Stories
 

Into Focus

Blitzen Trapper lets up on experimentation, hones in on pop perfection.

     
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Blitzen Trapper
IMAGE: PAUL SOLEVAD
Five youngish men sit slumped low about their lovingly cluttered home studio in Southeast Portland. Instruments and band posters abound. Someone has spray-painted the words "Helter Skelter" to the wall. An upside-down American flag covers the back wall. While the setting suggests Charles Manson's house band, the men of Blitzen Trapper are anything but.

They casually complete each other's sentences and crack inside jokes with the relaxed familiarity of old friends. Much of the conversation revolves around the self-titled debut album the group recently recorded here, and the varied influences behind it.

Lead singer and chief songwriter Eric Earley explains the role television plays in their sound. "We've got this one song, 'Trigga Finga,' that's got a really uptempo country sound to it. One of our friends likes to call it the Dukes of Hazzard song."

"But it's really not about that," keyboardist Brian Koch insists. "It's about CHiPs."

Playful banter aside, the band is of one mind when it comes to creating music.

Combining '60s country-rock with cartoonish psychedelia and hyperactive thrash, the group's self-titled debut is two parts hook-laden pop and one part pure acid freakout. This musical-chairs approach to song structure and genre has led lesser bands into self-indulgent obscurity, but Blitzen Trapper employs it to full advantage. The result is a musical mélange that incorporates healthy doses of Neil Young and Pavement, in addition to more esoteric influences ranging from Brazilian soundtrack composer Esquivel to gospel music and Bill Evans.

Creating music that's both accessible and exploratory is no easy task, but Blitzen Trapper have put their time in. Before adopting their current name five months ago, the group spent four years as Garmonbozia. During this time, the band explored a more experimental approach, going so far as to record a 20-minute EP consisting entirely of "Revolution 9"-style sound collage.

"I can write music in almost any genre, and with Garmonbozia we were trying to play them all," Earley explains. "We realized you just can't do that."

As with all good pop music, the band's current sound is much more focused. While their penchant for experimentation can still be heard in tricky song structures and playful leaps of genre, the band members have learned not to lose track of the listener.

Marty concurs, "We learned that it's a process of rationalization with our music. At some point you have to separate it out and say, 'Here's the stuff that people can get their heads around a little bit better,' and put the other stuff somewhere else."


Blitzen Trapper plays Saturday, Feb. 21, at Meow Meow, 320 SE 2nd Ave., 517-0824. 9 pm. $5. All ages.
 
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