Willamette Week: You guys are coming up on your 10-year anniversary as a band.
Eric Earley: Yeah, I guess that’s true. I think technically it was Cinco de Mayo.
Do you remember your first gig as a band?
Well, we weren’t called Blitzen Trapper back then. We were playing as Garmonbozia—an obscure reference to Twin Peaks—at a house show in Southeast Portland in order to “save mankind” from the end of the world, or the impending end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. Although I don’t think that was very accurate.
In 2003? Wasn’t 2012 supposed to mark the end of the world?
We fudged it a little bit, but were successful, obviously.
Do you guys remember your first tour as a band?
Oh yeah, with the Hold Steady. It was only about five years ago. We weren’t doing much at the time, just playing once or so a month until we got a record deal and figured we could do it. We put out Wild Mountain Nation, which got a lot of love from Pitchfork and others, and Sub Pop signed us right as we released the record and began touring behind it.
Did signing to a major indie label like Sub Pop change your music?
Probably. I think it would have kept changing regardless because that’s the way I work, but it definitely changed our lifestyle. We hadn’t really toured before and then we went into nine months of touring out of absolutely nowhere. Our next album, Furr, did really well and we started doing TV appearances and touring with bigger bands like Fleet Foxes. It was kind of the next logical progression.
Can you recall any memorable moments from the last 10 years?
For me, touring with Stephen Malkmus and jamming onstage with him during “Heard It Through the Grapevine” four or so years ago was a highlight. And doing Conan when Snoop Dogg was the guest. I remember walking up behind him on the soundstage and just thinking “Dude, that’s Snoop Dogg. The guy is just massive.”
Have you guys done many TV appearances since Conan?
Yeah. We did Letterman, Fallon a few times and something for the Canadian Country Music Channel. That was pretty sweet. Those guys are total pros. We did a live set in an old bar.
What was Portland like back when you first started out?
I remember there being a lot of math- and space-rock going on back then, obviously before the whole folk-rock scene happened. Menomena had just gotten started, and 31Knots was still around. They were a really good band, but it was a different kind of music going on, with less acoustic instruments. It was straight-up indie rock. I remember a lot of the bands actually had no bass player, or two, we had six people and one of them was a bass player.
Also, there were different venues back then. There were places like the Medicine Hat, the Tonic Lounge, the Blackbird, Meow Meow and Satyricon. These were all the places you played up until six or seven years ago. Then they made places like the Doug Fir and Holocene, which took over the smaller scale venues. Some of them were really cool, some of them I really hated. They were certainly more ghetto back then.
What were your ambitions starting out? What kind of music did you want to make?
I don’t think we had much ambition, other than drinking a lot and trying to get laid. We just wanted to make psychedelic rock back then. I was listening to Pink Floyd, Stereolab, Radiohead and things like that.
How has the Portland music scene changed since then?
There has been a lot more roots and folk music coming in, especially in the last five or six years. It started with bands like Iron & Wine becoming popular and then later bands like Fleet Foxes. And now you have bands like the Head and the Heart getting big.
What do you attribute to the changes sounds of your records?
For me, it was a matter of simplifying things. Our first band was very psychedelic, but Blitzen Trapper was more song oriented. We’ve always had a lot of different influences, from country to hard rock, even from the first record. Everyone changes, but I wouldn’t say we’ve changed a whole lot.
Do you have a particular process for writing songs?
Not really. I’ll think of the words someplace and come back to write the riff or music for it, or sometimes a song will come fully formed to me. It’s always been like that.
You’ve traveled around quite a bit over the last five years. Why has the band continued to maintain Portland as a home base over the years instead of relocating elsewhere?
We all grew up together in Salem, except for Marty [Marquis] who grew in Washington. We played music together in high school off and on in a couple different bands. If you want to go to the big city when you grow up in Oregon, you go to Portland, so I moved up to Portland and everyone else came later. I tried leaving Oregon before—I went to Georgia for a while—but Portland's my home. Georgia is kind of similar, but the people talk too much and it’s too dang hot.
Switching gears a bit. Are there any songs you’ve written over the years you’ve been proud of or embarrassed by?
[Hesitantly chuckles] Not that I know of. I don’t think so anyway.
What about regrets? How would you sum up the last 10 years at home and on the road?
We’ve been slowly making our way and figuring out what we’re doing. I’m not one to think about the future a lot myself, but thinking about the past, we’ve had a really great run. Sure, there are small personal things I might have done differently over the years, but I have no regrets. We’ve done a lot of things people only wish they could do. We’ve set a precedent for playing what we want and people never know what we’re going to do next.
SEE IT: Blitzen Trapper plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Denver, on Friday, May 31. 9 pm. $25.