Oregon natives Blitzen Trapper know a thing or two about taking their music on journeys. With thousands of miles logged through wilderness, metropolises, and all places in between, the musicians collect all kinds of stories on their treks across North America and Europe.
But their journeys don't stop there. Wandering miles figuratively in the world of beats, lyrics, guitar licks and melodies, the band traverses several musical terrains. Veering off the straight and easy path, they venture into areas where the sonic ground is not easily definable as one genre or another, while remember to stick close enough to well defined paths that have worked in the past.
Over their four albums, they've taken on the whole spectrum of American roots music with a modern touch, incorporating artists like Neil Young and a curiosity of nature both human and physical. Their music breathes of vibrant imagery, honest songwriting and intriguing storytelling.
"I think the most unique thing is the broad reach of styles that we play or at least the broad range of emotional ground we cover," says singer Erik Earley. "I also think there's an element of storytelling to the lyrics that is pretty unique as well."
On Monday, July 20, Blitzen Trapper brings their unique sound to the Pabst Theater, marking their first Milwaukee stop.
"We take the crowd along for this musical journey to places," says Earley. "I think there's a certain amount of honesty that's important to me as far as being live and that kind of thing. It's important to be aware of the crowd and understand the relationship you have with them as you perform for them."
Ryan Matteson, who manages public relations at The Pabst, is excited to have the band come.
"To say that we at The Pabst are excited about Blitzen Trapper playing our theater would be an understatement," says Matteson, who's looking forward to both Blitzen Trapper and opener Loch Lamond. "As I look around our office, three of us have Blitzen Trapper posters proudly on display. In a live setting it's hard to find a better band that can cross back and forth between folk and rock."
With the band's "Black River Killer" EP set to release Aug. 25, Blitzen Trapper doesn't plan to quit their adventurous and music explorations. Containing six outtakes from the "Furr" sessions, the EP continues their journeys in the tracks often set by their critically acclaimed albums "Wild Mountain Nation" and "Furr."
With Blitzen Trapper's wide range of sounds that they've tracked and recorded, it's natural one would be able to decipher influences from their music.
"You are always honest with what came before," says Earley. "You can't help but listen to the people you like and sort of use them to guide you."
When it comes to writing songs, Earley and the rest of the band desire that their songs mean something and aren't just another song. On last year's "Furr" (their fourth album and debut on Sub Pop), they examined human nature in comparison to physical wilderness. Originating in Salem and moving to Portland in 2000, their native lush environment certainly aided their interest in nature.
"Just being human you're forced to think about those things," says Earley. "I think that's just part of what it is to be human. I just happen to write songs about it, some write about nothing. I like to write songs about something, the things I'm thinking about and the things people care about."
In contrast to the sound of "Furr," which revolved around vivid lyrics and imagery, 2007's self-released "Wild Mountain Nation" presented a sound that freely roamed into the great wide open and presented listeners with unexpected twists and turns thanks to experimentation with production. It was this album of theirs that first caught the ire of the nation and soon after they toured outside the Northwest.
"'Wild Mountain Nation' was more of a rock album and had to do more with the sound of the production whereas 'Furr' is more a songwriting album, upped with the lyrics," Earley says.
The recording of "Furr" and "Wild Mountain Nation" both were journeys in themselves. Using their studio at Sally Mack's School of Dance, an organization housed in a telegraph building near downtown Portland and near the Willamette River, Earley and the band worked day and night to hone the sound they wanted.
In this small T-shaped room with high ceilings, a couch, a hot-plate, and a mixing console, songwriter and producer Earley considered it a second home during the "Furr" sessions as he strived to produce songs for the album that he considered the next logical step.
"It was a good time to play music and focus on that. I wasn't really doing anything else so it was a great little distraction," says Earley. "They were all written pretty quickly and didn't give them that much thought. For me it's just sitting down and writing and I do that all the time."
Once he has a song, he takes it to the band where they add their instruments to it, layering and expanding the sound or occasionally leave it as is. With their song completed, its journey continues on the road where it's presented to audiences.
With that touring comes a hectic schedule. But that won't stop the band from writing new songs and moving in whatever direction their sound carries them to. Earley can't wait for each chance they get to show off their lessons learned on and off the road, in the form of their music of many sonic paths.
"I think there's a certain amount of understanding of human nature and humility that goes along with performing and that's pretty important."