Montreal on a Sunday night in February is less calm than one would imagine – as evidenced by the breaking of Blitzen Trapper’s tour van window. “We spent the day cleaning out the glass” the band’s drummer Brian remarks. And while it’s not exactly the ideal way to spend an off day, it’s undoubtedly better to drive the 330 miles from Montreal to the Bug Jar in Rochester, NY without broken glass underfoot. “We’re getting it replaced tomorrow.”
Nearly a week into their tour, the band seems undeterred by the size of the Bug Jar, which lead singer Eric aptly describes as “…the smallest place we’ve played” while Brian and Marty – the band’s guitarist – nod in agreement. For a band with an album in the Top 50, and a single in the Top 5 of Rolling Stone’s 2008 End-of-the-Year lists, a setting with a capacity of 200 is less than ideal. Even the stage will be overcrowded, comfortably holding two less than the band’s membership of 6. But it’s a welcomed change from being a supporting act, where playing time can be severely limited.
“A lot of times,” Marty continues, “venues have curfews, closing times. In a place like this, we could probably play as long as we want to, as long as people keep drinking.” And why wouldn’t people keep drinking? The band caters to all comers, blending wheezing harmonicas, the melodica, and two keyboards into their alt-country rock.
On Furr, their genre-bending, fourth full-length release (and first for Sub Pop), the band is at their most accessible and most focused. And while that could be attributed to a label release of the album, it’s really more of an indication of the band’s ability and continued maturity. A few of the band members have known each other since high school, and they have “always enjoyed playing Eric’s songs” states Brian. The process has remained constant throughout the band’s time together. “Eric brings us a song, and we help him with the live arrangement.”
But why was there such a quick turnaround between albums? Field Rexx, the band’s second album, was released nearly three years before Wild Mountain Nation, and Furr only a year after that. Marty explains that the band actually had “…a couple albums ready in between, but nothing we felt was commercially viable. Once Wild Mountain Nation was ready, we shopped it around and came close to releasing it before it fell through. Seeing how close it came, we decided to put it out ourselves, and we worked really hard at it.”
“Sub Pop was interested in Wild Mountain Nation. We actually ended up signing with Sub Pop before Wild Mountain Nation (was released)” Eric continues, “but not for that album; we own that one ourselves.”
The band appreciates the fact that Sub Pop, for the most part, lets the band do its own thing. “We give them songs; they give us money.” Eric says matter-of-factly. “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a lot for us and what we need to do, and they stay pretty hands off.”
Marty agrees. “In larger markets, like New York, Chicago, they’ll buy us food, which we like.”
Tonight, however, the band has had their food catered by a local natural foods store, which the crowd finds out at the end of the show. The band has just about finished powering through 90 minutes of alt-rock, alt-country, nu-folk, and a million thoughts of Bob Dylan. There’s a taper toward the back of the room, someone else is writing down each song. Along the wall are expectant fans, singing along loudly since no one can hear them over the crush of sound; someone toward the back of the room flicks his lighter on during “Not Your Lover.” It’s a rock show; it’s raucous and straightforward, and the band seems to enjoy themselves, departing after an awkward encore requiring the band to exit through the crowd, only to push back through it a few minutes later.
The title track from Furr – a folk-story, folk-rock tune – has even popped up on Monday night TV in an episode of NBC’s Chuck. And while the tune isn’t wholly representative of the band’s music, the guys don’t seem to mind. “It’s crazy. A folk song doesn’t usually make it,” explains Eric.
Brian continues: “But if someone likes it, chances are they can get into the rest of our stuff.”
Following the Rochester show the band headed off to Northampton, MA for a venue with nearly double the capacity; tonight they’ll be in New York City where they don’t have to wait for the night of the show for it to sell out. Amidst the buzz of both feedback and the crowd, no one will worry about broken van windows, or the size of the venue and stage, and the band will play as though it would have been foolish to have ever been worried about those things at all.
Blitzen Trapper – Furr (mp3) from Furr
Blitzen Trapper – Gold for Bread (mp3) from Furr
Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation (mp3) from Wild Mountain Nation
Blitzen Trapper on tour:
2/27: New York City, NY – Bowery Ballroom (SOLD OUT)
2/28: Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg (SOLD OUT)
3/1: Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
3/2: Washington, DC – Black Cat
3/4: Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
3/5: Asheville, NC – Orange Peel
3/6: Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
3/7: Birmingham, AL – Bottletree
3/8: Memphis, TN – Hi-Tone
3/9: Norman, OK – The Opolis
3/10: Lawrence, KS – Jackpot Saloon
3/12: Denver, CO – Hi-Dive
3/13: Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court