Concerning the natural life-cycle of bands

Band Member
marty 4/15/12

Came across this earlier at and thought it was a decent read. There are some factual errors—for example, the idea that BT is "really big"—but I think the arc outlined here, however fantastical, is characteristic of many bands these days. Especially in Portland, where there is no music biz establishment to guide young artists into the marketplace, seems like much of the best (read "most interesting") stuff will never be heard. 

What do you guys think? Was Field Rexx BT's high point? Is the title track on Wild Mountain Nation really its most trite moment? Has the writer ever heard of Garmonbozia? (My guess is no since he posits a greater profligacy post-WMN).

"Portland’s Blitzen Trapper started life with two extremely unsuccessful records. It wasn’t until the third, fortuitously picked up and backed by Pitchfork and Spin, that they first tasted real fame of a sort; by then they had already begun to sand their roughest edges down to the benevolently kooky country-rock shine that they sport now, nine years and six albums later.

"And yet, it is the first two – Blitzen Trapper and Field Rexx – which deserve all the attention: beneath the sloppy, low-fi clatter and the goofing off born of the knowledge that nobody’s listening, I truly believe that the Trapper were once in possession of the fine balance of qualities which distinguish great musicians from the merely good. If they became famous for their wild country melodrama and their tendency to go off on extremely eccentric musical tangents, it is because those things were easy to grasp, describe, and, eventually, sell. For me, their true strengths lay in other things, in an effortless command of melody (sometimes buried under slacker-monkey noise, sometimes not), in the sense they conveyed of being part of a much larger and older world in spite of living in no world but their own, in their yokelish charm (“every time I kiss your lips, I swear it makes me sneeze” etc.), and their dedication – dearly bought at the expense of clarity – to sounding like something that’d keep them, rather than anyone else, entertained.

"For a time, Blitzen Trapper embodied the question of our age: how does an artist reconcile their influences, which are not of any specific time or place and are all laid out equally, with their chosen direction, which happens to lie in making dirt-punk noises in the basement? Refusing to be pinned down, the Trapper instead boiled up a home-made aesthetic, classicist ideas of pop songwriting, post-77 ideas of slacker cool & cut-rate production, cheap synth kitsch, shaggy-dog playing, geeky eccentricity and big-radio hookiness. For all their obvious harking back to older kinds of music, the Trapper records couldn’t have happened before the 2000s; fragmentation to this extent has only been possible in these times. The Trapper are its success story, a true celebration of this modern-day chaos.

"The third record – Wild Mountain Nation – became popular for good reason: it has both the easy tunefulness and the wild, angular jab-and-stab of the début and Field Rexx, but whittled down to convenient album length and polished up. Tellingly, Rolling Stone latched on to its most trite moment, while Pitchfork, honouring it as the “best new music” of 2007, dwelt on its improbably wild genre-hopping. My personal high point, on the other hand, is the magnificentSci-Fi Kid, because it welds an icy Russian riff to a Commodore 64 beat. If there’s one thing this tells us, it’s that the Trapper still had enough creativity so that no one song of theirs could sum up the whole gig, and that there was enough substance that people could read into them what they wished.

"Shortly afterwards, they would become more prolific, more focussed, more cogent, easier to listen to, better produced and better marketed, with a better record deal. That was when they became really big, and that was when I lost interest."


junglelove 4/16/12

Self indulgent muso rubbish : "I liked them until they became popular..."  meh.

leighleighmw 4/16/12

I'm all for freedom of the press but this guy sounds like an ass bag. 

Marty, I've seen you guys 9 times, I own 5 Blitzen Trapper T-shirts. I would not be so supportive if there weren't something truly special about what you guys do. 

Keep up the fantastic work. Haters gotta hate.

Oh yeah, and ya'll better come to Chicago this summer, it wouldn't be festival season without you.


OCDBT4ME 4/17/12

I gotta say, Marty, that for me, the last line of his post completely discounted any previous insightful commentary and served to reduce the author to nothing more than a stereotypical hipster douchebag.  To have that much zeal and appreciation for the first two albums and then completely disregard the brilliance of everything after WMN smacks of elitism for the sake of being elite ("Yeah, I know they're really popular, but I only dig their early stuff, before they sold out").  I'd rather hang out with the drunken, golf shirt-wearing guy who's dancing out of control at one of your shows and who thinks American Goldwing is your first album than this guy anyday. 

If I may be so bold as to speak for the core BT fan base (junglelove, leighleigh, gatorbutts, GrangerLang, rudolph trapper, jeglican, blitzface, Jamieson, indied, et al), the folks that truly love and appreciate the genius of BT do so holistically, and will continue to do so, no matter how huge you guys get to be. :)


Band Member
marty 4/19/12

Thanks for the encouragement folks! Naturally none of us believe that the early BT stuff was our best work (my personal fave is Goldwing)—I was asking my questions rhetorically/with tongue in cheek. The way I look at it, any band's early output is typically more adventuresome or raw than the work that comes after the band has found its audience and has begun to tailor its sound accordingly. Finding your audience (being "successful") implies a certain responsibility on the part of the artist. Much like a teen without a care will often take greater risks day-to-day than a dude with family and mortgage, artists with no audience can do whatever they like because literally only a handful of people care.

As was the case with Blitzen Trapper ca. 2003-2007. 

But anyway it's curious to see early BT become fodder for hipster-aesthete politicking, since I might myself be considered a hipster douche for my opinions on the career trajectories of various contemporaries. I think (American) humans tend to celebrate those creations they can most easily incorporate into their identity or personal brand, so for those of us who have decided we want to be known as avant-whatever it's imperative to deplore mainstreaming of any sort, or at least to claim early-adopter status ("Man, I saw Fleet Foxes supporting Blitzen Trapper at some dive back in 2008, there was only like 80 people there, I left after their set").

I wish everybody could've seen the crowds at our shows 5 years back when we did our first national tour on the back of p4k's hearty endorsement. They were sparse—we were opening for David Vandervelde—and extremely hipstery, especially in the cities. We had some good times but most of the folks who came out to see us that tour probably never came back. The whole thing had way too much to do with being cool, whatever that meant in 2007. Our shows now are packed with great people and the prevailing concern seems to be getting uplifted, inspired, stoked. A much better deal for everyone involved.


rudolph trapper 4/19/12

screw that douche!!! hes the typical hipster dbag that likes a new band til they get a lil success n terms them "sellouts". imho blitzen trapper has gotten better & better with each release. true fans will be there if the music is good & truthful. (which is the case). u guys have grown & matured as ppl & musicians and in doing that make even better music. so please bt keep making dope ass music for ur true fans. we will always be here. keep chooglin' & see u in styuvesant oval!! yee-haw!!!

Jamieson 4/19/12

i've always found the musical evolution of a band rather interesting.  there have been many artists where i have loved the first album, maybe second then lost interest in the direction the music was going.  but it didn't mean i stopped liking/appreciating the artist since there was still material that resonated with me.  the opposite is true too, there are hundreds of artists where their musical journey is in sync with mine and that's what keeps me and others eagerly waiting for more, yes we are a greedy bunch.

to add to what others have mentioned numerous times,  the trapper boys kick ass. period.  what other band do you know that can switch from old school twangy country to 70's heavy guitar licks to a casio/moog showdown and have it make perfect sense! freakin' geniuses that's who!  but i guess i'm preaching to the choir.


p.s. plz get your asses back to ontario tout de suite!

theursinejuggernaut 4/23/12

I think I remember seeing an interview in which Mr. Earley claimed that as long as a songwriter is writing what is "true" then it'll be good.  The genre-hopping and eccentricity in early BT stuff is impressive and engaging.  "Field Rexx" and "Wild Mountain Nation" are two of my favorite albums of all time.  But it seems to me as a listener that the reason I'm able to connect so deeply with those records is that both the genre-hopping and the eccentricity are in virtue of something else: namely, truth.  And those yearnings for/collisions with truth did not disappear after "Wild Mountain Nation."

So the question is: what are you listening for?  "Field Rexx" is definitely cut from a different cloth than "Goldwing" in a lot of ways.  But both are true.  And to miss the truth in the latter because of its sonic dissimilarity (for whatever reason) to the former is to miss a whole lot.

PS  I applaud Marty for the "teenager-turned-family-man" metaphor.  Fantastic.

nooneastern 4/24/12

i like the metaphor Marty (Martyphor?) used too

i think i have posted this elsewhere on these forums (and i may have stolen it from somewhere else originally) but i think of bands that i like as friends. i wouldn't abandon a friend if they got into new stuff or started to settle down, and i feel that way about bands too. i don't know what "early days sound" people are referring to anyway. for example, to me Wild Mountain Nation sounds just as different from Field Rexx as both sound from American Goldwing. Each album has it's own sound, but as "different" as all the albums are there is a unifying theme to them ... a mysterious undercurrent that ties it all together. maybe it's that "truth" that theursinejuggernaut mentioned. Eric's songwriting is just as strong as it ever was (and getting stronger) and the band continues to get tighter too. that element of eccentric genre hopping is still somewhat there too, they've just gotten better at blending it all together. their music is still full of surprises.

otisarungus 4/27/12

These days the highest compliment for a band seems to be when the cool kids only like the first couple records.

I really like the teenager/audience analogy. There is nothing wrong with being conscious of your audience and BT has done a great job of balancing it all. 

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