For more than a decade, the annual Pickathon music festival near Portland has had a distinctly rustic, acoustic, indie-folk sort of feel.
This year, however, organizers took their biggest step yet away from that aesthetic, booking garage-punk band Thee Oh Sees, hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction and droning indie-rockers The War on Drugs.
And then there was the Friday-night set by Blitzen Trapper, the Portland-based band that will open for Brandi Carlile on Saturday in Bend (see “If you go").
Despite its early, more raucous albums, Blitzen Trapper is known for dusty, well-worn folk-rock songs in which frontman Eric Earley’s voice rarely rises above the comforting volume of a beloved storytelling uncle.
At Pickathon, however, Earley’s band cranked up their guitars. In reviews of the set and instant reaction online, the universal response seemed to be: “Whoa."
Hearing this, Earley chuckles.
“We’ve always had a lot of sort of heavier stuff on our records," he said in a telephone interview from Portland last week. “I think it just depends what record you’re listening to or what song. But live, we have so many records now to play from, we can put together 30 minutes of just pure hard rock if we want."
“Or we can have half a set that’s just me on a guitar," Earley continued. “There’s just lots of songs now, so we can kind of do whatever we want. Which is nice."
Lots of songs, indeed. Since 2003, Blitzen Trapper has released six albums that tell the story of a band growing up, ranging from the noisy self-titled debut to “Wild Mountain Nation," an all-over-the-map Pavement homage, and from the mostly pastoral “Furr" to last year’s “American Goldwing," a more personal and autobiographical album that revolves around Earley’s upbringing in Salem. (He and his family used to raft the Deschutes River and visit Sunriver and Maupin “every summer" when he was a kid, he said.)
“Wild Mountain" was the breakthrough. “Furr" is still the best so far. And “Goldwing" still resonates with Earley, even after playing its songs dozens of times over the past year.
“It means more when I sing it," he said. “It means more to me personally. And I like that."
The fact that the songs for Blitzen Trapper’s next record are already written (though not yet recorded) is more evidence of Earley’s prolific pen. So is the fact that he has written “several novels," he said, though none have been published. Yet. He has been approached many times, he said.
“I’ve never really done anything with ’em," he said. “I have one that’s finished that I’m pretty happy with, and there’s another one that I’ve been working on. I do a lot of that kind of writing."
He does a lot of all kinds of writing. In fact, he has to work to turn it off.
“The way it works for me, I’m either writing or I’m out doing relatively extreme things (like) bow hunting or swimming in rivers or taking trips here and there," he said. “Doing things (that) take me out of myself, as opposed to sitting and thinking about your past and yourself and writing. If I do things that are the opposite of that where I’m more outward and physical, then I come back and I’ll write for a long time.
“But," Earley said, “I have to have that balance."