"In America, people always leave their hometowns," says Eric Earley, songwriter for Portland-based band Blitzen Trapper. "I did the same thing. As you get older, you start to become nostalgic about it."
Stories of drifters and lovers, ambivalence for small-town life and a deep love for '70s classic rock like The James Gang, Foghat and Mountain all provide fuel for the songwriting and production on American Goldwing, Blitzen Trapper's newest album. Unlike the shambling chaotic exuberance of the band's earlier recordings, the band's sixth full-length hones in on a taut, Black Sabbath-run-through-a-country-saloon sound that harkens to Earley's wonder years in the rural outskirts of Salem, Oregon.
"We were always 10 years behind everybody," says the 34-year old musician, from his home in Portland. "Any place you went, it was just like old '70s country music and Led Zeppelin. That's all that was going on as far as music. I remember the first time I heard the Beastie Boys, I was in L.A. and my cousins were playing it and I was like. . . what is this music? I've never heard anything like this!"
American Goldwing is packed with big, walloping choruses; the kind of melodies that get people holding half-drunk cans of beer up for slurring, drunken sing-alongs on songs punctuated with rollicking juke-joint piano, harmonica, banjo and dirty, fuzzed-out guitar solos.
Like Bruce Springsteen (although Earley says he's "not a big fan") and Neil Young, Earley's lyrics celebrate the vagabond and the working man; vocally, he's fielded far more comparisons to Bob Dylan for a propensity toward nasally odes to lovely ladies and road dust, as on American Goldwing's lilting ballad "Girl in a Coat."
"There's sort of a blue-collar aspect to the record," says Earley, who spent two years homeless and living on the streets of Portland when the band was just getting started. "If you grew up in a place like Salem, you work in factories or you work for the government. My father worked the same job for 35 years. There's a part of me that wishes it was still like that."
Earley himself has settled into adulthood since those early years, recording records on "whatever I could get my hands on" in an old telegraph building.
"But I feel like I have more freedom now because I understand better what I'm doing," he explains. "Back then I was just kind of letting it all go, you know? It was like, whatever, I can drink as much as I want and be homeless and not worry about anything. Now, it's like, what am I really trying to do here?"
Blitzen Trapper plays with Dawes on Friday, Oct. 7, at the Mystic Theatre. 21 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 9pm. $19-$23. 707.765.2121.