Blitzen Trapper Mine Wu-Tang and Waylon for 'VII'

'It's just me wanting to mix that dark, gangster vibe with the kind of music I grew up listening to,' Eric Earley says

Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper performs in Orcas Island, Washington.
Dana Nalbandian/Getty Images
October 4, 2013 11:50 AM ET

As the frontman for Blitzen Trapper, Eric Earley has channeled his childhood influences of hard rock, country, and bluegrass across seven studio albums, including their latest, the aptly titled VII. But Blitzen Trapper's music has never been simple, and their new album is by far the weirdest they've ever made. Throughout the 12 songs, Earley's warped country-boy witticisms float over ghostly harmonicas, DJ scratches, and funky keys -- a subtle shift from their previous records.

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"We definitely wanted to do something that had good, danceable beats," Earley tells Rolling Stone. "Something that was good to drive to. It's definitely a groovier album than we've ever made. Blitzen Trapper goes in a lot of directions, but sometimes we don't follow a direction. We'll touch on it and move on."

Earley calls that particular vibe "hillbilly gangster," pointing specifically to opener "Feel the Chill," a country-rap hybrid that recalls Mellow Gold-era Beck. Fittingly, two of his biggest influences on the album were "Wu-Tang and Waylon Jennings."

"It's just me wanting to mix that dark, gangster vibe with the kind of music I grew up listening to and see if it can kind of make sense," he says. "It seems to work. It's a good vehicle for telling stories, too."

Earley's eye for surreal storytelling sets him apart in the over-stuffed indie-folk rock scene -- that notion turned heads years ago on 2007's Wild Mountain Nation and 2008's Furr.

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Following their tour for 2011's American Goldwing, Earley continued with his normal songwriting process, recording a variety of songs based around a "more typical Blitzen Trapper" feel. But his focus quickly shifted to mixing murky narratives with a simple, fat rhythm section, which became the crucial component on VII. "I may not have achieved that," he admits. "But it still makes the album sound like a strange, backwoods retort."

Blitzen Trapper are currently on tour in support of VII, which was released earlier this week on Vagrant. 

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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