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Music, Etc.: Blitzen Trapper, ‘American Goldwing’

Blitzen Trapper hit the indie scene in a big way back in 2007 after signing with Sub Pop and eventually gaining glowing reviews in top industry publications.

Blitzen Trapper hit the indie scene in a big way back in 2007 after signing with Sub Pop and eventually gaining glowing reviews in top industry publications. American Goldwing is the group’s third full-length release on Sub Pop, containing 11 tracks of honest, American country alt/rock that translate seamlessly to live performance.

The album, which was mixed by accomplished producer/engineer Tchad Blake, never loses steam and strikes a nice balance of acoustic plucking and blazing electric guitars throughout. Pro Sound News recently caught up guitarist/vocalist and bandleader Eric Earley to discuss what was different on this album and how he gets his signature guitar tone.

On Working with an Old Friend

I recorded at my friend Gregg Williams’ studio in Portland—he is an old friend of mine and has recorded a lot of records, including a lot of mainstream records. I’ve known him a long time, and he helped me out when I had no money. His studio is a high end commercial studio in certain ways. They do a lot of television stuff and big records. He doesn’t advertise but still has lots of people always coming in.

I came in with 14 tracks, and 11 of them made it on the record. It took about three months to record, and I had worked on it for about six months prior to that. By the time we went to record, I knew what all the songs were going to be and just came in and did them; most of the arrangements, however, were figured out in the studio. I really didn’t put too much thought into the recording process itself since I trusted my friend, Gregg. This gave me a chance to put more effort into the song and the song production.

On Mixing Up the Formats

It’s been different with every record. I did Wild Mountain Nation and Furr on cassette 4-track and a laptop, Destroyer I did on 1/2-inch tape, and then this record I did on 1/2-inch tape and Pro Tools. The formats have always been different, depending on what studio we’re in. Also, this record is all overdubbed, partly because I usually change a lot of the arrangements in the middle of the song during the recording process.

Generally, I don’t like a lot of takes—we usually just do it. Brian [Adrian Koch] is a good drummer, and it doesn’t take him too long. We use tape and Pro Tools together so we can kind of do multiple takes and patch them together, or even go back and change them later. In this case, we ran to a 1/2-inch 8-track, and then dumped it into Pro Tools. I really prefer the 1/2-inch tape for rhythm sections. There is a certain amount of compression that happens on the tape, and a “narrowness” to it that I like as well.

On Drums and Guitars

I generally go with two to three mics on the drum, but on this record, we used three mics. We used a Shure SM 57 on the snare and a big condenser Soundelux U 47 condenser out front about five feet away. Then we had another microphone as an overhead. This was pretty much our setup for everything, and it was pretty simple.

On this record, I just used my 1974 Gibson SG, which is highly modified, and a Fender Jaguar. My buddy is in Snow Patrol, and he went on vacation or something and left all this equipment for us to use. So I used his Jaguar and my SG pretty much throughout. The Jaguar is thinner- sounding than the SG, and has a whammy on it, which I really like. So most of the solos on the record ended up being on the Jaguar, and the rhythm parts on the SG.

On Getting the Right Tone

I just set up the equipment and leave it, and for me, guitar tones are made from the guitars, not the amps. So I like to get an amp that I trust, then change guitars on it. I rely pretty much exclusively on an early ’60s Silvertone 30-watt amplifier with a 15-inch speaker on everything. I only use this in the studio and would never tour with it. It’s a one-trick pony, but that trick is pretty awesome, and it has a lot of character. Overall, I am a fan of not doing too much to things. As far as overdrives go, I like the green Ibanez Tube Screamer and usually use two of them, each at a different level. I also use phasers here and there.

On Working with Tchad Blake

I got very involved in the mixing with this record. Handing the record off to Tchad Blake to mix was a good move. He then sent me mixes remotely from Wales, where he lives, and had me comment on them. I was surprised at his treatment of drums and electric guitar and quickly learned that he is very good at the hard-rock stuff and making each track stand out from one another. Gregg had worked with him before, and Mike [VanPelt], our bass player, wanted to work with him. I was in a mood to just send the whole record away.

The sounds that he was getting were perfect, and I think he had a good understanding of what kind of vibe we were going for. On a couple of tracks, I had absolutely no changes— they were perfect. Then, on a lot of them, I would make comments— very small things, for the most part. There were only a few tracks that I said had to take a whole different direction, and he was fine with that.

On Making Records

I’ve been recording for so long, so going into the studio is one of the most relaxing parts of playing music, and I really enjoy it. I know how it all works and am comfortable producing records. There is always a ton of feedback, write-ups, reviews, criticism and all kinds of things. I don’t read any of it, and I don’t really care. This business is like anything else: You’ve got to earn it, and if you don’t earn it, you’ll lose it. I really enjoyed playing the songs on this record, and I am certainly enjoying playing the songs each night.