Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Today was not the first time that I ever allowed myself to be dragged into the murky pits of maddening "what if" frivolity, but it's not made a habit around here. During the 1980s and 1990s, Marvel Comics spun through countless hypothetical queries involving their superhero galaxy, asking about the won't ever happen thoughts that basement-dwelling science fiction dorks cooked up while fighting acne and unwittingly preparing for a video game revolution that would allow them to never have to think such thoughts ever again. What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four? What if the Fantastic Four had different superpowers? They were burning questions that demanded postulation.
So, what if say, Grizzly Adams, Mad Jack the Mountain Man and Nakoma all had their early adopter iPhones (and their $100 rebates) and they completely spliced together all of the elements of throwbacking and future gazing to make a spread of incidental collisions between open space living and the digital information age. Would they be similar people or would they taper into frames of the people they used to be, assuming the shaping characteristics of liquids, conforming lazily to whatever figure its surroundings have for it? Would it be like clipping wings? Or would those frontier men, who never knew to seek out every piece of information or entertainment at their thrifty fingertips, thrive with everything and everyone available all at once and all the time.
Portland's Blitzen Trapper find themselves as the catalysts of such a marbled thought process - imagining the present knowing the lonesome past of boomtowns, penny arcades and gun operas - because of an album that they released this year called Wild Mountain Nation that doesn't spare itself modernity, but still finds a spectacular way of processing itself as a lost gem from the burgeoning days of Memphis' Sun Studios and even further back to when the streams and horizons of Oregon and California weren't named yet, when every step was a new one. The album is retroactive, not really retro as we usually think of the word. It acts on the land as it used to be, but it doesn't insist upon a dressing up of the antiquity. It doesn't mean to be olden. It doesn't attempt to make you believe in covered wagons and in utilizing all of the parts of the buffalo - not wasting a stitch of any of the great beasts downed. It does not grope at all of the dated and dismissed ways as if they were made of the yellow dust that speculators dreamt of and bonered for lo those many years ago.
Lead singer and songwriter Eric Earley distinguishes where the five-piece band of sophisticated, thinking cougers in third-hand clothing (all looking the way Neil Young must look on different days in different situations) stands and almost perpetuates an odd nature-meets-beauty-meets-blogger version of George Saunders' Pastoralia, when he sings, "..just a digital brat with an insect mind," on "Sci-Fi Kid," signifying that there's no longing for the past - the band has cell phones and looks for outlets to plug their iPods and laptops into when they're on the road - but an actual encouragement for the blending of all that is modern with all that is forgotten or the rudiment for our current times. The Model A had to come before the Trans Am, which had to come before the H3. Maybe this is all going nowhere - this elaborate monologue, but Blitzen Trapper's involved tapestries of sweetwater folk getting electrocuted and being sent through multiple washes of greenery and poetics gives that perfect crossover line where long ago yesterday comes into contact with an un-ruled landscape that's more Flaming Lips than the Flying Burrito Brothers, though in either case, the terrain is not blemished and hasn't even been besmirched by cartographers. The pathways will make themselves visible when they see fit, transgressing into that wild mountain nation that's like the Wall Drug of today - where the ice water is still free and advertised and there are skateboarders grinding it out in the parking lot, wearing American Apparel and Threadless tees with snarky designs, text messaging to ladies and arranging for a video game war post-ride.
You can get perfect cell phone reception in the middle of the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh these days, right next to the Bloody Pond where Confederate and Union soldiers and horses crawled to drink and die from a small body of water covered in peach tree blossoms. It's a great(?) age to live in and the Trapper knows it.
The Daytrotter interview:
*Can you give us a descriptive virtual tour of your home -- the conversation points of what's under your roof or outside of it? If you walked out the front door right now, what would you see?*
Marty Marquis: The band makes its home under the eaves of Portland's original telegraph building, which has gone through many different phases, most recently as "Sally Mack's School of Dance." Inside are many rooms available to people like us -- weirdos and cartoon creatures, and we live and dance in harmony together. If you walked outside, usually you could see some people standing around looking for work, a taco stand, Big Pink, a parking lot, and a gigantic neon sign that says WENTWORTH, only you'd see it from the backside, so in reverse.
*How did you all hone your wolf howling skills like the ones you showcase on the Daytrotter version of "Badger's Black Brigade"?*
MM: Some of us were raised by wolves, and the others are werewolves. We added it to the repertoire on the night of a full moon in Houston probably, though it was unclear who howled first that night - the crowd or one of us.
*Would you have liked to have been a part of the California Gold Rush way back when?*
MM: As a band? This would have been very dangerous. Half of us would likely have ended up as taxidermy or lampshades.
*Does the vast part of your inspiration derive from nature?*
MM: Nature is very inspiring, but we're not romantics or Thoreauvians. The futuristic city of today is pretty inspiring, too, people and machines and birds and squirrels all running around like idiots, making love and murder with each other. Books are also very inspiring.
*Clint Eastwood or John Wayne? Give reasons.*
MM: There is no Eastwood without Wayne, nor Bronson, nor even Segal. However, John Wayne opened the demonic portal through which Jeff Speakman entered the world, so definitely Eastwood.
*What's the last dream you remember?*
MM: My dead mom was driving a group of people in a VW minivan and she lost control. It went off the road and flipped over and crashed in a mudpit. I ran around the destroyed van looking for a baby that I thought was on board, but there was no baby. My mom, still buckled in the driver's seat, sighed that she had left the kid back at the house, but I didn't totally believe her. But later I found out it was as she'd said.