I sat cross-legged on the floor surrounded by four stereos. Neil Young's Harvest Moon at 12 o'clock, Bob Dylan's Infidels at three o'clock, REM's Green at six o'clock, and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours at nine o'clock. For the next 30 minutes all four of these stereos would play simultaneously, and it would sound horrible. But there would be one moment of a clarity, and it would all be worth it.
The goal of this experiment was to see if I could recreate the sound of Blitzen Trapper, a six-piece band out of Portland that has been said at one time or another to sound like all of these artists. After listening to Blitzen Trapper—NPR calls them "Ramshackle roots-rock"—I found myself more intrigued by what the band was SUPPOSED to sound like than what they actually do. And I wondered: Could I, using a combination of all of their supposed influences plus a touch of Northwest organica, produce something that sounded like Blitzen Trapper?
In the circle with me I also had a poorly tuned acoustic guitar, a Nalgene bottle, a smattering of dirt, decomposing fern leaves, and dead or dying banana slugs that I had collected from the creek bed near my house. When one of the banana slugs tried to get away, I opened the CD hatch that contained Bob Dylan’s Infidels and shoved the banana slug inside.
After about five minutes something weird happened. I had taken to smearing the dirt on my face, pouring the Nalgene water over my head, screaming "Ramshackle roots-rock!" and punching myself in the stomach. But then, just as Stevie Nick’s melodic trills combined with Neil Young’s guitar noodling on “Out on the Weekend,” I heard it: Eric Earley’s voice. The lead singer of Blitzen Trapper. I was delighted and decided that I would let it go on for another 10-15 minutes to see if it happened again, but mostly it just sounded like four songs playing at the same time. Plus I sort of got dirt in my eye and the banana slug had started to make the Bob Dylan CD skip.
But I had done it. I had recreated—if only for a fleeting moment—the sound of Blitzen Trapper using the sounds of their influences and a few carefully collected miscellaneous ingredients. But here’s the thing: my music sounded better. Ramshackle roots-rock!