PACKS and Blitzen Trapper Know What They’re Doing

The bands talk home recording, Guided By Voices, and much more.

Eric Earley fronts the beloved Portland-based experimental Americana band Blitzen Trapper; Madeline Link and Shane Hooper play in the Toronto-based garage rock band PACKS. Blitzen Trapper’s latest record, 100’s of 1,000’s, Millions of Billions, just came out last month on Yep Roc, so to celebrate, Madeline and Shane took a pit stop on their tour and called Eric from the van.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Eric Earley: So you guys are in your van?

Shane Hooper: Yeah, we’re in the Dodge Caravan.

Madeline Link: Where are you?

Eric: I’m just at home right now. I’m not doing much until the record comes out in a week-and-a-half.

Madeline: Are you excited?

Eric: Oh, yeah, for sure. 

Shane: What number is that for you guys? How many records have you released?

Eric: It’s 10, maybe?

Madeline: Wow.

Eric: I know, I know, it makes me feel old. Although, you know, during COVID I took such a long break from touring that now, it’s so awesome to get on the road again.

Madeline: Is your next tour going to be longer than normal?

Eric: No, we’re doing two weeks out to Denver and back to Oregon. But then in the fall, we’re doing two weeks where we’ll fly out to Chicago and do the Midwest and the East Coast a little bit.

Shane: Nice. How many members are you rocking?

Eric: Four. I mean, me and the drummer [Brian Adrian Koch] are the two original members that are in the band, and then our sound guy for over a decade, Nate — he’s quite a bit younger than us, but he’s an incredible singer and player, so he’s in the band now. So we’ve all known each other for a long time. You know, a lot of shared trauma. 

Madeline: Is he gonna be doing your sound as well? 

Eric: [Laughs.] Yeah, he’ll just be back behind the board playing and singing while he’s fader-ing. What about you guys? Are you guys doing anything after the summer?

Madeline: We were just talking about that. We were just eating dinner at this weird Italian restaurant in — we didn’t know if it was New York or New Jersey, but it’s New York. We felt like we were having kind of a mafioso business meeting. I was like, [in a New York accent,] “So, what are we gonna do after we finish tourin’?” And I think we’re all keen on just keeping on having fun, and writing music and recording it.

Eric: Yeah. You strike me, Maddie, as someone who really loves the writing of the music and the recording of it. That’s how I always was, too. I always just really loved being in the studio, coming up with stuff, overdubbing, seeing where it leads. I remember when I was 19 — a long time ago — and my dad bought me a four-track cassette deck. This was back when they were a thing. And from that day forward, it was like, Oh, man, I’m just gonna spend my life recording. And at a certain point, you’re like, Oh, I better play shows. [Laughs.] You know, the shows have their own joy, but—

Madeline: They’re kind of a necessary evil.

Eric: Yeah. The shows are cool, but it’s a certain kind of energy that you have to drum up in yourself. You have to get into the persona or something. And if you’re a studio person who loves writing, you’re more in your head, so you have to get out of that space.

Madeline: Yeah. Especially because we’ve never even — I think maybe my bandmates have experienced the glamor of a studio, but I’ve never even really thought that a studio was necessary. Kind of the vibe that you had when you were getting your four-track, it’s like, I can do anything I want with this technology. And if I can’t do it, then that’s OK. I don’t need to.

Eric: Yeah, totally. Because you probably did a lot of home recording yourself, right? 

Madeline: We’ve recorded every single song we’ve ever released by ourselves.

Eric: Did you have anybody working the controls, or you guys were just doing everything?

Madeline: Yeah, it was just us doing everything.

Eric: I did that too. I guess the new record is the same way — me and Nate made it at his house studio thing. I mean, my favorite records I’ve ever made are all the records I made with a four-track. Our biggest record, Furr, back in ‘08, I made that on a four-track cassette deck with a laptop in an old building that I was semi-living in. It was rehearsal spaces, I was, like, squatting there and I would just record all night.

Madeline: Did you find there was a special energy at night?

Eric: Yeah, because it was right in the city, so at night it was quiet. There was a weird liminal feeling to it, and I could just do whatever I wanted. And I had so much weird gear and stuff that we’d collected over the years in Portland — it was just lots of experimentation.

Madeline: And when did you guys do your first studio album? Did you feel pressure to do it?

Eric: Well, I think it was more I just reached a place in my life where I didn’t have a space anymore to make a record. I eventually moved into an apartment — because I was just not living anywhere for a long time, and we had the rehearsal space so I would record there and do everything there. So, I mean, it’s just different chapters of your life. I’m sure you look will look fondly; in the future, you’re going to be like, “I’m so glad we did this all ourselves.” 

Madeline: Well, you went back to it for this most recent album.

Eric: Yeah. Because when when you’ve worked in studios a long time, you know what you’re doing. You don’t need anybody there. You guys are the same way. You’re just like, “I know what I hear in my head. Let’s just make it reality.” That’s the best thing there is. So you guys are going to record another record this year?

Shane: That’s what we’re discussing.

Eric: How fast do you write songs, Maddie? 

Madeline: If I’m really unhappy, I can write songs very fast. 

Eric: Yeah, totally. 

Madeline: But if I’m feeling mentally stable, it just doesn’t happen very quickly. I just like to take my time. But it really depends. How about you?

Eric: In the past, in my prime, I was so emotionally unstable that I just constantly wrote songs. [Laughs.] 

Madeline: Yeah, exactly!

Eric: That’s all I did. I was obsessive compulsive about it. You strike me as being probably similar, in a sense. I got into you guys a year-and-a-half ago with Take the Cake. It felt like I discovered that record and then, like, two months later, you released Crispy Crunchy [Nothing. And then you released Melt the Honey a little bit later and I was like, Oh, yeah, these guys just like to record music. And I heard that you’re super into Guided By Voices, which makes sense because [Robert Pollard] is the same way. He’s the sort of platonic ideal of that way of working.

Madeline: Yeah. I mean, I feel like he’s a bit of a different case, because he’s a kindergarten teacher and he writes songs while he’s on the toilet. I don’t know if he’s doing it out of despair. I think he’s doing it out of boredom or just enjoying himself.

Eric: Yeah, I really don’t know. [Laughs.] We did a tour with them years back, and we didn’t really hang out with him because he wasn’t super personable. He was kind of just in the green room; we were afraid to approach him and he would never really come out. It was the original lineup, which was cool, and they would play, like, 30 songs a night or something. It was intense. But they would drink so much on stage that after the show, there was no interaction. You know what I mean?

Madeline: You would think that after the show, they’d grab you by the shoulder and be like, “Hey, buddy! Hey, old buddy, old pal!” 

Eric: [Laughs.] Some of the band members were that way, but Bob wasn’t really that way. He’d be back in the green room drinking his High Life or whatever. And who knows what place he was in his life at that point, I have no idea. But it was really cool to watch him every night because the amount of energy that he had, it was insane.

Madeline: What’s the biggest thing that you learned from going on tour with Guided By Voices?

Eric: To not sweat the small stuff. I remember we played a sold out show at — I don’t even remember, this huge venue in New York City. But they showed up in their Astro van — no sound guy, just all their gear and these four dudes packed into this Astro van. They just show up outside, they pile out, they’re stretching. It looked like some cover band showing up at a bar. They just had their guitars and they walked up there and you could tell they didn’t really worry too much about the extras. They were just interested in, like: get to the show, have some fun, get wasted, and then go home. You know what I mean? But when they were on stage, they worked so hard. 

Madeline: Do you think he was not chatting with the opener because he was trying to conserve energy to go on stage? 

Eric: Yeah, it could have been. Because it definitely wasn’t that long ago, so he was older. So that could have been part of the dynamic. It’s hard to say. I mean, I’ve been on tours where I was not wanting to talk to anybody — it just depends.

Madeline: It is what it is.

Eric: Yeah. It doesn’t diminish the fact that he’s incredible and that that was an amazing thing to watch every night. But I mean, he seems cool. Our new record, the cover art is one of his pieces. I was looking at all of his pieces, and I was like, “Oh, man, I like this one. I want to use this.” So our manager wrote to him and was like, “Hey, can we use this for an album cover?” And he’s just like, “Yeah, do whatever you want with it!”

Shane: Nice.

Madeline: Wow. So are you kind of inspired by Guided By Voices for this most recent release?

Eric: Well, I’ve always been inspired by him. In high school, I was mainly into Stephen Malkmus — Pavement was kind of my band. But then later, I realized, Oh, Pollard was kind of doing that thing before, and with this lo-fi element. So then I started getting into Guided By Voices. And then over the past four or five years, I’ve really gone deep into his catalog — which is so vast — and I started getting into his art and stuff. He’s just an incredible artistic figure.

Madeline: Yeah. So did you lose interest in Stephen Malkmus a little bit, because he’s more hi-fi?

Eric: Oh, no, I love Malkmus. He’ll always be my guy. I mean, we’ve toured with Malkmus a bunch over the years, and he lives in Portland. I’ll see him at the grocery store, and even though I know him and have hung out with him over the years, I still kind of get a pitter-patter, you know? I’m like, It’s Steve! I’ll be like, “Hey, Steve, how you doing, man?” And he’ll have his kid in his grocery cart and just be like, “Oh, hey, man, what’s up?” [In a meek voice,] “Nothing, man! Thanks!” [Laughs.] 

Madeline: That’s so cute!

Eric: Because in high school, he was like my hero. But anyway. What about you? Is Pollard one of your heroes? 

Madeline: I wouldn’t say Robert Pollard is a hero because I’m like a shallow Guided By Voices fan. I love every single one of their hits, but if I’m listening to an album of theirs that has a lot of non-hits, I’m like… “Let’s play ‘Chasing Heather Crazy.’ Or ‘Bulldog Skin.’” I want to hear the best. Because there’s so much! And there’s so many good singles anyway. I would honestly say Beck is one of my songwriting inspos, along with Elliott Smith.

Eric: Yeah, I could hear that.

Madeline: Yeah. And then, there’s this one band from the UK called Micachu & The Shapes. Do you know them?

Eric: No, I don’t know them. 

Madeline: They’re so cool because they write, like, 45-second songs, minute-and-a-half songs. And it’s all dark meat. No light meat.

Eric: [Laughs.] Nice. OK, I’m checking them out. 

Madeline: Well, are you going to be coming to Canada at all for the tour?

Eric: No, I don’t think so. I really only do two weeks at a time, so I have to pick and choose where we go. But I saw you guys are playing Pickathon [in Happy Valley, OR].

Shane: Yeah, that’ll be fun!

Eric: It’s a great one. We played that a few times, it’s a beautiful spot. You’re gonna love it. Well, I’m gonna let you guys keep driving. It’s nice to talk to you! 

Madeline: We’re excited to listen to the new record!

Eric: You guys gotta make a new one next year. You guys gotta do one every year, at least for a few years!

Madeline Every year until we die!

Eric: [Laughs.] Alright, you guys, be safe! Have a good tour.


PACKS is an indie rock band from Toronto led by Madeline Link. Their latest record, Melt the Honey, is out now on Fire Talk.