Trapper Schoepp And The Shades look back on their big year
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Last Halloween, on the heels of signing to SideOneDummy Records, Trapper Schoepp And The Shades triumphantly returned to their hometown of Milwaukee to open for The Wallflowers. As Trapper, his brother Tanner, and the rest of the group launched into a soundcheck cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” something strange happened: The two brothers stood side by side, sharing a microphone, unaware of someone approaching from behind. As that person squeezed between the brothers and joined in, Trapper realized it was Jakob Dylan, frontman for The Wallflowers and son of Bob.
“It was pretty surreal. People talk about it being surreal being around Bob Dylan’s son, but for me, I was listening to The Wallflowers on the radio before I knew who Bob Dylan really was,” Schoepp says. “They certainly have similarities, but Jakob has a huge presence himself.”
For Trapper and his bandmates, these types of surreal moments and the warm reception they’ve received while touring the country have defined the band’s big year. “It was very validating as an artist to get such a good response from audiences that had never heard of us before,” Schoepp says. “When you’re playing local and some of the people are your friends, it’s hard to understand your appeal. But when you’re out playing big shows and people are buying your CDs and you’re getting a good response, it feels good.”
Some of that attention has come as a result of the band re-releasing Run, Engine, Run on SideOneDummy, home to bands like The Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly. “Any piece of music I’ve made, I’ve looked back at it and wanted a second chance with it. I think that’s the nature of being an artist, that you want a second look at something after it’s completed,” Schoepp says. “That’s not to say I don’t embrace the imperfections of some things. Our first mix of the album was rushed at the last minute, and we never saw it all the way through. So I was real happy to have a second chance with it.”
While it’s too early to tell if they’ll stick with SideOneDummy for their next album, the band hopes to release a new collection within the next year. Schoepp says he’s gained confidence in his songwriting in the past few years.
“When I was younger, I would write more abstractly in order to hide what I was trying to say in a song. That’s not to say I’m not still uncertain in what I want to say, but I think as you grow as a songwriter you become just a little more focused on what you’re trying to say on a particular song.”
Schoepp’s new tunes vary from song to song, though he says they’re more character-driven. “Each song has a bit more of a narrative than on the last record. I’m tending to look a little bit outward than inward in the new songs I’m writing. Though I might write a song tomorrow and it’ll change the whole direction of what the next album will be like.”
Schoepp’s lyrics have been aided by attentive editing by the rest of the band, especially his brother. “Every good writer or musician needs an even better editor. And Tanner’s been really good at calling my bullshit,” Schoepp says. “It’s good to have someone there that’s not my friend and isn’t going to go along with whatever I write. Tanner isn’t sensitive at all with me, and that really helped me as a songwriter.”
In the meantime, Trapper is putting together an EP of old folk songs, Carvings, under his own name for the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Rock and Roll Certificate Program. It’s expected to be released later this month. He recorded it in an old farmhouse in Rockford, Illinois, with the help of Tanner, violinist Gina Romantini, and engineer/pianist Dan McMahon. “It was refreshing to record material that wasn’t my own,” Schoepp says. “Interpreting old folk music is something that a lot of my favorite songwriters have done in the past.”
He got the idea for the title from his kitchen table, which is full of carvings from its long existence. “To me, each carving says a little bit about that person and tells a story that extends far past that circular piece of cheap wood. From a forest, factory, shopping center, and now to my kitchen, this wood has been around,” Schoepp says. “So have the songs. These four songs are my carvings and interpretations of songs that have existed much longer than me.”
Trapper Schoepp And The Shades play the Cactus Club Saturday, March 9, with 4onthefloor and Midnight Reruns.