by Kelsey Hutchinson
With a freshly released album, Run, Engine, Run, Trapper Schoepp and The Shades are out to spread their knowledge of Wisconsin beer and cheese. OK, maybe not exactly beer and cheese, but they are out to share stories sitting in their main songwriter's Wisconsin backyard.
With Trapper Schoepp on vocals and guitars, Tanner Schoepp on bass and vocals, Graham Hunt on guitar and Steel Reserve and Jon Phillip on drum kit and vocals, it makes for some sweet harmonies and an extremely varietal sound. Trapper and the gang will run their engine to Omaha at The Slowdown tonight, to open for The Wallflowers.
I spoke with Trapper while he took a break from the CMJ Music Marathon to talk about tour memories, under what circumstances would they become a polka band and the seemingly simple question he wishes he'd be ask in interviews.
Hear Nebraska: Tell me about the CMJ Music Marathon. Any good stories?
Trapper Schoepp: It's going well, it's really fun. The venues and stuff, there's a ton of bands. You get two minutes to set up and do a sound check, so you don't even really actually get a sound check. But it's really wild and crazy. So many bands coming in and out, all of our gear, it's cool. My mom is a marathon runner so now I just consider myself a marathoner. Not really any good stories yet, to be honest. I just woke up and had lunch, so I'm trying to get myself going.
HN: What do you love about touring with The Shades? What's your favorite memory?
TS: Touring in general, like our whole album, Run, Engine, Run, it kind of went with our central theme of the album. It's that kind of desire to get out there and be on the road. For a long time we were just playing a lot around Wisconsin and now it's like we all over the U.S. It's something that we wanted to do, so it's kind of cool that the album is now allowing us to get out there and tour. I'm flushing on uninteresting stories, sorry.
HN: Do you ever feel like you're stuck in the Midwest sometimes?
TS: That's kind of part of our album. The single song called "Tracks," it's kind of about being stuck in one place for way to long and that feeling of repetition and that feeling that nothing is ever going to change unless you make a drastic change in your life. It's not that Milwaukee or Wisconsin is bad, it's just that you take for granted the beauty of it when you see it every day. You're always seeing the same people on the same streets.
It's funny because last night I saw someone from Ellsworth, the town I grew up in western Wisconsin. We had the same thoughts about how people from that town haven't really moved on. They're just kind of stuck there. We both talked about how bad we felt for the people who haven't moved on. I grew up in a town of like people, so it's just tiny. It's crazy, she's a model now and she's having a great time here, in New York City. It's cool seeing people in places you tour. That's a really cool part of touring is just seeing old friends and catching up.
HN: Tell me about your writing process? When are you most creative? Describe your favorite place to write.
TS: My kind of writing process is work. It's mostly work more than anything. I've always said you can't wait around for a song. It's like waiting for the Sunday's paper to drop on your doorstep. You can't wait around for a piece of mail.
It's like if you wait too long you're never going to write as many songs if you would just work hard at it. You have to find the balance between immediate influence and sitting down and doing it. I've always found that the best songs are always sitting right in your backyard. You just gotta brush the dust off the song, if you know what I mean. I always feel like it's just right there.
A lot of my songs are autobiographical. Like the song "Pins And Needles." I had back surgery because I had a slip disk in my back for six years. I finally got surgery on it, and that was probably the easiest song to write. It was right there just happening in my life.
HN: Where were you when you wrote "Run, Engine, Run"?
TS: I was actually just in my bedroom. I had the phrase "run, engine, run" forever, and I knew I wanted to make it a song. But I didn't really know where or when it would fit in. I just remember taking a trip home and riding in that old car my grandfather gave me, and I came back, and I was in my room, and that idea just had a romanticized outlook on traveling. Just about keep on keeping on, and I just kind of connected the dots. It just fit perfectly into what I was trying to say.
HN: You proudly claim your Milwaukee roots. Why are you so proud? What makes it cool? How would you describe the local scene to outsiders?
TS: Milwaukee is a small, big city if that makes sense. It's like everyone knows everyone and knows what they're up to. It can be a good thing and a bad thing. I'm just very proud of Wisconsin because it's in the heartland and I feel like a lot of people in Wisconsin are on the same page if that isn't too vague.
Describing Milwaukee to an outsider, man, I don't know. It's a lot of beer-drinking, lots and lots of beer-drinking.The stereotype of beer and cheese intake is true. The consumption is true, it's all true. We are big beer-drinkers and big cheese-eaters.
HN: If you weren't from Wisconsin, you didn't inherit grandpa's Mercedes Benz, and you hated rock 'n' roll what would Trapper Schoepp and The Shades sound like?
TS: If we hated rock 'n' roll? If I didn't get that car? Probably a polka band. Well, the town I grew up in, Ellsworth, has the Annual Polka Fest and other than like a cheese curd festival, it's the polka fest that's a big attraction. So polka it is!
HN: Occasionally, you have original guitarist David Boigenzahn and violinist Gina Romaniti join in on the fun. Are there any other musicians popping in?
TS: Well, our manager actually used to call us the Trapper Schoepp and the Rag Tag Band of Misfits because we always have different people along for the ride and we never had concrete people in the band. Right now, it's us four the core and we have the violinist (Gina Romantini), and she adds flavor to what we do.
HN: Why is it cool to collaborate with other people?
TS: You learn so much more about yourself from other musicians than you would from ever just playing with yourself. When I was growing up, I went to guitar lessons, and the best thing about it was how much I learned from my teacher. It was just watching him play, watching other people play. It's one of the most beneficial things you can do as a musician, I think.
HN: You draw inspiration from Tom Petty, The Clash, Wilco, etc. What, if any, modern artists do you gather inspiration from?
TS: I'm a really big fan of Nada Surf. The guy who remixed our record actually worked on one of their records. So Nada Surf and also The Wallflowers that we're touring with have always been an influence. The band that as a whole has influenced the entire group is The Replacements. They're less contemporary but still an influence.
We really pride ourselves on being diverse. So we're not just folk or rock 'n' roll or one specific type of music, we're multiple types. We try to incorporate a lot of different elements. Our record is all over the place. I feel like one flaw of modern artists is that all their songs sound the same.
HN: As a musician/songwriter, what areas are you actively trying to improve on? Just as any person in any craft would do? What are you constantly trying to work on?
TS: I'm constantly working on finger-picking. It's kind of an old-timer thing, I'm constantly trying to improve that because I feel that finger-picking is a lost art. A lot of people in our generation don't know about it.
HN: What question(s) do you wish you'd be asked in interviews?
TS: Maybe why we play music in the first place?
Why do we do this? It's a very vague and broad question but no one really ever asks why. And I think it's because human nature is just trying to find something to do in our boredom. I grew up in a small town and you had to make your own fun, so I picked up a guitar.