Trapper Schoepp on stage at the Barrymore Theatre December 2018
photo by Kyle Hilker
His songs are personal and raw, yet filled with enthusiasm and even humor. And when Trapper Schoepp sings, you are compelled to listen due to his often surprising delivery on topics ranging from assault to divorce, and even a ferris wheel. Trapper’s resume is impressive, too, touring with the Wallflowers, Jayhawks, and the Old 97s. He embraces the chaos that comes with rock-and-roll, and surrounds himself with different musicians constantly—performing or recording as a duo with his brother, or a full band with any number of people. But the biggest progression happened recently, when he received a co-writing credit with Bob Dylan. Yes, THE Bob Dylan. It’s helping put Trapper on the radar in the music business, and is starting a tour in support of the song which is part of a new album. We talked about all of it in anticipation of his Madison show in February.
Maximum Ink: Let’s start with the song “On, Wisconsin,” and how you are now forever connected to Bob Dylan because of it. What a wild story!
Trapper Schoepp: I gotta note the serendipity! When Bob Dylan was in his 20s, he started this song about my home state, and almost 60 years later I’m in my 20s, and I finished it. My manager got in contact with Dylan’s manager, who I have to express great gratitude to for just hearing us out. It all happened organically, which seems very much in line with what I understand about Dylan’s attitude towards songwriting, and the folk process of the next generation adapting a previous one’s work.
MI: We may not even be talking about all of this if you didn’t end up getting hurt a few years ago. Your mom hoped to use music as a distraction. What happened?
TS: I herniated a disc in my back while BMX biking, and my mom signed me up for guitar lessons! It wasn’t until I heard Dylan’s “Hurricane” in a movie, that the musical gears started clicking in my mind. The conviction in Dylan’s voice did me in. My first big concert was Dylan and Willie Nelson in 2004 at Warner Park in Madison. Another pivotal moment for me.
MI: You also decided to move to Milwaukee from Ellsworth, Wisconsin. Another one of those “moments?”
TS: Well, from the Cheese Curd Capital to a Certificate in Rock and Roll Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee! I earned it for my analysis of early folk and blues music, studying tunes like “Dink’s Song,” and how it traveled from the shores of a riverbank in Houston to the Greenwich Village folk scene to a Hollywood movie by the Coen Brothers—100 years of history there! But Dylan was also focus. My professor, Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum, was a mentor and had a profound knowledge of the folk process, as well as Dylan’s music. He passed away a couple years ago, so when I got the contract for “On, Wisconsin” from Dylan’s lawyers, I immediately took it to his old office and signed it on his door. You could call it my final assignment.
MI: I’m sure your professor would be proud of you. Your new album features “On, Wisconsin,” and you are out on tour to support it with a stop in Madison on February 18th.
TS: I’m proud of the lineup we’re bringing to High Noon Saloon. too. Justin Krol on drums, Quinn Scharber on guitar, and Bradley Kruse on piano. They’ve played in the rock band the Wildbirds, and honkytonk group Hugh Bob & The Hustle, so it’s a versatile unit. They are featured on the new album which I feel is rock solid. We also brought in producer Patrick Sansone from Wilco for this album. He’s a studio wizard and a visionary who can quickly see the whole canvas and beyond. He uses a lot of colors that just aren’t on my color wheel!
MI: Your live performances are pretty colorful! The energy is off the charts, even when you are solo, or playing as a duo with your brother.
TS: The constant in my shows is the storytelling element. I think it’s important to show and not tell, but part of folk music for me is breaking down the barrier between artist and audience. I saw Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, and that’s something he’s the master of - the setup! I like sharing stories behind my songs like “Ballad of Olof Johnson,” which tells the tale of my distant Swedish ancestor and his first winter in America. He got caught in a blizzard in the Dakotas, literally dug a hole into the ground, flipped his wagon over it and took shelter there with his wife until spring. It’s a story of perseverance, but just as importantly, a story of immigration.
MI: So, where do you go from here?
TS: I don’t have any sort of 5 year plan. This is a life of chaos and I have to embrace that. I’m going to keep touring, writing, recording and see where the wind takes me.
MI: And there’s your dog, who is also a bit of a celebrity?
TS: I’m a bit of a Boston Terrier fanatic. Dogs bring me a lot of joy. My boy Ollie is on my new album cover, and yes, he has his own instagram page.
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