Trapper Schoepp established his songwriting bona fides long before co-penning a tune (“On, Wisconsin”) with Bob Dylan in 2019. Trapper self-released his first and second albums, A Change in the Weather (2007) and Lived and Moved (2009), to little fanfare but by his third album, Run, Engine, Run (2011) things began to happen.
Run, Engine, Run was reissued by SideOneDummy in 2012 and Trapper found himself touring alongside Frank Turner, the Jayhawks, and Social Distortion. Trapper recently headlined a show at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia.
Trapper Schoepp should be more widely recognized by now. His catchy, highly accessible songs have a wide following, so I was disappointed on March 13, when he performed before a sparse crowd at Jammin’ Java.
Nonetheless, us lucky few in attendance got a flawless, highly entertaining set from Trapper and his band: Tanner Schoepp (electric bass and background vocals), Matt Smith (slide and electric guitar), and Jacob Bicknase (drums).
Watch the official music video for “On, Wisconsin” by Trapper Schoepp on YouTube:
The 2010s saw three more Trapper Schoepp releases: Rangers & Valentines (2016), as well as an EP, Bay Beach Amusement Park, the latter a concept mini-album memorializing the Elvis Presley’s favorite theme park rides. He went back to the studio in 2018 with producer Pat Sansone (Wilco, Robyn Hitchcock) with the resulting album, Primetime Illusion (Xtra Mile), released in early 2019.
By the time 2020 arrived, though, all that forward momentum came to a screeching halt as the pandemic changed how music was performed and recorded. Trapper’s sixth studio album, May Day (Grand Phony Records), was recorded in the midst of the worldwide lockdown and released on May 21, 2021. Making this album was even weirder than usual: It was recorded near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, amidst citywide protests for racial equity. Trapper recalled: “In between vocal takes, I stepped outside in my surgical mask and saw a fleet of military Humvees driving by the studio to a protest. Helicopters overhead. Surreal and scary for the people taking to the streets to stand up against police brutality.”
Produced by Schoepp and longtime friend Ian Olvera (who also engineered Primetime Illusion) taking on multiple roles of producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist in an attempt to keep the sessions socially isolated. “He was a one-man machine and we’re certainly indebted to him for the warm tone of May Day,” Trapper said.
Stream May Day by Trapper Schoepp on Spotify:
Now we find ourselves in 2022, hoping that the pandemic is truly over and that live music is really back. A tip from a friend convinced me that I had to go see this show. Trapper hit Jammin’ Java’s stage and delivered an outstanding 90+ minute set. I also got to experience Trapper’s butt in my face (making the show all the more memorable), but more on that later.
Opening with the title track from May Day, Trapper promptly busted a string. Deftly switching to keyboards while the string was replaced, we got Trapper’s perfectly serviceable (more on that later, also) piano playing. I was struck by how easily Schoepp and his band adjusted to the “technical difficulties” and proceeded with aplomb, as if breaking a string was part of the show. By the time the guitar was restrung, he’d made it through a mini-set of piano tunes when we got the first of many self-deprecating, hilarious stories along the lines of the following: after a gig recently, an audience member offered some unsolicited advice, “Your piano playing…not spectacular but perfectly serviceable.” If Trapper ever runs out of his supply of ever popular “This Isn’t Fun Anymore” t-shirts, a new offering with “Perfectly Serviceable Piano Player” emblazoned across the front would make a perfectly serviceable replacement.
Watch “Run, Engine, Run” by Trapper Schoepp performed for Live At Aloft Milwaukee on YouTube:
The set continued with songs primarily from May Day and stories about Elvis’ favorite theme park rides, haunted hotels, and boys taking to, and lost at, sea in search of girls. I was sitting at the front of the stage and at one point Trapper walked out (rocked out) onto my table, and as he exhorted the audience, his back(side) to me, I experienced another cherished concert-related moment.
River Called Disaster
Run, Engine, Run
I Am a Rider
Little Drop of Medicine
Ballad of Olof Johnson
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Bob Dylan cover)
If All My Nines Were X’s
Talking Girlfriend Blues
Freight Train (Sister Double Happiness cover)
All kidding aside, watching Trapper perform, and experiencing his music for the first time in such an intimate setting, was an unexpected treat. I’d be remiss not to mention Trapper’s band and how dialed in it was throughout the show (I detected a brief, but thrilling, “Baba O’Riley” tease). Tanner and Jacob provided the backbone to each song, while Matt’s lead and slide guitar supplied enough color while not overwhelming the tunes. On “The Scat” though, Matt got his turn in the spotlight as he worked his technical magic during a feedback drenched instrumental section.
After the show, I chatted briefly with Trapper where I expressed my disappointment at the less than stellar turnout. He then apologized for the “butt in the face” incident. We agreed that neither was a big deal and, really, what singer-songwriter hasn’t faced the occasional small, but enthusiastic, audience? That was, perhaps, the evening’s most valuable lesson: Humor always enhances life, soothing its sting, onstage or off.
Here are some pictures of Trapper Schoepp performing at Jammin’ Java on March 13, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.