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For Trapper Schoepp, Leaving The Doors of Creativity Open is The Key

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

A photo of Trapper Schoepp
Trapper Schoepp - Photo by Joseph Cash

Trapper Schoepp is one of the most important folk artists in the indie scene today. In 2019, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based artist published a long-lost song he co-wrote with the great Bob Dylan, making him the youngest artist to have a co-writing credit with the legend. This high-profile achievement earned him critical acclaim.

Trapper has two albums with APM Music under the SXSW/Kinetik library, Trapper Schoepp and Trapper Schoepp Volume Two. These two albums contain some of the best music of his career.

"Those albums cover a lot of ground genre-wise. It could be narrowed down though to traditional American music, like folk, blues, country, and rockabilly. Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs produced a very slick and fun record of mine in there called Rangers & Valentines," Trapper said. "Then there's a more 50s-sounding rock record about the Bay Beach Amusement Park in Wisconsin, which is home to Elvis Presley's favorite ride, the Zippin Pippin. There's also our debut album Run, Engine, Run - which is more country with pedal steel, violin, and a lot of trainbeat."

Since Trapper has music available for sync, he thinks some Irish-inspired tracks in his new album would work well for a show like Netflix's Derry Girls.

As prolific as Trapper is, he doesn't treat songwriting like a chore. Instead, he keeps his channel open to what John Lennon famously called "The Music of the Spheres."

"I never write like it's a 9-5 duty. Although a deadline can be a source of inspiration," Trapper said. "I really just leave the doorway of creativity open and see what walks in."

While romantic, this process also requires work, especially in capturing the inspiration, which often means some recording equipment.

"I have a rudimentary studio space that I put together during the pandemic with Yamaha monitors, an SM7 microphone, and UAD interface," Trapper said. "It's really all a singer-songwriter needs to get their ideas down. Voice memos on the phone work great, too. It has helped me to have a dedicated space to write so when the moment arises, I'm ready."

Like most singer-songwriters, Trapper plays multiple instruments but prefers to write songs on the piano. For his latest album 'Siren Songs,' he discovered the endless possibilities of writing with openly-tuned guitars, which have been a critical songwriting tool for decades due to their unique harmonic qualities and wide sonic palette.

"I wrote my whole new album 'Siren Songs' on an open D tuned acoustic guitar," Trapper said. "It was a complete revelation to tune my guitar like Joni Mitchell and early bluesmen did. It offered me a whole new canvas to work from."

Regarding musical influences, he lists Bob Dylan as the songwriter who rests on top of the mountain while the rest look up in awe at all he's accomplished. He also mentioned Paul McCartney as a primary influence for his versatility. As for the craft of writing tunes, he often writes with a hot cup of coffee and sparingly uses the word LOVE in his lyrics.

Trapper is about to embark on a European and American tour to promote his new album Siren. The Tour starts in Glasgow, Scotland, on February 15th.

"This will be my second time across the pond with Jesse, one of my favorite live performers. He comes from the New York hardcore scene and still brings that kind of energy into every set. It's a trip!" Trapper said. "We'll be hitting 15 cities across the UK, Germany, Italy, and Sweden."

Trapper's live setup is more flexible than other singer-songwriters. He adapts to whatever the situation calls for.

"I'm a bit of a musical chameleon in live settings. I try to adapt to whatever the situation calls for with my brother and bassist Tanner Schoepp at my side," Trapper said. "Sometimes, for a big festival, it might be a 5-piece rock band with a horn section, or it's simply an acoustic duo club show. I try not to become a parody of myself, and I do like to mix up the musicians I play with. I'm heading to Europe with a mandolin player I just met a couple months ago for the first time."

As for the new album, he recorded it in a place rich with country-folk history.

"We recorded at Johnny Cash's Cabin in Hendersonville, TN, "Trapper said. "The space was initially a hunting shack of sorts but later was adapted into a studio where Johnny recorded much of his later work. Patrick Sansone (Wilco) and John Jackson (The Jayhawks, Ray Davies) produced this album, and I'm very happy with it. We knocked out 14 songs in 7 days, mostly live. It's inspired by traditional Irish and American folk music, and we were able to use some cool instruments - Johnny Cash's 1930's "shitkicker" Martin guitar, June Carter Cash's Steinway piano, and an ancient harmonium organ."

Trapper likes the freedom music has offered him and cherishes the people he has met along the way. However, regarding the general state of the industry and the dominance of streaming services, he echoes the sentiments of fellow artists about the discrepancies in compensation.

"I dislike the fact that artists are being robbed and exploited across streaming services," Trapper said. I don't think you could find me many musicians who would disagree with that. There's no easy solution other than to pay the artists a fair wage for their craft."

Aside from these industry issues, however, Trapper remains a music fan. He recently discovered the music of Orville Peck, which was introduced to him by his friend Trixie Mattel.

"There's a very cool song of his called "The Curse of the Blackened Eye" that's reminiscent of a modern Glen Campbell," Trapper said. "There's also a cool new album from Wilco called Cruel Country that I listened to on repeat when I caught Covid. I also like almost anything Jenny Lewis releases."

While technology, specifically streaming platforms, disrupted the way artists earn money, Trapper doesn't think all technology is disruptive. Some, like Tiktok, help artists connect more with fans, even though the platform changed the way music is consumed with its preference for short bits of catchy music rather than the traditional long form.

"I'm not gonna hate on anyone expressing themselves musically, but I also don't think the 3-minute song is going anywhere fast. It works for a reason," Trapper said. "Attention spans are shrinking, though. Who knows. I joined TikTok to tell more stories behind my songs and post silly dog videos and slice-of-life stuff. The community there does seem more receptive to new music than any other social media platform I've been on. I produced an album for a TikTok star named Peter Dankelson, and I think the app has done wonders for him - and I'm very happy about it!"

As complicated and challenging the music is, he believes that the key to success comes right down to the basics. Hence his advice to aspiring artists: "Just finish the damn song! There'll be more that come along - trust me."

Watch Trapper's latest music video his single 'Cliffs of Dover.'


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