Trapper Schoepp and the Shades at Summerfest.
Photo by Caroline Tan.
By Joe Guszkowski
The ink has hardly dried on Trapper Schoepp and the Shades’ deal with LA label SideOneDummy, and already the local favorite has gotten busy on the national stage. Last month, they played gigs with big name acts Soul Asylum and Murder By Death. They also sang the national anthem before a Brewers-Cubs game at Miller Park. Now, they are preparing for the Sept. 25 re-release of last year’s excellent Run, Engine, Run and a national tour in support of it. We were able to catch up with Trapper via e-mail to discuss what it’s like to be signed, the notion of Wisconsin-as-musical-hotbed, and the trouble with stadium echo.
How did you end up with SideOneDummy? Were you fielding other offers?
Our drummer, Jonny Phillip, passed along the record to an old friend at the label, and it started moving around the office. The idea of re-releasing the record started and ended there. It’s a label run by musicians, for musicians, so there wasn’t much more we could ask for.
Has being signed changed the way you approach being in a working band?
A David Byrne lyric comes to mind: “Nothing has changed, but nothing's the same.” It’s still the same people playing the same songs. But I think anytime a band gets signed, the expectations of those involved change a bit. That’s natural, though. I’ve learned more about the politics of the industry in the last six months than I’d ever imagined I would, but that doesn’t change the musician I am. I’d still be writing songs if this hadn’t happened. There’s always another song.
Do you have arrangements with SOD beyond the "Run" re-release and tour?
We hope to release another record with them and tour hard on this one. This is our national debut, though, so I realize it’s going to be slow and steady build. I prefer that, though, to blowing up overnight and having unreasonable expectations to live up to. To quote Richard Manuel in The Last Waltz, "I just want to break even."
Do you all have day jobs, or is music your full-time gig now?
I’m finishing up the Rock and Roll Studies Certificate program at UWM right now and working part time on the Milwaukee Public Radio morning show, Lake Effect. Jonny runs his record label, Good Land Records, and works at Café Hollander. Tanner Schoepp and Graham Hunt (who we call together Granner Schunt) are still working, too. Tanner as a courier, Graham as cashier extraordinaire at Walgreens.
Run, Engine, Run came out almost a year ago. Have your feelings about the record changed at all since then?
I’m still as proud of it as I was when it first came out. Remixing it with Geoff Sanoff did reinforce my faith in the songs, though. He has mixed records by Nada Surf and Fountains of Wayne, and to have his hand in the record was pretty neat. While I feel that we made some pretty drastic changes to the record, to most listeners it probably won’t be night and day. Again, the songs are still the same.
Wisconsin and the Midwest are a big part of your music. Was there any thought of relocating after being signed by a Los Angeles label?
No, but I fell in love with LA when we were out there in early August. It’s an absolutely beautiful city, but Wisconsin is home for now. I think the idea of moving to New York or LA to “make it” is an old, tired idea. I understand the appeal of both of those cities, but I don’t think it makes you more attractive to label executives by living there. It just makes you closer to them. With the interconnectedness of the Internet, you don’t really need to pack your bags for either coast to be a successful artist. Our manager actually just moved back to Milwaukee from the East Coast to be with us.
You guys are another in a string of big-name signings out of Wisconsin/Milwaukee in the past five or so years. Do you think Wisconsin is becoming a music hub comparable to someplace like Minneapolis or even Chicago or New York? If so, what do you think that can be attributed to?
Listeners like artists that stay true to their roots. Your location becomes a part of your artistic identity. People like bands that seem authentic or real, though the meaning of that I’m not exactly sure. I think Wisconsin seems like a strange, foreign place to many within the other 49 states. But I don’t think bands get signed just because they’re from Wisconsin or anything. Field Report didn't get signed to Partisan because they're from Wisconsin. It's because Christopher Porterfield writes ridiculously good songs. As an “Americana” artist, though, there couldn’t be a better setting to write songs in than Wisconsin. Maybe South Dakota, but it’s a bit too flat there.
Any details about your tour in support of Run?
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be on the road when the record drops in September. Going out this early on as a headliner in clubs can be a risky move. Our management wants to hold out for us getting on as support for bigger acts, which makes much more sense from a financial standpoint. Patience, patience, patience.
You guys did the national anthem at Miller Park last month. Has that been something you've always wanted to do? How did it go?
It went well other than not realizing there would be a few second delay in when we sang and when we heard it back through the stadium. The “stadium echo” effect you fool around with in the studio was a bit shocking to hear live. To answer your question, though…It was not something I’d imagined we’d ever do, no. Still an honor, even though I’m a Twins fan.
For all the marbles – Springsteen or Mellencamp?
Springsteen by a country mile. For my money, it doesn’t get any better than when the Boss sings “Born to Run.” I’ve always said that if I had to explain America to a foreigner, I’d just turn on “Born to Run.”