For the last few years or so, Milwaukee singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp and his band The Shades have been a shining beacon for Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
The band’s vibrant rock and roll and Americana roots, youthful swagger and Schoepp’s story-filled lyrics about growing up in Wisconsin have won over many throughout the state and the rest of the world. Schoepp has gotten to open for many popular acts like The Jayhawks and The Wallflowers, to name a couple. He’s joined by Quinn Scharber on guitar, his brother Tanner on bass and vocals, Bradley Kruse on keyboards and Justin Krol on drums.
Earlier this year, Schoepp went out of his way to pay respect to the state on Milwaukee Day (April 14), when he crafted a song called “On Wisconsin” using unused Bob Dylan lyrics. Bob Dylan wrote an ode about his time in Wisconsin in 1961, but never put music to the lyrics. The lyrics mention things like milk, cheese and the Dairy State, and the state’s slogan, “On Wisconsin.”
The lyrics, located on a single sheet of notebook featuring Dylan’s unpublished verses, were recently put up for auction but didn’t sell. The starting bid was $30,000. Schoepp completed the song with his own spin by filling in the blanks lyrically and musically.
“I saw the link going around on the internet about the recently discovered Bob Dylan lyric,” says Schoepp, during a recent interview. “As a folk musician, my inclination was immediately to finish the song and set it to music. Folk music is all about, as Dylan has said, extending the line. So taking something and giving it a new life.”
Schoepp then added a brand new chorus around the “On Wisconsin” phrase. The resulting song, waltz-like with a country twang (and including a Fender Rhodes keyboard solo), was recorded at the Wire & Vice studio in Wauwatosa. On Milwaukee Day, Ken Sumka of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, who originally proposed the idea to Schoepp, played the song on his afternoon show. It also got a mention on Billboard.
The songwriter’s next recording takes his love for the state in a new and unique direction. On his new EP, Bay Beach Amusement Park, Schoepp focuses his attention on the namesake park in Green Bay. He will release it at a show this Friday at Anodyne, which also features national touring band Ha Ha Tonka. It’s a fitting record to mark the start of summer and to celebrate that amusement park’s 125th anniversary.
Finding Inspiration From Bay Beach
For Schoepp, who calls it a “hidden gem of Wisconsin,” Bay Beach Amusement Park has an unmistakable charm that’s one of a kind.
“In a world of derivatives, Bay Beach is an original,” he says. “Going to the park, you’re surrounded by all these different emotions, from sheer happiness to sheer terror. It’s a really inspiring place to visit.”
He also says that anyone can appreciate the EP, even if they haven’t visited the park yet. Schoepp has been going to the amusement park for about five years. He first went to ride the Zippin Pippin roller coaster, best known for its ties to Elvis Presley.
“Eight days before Elvis Presley died, he brought a whole crew to Liberty Land in Memphis where the Zippin Pippin previously was,” Schoepp says. “He had his peanut butter and bacon sandwiches he was eating the whole night. And he rode it repeatedly between the hours of 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. He had a big jumpsuit on with the leather bells. I’m sure it was quite the sight to see.”
Schoepp and his band have made a habit of stopping specifically for that ride whenever their tour goes through Green Bay. It’s no surprise that the Zippin Pippin eventually became Shoepp’s initial spark of inspiration for an amusement park-themed album. While Schoepp’s previous work, Rangers and Valentines, focused on his family and specifically two friends that died (Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum and Geo Valentine), the Bay Beach theme gave his newest album a narrower focus.
“It’s narrowed the scope of the album and its subject matter,” says Schoepp. “Each song takes the listener on a different ride. I had this idea for years but it took me years to piece together how I wanted the songs to flow and what rides I wanted to sing about.”
Since the rides are from a different era, Schoepp wanted the music to have that quality, citing Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis as inspiration. Overall, Schoepp is excited with how it turned out, but he admits that it took some time to convince his band the EP was a worthwhile endeavor.
“It was pretty funny, the whole process, because when I started telling my band about it, they thought I was a crazy person until I had all the demos of the songs,” he says. “It kind of started as an inside joke and the whole idea kind of exploded.”
Recording the Rides
Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, where the album was recorded, has a storied history, including as the recording place of Nirvana’s In Utero album. The studio is secluded in the middle of the woods, which Schoepp liked.
“You can’t really go anywhere,” he says. “It’s right along a river so there are a lot of cool rock formations where you can actually see the etching of elephants. The whole place has a vibe to it that’s hard to explain. But it’s in the middle of the woods and kind of haunting and everything is mid-century, which was right [around] the time [period] that we were going for musically.”
Schoepp says it reminded him of growing up with Tanner in Nugget Lake County Park, located near Ellsworth, Wisconsin. Their father is a park ranger and they had lots of space to explore.
While Schoepp describes Rangers and Valentines as “more of a patchwork of lyrical and musical themes,” this EP is “more dialed-in and focused.”
“That’s because of the length of the album,” he says. “It’s only six songs, and that was intentional. I wanted it to be short and sweet, just like in an amusement park ride.”
Schoepp is looking forward to the release show and for the chance to play with Ha Ha Tonka. They’ll be playing the EP straight through, as well as some past favorites.
“Anodyne is a great listening room, and our city is very lucky to have it,” he says. “It’s going to be a good night.”
Miscellaneous Musings from Trapper
On playing with his brother Tanner
“Sibling harmony with always triumph sibling rivalry. We’re blood and nothing can change that. He’s my only brother and at times it’s been a struggle but in one word we’re enduring. Sometimes people have said we’re like the two women in the movie The Grey Gardens. Two old ladies that live together that bitch about the most mundane stuff but they stick together thick and thin.”
On being a park ranger’s son
“I grew up in a town of 3000 people. When you grow up in a community like that it makes you wonder what’s outside of that place where you grew up. It makes an explorer out of you and wander and be curious and I think that is present in both me and my brother.”
“I’m becoming more comfortable using different voices in my songs and incorporating elements of humor and sarcasm and social commentary. I’m trying to incorporate more bits of socially conscious songwriting and satire, because it’s best when you’re trying to make a point to incorporate some humor in there.”
On writing with a Midwestern attitude
“Your location will always get into what you write. Wherever I am and whatever song I’m trying to write, there will a Midwest sensibility in that.”