Trapper Schoepp's New Album 'May Day' Finds A Darker Past & Hopeful Future
Before the pandemic began, Lake Effect featured a variety of in-studio performances from local musicians and artists. As some theaters and venues are starting to welcome back live performances with some limitations, we’ll still be featuring artists in a series we call Pandemic Performers.
Trapper Schoepp is a local singer-songwriter and a longtime friend of Lake Effect — in fact, he wrote our theme music. Just before the pandemic hit, Schoepp was about to embark on a European tour. So while he was at home, Schoepp and his brother and bassist/singer, Tanner Schoepp did some live stream concerts and also worked on a new album, May Day, out on May 21.
“May Day, it’s actually my birthday and also a holiday that is centered around springtime, rebirth, renewal, and I really connected to those ideas when I was writing the album,” says Schoepp. "And everything that we've been going through with COVID, all the police brutality, the economic downturn, I thought that I wanted to create an album that represented, a little bit, the light at the end of the tunnel."
The idea for the first track on the album, also called “May Day," came when Schoepp was forced to move out of a “untenable living situation” and he had to hire movers for his baby grand piano. As the movers were arriving, he quickly felt the urge to write a song on the piano and created the opening to “May Day."
“I kinda had this idea, thinking about where did I start and I came up with the line, ‘I was born on the first day of the fifth month called May’ and so that is sort of the beginning of the album,” he says.
Schoepp also recently released a music video for his song "River Called Disaster" that featured a piano that was not his baby grand. Instead, it was a piano he bought off of Craigslist specifically to place in a river to set on fire.
"Just when we thought we were making this great music video, it turned into a disaster. So the song is called ‘River Called Disaster,’ and it was really the art, [the life] — it was all imitating each other," jokes Schoepp.
Schoepp continued to find inspiration from his living situations when he temporarily stayed at the Astor Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, a place he says is "like an old Stephen King novel ... the long dusty hallways, it kind of has a certain aura about it." During his stay, Schoepp went on a ghost tour of Milwaukee, which described the century old hotel as “one of the most haunted locations in downtown Milwaukee."
The song "Hotel Astor" draws from a story about a 1935 fire that killed a deaf man and his nurse who were living in side-by-side rooms. The story goes that the nurse's body was found outside the man’s room with marks on the door, showing her desperate attempts to wake him before they both perished.
“I thought that is a real kind of poetic and a bit of a romantic story in many senses and just what other humans will do for each other in desperate times,” he says. "So I reimagined their story into this song ... which does have a haunting aura and spirit about it."
The album's darker tones and sounds aren't typically associated with the standard Americana music Schoepp has played, but this change in style for him felt fitting to reflect on the past year.
While recording the album in Wauwatosa, Wis., Schoepp recalls walking outside during a break and seeing National Guard Humvees and helicopters overhead as shops were shuddered and closed while police brutality protests were ongoing.
“Everything in this last year, and especially that moment, there was just an urgency to everything that definitely inspired the making of the album and I think brought out a lot more experimental and dark twists and turns,” he says.
Now with the album's release and some outdoor and socially distanced shows planned in the near future, Schoepp finds himself with moving forward with a new perspective.
"Once you have those things taken away from you they become all the more important," he says. "I really hope that I have more sense of gratitude and gratefulness for being able to play and make music for a living. I dunno, it's going to become a whole new world after this and I think we'll all be new people after this as well."