Trapper Schoepp is a young man who’s befriended a strange and diverse cast of characters during his 27 years. That small army of rogues and rebels, drifters and dreamers, soldiers and schemers populate his songs, their tragedies and comedies, their lives and deaths recalled in his finely etched musical vignettes.
The Minnesota-born, Wisconsin-based tunesmith and teller of tales (both tall and true), just returned with his second effort Rangers & Valentines (Xtra Mile Recordings). The record follows his critically acclaimed 2012 debut Run Engine, Run. That LP earned notices in Rolling Stone, American Songwriter and Paste, with the folks at Huffington Post calling him a “master storyteller” and PBS hailing his “story songs that explore and explode the conventions of rock and roll.”
On Rangers & Valentines, Schoepp defies the limitations of the standard-issue Americana platter, hopping genres – you’ll hear lots of brass, backing singers and B-3 — as the songs build to delirious musical highs. His narratives, meanwhile, find subjects in the narrow margins of society, the strange twists (literal and metaphorical) in the weather, and the vagaries of a troubadour’s transient life – with lyrics that flash a lacerating wit and humanist streak that’s at the core of his craft.
Produced by pop polymath and Raconteurs member Brendan Benson at his Readymade Studios in Nashville, the record finds Schoepp handling vocals, guitar and harmonica. He’s aided by an array of estimable musicians including his brother and musical-foil-since-birth Tanner Schoepp (providing bass guitar and vocal harmonies), Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady), John Davis (Superdrag), the McCrary Sisters — even comedian and WTF podcaster Marc Maron chips in on background vocals and lead guitar.
Schoepp shines up the well-worn clichés of singer-songwriter-dom and renders them anew. Evoking a series of vivid protagonists and settings, his work variously recalls prime Prine (John, that is), the nuances of Newman (Randy, of course), the boozy bonhomie of The Replacements, and the unflinching language of someone well-versed in the Zevonian dialect. Schoepp mixes fact and family lore to conjure the hardscrabble history “Ballad of Olof Johnson” and chides modern-day wannabes on “Lost Cowboy.” The road story “Ogalalla” answers the question: what happens to your mind when you’re snowbound in Nebraska with nothing but a bottle of Nyquil and The Hobbit at the local picture show for company? Meanwhile, the arch love song satire “Talking Girlfriend Blues” deftly explains how to preserve your dignity while hitchhiking to a date – and what to do when your ride turns out to have eyes for the same girl.
Last summer Schoepp also released Bay Beach Amusement Park, a six-song concept album centered around the 125-year-old attraction located in Green Bay, WI on the shores of Lake Michigan. Recorded mostly live over a weekend at Pachyderm Studios, Bay Beach Amusement Park serves as Schoepp’s creative and wildly fun follow-up to Rangers & Valentines, an album Relix declared a “mini masterpiece” and named one of Billboard’s “Best of the Week.”
Perhaps the park’s most historic and notable attraction is the Zippin Pippin, a wooden roller coaster known famously as Elvis Presley’s favorite ride. The King rented Liberty land on August 8, 1977 from 1:15 a.m. until 7 a.m. to entertain a group of guests. Decked in a blue jumpsuit with a black leather belt, huge belt buckle with turquoise studs and gold chains, the King rode the Pippin repeatedly during a two-hour period. Presley’s late night joyride was his last public appearance. He passed away eight days later.
40 years on, Schoepp celebrates the Pippin and the other classic rides with these six songs that take the listener on six different adventures, each song named for its respective ride (“Zippin Pippin,” “Bumper Cars,” “The Scat”). This musical joyride is suitable entertainment for both adults and children. “Come mothers, daughters, fathers and sons/You’ll feel a lot better after you’re done,” Schoepp sings in the first single “Bumper Cars,” where pop culture rivalries such as Jerry Seinfeld and Newman and the Jedi and Sith collide on the ride.
2019 will see a new release by Schoepp produced by Pat Sansone (Wilco, Autumn Defense). Schoepp – who’s already crisscrossed the the US and EU sharing stages with fellow travelers like The Wallflowers, Jayhawks and Frank Turner – will be back on the road throughout 2019 in support of the record. Additionally, Schoepp will continue his work as a Musical Ambassador for the rare disease research organization, Harmony 4 Hope, as well as Red Wing Shoes and Gibson Guitars.