In the press materials for Trapper Schoepp and the Shades' new CD, "Run, Engine, Run," Schoepp explains that the disc exists because of – and despite – a disc of another kind.
"I found myself prepping for surgery a month before recording our new album," recalls the 21-year-old Milwaukee native. "The pain of a slipped disc in my back had become intolerable, and the painkillers ineffectual. Postponing upcoming studio dates for the record seemed ludicrous, so here we are.
"It was this injury that got me to pick up the six-string in the first place. After a gnarly BMX bike crash, my mom encouraged a safer hobby and signed me up for guitar lessons. Fast-forward six years and I'm on an operating table at the Mayo Clinic for spinal decompression surgery, relaying my hospital experiences into songs."
Despite the physical pain and suffering that went into "Run, Engine, Run," the record is an uplifting set rooted in Americana of all stripes: Springsteen and Parsons elbow each other for space on songs that are little tributes to the Badger State.
Sleeved in a package that looks like an old Byrds record, "Run, Engine, Run" is a love letter to Wisconsin.
On the eve of its official release, we asked Schoepp more about it.
OnMilwaukee.com: I love that Wisconsin is all over the record.
Trapper Schoepp: Our music is an open invitation to everyone, Wisconsinite or not. With that said, I have a lot of Wisconsin pride that just naturally works its way into my lyrics.
OMC: Does that seem less risky in terms of a broader appeal now that Bon Iver have kind of given the state a renewed credibility in the music world?
TS: After Bon Iver's popularity, I think the music world started regarding Wisconsin as a strange, foreign place filled with cabins and lumberjacks. It seemed that the media focused more on the idea of recording in cabin rather than the music itself. These past few years have been big for Wisconsin as a whole, though. Between the Packers Super Bowl win and the Scott Walker controversy, all eyes have been on Wisconsin. I think that has made me think a lot about what it means to be a Wisconsinite. We take the good with the bad here.
OMC: Would it have mattered anyway? Presumably you'd write the songs you'd write.
TS: I don't think it would have mattered much. I wanted this collection to have a universal appeal, but still retain a distinct Midwestern sensibility. All the songs on "Run, Engine, Run" have a pretty direct story or theme, and conveying the setting of each narrative was just as important to me as the story itself. Location definitely has a big influence on my songwriting. I grew up in a small town called Ellsworth on the northwestern edge of Wisconsin, and I moved here for college a few years ago. I often tell people that I couldn't truly appreciate the country until I moved to the city and vice versa.
OMC: The record has a very unified sound; was it recorded all at once at the same studio with the same engineer?
TS: We recorded the drums in Shane Hochstetler's Howl Street Recordings and then did all of the overdubs at Justin Perkins' Mystery Room. Engineer Daniel James McMahon was in the studio with us every day and contributed some great piano and vocal harmonies.
The whole record was done over a two-week period about a month after I had major spinal surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., this summer. It was sort of a miracle that I was out of a hospital bed at that time, let alone recording an album.
OMC: Tell us about how the Pete Donnelly thing came about.
TS: Pete's band, The Figgs, are power-pop heroes to us. It was an honor to have Donnelly's hands on this album. Our drummer, Jon Phillip, plays with Pete in ex-Replacement Tommy Stinson's band, so that's the connection. Jon sent Pete a text and I think about week later our record was on a hard drive via New Jersey.
OMC: I like that while your sound is entrenched in American roots music, unlike many bands who mine similar territory, you're not afraid to kick it into high gear and play some rock and roll. In terms of influences, where does that rock and roll come from and where from does the more country side hail?
TS: My introduction to the cosmic side of country music came when I found a stack of Gram Parsons CDs on a 30-pack of PBR, compliments of my upstairs neighbor, Geo Valentine. It forever changed the way I thought about music. The records from Gram and the Flying Burrito Brothers are so wild and spontaneous, yet also have this real tender and sincere side.
Our more rockin' side comes from our affinity for bands like The Replacements and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Our sound is a concoction of a few different Americana traditions, but no matter what labels we gain, we'll always feel comfortable with just being a rock and roll band.
OMC: I also enjoy the artwork's nod to old Columbia album covers. I couldn't help but think of the Byrds.
TS: That's right on the money. I wanted it to be easy for people to put a face to the songs. To me, the best representation of art can often be its creator. Upon looking at some of my favorite album covers, I came to that conclusion. The art on the CD itself is taken from an old Wisconsin map.
Trapper Schoepp and the Shades officially launch "Run, Engine, Run," at a CD release party at Yield, Thursday, Dec. 8 at 9 p.m. Devil Met Contention and comedian Ryan Holman also perform.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.