In 2019, Milwaukee’s Trapper Schoepp hit a songwriter’s jackpot: a co-write with Bob Dylan. And the circumstances were wildly serendipitous. On the day Dylan entered Columbia Studios in 1961 to begin recording his first studio album, he wrote a song about Wisconsin. The lyric sheet sat unseen with a former roommate, and was later unearthed and put up for auction at $30,000. Schoepp saw the story and seized the opportunity to set music to words. After Schoepp’s effort, he was granted Dylan’s approval to jointly publish the song. This 57-year-collaboration--“On, Wisconsin”--led to features in Rolling Stone and Billboard, an album called Primetime Illusion produced by Wilco’s Patrick Sansone, and nearly a hundred international tour dates.
Schoepp explores themes of ghosts and rebirth, springtime and renewal on his album, May Day - out 5/21/21 on Grand Phony Records. “May Day is an ancient holiday that celebrates the arrival of springtime, the natural world and also workers’ rights. It’s also my birthday,” Schoepp says with a laugh. “After this trying winter, we found solace in making an album for the spring.”
The music of May Day is both a celebration of more hopeful times and a reflection of a darker past, often using the natural world as a motif. As Schoepp sings in the lost-at-sea, acoustic ballad, “Yellow Moon”: “Amidst a sea of emotion/A life led in perpetual motion/After many months lost at sea/I learned loneliness is a part of being free.” The minor key piano rocker “River Called Disaster” expresses the feeling of being broken down by the compulsion for more - its music video sees Schoepp lighting a piano on fire.
On May Day, Schoepp and band defy the limitations of standard-issue Americana by hopping genres and experimenting with drum machines, modular synths, and droning guitars. The record finds Schoepp handling vocals, acoustic guitar, and, for the first time on an album, piano. He’s accompanied by his touring band: his brother and musical-foil, Tanner Schoepp (electric bass and vocal harmonies), Matt Smith (slide and electric guitar) and Jacob Bicknase (drums). “In ordinary times, we would’ve gone to the basement to get the arrangements right but we worked remotely, slowly exchanging musical ideas via modest home studio setups,” Schoepp said of the atypical pre-production process.
For all the darkness surrounding May Day, Schoepp hopes it will be a respite for listeners he was unable to reach on the road. “The pandemic devastated the live music industry but the need to be transported through song remained. I hope May Day offers that sort of escape.”