If you pick up a bible and turn to the first book of Chronicles you’ll find a long list of names. The names are the lineage of Jesus, tracked back to Adam in the garden of Eden. It’s generally known as ‘The Begats’, as in Adam begat Seth and on down the line. The point of the verse is to show how Jesus is connected to other people in the Bible and to show that they weren’t all kings or queens. Despite being raised in the church it was a long time before I realized that it wasn’t a list of people with the last name ‘Begat’.
I’m reminded of the Begats a lot when I think about music and my musical biography. Every band I love wandered into my life by different circumstances, each one of them a story. Some of the stories are as simple as hearing a song on the radio or on a movie soundtrack, but most are more than that. Each band I love has a ‘begat’.
Earlier today I was listening to one of the more unlikely artists that I love, Trapper Schoepp. They were playing ‘Dink’s Song’ on a radio show. Trapper Schoepp is a singer songwriter born in Minnesota, but operating out of Milwaukee. He, along with his band The Shades, play most often in and around Wisconsin. He’s had some national tours, usually as a two piece opening act with his brother Tanner. Their music is wonderful and varied. Trapper is a natural storyteller with a terrific sense of melody. His songs usually lay along the alt-country folk roots rock pop continuum, somewhere between Tom Petty, The Wallflowers, and Buddy Holly. He has a sense of character in his songs that would make Harry Chapin proud and a voice that brings to mind lonesome prairies under intimidatingly blue skies.
I discovered him because I decided to drive three hours to see Jesse Malin in a guy’s living room in northern New Jersey. The concert series is called ‘Live @ Drew’s’ because it takes place at Drew’s house. I found out about it from an instagram post of Jesse Malin’s saying he was playing there and was looking to play requests. It’s not the kind of show you can buy a ticket for from Ticketmaster. I had to email Drew and arrange for a spot in the audience. It was BYOB and he asks that everyone bring a snack to share. This was a new kind of experience for me and despite the long drive, I was excited.
I got there and the house is on a lake along a long narrow street. I found parking and walked up to the place feeling uncomfortably like I was trespassing, until I saw people on Drew’s porch. I tentatively approached and asked if it was the place. It was. The door wasn’t open as they were still setting up so I hung around on the porch sharing a few beers with the other people who had shown up early. Many of them had been there a few times and were old hats. Everyone was really friendly. It had the feel of a house party more than a concert.
I struck up a conversation about the lake and the neighborhood with a guy sitting at one of the porch tables. He was nice and we chit chatted for a few minutes about beer and whatever else. Eventually the doors opened and we all went inside. I staked out a place in the back, leaning on a staircase. The room held around 150 people, maybe a few more. After a while Drew came out and introduced the opening act.
I was a little shocked to see the opening act was the dude I was chatting with on the porch waiting to get in. It was, of course, Trapper Schoepp. This would be the first time I met a band before ever hearing them. It was also the first time I remember being utterly transfixed by an opening act. Jesse Malin is a pantheon artist for me, one of my all time top 10, and if he’d skipped out and Trapper played a full concert that night I would have been ok with it (which is not to say I didn’t love Jesse’s set, I did).
It was a performance I have a hard time describing as anything other than magical. They played maybe seven songs, and I lovec each more than the last. At the time the two that struck me most were ‘Ogallala’ which is about being stuck in a small town during a storm, and ‘Pins and Needles’ about having a bad back. Neither song is about a topic you hear much about in rock songs, and both are witty, melodic, and incredibly catchy. The former had the added bonus of being a town I’ve been through when I was a kid.
I bought two of their albums on Amazon before Jesse even came on. It wasn’t long before I bought the other albums and began to anticipate their new EP which came out this year.
The first album is credited to ‘The Trapper Schoepp Band’. It’s a bit of a different sound that the others. A little more bluesy. It’s a good album that feels like young musicians finding their feet. The standout song for me is ‘As Long As You’re Feeling Alright’ which feels the most like a preview of what their other albums would be like.
The album that followed, ‘Run, Engine, Run’, is my favorite top to bottom. The titular song is an ode to Trapper’s grandfather and summer days spent with him exploring in his ruby red Mercedes Benz. The song, and the album as a whole, speak to the experience of growing up and living in the midwest. With the exception of maybe the Replacements and Bob Dylan, it’s not a viewpoint that crops up much in the music I listen to, the majority of which seems to come from Boston, New York, or London.
The songs ‘Tracks’ and ‘Wishing Well’ are the two that I find myself listening to most. ‘Wishing Well’ is close to the most standard rock song on the album. If Tom Petty had released ‘Wishing Well’ it would have ended up on his greatest hits album. ‘Tracks’ is similar to ‘Run, Engine, Run’ in that it tells the story of exploring a part of the country where there’s nothing but wide open spaces. Schoepp’s lyrics and voice bring to life the soul of a heartland in such a way that even a coastal elite like myself can feel the wind in my hair and see those long straight roads.
Their next album ‘Rangers and Valentines’ starts out with a fun rocker about getting Mononucleosis a second time, rolls into a song about tornados, and then gets into the heavy duty folk storytelling. ‘Ogallala’ and ‘The Ballad of Olaf Johnson’ are both fun pop folk type story songs that tell different stories basically about getting stuck in the snow. Schoepp does his best Bob Dylan on ‘Talking Girlfriend Blues’ and I have to say that his best is pretty damn good. The song is a ton of fun. The rest of the album settles into a groove of straight rockers, dreamy folk, and even a cowboy song. The album as a whole is a delight. I like the lonesome vibe of ‘Run, Engine, Run’ more, but your results will surely vary.
Their most recent work is a six song ode to ‘Bay Beach Amusement Park’, a borderline ancient amusement park in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The key song is ‘Zippin Pippin’ about the roller coaster there, but my favorite is ‘Bumper Cars’. It’s an old school pop song about just what the title says, bumper cars. The song is a lot of fun, and it mentions Batman, The Joker, Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy and a ton of other pop culture references.
A year after the Jersey show I saw them again when they were touring with Skinny Lister. Skinny Lister was the headliner and were a band I’d never heard of at the time. I’ve since fallen head over heels in love with Skinny Lister too, but they’re a separate blog post. Trapper and his brother were just as good the second time, and made me wish I lived closer to Milwaukee so I could see the more often.
I got a chance to tell them about how hard I’d fallen for their music after the show, which I’m sure freaked them out a little, but I meant every word.
In my story, Jesse Malin begat Trapper Schoepp, and Trapper Schoepp begat Skinny Lister. Those are the kind of connections that make up each of our music biographies. Every band and song has a story, some are longer, and some might just be hearing it on the radio one night, but you have to be listening.
The moral is that music is where you find it and you never really know where that might me. You should also always show up early and listening to the opening acts. You never know when one of them might be your new favorite band.
To quote Trapper Schoepp’s ‘Lost Cowboy’:
‘You’ve got to get lost, to ever be found.’