Brimming with stories of escapism, exploration of identity, and immersive lyrics, Trapper Schoepp’s newest album May Day is some of his most intimate work to date. Even the title serves as a peek into his life – as he mentions on “It Didn’t Take,” he was “born on the first day of May.”
May Day takes on a lighter, more mellow air than his previous album, Primetime Illusion. Schoepp explains, “There’s more of an optimistic tone to this album. ‘My Comrade’ and other songs from Primetime Illusion, like ‘It’s Over,’ are set in the nighttime, and the album covers for the two records reflect that, too. The May Day cover is a 1920s photograph of women dancing around a maypole in the sunshine while the Primetime Illusion cover is taken in the dark. The albums are different in tone but still feel like companions of sorts.”
Another thing that bridges the albums together is the vivid track “Hotel Astor,” which Schoepp wrote about his experience staying in the titular hotel around the time Primetime Illusion came out. The Milwaukee hotel is allegedly haunted, thanks to a fire that killed several people in 1935.
“I think the first song that came to me for this record was ‘Hotel Astor,’ which was inspired by a fire that claimed the lives of a nurse and her patient,” Schoepp shares. “There’s some lore surrounding the fire that drew me in while I was on a ghost tour of Milwaukee. I started the song in late 2018 at that hotel. I came back to it because it had an urgency that felt timely with the pandemic.”
“Hotel Astor” is just one of the tracks on the record that delve into a world of fantasy. One of the most striking aspects of any Trapper Schoepp album is the lyricism and story building, which takes center stage on songs like “Paris Syndrome,” inspired by the feeling of disappointment tourists experience when the City of Lights isn’t what they expected. Perhaps the most self-encapsulating lyric on the song is “fact, fiction, and fantasy,” a line Schoepp describes as “a nod to the music itself.”
Of course, in releasing an album at the tail-end of a global pandemic, it’s difficult not to allude to the current state of the world. “Solo Quarantine” describes a man reaching out to his ex during lockdown and trying to reconnect, while “River Called Disaster” doubles as a metaphor for both personal issues and fighting through things like COVID-19.
The main takeaway from May Day is one of hope through struggle, as well as staying true to yourself in spite of these obstacles. Throughout the record, Schoepp maintains control over his own narrative and views of those stories, as well as making an album that feels uniquely “him.” He refuses to sacrifice the lyricism and folksy sound he’s shaped throughout his career, and retains a strong sense of authenticity.
“We live in a time of shrinking attention spans and a music climate based on singles and algorithms, but my songs still work best as communicated in an album format,” Schoepp admits. “There’s running motifs and themes within the album that I hope compliment each other.”
You can find May Day on your favorite streaming services and the Grand Phony website! Connect with Trapper Schoepp on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and keep reading for more from our interview about May Day.
Coming off the heels of your 2019 album, Primetime Illusion, May Day feels more mellow – like daytime where Primetime Illusion felt like a “night” album. Both albums also have a nature motif, but May Day’s references feel lighter than something like “My Comrade.” How did the creative process and your headspace for the albums differ?
Yeah! May Day opens on a bright, jangly note, so I see where you’re coming from there. There’s more of an optimistic tone to this album. “My Comrade” and other songs from Primetime Illusion like “It’s Over” are set in the nighttime, and the album covers for the two records reflect that, too. The May Day cover is a 1920s photograph of women dancing around a maypole in the sunshine, while the Primetime Illusion cover is taken in the dark. The albums are different in tone but still feel like companions of sorts.
“Hotel Astor” is based on a hotel you stayed in shortly before you released Primetime Illusion, inspired by its haunted history. How soon after releasing Primetime Illusion did you start working on May Day?
For me, there’s no clear start or finish for any song. They’re all moving targets, whether they’ve been put down on a record or not. But I think the first song that came to me for this record was “Hotel Astor,” which was inspired by a fire that claimed the lives of a nurse and her patient. There’s some lore surrounding the fire that drew me in while I was on a ghost tour of Milwaukee. I started the song in late 2018 at that hotel. I came back to it because it had an urgency that felt timely with the pandemic.
A lyric I feel sums up the album well is “fact, fiction, and fantasy” from “Paris Syndrome,” since one of the most compelling parts of the record is your storytelling. How much of the album drew from personal experience versus stories you came up with?
That’s a great take on the lyric! I thought it fit well within the song but also felt like a nod to the music itself. I like to try on different hats in my songs and write from different perspectives and voices. Most songwriters I’m into do that and I think words like “I,” “you,” and “me” aren’t meant to be specific to the songwriter. Take a song like “It Didn’t Take” – I wrote the verses from a specific character and their experience but the chorus is more personal for me.
Some songs on the album feel connected, like the “took my medicine” lyric on “River Called Disaster” tying into “Little Drop of Medicine” and both “May Day” and “It Didn’t Take” mentioning your birthday. Were these connections intentional?
Of course! We live in a time of shrinking attention spans and a music climate based on singles and algorithms but my songs still work best as communicated in an album format. There’s running motifs and themes within the album that I hope compliment each other.
May Day also marks the first time you’ve played piano on a record, on songs like “River Called Disaster” and “Solo Quarantine.” What drew you to putting piano on the album?
There are piano based songs like “Drive-Thru Divorce” on other albums of mine, but I think I just have a lotta love for the depth and sound of the instrument. It’s much different writing a song on a piano than on a guitar. Some albums that served as inspiration were Closing Time by Tom Waits and the self-titled albums by Leon Russell or Elton John.
Which songs took the longest and shortest times for you to write?
“Something About You” was more atmospheric and ambient than anything I’ve written in the past, so that took a good while. “Hotel Astor” came very quickly.