Today marks the release of Siren Songs, the latest album from tireless Milwaukee troubadour Trapper Schoepp. While the record is a brand new effort, Schoepp fashioned the 12-song release by drawing influence from the past.
“I’m using old formats, old song structures, and old mediums to express things that I think haven’t been sung about to death,” Schoepp says. “There are enough songs about cowboys and broken hearts. There are enough romance songs. I’m trying to communicate new ideas with old formats.”
Siren Songs was largely written during the pandemic, at a point in which Schoepp was getting lost down YouTube rabbit holes of videos pertaining to things like open guitar tuning and Irish music of yesteryear. Around that same time, he was diving headlong into the hobby of paddle boarding as a means of coping with isolation. That diverse set of interests all come together beautifully on material that bears traditional folk influences, while also adhering to a loosely nautical theme.
Last May, Schoepp brought the framework of those songs to Hendersonville, Tennessee, where he and an impressive cast of collaborators would record the album within the hallowed walls of Johnny Cash’s cabin. Over the course of a one-week stay, Schoepp—along with musicians with direct ties to notable acts like Wilco, The Jayhawks, and Justin Townes Earle—laid down live recordings of 14 songs (a dozen of which wound up on Siren Songs) in the same cozy building Cash himself used for artistic creation and family recreation.
“There was definitely a spiritual element to it in that it was recorded in this sacred space and holy house of music where Dolly Parton to Merle Haggard to Snoop Dogg have been through the doors and left their DNA,” Schoepp says.
Schoepp recorded the majority of his parts in “The Fish Room,” which gets its name from the fish that were caught by the Cash family through the years and mounted on the room’s wall. Schoepp was also able to use Cash’s 1930s “shitkicker” Martin guitar that was a fixture of the cabin. June Carter Cash’s Steinway piano also makes a cameo on the record.
Another one of Siren Songs’ Cash connections comes from Johnny’s grandson, Joseph, who had an important role in the album’s creation. In addition to documenting the sessions by taking photos (one of which serves as the record’s cover), Cash sang on a track, played Dobro on another song, directed the music video for “Cliffs Of Dover,” and is even credited as an Assistant Engineer on the project. During down time, Schoepp says the two rode ATVs, played yard games, and bonded over a shared interest in specific movies and music. Between the cozy environment and the welcoming nature of the Cash family, the musicians felt at home in Hendersonville.
“Once we got in the cabin, everything was so relaxed,” Schoepp says.
That comfort is evident throughout Siren Songs, a record that finds the bandleader eschewing elaborate production in favor of raw instrumentation and loose arrangements that puts primary focus on the lyrics and melodies (both of which are among the best in Schoepp’s extensive catalog to date).
Over the span of slightly more than 45 minutes, Schoepp applies his personal perspective to things others are dealing with. The aforementioned “Cliffs Of Dover” is sung from the viewpoint of an Iraq War veteran waging an ongoing battle with PTSD. “Silk And Satin” ably melds maritime references with a historical tale about drag culture.
Nautically speaking, “Good Graces” touches on the beauty and the danger presented by Lake Michigan (a lesson Schoepp learned firsthand in a close call while paddle boarding), “Devil’s Kettle” nods in the direction of a northern Minnesota natural wonder/alleged burial site of many Al Capone enemies, and “Queen Of The Mist” pays tribute to the compulsive courage of Annie Edson Taylor (the first person to survive a trip over Niagra Falls, a feat she accomplished on her 63rd birthday).
Along the way, local listeners are treated to a song about a love affair that begins at 7 Mile Fair of all places. Even without local references, history lessons, or the compelling Johnny Cash-related backstory, Siren Songs succeeds in its loose approach and with its ability to make specific song subjects seem somehow universal. By de-tuning his strings, turning his songwriting approach outward, and reaching into forgotten pockets of the past, Trapper Schoepp has crafted something new, different, and as good as anything he’s ever done to this point.