Trapper Schoepp was recording May Day in the middle of two simultaneous life-altering crises. At a recording studio outside Milwaukee, during the height of the COVID pandemic, Schoepp recalls stepping outside wearing a surgical mask to witness a line of military vehicles on their way to confront protesters expressing outrage at yet another instance of police killing a black man. It’s under that tense, emotional background, that the Wisconsin native was recording music for May Day, the follow-up to 2019’s critically lauded Primetime Illusion.
Appropriately enough, emotion is all over this latest effort, a remarkably beautiful collection of 10 songs covering the spectrum from pain and uncertainty to hope and renewal. Even the album title and cover, a 1920s picture of women dancing around a maypole erected near the Washington Monument, focuses on both a reflection of the past and an optimistic look ahead. There is an impressive balance on the record between pessimism and optimism; looking to leave a bad relationship on the opening title track, but finding solace in getting lost on “Yellow Moon.” Even in a tragic song like “Hotel Astor,” about a fire that took the lives of guests in 1935, Schoepp manages to create love in disaster, with the narrator realizing his one regret was not acknowledging his romantic love early on.
Songs like “Solo Quarantine” tap into the isolation we collectively felt over the past year, and our efforts to try and reclaim a bit of normalcy and connect with others, highlighting Schoepp’s extraordinary knack for relatable songwriting. The beautifully delicate “Paris Syndrome,” written on tour in France, makes use of this little known but real condition describing the way tourists feel when the city does not meet their unrealistic expectations. The record closes on the piano-driven moody, but striking “Something About You,” one of the more pessimistic tracks on the album that otherwise offers glimpses of optimism throughout.
“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 said recently. “After this trying winter, we found solace in making an album for the spring.”
Photo by Mitch Keller