Home > Interviews > Chris Trapper

 

 

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Boston Beats: Could you state your name and occupation for the record, please?
Chris Trapper: Chris Trapper, singer-songwriter.

BB: How did you first get into music?
Chris: I started playing actually because of my junior high school chorus teacher. You know, in junior high youíre kinda lost, so youíre searching for something to give you some purpose. So I did some sports, some academics. I was pretty bad at both of those things, so one day in seventh grade or eighth grade a chorus teacher said, hey you can sing well, right? You can sing. It was just this one teacher kinda stepping up saying, you know, you have a voice, you should use it more. So she recommended I sing in all these various offshoot groups, like a barbershop group, which was basically a recipe for getting your ass kicked. But I sang with them all through high school. The barbershop quartet was actually kind of key to appreciating the style of jazz on the new album, because itís the same era of music, and the chord changes are actually similar also.

BB: So when did you pick up a guitar?
Chris: I picked it up around that same time actually. My brother was really into Hendrix, and harder rock stuff, and he taught me a couple chordsÖ just enough that I could combine it with the vocal styles I was learning in school. So I started writing songs about getting picked on in high school.
BB: About how old were you then?
Chris: I think I started writing at thirteen.


SONGWRITING AND INFLUENCES

BB: How does a new song usually come about? What do you write first?
Chris: Typically, melodyís what I start with first, Ďcause I think thatís almost like a songís calling card. If you donít like that, you wonít like the rest of the song generally. I walk around with a little tape recorder usually, and just sing melodies into it, whatever pops in my head. It can be very weird at parties, when youíre tucked away in a corner and people are like, are you on a cell phone? Why are you singing into your cell phone?
BB: (Laughs.)
Chris: Then I have to say itís a little tape recorder, and explain the fact that itís part of my job, and I always have to be available for a melody whenever it happens. So itís happened on elevators, crowded elevators, where I know if I donít record it right then and there, if I donít capture it, itís gone.

BB: Have many of your songs come about that way?
Chris: Pretty much all of them, except for the occasional acoustic ballad, which stems from a finger-picking style where you just pick up a guitar and youíre kinda playing along, noodling, and a nice guitar line happens. Then youíll write a song to that. But typically, if itís a pop song, Iíll write off a melody first.

BB: You write a lot of different styles of music. How do you decide what goes on an album?
Chris: Songwritingís always been the first step, regardless of what my outlook was. So for instance, for Gone Again, some writers have asked me, so did you purposely write songs in the style of Dixieland jazz? And the fact was, I just did what I always do. I usually demo around fifty new songs a year, which all happen within a month or two, kind of like a writerís spurt, and then I picked from that. I looked back at all fifty songs, and maybe I liked ten of the pop-rock tunes, and hated fifteen of them, and I liked around five ballads. But then there was this fourth set of songs which were just... I couldnít label them, they were kind of eccentric. Anyway, I basically look at where the songs are at, and decide whether itíll be a rock band album, a Push Stars record, or a solo record, or this new style of Dixieland jazz mixed with pop-rock. Because the song always comes first, before the act influencing the songwriting.

BB: What do you consider to be your musical influences?
Chris: Well, itís hard. Music is really a journey in a lot of ways, so you donít always know where youíre going. Itís a mapless journey, and you are led by what the last thing you liked was, and then you seek out other things from that. Simon and Garfunkel was my first songwriting influence. I just loved their style of writing songs. The first record I ever bought was Dick Clarkís 50ís Hits, the Top Hits of the 50ís. So I had the chordal vibe of 50ís music, mixed with the lyrical vibe of Paul Simon songs. That started me songwriting. So Iíd seek out who Simon and Garfunkelís influences were. So you find the Everly Brothers, then
through them you find the Inkspots, and through them you find the Mills Brothers, and it traces back to these great pop song writers, and itís really an endless journey.

BB: What kind of songwriter were you at thirteen?
Chris: I was in love with what I heard so much that I just started doing it, and it became almost an instant reaction. Iíd have an experience and then immediately try to capture it in a song. Iíd get off the bus from school and walk in my room and start writing some song about being picked on or people laughing at me or whatever, but what I found was that the healing power in writing could transform me, and transport me to a totally different place. Itís instant escape value, which I still seek now daily, practically.

BB: What are some of your favorite albums now?
Chris: Thereís so many, itís hard to say. I love Sam Cooke, heís one of my favorite songwriters. He started out a gospel singer and then crossed over to late 50ís pop songs, so his songs had a certain soul to them. For some reason, you felt that there was a deeper meaning to it, you know, a deeper soul to it. So even if he sang a song like, ďweíre haviní a partyÖ,Ē you could feel a certain sadness to it. I think Iíve always looked to him as an influence. And also, I started the band based on my love for one record. It was a Replacements record called, ďDonít Tell a Soul.Ē It was a later record for them, when they started going a little more singer-songwriter-y from the kind of punk rock thing. I loved that record so much it actually made me want to start a band. I loved the lyrical quality.
BB: What band did you start?
Chris: The Push Stars.


THE PUSH STARS

BB: How did being in the Push Stars affect your songwriting?
Chris: I think the only thing with the Push Stars experience is sometimes Iíd think, well, I
have to write a hit song, or try and write a typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus kind of song. There are some outside pressures, and I always tried not to let them creep in, but subconsciously sometimes you do. You are writing for the fact that you have to make a living for two other guys, and an agent and a manager, and all these people who are looking to make some money off what you write. So I think thatís the only way youíre influenced. You may be a little more apt to rush through, and write a verse-chorus kind of a pop song, you know, a more structured-style song.

BB: Tell me about the Push Stars. Are you guys on hold?
Chris: The Push Stars is more than a business; weíve always been three best friends. And I mean weíre actively best friends. At the end of last year we had toured for seven months straight. And I had done a Borderís Book Store tour, and a radio station tour, visiting all the alternative rock, kinda hip stations, trying to get airplay. I think musically and creatively, we all felt at the end of it like, we just poured our hearts into this last record so much, letís take a break until the inspiration happens again. Weíre still playing gigs now, corporate gigs, and private shows. Weíre just not actually selling the band name, we feel like weíve done that, so weíre not touring actively now. Each of us are doing different projects.

BB: Whatís everybody working on?
Chris: Dan McLoughlin is the bass player, and he opened a recording studio recently. Heís doing great work. Thatís actually where his education was, in recording, so heís produced lots of records, and built a studio in his house. And Ryan MacMillan has bee
n working with the Goo Goo Dolls, as touring help with them. And heís playing in a band called Red Car, which is a good pop band from Los Angeles. So weíre all staying busy with different projects, but we still love the band, weíre still open to it, and weíll probably do another record within the next couple of years.

BB: What are some of the biggest claims to fame for the Push Stars to date?
Chris: I donít know about claims to fame, but I think that we built a really nice fan base thatís open-minded. It wasnít built on a hit song; it was built more on touring and just meeting fans and knowing what their lives are like. Our last tour was with Matchbox Twenty, we opened for those guys. It was a hockey arena tour; that was definitely our biggest tour.


BB: How did that come about? What was the experience like?
Chris: It was ridiculously weird. It was strange, but amazing. Rob Thomas, their lead singer, heard our record and loved it. We were unsigned, with no basically management then, and he brought us on tour anyway, regardless of what the industry thought. The industry works that youíve gotta have a hit record to get that kind of tour, you have to have a hit on the radio, you have to have a video on MTV and VH1, and have all these things in line. And we basically had nothing. Rob heard the record and just brought us on tour. It was amazing for him to give us that treatment. Suddenly we went from playing our dingy rock clubs to, ďholy shit thereís 15,000 people here.Ē And the nice thing was that their audience was very kind to us too, they liked us.

BB: You guys did a cover of a Steely Dan tune for the Me, Myself, and Irene soundtrack. How did that come about?
Chris: The Farrelly brothers are big fans of ours, and picked us as one of around ten bands to re-cut some Steely Dan songs as covers. I had heard their hit songs, but wasnít aware of them more than that. If you asked me to cover Simon and Garfunkel, itíd be easy, but Steely Danís a way different animal. Theyíre jazz-influenced, with complex rhythms, and complex solos. So the Push Stars were on tour in New Jersey somewhere, and I had to learn the song called Bad Sneakers. I learned it, and tried playing it their way, but I couldnít do it, but Iím not that style player. Iím not that good. So I decided to just kinda rethink the song in more of a Latin groove, a kind of fast strum groove.

BB: How did the horns make it on there?
Chris: When the solo section came up, I realized, okay, I canít play that lead. If I tried any guitar solo, it wouldnít sound the same, it and it wouldnít sound as good, and it wouldnít fit the new style we were playing the song. So I got home off tour and was cleaning through my tapes, and I saw this band, which eventually became the Dixieland jazz band who played on the record, called the Commonwealth Jazz Quartet, who Iíd seen years before in Fanueil Hall. I said maybe it would be cool if I brought in their horn section and had them play on this record. It was one of those ideas where I knew I could pitch it to the band and they would be okay with it, and if I pitched it to managers and agents, theyíd be like, whoa whoa itís too weird itís not gonna work, itís not gonna happen. But I felt passionately that it would work. And it did work. Entertainment Weekly actually picked our track as the best track on that record. Thatís initially how I first utilized these guys as players.

BB: So was that part of the inspiration for Gone Again?
Chris: I think the inspiration almost came as anti-inspiration. I didnít want to go back and do a normal rock record, because Iíd done that for the past five records. The Push Stars were doing a lot of work with XM satellite radio, and they sent us all free radios. I literally sat with my boom box on my bed every night, obsessed with it. The potential for radio is suddenly opening up. Iíd been fighting formats for years, with producers saying we have to put it a
power chord in some song because it has to fit in with alternative rock radio, or modern rock radio. But suddenly, your satellite radio has a bluegrass station, a folk station, five country stations, six pop stations, eight rock stations, alternative rock stations, all different stations. So the marketís opening up a little bit. That initially started me thinking, wow, itís really a great time to do something creative, without limits. And this style of jazz is totally rooted in pop music, in songs that were originally written for everybody. I felt that itíd be great if I could somehow get younger people to hear it. Obviously marketing is not the easiest thing to think about, but the challenge inspires me, where Iíve had to totally rethink what I do, and how I talk about it, and how I think about it.


GONE AGAIN

BB: What was it like actually recording the album?
Chris: It was great, it was one of my dreams actually come true. Iíd always dreamed about recording a totally live record. Not a live concert, but just live where thereís no Pro Tools, which is a computer program where you put all the instruments into a grid system where you can literally align every note, everything to make it sound perfect. And Iíve done a lot of recording in that style, but I always feel somehow that thereís a heartbeat thatís not present in those recordings, thereís a humanness thatís not there. So for this record, we basically learned all the songs in one night, and then recorded it in one night, and then mixed it over two nights. So what you hear on record is what happened that night, at that time. And I thought that was a beautiful thing, just a beautiful picture. When we got to the studio, I tried to separate the guys, saying weíll use iso-booths, and put the horns here, put the banjo here, put the tuba in this room, put the drums in this room. And all of them looked at me with this frozen look, you know, saying, we donít do it like that. We all play in one room together. So I just said okay, thatís fine, letís do it.
 

 

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