You've Heard Chris Trapper … Even If You Don't Realize It
My conversation with the Boston singer/songwriter
You may not realize it, but you've heard Chris Trapper. His songs and voice have been on everything from hit movies — including a Farrelly Brothers classic — to daytime TV. Don't miss the chance to see him live at The Evening Muse on April 20.
Revue: Your songs are everywhere — in hit movies and TV shows like There's Something About Mary, The Devil Wears Prada, All My Children, ER and August Rush — yet there may be people who don't realize you're the one singing them. Do people know you're Chris Trapper of August Rush fame?
Chris Trapper: It's a funny thing. I can pretty much guarantee that everyone in this country, and nearly across the world, has heard my voice, or heard a song of mine, yet because of my career trajectory, I remain relatively unknown. Actually, the truth is, many talented people are in the same boat, so I don't sweat it at all. I feel grateful to make a living doing something I really love. I get to pour my heart into my work, whereas most people's work sucks the heart out of them. Actually, it boils down to one simple fact: I've never really been mass marketed. The August Rush song did very well. The soundtrack is nearly gold, driven, in a large part by my song. However, I didn't sing it, the actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers sings it – and does a stellar job of it. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of covers of this song on youtube, and most of the credit goes to Jonathan. It really doesn't bother me at all. I got paid handsomely, and consider it another stair on my very slow escalator to the mountaintop.
Revue: Who are your musical influences?
CT: My songwriting influences might fall into three categories: I love Sam Cooke for the overall brilliance, simplicity, and soulfulness; Paul Westerberg maybe for my rock n' roll side, and John Prine would be my holy grail as far as my folk side, but at the same time, that's really oversimplifying. For instance, I was obsessed with Latin music a couple years ago, and that was all I listened to, so I guess a lot of things sneak in.
As far as performing influences, I'd say Martin Sexton and Colin Hay would be my big two, only because I've worked the road with both of them a lot.
Revue: You've performed with some very well-known singers, like Rob Thomas and Colin Hay. And both of them are featured on your newest album. How did those collaborations come about? What was it like working with them?
CT: Speaking of Colin Hay, he and I met a few times. The first he wouldn't remember, because I was a fan waiting in line to meet him. The second time, I opened for him in Madison, Wisconsin. Then we finally became friends working at the Edmonton Folk Festival together. I found him funny, and amazingly down- to-earth, and that inspired me to want to learn from him. Oh, and also the small part of him being a great singer/songwriter. I was on tour with him last year, as I was making my record, and I just blurted out the question “Would you sing on my record?” I'm sure he would rather not have, but he did anyway. He claims to be a fan of mine though, which is cool.
Rob Thomas and I toured together with our bands in 2005, and stayed in touch since. Our friendship consists primarily of texting each other late at night, probably and usually drunk. I texted him that I was “Working on a record; would he sing with me?” He texted back “I'll try,” which to me meant no. Then about a month passed, and I asked again, and he told me to send along the song. When it was said and done, he had tracked about eight different harmony vocal parts, all of them good, so it became a chorus of Rob’s. When I heard he was actually going to sing with me, I was visiting my family in Buffalo. Everyone was really excited, but for my mother, who was quick to remind me that I was “just as good as Rob Thomas.”
Revue: Many of your songs – “Elvis Presley Blvd.,” “Ever Since the Day,” “Starlight” — are so evocative of a time and place. They really tell a story. In fact, they do such a good job of telling a story that it's hard to imagine they're not autobiographical. Are they? Do you always write from personal experience?
CT: Yeah, I rarely write fiction. I missed a flight once because I was so fascinated reading a book on Elvis in an airport bookstore, so “Elvis Presley Blvd.” might be the closest I've come to fiction. To me, if I'm going to sing a song again and again, I need to believe it. If I don't, there is a natural repellent in my DNA that shows up. Plus, songwriting to me has always been total therapy, ever since I wrote my first song, it's always been because I needed to say something. I was a very bad stutterer as a kid, so music became my escape from this very strange and personal inner struggle. It gave me, initially, a secret place to hide in, then eventually, attention, girls, money, etc. The first song off my new album, “Here All Along,” is amazingly personal to me, in that it talks about addiction in way most songwriting hasn't dealt with — waiting for the addict to crash down.
Revue: If you weren't a singer/songwriter, what would you be doing?
CT: I can't speculate on what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing music, because, God willing, I'm still doing music. But I do often think of a fantasy career, and right now, my fantasy career would be produce manager at a supermarket. When I was 16, my first job was cart-boy at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. called “Super Duper,” which was not exactly a joyous vocation. I always remember the produce manager at the time was a 30-something year-old guy, who seemingly didn't have a care in the world, other than the obvious rotten apple, occasional moldy melon, etc. But he always seemed blissful to me. Maybe he was stoned all the time; I wouldn't have known the difference. All I can say is, every year since I started in music, I thought might be my last, and here I am fifteen years later, with more going on in my career than ever.
Revue: A number of my favorite folk singers started out in Boston. You, Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot, David Berkeley. How important was Boston in fostering your desire to be a musician who makes his living on the road?
CT: The Boston music scene, I have to admit, was pretty darn supportive as far as the singer/songwriter scene goes. The rock and roll scene was a whole different animal, and that was initially my vehicle out of Boston. But at the very beginning, before I started a band, I was hanging with guys like Martin Sexton and Ellis Paul, and their careers were just taking shape. They completely had my back. And they are the guys I see out on the road today. We used to have song circles on Martin's back porch, and we would feed off each other, songwriting ideas, career frustrations, sparks of possibility from here and there. Rock bands can be jealous p***s, competitive, and mostly not friendly, because you're competing to be huge, which a band must be to make a living. The singer/songwriter scene is far more empathetic and cool.
Revue: Your birthday song should replace “Happy Birthday to You” as the official song sung at birthday parties — at least for people over 30. I love it! I don't really have a question related to the song; I just wanted to tell you I love it and say I hope you'll perform it in Charlotte. My birthday's not until September, but we can pretend.
CT: My very humble goal as a songwriter is to replace the original birthday song with my birthday song, by the time I die. I think that pretty much says it all.