Double Album (broken up in Acts I & II online):
- So Beautiful
- Slow Burn
- Barren Girl
- Pine Away
- Big Boys
- All My Love
- Dead Meat
- Skin Yourself
- Poor Son
- Waist Deep In Water
- These Old Bones
- I Want Both
- Ballad For A Good Man
- Reap What You Sow
The (hand-drawn, 60-page) artwork for The Cowboy is available here, for now:
The Cowboy is a double album – on your favorite streaming services (along with fancy credits and notes here on this page). As you can see from the cover, Nora Fischer and Yori Swart both sing on the album, and that’s pretty fantastic. It’s a concept album about a Cowboy and his women. Designed with a theatrical concert in mind.
I’ve set up a bandcamp page where you can download whatever music you’d like, and name your price, if you like what you hear and want to buy me a drink. You can also download all the sheet music for it (and other compositions). Here it is:
Music/Instruments/Production: Tom Trapp
Text: Tom Trapp/Anabel Pham Mueller
Vocals: Nora Fischer/Yori Swart
Electric Bass: Mark Haanstra
Drums: Joost Kroon
Mastering Engineer: Marc Broer
In case anyone is interested in how this CD came together…
The way it worked with text was, I would give Anabel a subject and she would write up some stuff. I would then take the stuff and bastardize it (thanks for letting me do so, Anna!), so anything that sounds stupid is my fault.
The way it worked with music was different for every track – I’ll try to detail the process here. I hate program notes at concerts where you’re told what to think (i.e.: “In the exposition, the composer chooses B minor as a twist on the expected D major, evoking primal feelings of sadness”), so I’ll try to stick to the technical stuff and avoid all that.
Also, if you’re keen – please open your eyes and look for Nora Fischer, Yori Swart, Mark Haanstra and Joost Kroon anywhere you can and listen to what they’re capable of, because all four are some of the best, most intuitive musicians I’ve ever worked with, and I´m lucky to have them even touch my stuff. Thank you guys, very very much.
I knew I wanted to start with the Cowboy’s funeral, and have both girls singing. I wrote the vocals over just a tempo, decided to have no verse/chorus-type song, and that it would be free over an improvised National guitar track. So I tracked the National with the click, matched the bass part to the improvised National, recorded the vocal separately, then found where I thought it would work. I really like the aggressive sound of the National with 16-gauge bridge cable. I dig this track a lot, and think the girls sound amazing.
2. So Beautiful
I wrote the music, then a free melody to go over the top. That’s one of my big things on the record – freedom for the singer to do what they do best – and Yori interpreted it scary good, then I sang my parts on those 9-part “I’m your man” choirs. Jesus, Yori, thanks.
3. Slow Burn
This was the first track I wrote for the album. I was trying to teach myself to play with fingerpicks, and when I finally could (after 6 months or so of feeling like a 5-year old on the guitar), I wrote the interlude first, then the rest of the song around it. With the guitar solo, I liked what I had improvised, so I transcribed it, entered it into a notation program (insert Finale endorsement here), exported the MIDI, and doubled the improvised guitar very lightly with some synth stuff. The text writing with Anna came last, trying to fit it into the storyline – and any excuse to say “Fay Wray, King Kong” is an as good an excuse as any.
I knew early on that choir pieces were important to me for the album, and this was the second one I wrote. I wanted the Cowboy to have something he always sang to his wife, so that’s where the text came from. I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, but I like the tune, (actually I think the choir stuff is the best writing on the album) and I think I took about 60 takes of the lead vocal, and kept the one where I was ill.
I wrote the music for it as a lead sheet for a group I play with. It wasn’t the right fit for the group, so the tune just kinda waited on the right opportunity to get used. I KNOW (and have been told repeatedly) that there’s a measure in there that sounds like either “Imagine” or “Watermelon in Easter Hay” so, a thanks to Lennon and/or Zappa respectively, before anyone else reminds me of that. The idea was to have Yori as ‘the girlfriend’ watching the Cowboy in a nightclub, digging on what he was up to. I played it for her and she just riffed over it. I liked the riffing so much, I just mixed it weird and low and left it, deciding on no ‘real’ melody/meaningful text. You can hear her laughing, too – which is one of my favorite sounds in the whole world.
6. Barren Girl
One of the only ways I can stand listening to my own voice is if I sing thick chords, and I knew I was gonna sing this one. So that’s why it’s all chords. Or backwards. I can stand my voice backwards, too. And the Cowboy is getting irritated about his wife being barren and not being able to give him little cowboys. And, of course, there has to be a big loud open-D slide thing on every album of guitar music, otherwise you should just shitcan the whole thing. That’s a joke. But that’s where the music came from.
7. Pine Away
Wrote this pretty regularly, with the melody/vocals last. I really like Nora’s inflection here, a lot, and Nora singing a duet with herself is the best discovery I’ve made in a while. I’ve been told saying “fucking” at the end is a weird idea, but I think it fits. Not coming to a conservative radio station near you.
8. Big Boys
I wrote this for a group I play with, and stole it from the live set to put it on the album. Getting a Gretsch 6120 (it’s a guitar, for the uninitiated) was a revelation for me, and plugging it into an amp and turning it way, way up was an even bigger revelation. Joost’s ideas on the drums are amazing, I think – and I wanted to mix everything to let it sound like dude smacking the shit out of a drumset, which is exactly what he’s doing here. No one like Joost. And no one like Mark, who rips the face off of a bass part here (and the two of them playing together is another one of my favorite sounds in the world).
9. All My Love
It’s the “Lullaby” with Yori’s vocals from the “Requiem” backwards. She’s saying “All my love, he said.” The text was written so it would work both forwards and backwards. That’s another joke.
I think they should invent an award to give to Joost for his feel on this tune. Not much to say about this, I like to make Yori laugh whenever possible. The cowboy is trying to get some trim (and his ‘horse’ may or may not be a euphemism for something else), and the phrase “Get your ass up onto my horse” seemed funny and cowboy-appropriate. So, if you happen to be one of those people who owns horses, give it a shot, let me know if you get some trim.
11. Dead Meat
This was another track that had been sitting around for awhile. I couldn’t decide what to do with the melody – then I could. I’m not very good at proper song-form, and I really like freer ‘verses’ and in-time ‘pre-choruses.’ And I generally like the way Nora Fischer sings and phrases things. She is radically intuitive at taking sheet music and turning it into floating molecules of happy stuff for your ear holes – and I’m in love with Mark’s mastery of bass harmonics and timing. Bless ’em both.
1. Skin Yourself
Anna wanted another text credit so she asked me to put those vocals on the beginning. Of course, that’s not true. One take on the bass and drums, one take on the guitar: I think it’s pretty much the pinnacle of how someone can play freer on the drums and still glue everything together while kicking major ass. The guitar is one of two hi-gain solos on the album (the other is “Waist Deep”) on this magical Steve Vai guitar that was a gift (thanks a million again, Steve, I love you lots). The pickups are built for hi-gain stuff in a way that other pickups just ain’t. It just chainsaws its way through everything, killing zombies and taking your first borns and girlfriends.
2. Poor Son
Written the same day as “Pine Away” and in this weirdo CGCGGC tuning that I like. There’s like 6 notes I can sing reasonably – because they’re close to my speaking voice – and my second verse is those notes. Speaking of which, I’m amazed these 2 phenomenal musicians don’t mind my voice along with them on these tracks – thanks again, girls.
That acoustic with delay at the beginning is my favorite guitar part on the album, and I generally like this song. I think I took like 20 takes of the sandblocks and shakers, discovering that – for some reason, I have immense difficulty playing those – so, thanks for putting up with me, Joost. There’s a kind of soft vocal delivery here that Yori is very good at. I, of course, ruin that by singing the second voice, but Yori still sounds good.
This piece was originally commissioned for a guitar festival in Amsterdam (thanks to ‘Amsterdam Electric’ and my friends Wiek Hijmans and Jack Pisters for the work). For the festival, I wrote “Luna” around Anna’s beautiful text, and wrote and conducted another piece (called “Aid”) for Adrian Belew and 200 amateur guitarists, so the festival has a special place in my heart. The lead part was sung at the festival by the amazing Stanley Clementina, but having the ‘song the girlfriend sings to the cowboy’ suddenly interpreted by a male gospel singer messed with the storyline, so you get Yori’s voice instead. Sorry, Stanley – I’m sure we’ll again do something awesome sometime.
5. Waist Deep In Water
It’s loud and fun to play. Cowboy is in deep doo-doo with his health and the girls – so that’s why. And the ‘eat the world’ guitar solo at the end was the demo take I played in for Mark and Joost, and they convinced me to keep it, so I did. That’s the second ‘Vai guitar’ solo.
I wrote the music to this piece as an instrumental backdrop for the winner of a “short story” competition in the Netherlands, and a one-off on the radio seemed a shame, so I revised everything later, and wrote different text. Nora’s interpretation here really shows what she’s capable of. It’s scary as hell, and you should probably be jealous that I know her personally.
7. These Old Bones
The cowboy is dying – things just generally ain’t going his way. I really like the feel of this tune. The guitar stuff was the first thing I wrote, then those choir chords. Add a weird/non-existent structure and you’ve got a tune. Speaking of scary, Joost’s extensive drum solo here is pretty much what you wish every drummer was capable of, but sadly, it’s really just Joost. I don’t see much art in free-time drum solos, but I see a lot in ‘in-tempo’ drum solos, and I think my only instructions to Joost were “stay in time, build to apeshit over 4 and a half minutes” or something like that.
8. I Want Both
The girls decide to continue the family without the Cowboy, because if two people love someone, there must be something they dig about each other, somewhere. Much like “Nine,” I played it for Yori and she riffed on it. The thumpy guitar riff and voice was the only material for awhile. I built the tune “inside-out” from there. There´s a vocal ‘crunch’ and intuition that, in my experience, only Yori is capable of.
9. Ballad For A Good Man
Not much to say here, it’s wordless and 9 minutes long with a bunch of dead cowboys at the end. Not exactly the dictionary definition of a “radio hit.” But I like it. And it’s the guitar solo on the album that is closest to ‘me.’
10. Reap What You Sow
The last thing written for the album, actually. I was waiting to write a final choir piece, and this turned out to be it. I think it (accidentally) seals everything up nicely, and I think the girls sound pretty. And I am not at all ashamed of the ‘Day In The Life’ reference on the last chord.
Thank you very much for listening and being at all interested.