Joe Wong’s ‘The Trap Set’ Podcast Lets the Drummer Get Some
Even though musicians seem to collectively agree that a good one is hard to find, it’s no secret that drummers are also sort of the unsung heroes of the industry. Their skill can make or break a song, but when it comes to credit and attention, the rewards are slim. Beyond usually being physically stuck in the back with the equipment, they’re often unjustly seen as mere support and thus passed over by much of the press. Seeking to correct this imbalance however, Milwaukee-native Joe Wong has spent the last two years of his life chronicling the personal and professional lives of fellow drummers via his popular podcast, The Trap Set. As it turns out, they’re a lot like us.
“I was on tour in Japan with a band called Parts & Labor,” says Wong, recalling the genesis of the show, “We were a really loud band and you’re hearing music every night, so during the day, I couldn’t really listen to music, my ears were just burnt out, and then I discovered WTF with Marc Maron.” For Wong, the show’s instant appeal was less about the laughs and more about the personal connections Maron manages to forge. “I can remember really being struck by the fact that he was able to engage very deeply with these other comedians, but they didn’t necessarily talk about the craft of comedy, that was just an entry point into a more substantial conversation.”
Realizing the same could be done within his own sometimes esoteric and overly technical profession, it took a serendipitous encounter with future guests Fred Armisen and Brendan Canty of Fugazi to convince Wong to really get his podcast idea off the ground. Since then though, he’s produced nearly 100 episodes, intimately getting to know everyone from jazz legend Bernard Purdie to comedian Todd Barry and beyond. “It’s becoming a really detailed oral history of drummers in general,” Wong says proudly, noting that many didn’t exactly feel all that bad about not being in the spotlight. “Just by design the singer is usually the focal point of the band and most drummers that I speak to are happy about that, sincerely.”
Already widely syndicated online, the program was poised to make the jump to terrestrial radio, and there was no more natural place to start than Milwaukee’s own listener-supported WMSE. Station manager Tom Crawford proved a receptive audience. “I started it as a podcast, but from the beginning we thought it would make sense as a radio show, because the goal was to make something that happened to be about drummers but would be interesting to anybody” explains Wong. “I noticed that Tom was a fan of the show on social media very early on, so I pitched it to WMSE and it’s worked out really great. I grew up in Milwaukee listening to WMSE and discovered so much great music.”
Now, The Trap Set is making another homecoming, pulling into Colectivo’s Back Room for a special live edition featuring a host of local talent. Joining Wong will be Call Me Lightning’s Shane Hochstetler, Maritime’s Dan Didier, Violent Femmes alum Victor DeLorenzo and minimalist percussionist Jon Mueller. It’s an impressive lineup, although Wong had hoped for a little more diversity. “I reached out to a few female drummers, some folks from the salsa/Latin scene, the gospel scene and we wound up with a bunch of white guys,” he says, laughing. Regardless, Wong is all about finding common ground. “We can still explore issues that are unique to Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee music scene. I just want to see what naturally emerges.”
What typically emerges from his in-depth interviews is a wealth of fascinating stories, some of particular interest to hardcore music aficionados, some about more everyday, universally identifiable experiences. In much the same way Marc Maron uses comedy on his own podcast, music is simply the lens that allows Wong to bring our shared humanity into sharp focus. “Really I want people to forget that I am even talking to drummers, I want them to realize how universally compelling every life is given the right framing, the right point of entry,” says Wong earnestly, “and what the show enables us to do is kind of engage with people on that usually deep level. The fact that we’re drummers is almost incidental.”
The Trap Set with Joe Wong hosts a live recording Saturday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m. at the Back Room at Colectivo.