Jon Phillip Sobers Up, Rocks Out in the ‘Good Land’
Phillip, drummer of Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, had been spending time in Hudson, New York, recording and practicing with bass guitar guru Tommy Stinson of The Replacements and Guns N’ Roses. It was a remarkable achievement for Phillip to join Stinson, but the session had turned into yet another bender for him. Phillip says that since high school he had been struggling with alcoholism. Back home in Milwaukee, his boozing continued.
“I was drinking for weeks. It started affecting everything: my relationship with my girlfriend, my band. I started playing horrible—everybody knew. They were like ‘What’s up with Jon?’ I just stopped going to work,” Phillip says, running a hand through his hair.
“It was like he disappeared,” Trapper Schoepp says of this period. “Whenever we’d arrange to get together, he’d cancel last minute, saying he was sick.” Phillip tried to hide his drinking from his bandmates, but as Schoepp notes, “there’s no hiding the fact you’re wasted when you get behind a drum kit.”
Despite the problems, Schoepp didn’t think his drummer was a lost cause.
“There are plenty of adequate drummers out there, but few with a soul as warm as Jon,” Schoepp says.
Phillip knew he had a problem, but he couldn’t stop.
“I was sneaking off to the bar and drinking all night until I’d piss the bed,” Phillip admits. “And then I’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning and have a panic attack because if I didn’t drink I’d start sweating and shaking to the point I thought I would have a seizure. So I would slam whatever was next to me and throw up, then I’d try to get a little bit down so I wouldn’t shake.”
Eventually he admitted to his longtime friend Ben Perlstein that he “needed help.” Ben helped Jon find MusiCares, an organization that helps get musicians into rehab programs. They sent Jon to a center in Minnesota called Hazelden.
“It was really hard. It was relearning how to have routine, deal with stress and life without having a drink.” His entrance exam also revealed shocking news.
“When they ran tests they found I had been drinking so much I had given myself hepatitis of the liver. Which was crazy because I was 33. It really hit me that I need to not ever drink again,” Phillip says.
After 30 days, Phillip completed his rehab program. A big challenge was ahead of him—returning to the bar culture of Milwaukee.
It’s no secret that Wisconsin has a drinking problem—we often end up on lists citing our binge drinking and drunk driving issues. Earlier this year Business Insider listed Milwaukee as second “Most Hungover City in America.”
“I was nervous to be around all my old habits,” Phillip says. “I work at a bar, I play at bars all the time. It’s Milwaukee. It’s a normal thing to have a Bloody Mary at 9 in the morning and keep drinking from there.”
His first hurdle was playing a show with the Shades within a week of being released from rehab at the North Avenue Soulstice Party. It was a beautiful day and the street was filled with merry revelers.
“It might have been a bad decision, but I wanted to have my normal life back. It was a sink or swim situation. I showed up right before we played and when we finished the set, I immediately got out of there.”
One of the important parts of Phillip’s new routine—his anti-drug—is to keep himself busy with his label, Good Land Records, which he co-founded with his friend Andrew Wieland in 2010. They’ve released albums by nine bands, local and beyond, including Tim Schweiger and the Middlemen, Direct Hit! and Jetty Boys.
The label has several upcoming releases slated—a three-record The Figgs box set, an album by Josh Berwanger out this summer and a new record by the local band Midnight Reruns in September.
“I was really happy to be busy and to do work on the label that I had been missing out on,” Phillip says.
On May 20, Phillip celebrated one year of sobriety.
“I guess what drives me in bad situations is I keep thinking about how screwed up I was. Even on my worst day I feel better than I did,” he says. He also has since been able to help others who have struggled with the same issues.
“I actually drove one guy to Hazelden. Helping others is something that has made me stronger.” He knows his story is not unique and offers this advice to anyone who thinks they have a problem: “Reach out to anyone that can help. Things can get really bad, really fast. You might think you’re young and indestructible, but it’s just not a true thing.”
Good Land Records is online at goodlandrecords.com.