Still wildly hot after their highly praised SXSW performances, Trampled By Turtles is making their way to our city in just over a week! With a (spectacular) new album fresh off the presses, I have a feeling this band is going to exponentially increase their fan base this year … Bluegrass lovers take heed.
Trampled By Turtles are a fantastic band. If any of you are looking to check out some honest, high caliber bluegrass talent, the group will be performing at Westcott Theater on April 19th, and I implore you to go see this show. After hearing their latest album, “Stars and Satellites,” I envision a very lengthy career for the 5-piece from Duluth, Minnesota.
I recently spoke with guitar player and vocalist Dave Simonett over the telephone to discuss the group’s new release, creative vision, and travel plans for 2012. It looks like it’s going to be a busy year for these guys!
Greg- Hi Dave and thank you for taking the time to speak with Upstate LIVE! If you would, please introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone and what do they play?
Dave- Well, I’m Dave (Simonett) and I play guitar, sing and am a songwriter for Trampled By Turtles. Ryan Young plays the fiddle, Dave Caroll plays the banjo, Eric Berry plays the mandolin and Tim Saxhaug plays the bass.
Greg- Trampled By Turtles has been a band since 2003. How did everyone meet and when did you all decide to start the group?
Dave- Well Eric Barry, Dave Caroll and I started the group as kind of a side project. We were all playing in rock bands at the time in the town of Duluth, Mn. We wanted to do something acoustic because none of us had ever been in an acoustic project before, so it started as a very informal thing. We kind of learned some old string music… It wasn’t random, but there wasn’t much though behind it. We just had these bluegrass instruments and we wanted to play some acoustic shows.
Eventually, our bass player joined up and, pretty much around the time he joined, the other bands that we were in broke up, all within a few months of each other. So we were left with this band and, instead of keeping it a side project… We were having a good time, so we just decided to roll with it.
Greg- So, tell me a bit about Duluth, Minnesota… How is the Bluegrass scene in your hometown? When did you first start listening to Bluegrass music and who are some of your favorites?
Dave- As far as the bluegrass scene in Duluth goes, there really isn’t much of one. There are a couple of groups, but it’s not like… As great as the music scene is in Dultuh, it’s fairly small, because it’s a smaller city, but I think there is pretty much one of everybody there. There are several rock bands, but none sound like the other. There isn’t really much of a focused bluegrass scene there.
When we started, we knew of one other bluegrass, old time music band, and it was like a weekly jam in a small restaurant. So, we started doing it because we’d never really listened to it before, and found a whole world of stuff that we loved and I still listen to today.
If I had to pick a favorite blue grass musician, Bill Monroe is my guy. I kinda stayed with the old generation… I usually tend to go back to that era. They were forging such new territory in kind of a conservative, country music scene.
Greg- Can you tell me about how you came up with the name for the group?
Dave- Our mandolin player Eric made it up. When we were starting out, we had a couple of shows booked locally and we didn’t have a name. Eric threw the name out there and it was the one that we all didn’t hate (laughter). It was something that wasn’t taken very seriously.
Greg- Your new album, “Stars and Satellites” is incredible! Who is releasing the album and where did you record and produce the record?
Dave- Banjodad (Records) is our own little label and we have released all of our albums on our own. This time around, we went through a little bit of time where we were looking at record labels, but it’s better in the end to just put it out ourselves. It’s a liberating and free kind of way to work, you know?
We recorded it in a log home just north of Duluth last September. Eric and his wife had had their second child, and it was the only time we had to work on the record, so we needed to find a space to record that was close to them in that area. So we found this place that was a vacation home that anybody can rent out, and blocked it off for a few days. We moved the studio in and stayed there for a week and recorded it like that. It was an amazing time!
Greg- Can you tell us a bit about the creative process and who writes the tunes? Is it a joint effort, or do individual members bring ideas to the table to flesh out while jamming?
Dave- All of the songs that have lyrics were written by me. A couple of instrumentals that are on the record were either written by Eric or Dave on the banjo. As far as the ones I write, I come up with the chords, melodies, and lyrics and bring it to the guys. As far as the band’s arrangement of the song, we work at it as a group and everybody comes up with their own parts for the songs.
With this record, most of the songs… I think there were two or three that we had played before… The great bulk I had been working on on my own, and we kind of fleshed them out in the studio. There were a couple of times where the first take of the song was the first time the band had played it all the way through, so it was really a fresh kind of feeling. I think what you lose in arrangement, we kind of gain in vibe when we record like that.
Greg- Nice! How long do you usually take to write a new song/album and was this experience different from your previous records?
Dave- It’s pretty much the same. We’ve always recorded records pretty fast, and the bulk of this one was recorded in about 5 days in the cabin. We did a couple of overdubs in Minneapolis, but it took us about a week for the record.
Our last record was a little bit different. We recorded it on weekends, throughout a wider span of time and we did it in a few different studios. But for this one, it was kind of straight through. I don’t think we’ve spent a total of 2 weeks on a record, whether that’s good or not! (laughter) For this band, we’ve always got our best material in the beginning.
Greg- Whatever you guys did, it worked out really well, so I implore you to keep with that style! You recently astounded your audiences at SXSW and have a very busy tour schedule coming up. Where will you be playing?
Dave- Well, we start pretty much at our release show here in Minneapolis. Then, we do an East Coast and South East coast run this month. We come home for a week and a half, and then we go out to the West coast and the mountains next month, and Summertime is filled with festivals that we are really excited about! Come Fall, we’re probably just gonna keep on the road. We do have a lot of busy times coming up, but we are really looking forward to it!
Greg- Any particular shows you are most excited about or bands that you hope to share a bill with in the future?
Dave- Well, it’s a hard question to answer. When we go on tour, we don’t go out for a long period of time. I have a 1-year old daughter, Eric has 2 kids… We try to keep it within a couple of weeks so we can come home. So when we pick a tour, everywhere we pick is very much on purpose because we really want to go there, you know? We’re really looking forward to every show. Syracuse is new, so that makes it exciting! It’s just a blessing to be excited about every night.
Greg- Well, hopefully you get a nice response up here in Syracuse… I’m gonna be there! Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here in Syracuse, in NYS, and everywhere that listens to Trampled By Turtles who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
Dave- I think the most important thing is to just stay true to yourself. It might sound like a cliché, but it is very applicable in this business. There are a lot of people that are going to try to change what you do in the interest of commercial success, should you get tothat point. But I think what is most important is making the music you want to make, how you want to make it, and when you want to make it. Everything else is a bit out of your control… It’s “Right place, Right time.” But no matter what, you can look back and say ‘Hey at least I did it the way I wanted to do it!’