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Trampled By Turtles works with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco to get right sound on new LP

The album "Alpenglow" finds the band from Duluth, Minnesota in what may be their finest form yet. The band's Dave Simonett talks about how the band came to working with Jeff Tweedy to make it all happen, and more.
Trampled By Turtles, L-R: Ryan Young, Tim Saxhaug, Erik Berry, Eamonn McLain, Dave Carroll, Dave Simonett. Photo: TBT PR

Trampled By Turtles, L-R: Ryan Young, Tim Saxhaug, Erik Berry, Eamonn McLain, Dave Carroll, Dave Simonett. Photo: TBT PR

By Ray Chelstowski

Trampled By Turtles is back with a new album. Recorded with Jeff Tweedy at Wilco’s Chicago studio, The Loft, Alpenglow finds the band from Duluth, Minnesota in what may be their finest form yet. The sextet; Dave Simonett, Erik Berry (mandolin), Ryan Young (fiddle), Dave Carroll (banjo), Tim Saxhaug (bass) and Eamonn McLain (cello); here delivers a level of musicianship that might just exceed the high standard of excellence they have set with their previous studio work and legendary live performances. It’s a brotherhood that is about to celebrate their 20th anniversary and there is probably no better moment than now to switch things up.

Alpenglow delivers a series of firsts. It begins with taking the recording process on the road and handing the production reins over to someone new. It also includes a creative openness that for the first time allows for a song written by someone other than Simonett to be included in the tracking. Jeff Tweedy arrived with a demo of his song “A Lifetime To Find” and the rest took care of itself. It’s a song that sits naturally among the other tracks, cast in a perfect “Turtle” light.

The group also reached out to their legions of passionate fans and asked them to send in photos and videos of their experiences at Trampled By Turtles shows. The band was completely overwhelmed by what they received, and even more so by the hundreds of heartfelt stories and emotional sentiments that accompanied them. The result the extraordinary video for “It’s So Hard To Hold On,” which only represents a fraction of what was submitted. It’s a fitting visual representation of the impact this band has many on so many lives during their time together, and a look forward to where else they can make an impact. One area of focus has been their recent effort help raise money for Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The group partnered with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters in a silent charity auction that ran from September 30th through October 10th. Items included rare memorabilia, outdoor gear, experiences, signed posters, and even their stage owl. It was a resounding non-musical hit that will help preserve a large and important piece of Minnesota from predatory mining.

Goldmine’s Natural Funk Projekt had an opportunity to speak with Simonett about how the band came to working with Jeff Tweedy, and what lasting musical lessons he took away from their time together. We also spoke about the upcoming tour and what the already sold-out shows means to the band and their legacy.

   

Trampled By Turtles. Alpenglow album cover.

Trampled By Turtles. Alpenglow album cover.

Goldmine: Your performance at the first Sound on Sound festival last month was powerful. You seemed to have as much fun as your fans.

Dave Simonett: From our point of view that festival was great. The way bands judge a festival is probably different than the way a concert-goer does, but we were very well taken care of, the stage was super cool, and I liked the layout. We had a great time!

GM: How do you approach building set lists for your shows, especially when you arrive at a new festival?

DS: As with any show we play, that’s always a “day of” decision. I’ve tried to make set lists really far in advance of a show and tailor them to what I think a place is going to be like. But what I’ve found is that we don’t really know much until we get to the venue. Then we pick up the vibe or the mood. One thing that I do is try to look at the last time we were in that area and try to make it different. Other than that it comes down to what we feel like doing that day.

Trampled By Turtles. Photo: TBT PR

Trampled By Turtles. Photo: TBT PR

GM: Jeff Tweedy has a lot going on this year. Was it difficult to work your record into his schedule?

DS: No, it was actually pretty easy. We had already set aside studio time for ourselves and had decided to go somewhere else to make an album. Then when we thought about asking Jeff and he said he would do it the time that we set aside petty much aligned with time that he had available. So there wasn’t too much wrangling required. It was really seamless which is surprising given how busy Jeff is. We’re busy too and sometimes it’s just too hard to make something like this work out. But it worked out just fine.

GM: What was it about Jeff that made you feel that he was the right producer for this project?

DS: I think that I would want to work with Jeff on any pile of songs that I had. We actually were on the fence about having an outside producer but we had some shows lined up with Wilco in 2020 and they were some of the few that got rescheduled after the pandemic. As that was happening we were talking about this record and how we wanted to make it different. The obvious answer was to find someone to produce it to give it another viewpoint. So since we were working with Wilco to reschedule the shows it just seemed obvious, why not Jeff? Musically you can pick any of our albums and I would have been happy for him to work with us on them. He is the kind of songwriter and producer that I really admire

GM: Did he bring something to the process that you will take moving forward to your next record?

DS: Yes, absolutely. For me as a songwriter it was to not just settle for the chords that I think should be on the song. For example, I came to those studio sessions with a group of songs that I thought were done. Jeff came in and helped us rearrange almost all of them. Things felt a little repetitive so we got rid a chorus here and we added a little instrument part there. The thought and focus he gave each song taught me to realize that maybe songs aren’t done when I think they are. I mean what’s the rush in getting this finished? I really like that attitude.

GM: Is there something special about the Wilco studio in Chicago where you recorded the album?

DS: It sounds great in there. They done a great job making that place a studio. They also had it set up in a way that let us record live, which is what we prefer. We sit in a circle and play the songs. On this record I sang everything live and did only a few over dubs for harmonies. The studio itself is one big room. There are a couple of smaller rooms you can use if you want some isolation. But the big room really lent itself to what we wanted to do.

GM: As someone who writes all of the music for the band, was it weird accepting a song from Jeff?

DS: Yeah, it was. We’ve never done that before. He asked us before we arrived if we would be open to it and we were. So one day when we got to the studio he had a lyric sheet printed out, played us a demo of that song and we were overjoyed. It was an avenue we had never explored and after playing music with this guy for only a few days it felt totally comfortable. It was fun and I love the song; so I was happy to put it on the record. They actually ended putting that song on their new Wilco album as well.

GM: Your fans submitted photos and stories from moments at your shows for the video for “It’s so hard to hold on”. What was the most touching story you received?

DS: There were a few. Both had to do with near death moments. One was about a father who ten years ago had taken his son to one of our shows and had since died. It was really humbling to read through a lot of that stuff. I’m a music fan as well and have had connections to different songs throughout my life. So to hear that others have had that kind of connection with us was an emotional thing to discover. I was very thankful that people took the time to share that stuff with us.

GM: Tell us more about the auction the band is hosting for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area?

DS: I recently joined the board of directors for an organization called Sportsman for the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota is over a million square acres of wilderness with thousands of lakes and rivers. They are all non-motorized waters so it’s paddle-only. It’s a federally protected area but lately there’s been a lot of interest in mining as we have become more dependent on batteries. So this group focuses on the hunting and fishing part of that wilderness and keeping that environment as clean as possible. We decided as a band to auction off some old retired stage stuff and autographed rarities with all proceeds going to Sportsman for the Boundary Waters.

GM: You’ve already sold out a number of upcoming shows in Vermont, the Carolinas, and Los Angeles. It has to affirm everything you have done to date, and how you’ve done it.

DS: Twenty years in that news feels really good because it wasn’t always like that. It’s a really exciting time for our band and it makes us feel really great that we’re still out there doing it. 

  

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