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Trampled by Turtles get wild

By Dan MacIntosh, July 2014

Trampled By Turtles is an indie folk group, an alt.-country band or a bluegrass act - depending on how you choose to look at them. Perhaps it's best to view the outfit as the ultimate combo platter consisting of just about everything that's good about American music. They play wonderfully, yet they also write intelligent songs that draw everyone from Townes Van Zandt to Nirvana to Ralph Stanley. It's all good, and some (or all) of these influences can be spotted in most of Trampled By Turtles' enjoyable sounds.

Trampled By Turtles is also the sort of band name that has a little fun with nature. One doubts there has ever been a seriously damaging turtle stampede throughout history. Yet this Duluth, Minn. bluegrass-accented group decisively upped the animal ante by calling its latest full-length "Wild Animals." Why?

TBT sings

"It's kind of a hard question to answer," Trampled By Turtles lead singer Dave Simonett responds. "When we were putting the track order together, that song name stuck out as a possible title. But I think it has more to do with the general theme of the record – if you want to call it that. That's a little bit dubious because I don't know if there was an actual theme going into it. But I feel like coming out of it, there seems to be some kind of connection or disconnect with nature in the record. So I think that that, combined with the simple part that we just like the name; I think those two made it work for us."

Sometimes, critics' reviews of Trampled By Turtles albums can be revealing – even to the band itself.

"I just read one," Simonett relays, "that described lyrics throughout different songs as – at least from this writer's perspective – a larger human disconnect with the natural world the farther we go here. And I even wrote a bit to that in the bio. But it wasn't a conscious thing when I was writing the songs. But seeing this specific review and having him pull these lyrics from all these different tunes and putting them in that context, it kind of made me think, well, maybe that is it. This happens to me a lot when writing. I'll just write, and it's almost unconscious – I mean, there's conscious, for sure – and a lot of it's an activity, and I become happy with something or I don't; either I like it or not."

"But I rarely ever think to write to a specific subject - like how some people can write about a boat or something. I have a terrible time doing that, so I just gave up doing that. But what ends up happening is I'll kind of make a record and look back, and in my own songs for God's sake, they seem to make more sense when I hew them together than when I wrote them. But I'm going to go with that because I like that theme. I think that's good and something I'd like to speak to, even if I didn't do it on purpose."

Looking at some of the songs, Simonett can now see specific songs that speak to this seeming man-nature disconnect.

"I think ‘Wild Animals' in particular does," says Simonett. "There's also kind of a subtext of that subject, which would be my own leaving kind of a natural atmosphere, the place that I used to live not that long ago, and moved to more of a metropolitan area that kind of intertwines with that. There's definitely lines speaking to that. Also ‘Winners' comes to mind, the last song on the record, and ‘Ghosts,' which is kind of in the middle of the record. I'd really have to go back and listen to know."

Nevertheless, Simonett didn't completely uproot himself when he relocated. "I moved from the town of Duluth," he recounts "which is on the north shore of Lake Superior, kind of by Canada, and now I live in Minneapolis. So it's not like moving from the farm to Manhattan, or anything like that, but it's the Minnesota equivalent."

The band formed in 2004 with the release of "Songs from a Ghost Town." "Wild Animals" is the eighth release for the band, which consists of Simonett, Tim Saxhaug on bass, Dave Carroll on banjo, Erik Berry on mandolin and Ryan Young on fiddle.

This latest recording continues the act's progression to becoming less a speedy contemporary bluegrass act, and more of a contemplative singer/songwriter based outfit.

"When we put out our last record, in 2012, a lot of people were saying the same thing because that record was generally a lot slower than our other stuff," Simonett explains. "We've been doing that for about three years now. To us, it doesn't seem conscious – like we're avoiding some kind of sound on purpose. We did what we've always tried to do, just recording the music that was coming to us naturally at the time. We're not saying, ‘Okay. For us we're going to take this in a whole different direction. More so it was, ‘Here's these songs we have. Let's try to find and interesting way to record them.' And that's kind of how it turns out."

"There's slow songs and fast songs on all of our records. Definitely, the old ones lean more towards faster material, and definitely our shows five or six years ago were probably more like that too. But we're kind of old guys now."

Trampled By Turtles adds to a long line of fantastic Minnesota music over the years. Everyone from Bob Dylan to Prince to The Replacements grew up and made their name in this Midwestern state. Although he jokes that this state's greatness owes it to all the clean living, Simonett doesn't really know why this one state has such a rich musical history.

"I love a lot of Minnesota music," he says "and those are definitely the classic names that stick out. But there's a lot of great stuff happening right now that flies a bit under the national radar. And I think up until not that long ago, we just kind of took it for granted that that happened everywhere. Just because I haven't heard of the music scene in Lincoln, Neb., doesn't mean it's not awesome."

"But the more people I work with that aren't from here – like our management and just through other people – I've started to assess that there really is something special in the water, or however you want to put it. Duluth for example, where the band started, is a town of, like, 80,000 people. And it's kind of removed from everything else surrounding it. And there's a wonderful music scene there, and there has been for years, and it doesn't really leave town that much. But it's so creative and supportive and great. And I've kind of always attributed that to the cold winter because I always thought that made for good songwriting time. But I'm really happy to be part of it. It's a great scene."