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Interview: Dave Simonett on recording Trampled by Turtles' new record with Jeff Tweedy

Trampled by Turtles
Trampled by TurtlesZoe Prinds-Flash
  Play Now [20:43]

by Diane

July 25, 2022

Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles talked to Local Show host Diane about the group’s 10th record Alpenglow, produced by Jeff Tweedy, set to release October 28, 2022. Simonett talked about what it was like to work with the big-time Americana troubadour of Wilco. He also talked about Trampled’s “live band” sound, songwriting, the Palomino grant winner, and more.

Trampled will celebrate the release of Alpenglow on November 26 at The Armory with special guest Charlie Parr.

Diane here, host of The Local Show with Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles. Good to have you in the studio with me today.

Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Yeah, for sure. Y'all just rocked Bayfront Park. Sold out audience. 

So much fun. Oh my god. 

Yes. Let's hear about it. What was the experience like? 

It's hometown, you know. So it's like a big family reunion when we play up there, and we had a beautiful night. Which I think is the first time it's happened where the weather's been great there for us. You know, it's Duluth. And we've done that show I don't know how many times, but we're usually dodging lightning bolts and rain and cold temperatures and whatever. But this time, it was just this beautiful, sunny night. And we had a great, great time. 

That's awesome. Tell me a little bit about the difference of the home court advantage. Outside of being in a different city.

It's a two-sided coin, right? It's like, the energy with the crowd is a very special thing. On the other hand, a lot of the people here know us personally, and you have a lot of friends and family and whatnot there. And I would say it sometimes brings a little bit of a different pressure to the performance, or even just to the day, to be honest. So it's a very social occasion, you know, which is great. And it's also exhausting. It's like that happy, tired. 

Left and right, you know, you got to greet everybody. 

Yeah. So it's kind of like being at a huge wedding. Talk to everybody for about a minute. But getting on stage is a very, very special feeling there for us. That's where we started playing music. You know, I guess it's as simple as that.

And you are releasing a new record, Alpenglow

We are, yeah.

Produced by Jeff Tweedy. And so there's stuff I want to talk about with that. But first, let's talk about — you got a big show coming up at The Armory.

Yeah, I'm excited to play there. Never played in there before.

And that's, what, an 8,000 person cap?

Yeah, so it's very large (laughs). Yeah, trust me. We thought of that. 

Which, I don't think you'll have any problem packing the house. 

Well, we'll see. I'm pretty excited to get the opportunity to try. 

Yeah, that's awesome. And tell me about the new record a little bit?

Well, yeah, like you said, we recorded it with Jeff Tweedy at Wilco's studio, The Loft, in Chicago, which was kind of a long road to get there. We had studio time booked in 2020, which we had to let go. And then kind of we regrouped for a while before deciding to go at it again. And when we were looking at recording this last year, kind of last minute thought we would maybe try to find an outside producer, which we don't always use, but wanted to try to make something a little different than the last thing we did in some way. And we had some shows booked with Wilco. And so that was kind of a natural procession. Like, I thought, “Well, I love the stuff that Jeff's done in the studio, let's just ask if he wants to do it, and graciously said ‘yes.’” And we got to go down to that amazing studio. And it's kind of right up our alley, to us. A very casual space, a big open room, the control room was right in the space with you. It's a good spot to just sit down in a circle and play. And that's kind of how we made the record with him. Jeff helped out a lot on arrangements and lyrics and all the things, I guess, you would think about a songwriter doing in the studio, he helped with, which was a great experience for me.

Yeah, tell me a little bit more about working with Jeff Tweedy. He's kind of, well he's, you know, a genius of our time in his field. And so well respected, and is a prolific songwriter. And give me some more specifics on working particularly with Jeff.

Sure. Yeah, I mean, he's one of my songwriting heroes. I mean, growing up listening to Uncle Tupelo and early Wilco records and all the way through now, I still love all the stuff they put out. So I think it's definitely — the relationship started with a bit of that. Like, I wanted to make sure I was very open to whatever … We usually go into a session with nothing preconceived, which is probably, hopefully, a nice thing for a producer to run into. Because I had no idea what I wanted the record to be like. So we're all kind of on a level playing field there.

Jeff came at it with a lot of — you know, I guess I should say that I thought I had all these songs pretty much done, and then I'd get into the studio and play them with the guys and we'd kind of figure them out. But I don't think any of those songs survived in their original form. They were all taken apart, moved around chords, moved around verses and stuff like that, which was so nice to have. To have Jeff help us with that, as like an extra set of ears and this really fresh perspective on like, “Well, that's a nice song, but what if we tried this instead?” There was a lot of that, a lot of rearrangement of things. Which I think anything you do for 20 years or whatever, it's pretty easy to get stuck in ruts, you know. I'm guilty of that with writing songs, for sure. And then when it comes to somebody like that, that I respect so much, it's easier to be like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds better.” It's easy to get over whatever little pride you might have in this little thing you made six months ago, you know. And a lot of the stuff we did, we kept, and it was a really great, healthy working environment. Jeff's a pretty mellow guy. But, like you said, a very, very intelligent guy, musically and in song structure and all that. You know, that guy's brilliant. So it was really cool.

Yeah, he's got a connection to our scene, that's for sure.

Yeah, he likes it up here.

Golden Smog. I just saw him rock out at First Avenue. 

Oh, yeah. Yeah?

That was so cool. And it was just like, oh yeah, it's just Jeff Tweedy up there hanging out, performing like he's just so well interconnected in the scene. 

Yeah, I will say that that guy, just from my limited perspective of hanging out with him at the studio, seems to really live and breathe creating music. It's like his full-time day job. He's at the studio every day, no matter what. And it was a real inspiration, as far as work ethic goes in music, for me to see how much work that he still puts into his craft. And not only recording, but songwriting. And you know, he's there all day, every day, working on stuff and fleshing out ideas and sometimes producing other people, most of the time just writing songs, you know. And that, to me, is like, that's great. I want to be a little more like that.

So you could see his influence living on. 


In future records, I'm sure.

Yeah, it's cool. I got this book a while back called Daily Rituals. And it's a collection of people's schedules from Albert Einstein, Beethoven, from their journals, or whatever, kind of listen. And when I start feeling myself losing motivation, I'll crack that thing open and see how those people did it. And watching Tweedy was kind of like that same thing, like somebody that's so motivated, and who works so hard every day, is inspirational for sure.

One of the things, and I bring this up all the time, as I've interviewed you before. But I'm someone who's literally seen you since, practically, the beginning of Trampled by Turtles live, back to when you were sitting in chairs, performing live. And one thing I appreciate about Trampled by Turtles is y'all sound so good recorded. And y'all sound so good live. And that's not easy, to do both. And I guess I want to dive into your mind about how you are able to do both so well. When you record music, is performing live something you think about a lot? Or?

Honestly, a lot of the music we record is live. 


I mean, there's obviously a difference in the two art forms. And there's a difference in how we go about it. But we record a lot of our music just like we're kind of onstage. We just set up, you know, we face each other in the studio, but we play everything live together. We don't do a lot of overdubbing, as you know. Call us old-fashioned or whatever. But, so I think that because we just play a lot, you know, together that we kind of take one into the other and vice versa. I think that's always been my favorite way to record anyway, it's just like next to the people I'm playing music with. And you have to accept a certain amount of mistake in that, but I think that the vibe that it creates is something that's really hard to replicate by layering stuff on top of each other. I love recording like that too in other projects. But with this band, I think we are kind of just what we are, whether we're on a stage or in the studio, we're just kind of the same thing. And so it kind of translates a little bit I guess. It feels like it does anyway, I don't know.

Yeah, big time. One of the characteristics that Trampled by Turtles has that's very obvious, especially when you perform live, is that y'all can play so fast. And I mean, not that it's just all you do, and I appreciate that. But, you know, you definitely, like, have all different paces of music that you play. But when you play so fast, that is one of the most thrilling things when you see (Trampled) live. How do you keep up that stamina? I'm thinking about myself when I try to play that fast.

I don't know if I do (laughs).

My arm dies out immediately.

I've definitely had that problem before, too. Yeah, I don't know. I think that's just years and years of doing that, you know. Repetition. Yeah, that's it. Yeah. I mean, I feel like yeah, you know, we were angrier were when we were younger. So it came more from the inside. 

(Laughs) So it's like a good way to let out steam. 

Yeah. So I mean, you know, we've slowed down in our old age a little bit, but it's, that's still pretty fun for us to attempt anyway.

Yeah. I mean, I wouldn't say it's an attempt. I'd say, like, every time I'm like, "Oooh!

Well, I wouldn't try to put a click track to it. I don't think it's that steady. (laughs)

You're a really prolific songwriter. You put out so many different records. 

God, I don't feel like I am. Really? I always feel like I wish I could write more songs.

Maybe having seen Jeff Tweedy in action — 

Yeah. That's not fair, I suppose (laughs).

But I guess from my point of view, y'all have put out a lot of records. And, you know, your lyrics are universal, and I feel like they're very human, and they touch the soul a little bit. Can you think of where this part of yourself or where do you draw it from?

No, no, I don't know. I think, for me, writing has always just been an extension of daily life. And I don't consciously go anywhere, mentally. I don't think. And so it's just, I think it's, you know, throughout your day, or your month, or whatever, you accumulate all of this different energy and different interactions and different – whatever it is. And, like, I kind of visualize it as that, kind of going into this pile. And songwriting is, like, taking stuff out of that pile that's in there. And a lot of times I'll write a song, I'd say most of the times I write a song, I write it, and I'll play it and sing it. And then I'll realize where the references are coming from. 

And I don't like to say what it's about because I have a hard time writing a song — like, “Can you write a song about that dog?” Maybe. But I could make the dog show up in the song a lot easier. And so that kind of stuff for me, a lot of times even we'll record it and then I'll be like, oh, yeah, I get that. Like, after the fact. So that's a hard question to answer, I guess. Or at least I have a hard time simplifying it.

Interesting. I can relate to that, too. Sometimes, very much, my own writing is very stream of consciousness. 


What comes out of me, comes out of me.

And I love writing like that. I like songs like that, too. And I feel like people — a lot of times people want it to be simpler than that. They want to be like, you know, where do your songs come from? And, I mean, I don't even know how to answer that question. You know, they just come from everything. Or sometimes nothing. Sometimes they just sound cool to me. You know, sometimes I'll write a verse that just rhymes in a funky way that I like. And, like I said, I'll go back later and all these themes that will be in there are now very obvious to me as where, you know, where, “Oh, I know exactly what that line came from.” Or, you know, I remember thinking that or I was in the situation, but a lot of times, at the time, I try to just let it flow out.

I think about how Trampled by Turtles has kind of really stayed to their roots as a bluegrass band, but also as like, you very much have your own stylistic flow to Trampled By Turtles that comes from rock and roll, comes from people with different influences of different backgrounds and genres of music. But y'all still have remained really true to your sound. And then I sometimes think of bands that kind of are similar, maybe the Avett Brothers, maybe Mumford and Sons, who've kind of started as mostly acoustic, but then they've gotten all these added productions, and even drums and keyboards. Have y'all ever been approached by a label to maybe take more of an electric route? Or to even "modernize" your music? 

Yeah, I mean, that has come up before. We've recorded some stuff like that before. And here's the thing, I think with all of us, none of us are really opposed to any of it. It's just, we've enjoyed it this way better, I guess I'll say that. We did have a little — there was years ago, where we had kind of a process with a major record label, and it a little bit came back to that. And they wanted something different than we were making at the time. And that felt, you know, it felt wrong. It didn't feel wrong because, like, we weren't open to doing something else. It's just that the project is exactly how we wanted it to be. And so we were a little bit turned off by that. I mean, I love playing music with drums and keyboards and all that. 

Hence, uh… 

Yeah, Dead Man Winter. But we're definitely not like purist bluegrass people. None of us grew up playing this. This is not a family tradition for us or anything like that. 

Yeah I wouldn't compare you to, like, a Bill Monroe.

Yeah. And we wouldn't try to be that either, you know. So we're open to whatever, and if it came up, you know, we'd definitely try. Say if Tweedy wanted to try something like that in the studio, everybody would have said “yes.” As far as why it doesn't happen more often, I don't know. It's just kind of how we are. Yeah, it's become a thing. We have this very internal, in our band, when we play, we have a very internal clock that we play with with each other. And it is often not the same as like a drummer that we've played with or whatever. It's very, our rhythm is kind of this unspoken chemistry between those six members of our band, which to me is really fun. And it's really kind of interesting to try to create like that without something steadily keeping that time, to put a very simple way. So yeah, I mean, I would like to think we're not stubborn, but I don't know for sure.

Well, I love it. I love that y'all remain true.

Thanks. There's also a thing where, you know, I've always felt like a band that tours a lot will oftentimes create music to create the space in which they're playing. So if you play in bars every time you play, I think your sound is there. And if all of a sudden you're playing arenas and stadiums, a lot of times, I feel like your sound gets a little bigger, you know, to kind of fill that space a little more. And maybe some of that's reactionary, and maybe I don't know if that's the case with the bands you were talking about before. But I do think that can happen too.

Tell me about the artists who received the Palomino grant.

Oh, yeah. Emma Jeanne was our first-place grant winner, and she opened that show in Duluth. And it was great. It was a super cool band. But what a fun process. For those of you that don't know, we started a grant this year, which was the awards $5,000 and a slot at this concert (Bayfront Park). And then my dentist actually chipped in two years of free dental care, which is really great ... Qualifications, this has to be a musician or band, some kind of musical artist from within 20 miles of Duluth, Minnesota, or Superior, Wisconsin. So kind of, you know, where we started out. And we got close to 80 submissions total of all this amazing music, and it was just a wonderful process of going through and listening to all these people's amazing, you know, creations. And it really, really made me feel great about Duluth, musically, you know. Like, it was so cool to hear all this awesome stuff that's happened, cause I haven't lived there for a while. I feel like I'm out of touch all the time. And so to hear that was great, and people were pretty passionate about it. And, you know, so it was a little bit of a process to kind of narrow it down between all of us. But we, you know, ended up landing on Emma Jeanne, and then that same dentist that we talked about before, he very generously chipped in some extra money so we could have a second place grant. And that was Nat Harvie, who I think you're familiar with.

Yeah, I love Nat Harvie.

Yeah, Nat's fantastic. And Nat's submission, the demos that Nat submitted, were really incredible too. So, we felt really good about the final decision, and then we'll, you know, it's gonna be an annual thing. Someday I'd love to — my goal with it is to eventually make it a foundation at some point, that can kind of be self-funded. But it was really fun. And at that time, you know, we kind of looked for an act that it would be a very big help for. Like, this is somebody that wants to make a record or go on the road or do something. And that's all very expensive to do, you know. I mean, you know, it can be really tough, especially about when you're just starting out. 

It is so expensive. 

Yes, and it's not getting any cheaper. 

No, it isn't. It seems to be getting more and more expensive. 

Yeah, all of the sudden that gas tank got pretty expensive.

Oh my gosh, especially that. Kudos to all that you're doing and all the successes with Trampled By Turtles. And I'm such a fan. I've been a devoted fan of y'alls for so long.

Thank you, Diane.

Including your side projects. I should ask, do you have any more future things coming out with Dead Man Winter or even solo?

Nothing at the moment. No. I think we're getting really, really geared up for the release. And Trampled, we're just, you know, this week, that's that Duluth show was kind of the start of a very busy couple months for us. So we're leaving tomorrow.  And we're out for the next couple months kind of off and on. And our record will come out in the fall. And you know, then it just gets even busier. No, I mean, I'm always working on stuff but nothing got nothing quite ready for public consumption. 

Yeah. So your main focus is Trampled. Yeah, I imagine. So you've got this big release.

Happily so. We're very excited to put a record out. We had a lot of fun making it and we're all really proud of it. And you know, if anything, it's gonna be really fun to have a group of new songs to play.

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