The Current

Great Music Lives Here ®
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now

Turn Turn Turn play a session in The Current studio for Radio Heartland

Turn Turn Turn – studio session at The Current for Radio Heartland (music + interview)The Current
  Play Now [22:51]

by Mike Pengra

May 25, 2023

What began as a fun idea for a cover band has turned into Turn Turn Turn, a dynamic collection of singer-songwriters and musicians who have already released two full-length albums and — as they explain during this session for Radio Heartland — have another on the way.

New Rays From An Old Sun is the 2023 album from Turn Turn Turn, and the band performed a set of songs from that latest release. Turn Turn Turn describe themselves as an Americana band, and their sound demonstrates some of that category’s sonic breadth, from the Tom Pettyesque sounds of “7 Kids” to the loping cowboy-ballad sound of “Acceleration Dreams” to the sunshine pop of “Dopamine Blues.”

Watch and listen to the complete session above, and read a transcript of Turn Turn Turn’s interview with Mike Pengra below.

A band singing and playing instruments in a recording studio
Turn Turn Turn performing in The Current studio in a session for Radio Heartland on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Guillermo Bonilla | MPR

Interview Transcript

Mike Pengra: I am in  the studio today with members of Turn Turn Turn. They just released their second album, New Rays from an Old Sun. And I'm really psyched to have you guys in the studio. Love the album. Thanks for coming in.

Adam Levy: Thanks, Mike. Thanks for having us.

Mike Pengra: So I'm going to have you rewind to take me all the way back to the beginning of Turn Turn Turn what was the idea behind the band? And was there an impetus behind it? A sound you were looking for what happened

Adam Levy: Somebody asked me to put together a singer-songwriter night just to, you know, play some covers.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Adam Levy: And I thought well, it might be cool opportunity to play covers of, of my favorite country, folk, rock, kind of three-part harmony stuff. I thought would be cool to have my voice with a couple of women. And my daughter was the first one, Ava sang with us, and Barb. And so we did a few shows, just sort of, like, you know brewery shows, and I'm always looking to do something different. I'm kind of juggling different projects. And I thought I don't really get to sing a lot of harmonies; like the Honeydogs, I had a bunch of guys in the band that didn't like to sing, I always kind of had to force everyone to sing. So I thought, well, that would just be fun to do some of my favorite songs. And so we started that way, and played a few shows. And we didn't, at one point, we kind of ran out of material one show, and Ava played a couple shows with us, and then Savannah [Smith] came and joined us, and we did a few shows with Savannah. We were playing a show one night when we ran out of songs, and Barb leans over to Savannah and says, "Why don't you just do one of your covers?" And I— 

Barb Brynstad: Originals.

Adam Levy: Did I say "covers"? I'm sorry. Originals. And I just kind of cringed because I thought, I thought this was going to just be a cover project.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Adam Levy: So Savannah played her original and people loved it, and lights kind of went off. Like what if we did originals? What if we made a record or something like that? And within a couple of weeks, we were in the studio, and I had lots of songs, and they had songs, and we all brought them together and made a record and then kind of decided that we're not a cover band mostly anymore. We're an originals band.

Mike Pengra: I thought that was kind of a misprint when I saw that in your promo material that you were formed as a cover band. I thought what?

Adam Levy: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: These guys, I mean, your originals are so cool.

Adam Levy: Thank you.

Mike Pengra: That I just thought... so what covers, who did you cover? 

Adam Levy: Oh, man, everything.

Barb Brynstad: Velvet Underground, Monkees. Oh, let's see, who else did we do? What did you say?

Ava Levy: America.

Barb Brynstad: "At Seventeen."

Ava Levy: Oh, yeah.

Barb Brynstad: America. 

Adam Levy: Nick Drake.

Barb Brynstad: Nick Drake. 

Adam Levy: We did "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin.

Barb Brynstad: Led Zeppelin.

Ava Levy: Just like a wide variety of '60s and '70s stuff.

Adam Levy: It was country and folk and rock, and just—

Barb Brynstad: Gram Parsons. Flying Burrito Brothers. Yeah, we had—

Adam Levy: Stones

Barb Brynstad: We had a residency at the Aster Cafe, I think the first year we were together.

Mike Pengra: As a trio?

Barb Brynstad: Yes. So it was every Wednesday night for three months. And that's where we would get together at my house every Monday to rehearse. And then we would play on Wednesday, and we always had a new—

Adam Levy: Couple songs.

Barb Brynstad: Couple of songs in there. So we, and that was pretty much all or mostly covers because we only had, what? Ten songs, 10 original songs, I think.

Adam Levy: Yeah, so even when we had all the originals, we were still kind of throwing stuff in: Nico and America, all kinds of things. 

A woman sings into a microphone in a recording studio
Barb Brynstad of Turn Turn Turn performing in The Current studio in a session for Radio Heartland on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Guillermo Bonilla | MPR

Mike Pengra: So when you started writing songs, or when you brought original songs to the band, did you write for the band? Or do you write just to write a song? Or do you write specifically for three-part harmonies and this instrumentation?

Adam Levy: I mean, I would say the first record that we did, it was, I had a bunch of songs that I could have used for the Honeydogs or something else, and I just thought, this would sound great actually without me singing. You know, like, what if somebody else was singing like the song "Cold Hard Truth" that was going to be a Honeydogs song, and I think it sounds way better with a couple of female voices singing it. But then when we started writing again, I think we wrote with the intention of creating three-part harmony songs for the second record.

Mike Pengra: So a lot of these songs, what I also read in your promo material was that you had a lot of these already written, and you still have a lot left that haven't been recorded yet.

Adam Levy: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: There's a whole library full of original songs somewhere.

Adam Levy: Yeah, I mean, we were just kind of tearing it up during the pandemic. There wasn't a lot to do except take long walks and—

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Adam Levy: ...write music in that period. So I wrote a lot of songs. I mean, I was super excited about writing. And I think, as I was writing, I was starting to record the songs. So we kind of got to work on stuff really quickly. It wasn't easy to get everybody together because of the pandemic, but we kind of got a good jumpstart on stuff in that time.

Mike Pengra: Tell me about forming this band with the instrumentation you have now. Were you always looking for this current lineup with the keyboards and the pedal steel and the banjo, mando, and...?

Barb Brynstad: No, I mean, I think we, again, we started as a trio, and that was what we were going to do. But I think it was the Turf Club gig in January of right after we formed, we were, we were like, "Well, let's put a full band together for this." And I think Jason Shannon was playing. Was he playing keyboards?

Adam Levy: Keyboards, yeah.

Barb Brynstad: Yeah. So he was, the, you know, he produced or engineered the first album, so we invited him. But I think was every, so then were you? Yep, you played, and we had Toni ... What's her last name? Guitar player.

Adam Levy: Yeah, Toni played a song.

Quillan Roe: Toni Lindgren.

Reina del Cid
Toni Lindgren, best known for her work as a guitarist for Reina del Cid, performing at First Avenue in 2018.
Maddy Fox for MPR

Adam Levy: Yeah, Toni Lindgren did a show with us.

Barb Brynstad: She did a show. So, but we loved that. We had such fun with the full band. So, I mean, that's the great thing about this band is we can expand and contract. And I think we've just, we added Quillan and Joe, and now we just feel like we can't play without them.

Quillan Roe: That's true. You can't. 

Mike Pengra: And you can really play just about anything with those two guys, too.

Adam Levy: Oh, yeah. I mean, we've...

Mike Pengra: The instrumentation.

Adam Levy: The possibilities are are endless. There's so much sound and music now. It's really exciting.

Barb Brynstad: Yeah, it's kind of strange because when one person is missing, I mean, we still have a pretty good size band, but it feels like there's a void.

Mike Pengra: The core.

Adam Levy: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: I love your writing, you guys, the way you write songs and the way you arrange them, too. Let's talk about "7 Kids." Where did that come from?

Adam Levy: That is a snapshot of all of the stuff going on that I had been watching for, I don't know, the last 10 years or something. It was news stories and stories about immigration and people complaining about immigrants coming to this country. And living in the midst of all of this social upheaval. It's really just, you know, sort of like vignettes of contemporary culture. It starts, it's kind of bookended with the story about these seven kids that are, their parents kind of, like, dropped them off, hoping that they're gonna make it and be OK. And you know, as you're listening to the song, you're kind of watching all of this stuff unfold in this world that we're living in.

Mike Pengra: How about, I had to look up the word "dopamine" to make sure I knew what "Dopamine Blues" meant. Tell me about that song.

Adam Levy: It's a breakup song. It's a song about losing somebody and thinking about them constantly. And you're telling yourself, "You should stop doing this; you know you should stop doing this." You're sort of addicted to the memories and euphoric recall. And so you get like a little dopamine burst when you're thinking about that person.

Mike Pengra: And finally, let's talk about "Acceleration Dreams."

Adam Levy: I mean, that's sort of me digesting a bunch of similar kind of stuff going on. And I guess, throwing a little bit of a curveball to Bob Dylan, you know? Sort of the way that he would create these, these crazy worlds, bringing all kinds of stuff together in them.

Turn Turn Turn
Turn Turn Turn's 'New Rays From An Old Sun' was released January 27, 2023.
Simon Recordings

Mike Pengra: Well, one of the things I love about your writing and your arranging is, well, it's the arrangements of your songs. It seems there's always a great chorus, there's a bridge. There's tags. So everything's in the right place at the right time. It's got a great pop sensibility to it. Is that, where does that come from? Was it, were you raised listening to pop music, or...?

Adam Levy: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: Blues or what?

Adam Levy: I'm an AM radio guy, you know? I listened to all of those great songs. You listen to songs in the '70s, and they knew how to write songs. And I feel like the Beatles really set the gold standard for really good pop-song writing. But you know, there's Burt Bacharach in there, and Randy Newman, and that whole era, to me, is just like a golden era of really good pop-song writing. So no matter how much I try to do something that feels unique and new, it's, it's linked to those roots of that I have.

Mike Pengra: Every now and then I hear something from a song, or reminds me of a song that I hear from back in my childhood or my teens. And so yeah, I'm on the same, same lines as you. So there are more original songs to be recorded yet. And there are more gigs to happen. What's next for you guys?

Barb Brynstad: Well, we are going to record our next album. We're...

Mike Pengra: Already?

Barb Brynstad: Well, yeah, I mean, we're actually, we're getting together and we're just sharing, we're starting to share material now. So I think we've given ourselves a deadline of end of this month, which is April, to share our first round of new songs, new material. We're going to maybe veer toward a more country vibe on the next album, possibly, yeah.

Quillan Roe: Probably pretty banjo heavy.

Barb Brynstad: There'll be lots of banjo solos. 

Mike Pengra: OK.

Barb Brynstad: Yep.

Mike Pengra: And a little more pedal steel, probably.

Barb Brynstad: Yeah, yes. And also, we still have a bunch of songs from the first album that we never recorded. So really great, really great songs. It was hard culling the 24 songs down to 12, I think, is what it ended up.

Adam Levy: There's probably a couple that'll fit from the old batch.

Barb Brynstad: Yeah.

Adam Levy: But I think I'm kind of looking forward to it being a bit more collective in terms of the contributions of everybody in writing and sort of moving us into a kind of a whole new place.

Barb Brynstad: And we're also hoping to, you know, tour a little bit this summer and get out of town. We feel like folks know us pretty well in the Twin Cities, and we're trying to grow a little bit outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Mike Pengra: But you all have day jobs now, right?

Barb Brynstad: We do, every one of us does, yes. Well, summers! Teachers get summers off. Everyone.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Adam Levy: Yeah, I don't have to. I don't have to work in the summer, which is nice.

Mike Pengra: There you go

Adam Levy: I'm planning to get some headway done on the record, and do some touring and, you know, spend a little time with my children.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Barb Brynstad: And Savannah and I are both self employed. So, you know, unfortunately, like I'm gonna go home and work because I have a deadline tomorrow, so, but...

Adam Levy: Tonight?

Barb Brynstad: Yeah, I've got to finish a website tonight. And Savannah runs her own store. But we do have the flexibility to sort of, if we need to go on the road or take time off, we don't have to ask for permission.

Mike Pengra: I'm talking with members of Turn Turn Turn in the studio today. It's Adam Levy and Barbara Brynstad. And I should I should acknowledge Ava Bella Levy, and your new single.

Ava Levy: Yes.

Mike Pengra: And she's playing on The Current and Radio Heartland right now. Congratulations. 

Ava Levy: Super exciting. Yeah, I'm feeling very excited about it.

Mike Pengra: You should be.

Ava Levy: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: It's a great song.

Ava Levy: Thank you so much.

Mike Pengra: It kind of sounds like your dad's stuff in a little way.

Ava Levy: Oh, yeah. Well, I am, I've listened to his music probably more than anybody else. I was telling him, like, the past two years, I realized that my Spotify Wrapped, his band was the number one every year and I was like, this is kind of embarrassing, but sweet. Yeah.

Mike Pengra: We should acknowledge that Ava is sitting in for Savannah, who could not be here today. Would you introduce the rest of the band for us, please?

Adam Levy: Joe Savage. Hi. Nice to meet you. On pedal steel. Dobro soon, I hope! I want you to play dobro. He plays harmonica.

A man plays pedal steel in a recording studio
Joe Savage of Turn Turn Turn performing in The Current studio in a session for Radio Heartland on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Guillermo Bonilla | MPR

Mike Pengra: Yep.

Adam Levy: He plays something called "the kitchen sink" which is a percussion instrument that has like everything on it. But mostly pedal steel at this point. On drums is Josh Kaplan. We've been playing together for a while, right?

Josh Kaplan: Yeah, it's been probably a decade now.

Adam Levy: Yeah. And Peter J. Sands playing keyboards with us. And Peter has been in the Honeydogs and Hookers & Blow, and we've been pals for a long time. And of course, Quillan Roe on banjo and guitar, and really cool braids.

Mike Pengra: Well, what a pleasure to finally get you guys in the studio. And I just love your, your music and your music-making and thanks for being here very much.

Adam Levy: Thanks for having us, man. Thanks for playing our music. We appreciate it.

Mike Pengra: I'm Mike Pengra. This is Radio Heartland.

Two musicians singing and playing guitar and bass in a recording studio
Adam Levy and Barb Brynstad of Turn Turn Turn performing in The Current studio in a session for Radio Heartland on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Guillermo Bonilla | MPR

Video Segments

00:00:00 7 Kids
00:04:18 Acceleration Dreams 
00:09:41 Dopamine Blues
00:14:02 Interview with host Mike Pengra

All songs from Turn Turn Turn’s 2023 album, New Rays From An Old Sun, available on Simon Recordings.


Adam Levy – Vocals, Guitar
Barb Brynstad – Bass, Vocals
Ava Levy – Guitar, Vocals
Peter Sands – Vocals Keyboards
Quillan Roe – Banjo, Mandolin 
Joe Savage – Pedal Steel
Josh Kaplan – Drums


Guests – Turn Turn Turn
Host/Producer – Mike Pengra
Video Director – Guillermo Bonilla
Camera Operators – Evan Clark, Guillermo Bonilla
Audio – Eric Xu Romani
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Turn Turn Turn - official site

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.