Trampled By Turtles: "We take pride in not sounding like all the other polished bluegrass"

Categories: Interviews

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Pieter Van Hattem
Catch Trampled By Turtles at the Snowball Music Festival kickoff party tonight at the Villar Performing Arts Center or on Saturday, March 3 at 3:30 p.m. on Snowball's main stage.

For close to a decade, Dave Simonett has stuck with Trampled by Turtles for all the ups and downs. From just a mere thought of starting a band to selling out venues across the country, the Minnesota-born bluegrass quintet is steadily amassing a legion of fans across the country with a sound that incorporates an array of styles. This year's Snowball Music Festival will be giving the outfit a chance to reach an even broader audience. In advance of this weekend's festival, we caught up with Simonett for a quick chat.

Westword: Snowball is a relatively young festival, considering this is only the second year, and it's quite different from most festivals you have played in the past. How do you feel about playing this event, and can you guys stick out the cold?

Dave Simonett: When the opportunity came up, all I knew it was a festival in Vail, in March. That in itself is a pretty awesome thing because we are going to hit the slopes and just hang out on the mountain -- it's great especially around this time of year. When I started looking into it more -- tell me if I am wrong -- Snowball is like a electronica dance festival. They asked us to play so there can diversity in the lineup this year. We definitely don't want anyone to feel like we are stepping on their party, but if they want us to come play, there is no way we were going to say no. I don't exactly know if it's going to go over well, but we will do the best we can.

Have you played in Vail recently?

We have played out there several times, but recently, we played at the Sanbar. We have stopped through there about twenty times -- we haven't played that much, but we do have friends out there. It's usually a tour stop whether we play there or not; you can't beat the mountains in Colorado.

There are a number of late night DJ events for the festival, but Trampled By Turtles and Elephant Revival gets to play the kickoff party: Is this because they wanted to give everyone an equal chance to play outside the festival as well?

I have no idea. I don't know what their thought process was behind that. [laughs] I think that it is weird, too, going from DJ parties to banjos. I am cool with it, though, because I get to go.

Do you think there is going to be a solid amount of your fan base attending?

It's hard to say. We do pretty well in Colorado, but I don't know how many will be there whether we play or not. For me, when a festival has a certain reputation like this one, there are moving lights and people are ready to dance, but it's not like that now.

People will be alienated that only like one kind of music, but in general, most people are open to different genres of music, it's hard to find someone that only listens to one style of music. If people end up skipping our set, then it is what it is, but we will give the crowd some credit for being open minded.

You start the tour off with a couple of festivals then steadily play for about a month or so. Do these festival dates act as inspiration for the rest of the tour?

I like it all, man. Touring through clubs and festivals each have their pluses and minuses to them. Festivals are awesome because you can get up there in front of a ton of people that might have never heard of our music and you play outside. It almost like a celebration with other bands. Doing your own show at a club is great but on a different level. There is certain kind of energy: It's night time, and you're at a bar. I don't mind doing any of those. It's all inspiration to me.

You have that traditional bluegrass voice that the fans love. Are there any rituals you perform to keep you voice crisp?

Sure, man, whiskey always helps. None of us are really professional singers, but that is what I do. My main focus is writing songs. I hope our fans are alright with the songs because they have to deal with my voice.

You guys kind of went into this blindly with not knowing too much about how to play bluegrass. Did your voice gradually get better?

I don't think it got any better but I hope it never got any worse. I like to say that it is my honest voice -- I would never claim to be a get singer -- but we take pride in not sounding like all the other polished bluegrass. It gives us our original sound, but it also limits me because I don't have the range like the pros in the scene. I have grown to be comfortable with my voice over the time.

Sounds like you had a long road trying to find you niche in the music scene in terms of studio albums and still trying to do so. Can we get a preview on what to expect from your new album Stars and Satellites?

We went to the log home outside of Duluth, Minnesota that got turned into a vacation or weekend type house. A friend of mine runs it, so we were looking for an interesting place to record, close to where our mandolin player lives, because he just had a kid. It is a beautiful spot, so we rented it out and moved a studio into it for five months.

We mostly recorded live, but as far as how it sounds, it's mellow. It has a warm feeling to it and more song-based more than live-energy-based, which I think our previous records were like. We wanted to try something a little bit different than we did before, but I am sure our fans will like it.

Going from a side project to a full-fledged national touring act takes a large amount of effort, especially being one of a thousand bluegrass bands. It seems like you went from taking little baby steps to giant leaps in the music scene. Can you explain some of the major feelings that you experienced in the past nine or so years?

It's like watching your kid grow. If you're with them everyday, you don't notice it, but if you leave for an extended period of time and come back, the thought of "Holy shit! You're huge" will cross your head. For us, we have been doing this everyday for nine years, but I don't think anyone is less excited than we were when we started -- we still work our asses off.

Honestly, we feel extremely lucky to be able to do this for a career, but we still get surprised when a show does sell out. If we ever get a radio spot or get on television, it is still treated to be this awesome opportunity. There is a good number of talent that goes unnoticed in my opinion; we will always have a feeling of great appreciation and luck.

Your cover of "Mad World" is wonderful and different in terms of what you guys play -- the same goes with your "Where is My Mind" cover. I have seen a David Bowie bluegrass cover band that really pushed the limits of the genre. Is this something you try to accomplish at your live shows, and how often do you cover songs like these?

Not really. What we try to focus on is trying to play our own songs in our own way, and once and a while, we try to find a cool cover to add to the mix. It's not an original thing for a bluegrass band to cover some rock songs; I have seen it a thousand times. We like those songs personally, so once in a while it can accent a set, but we don't harp on it too much.

Some may have trouble wrapping their head around how you incorporate your punk influeneces. Can you briefly explain this concept for anyone who isn't familiar with your music? Is it a way to fire up the crowd that you guys are used to?

The energy that we played with in our rock bands was something that needed to be carried over. When you look at bluegrass as a term, there is a large variety of bands that are lumped into that. It can start at a couple dudes in suits making beautiful music but doesn't move too much to bands like the Devil Makes Three, who is more noticeably influenced by punk. We found a comfortable spot somewhere in the middle of that range, where we can go from being really quiet to get up and dance music. I always like the variety.

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