When I caught up with Dave Carroll, banjo player for Trampled by Turtles, he was on his way across Minnesota. Ahead of him was one last night in his own bed before starting off a tour in Lincoln, Neb., headed toward Aspen.
“It’s been a favorite of ours, getting way into the mountains,” says Carroll. “The beautiful peaks and the crowds have always been just awesome; the Belly Up is one of our favorites to play.”
Trampled by Turtles doesn’t spend very much time at home anymore. They’ve been at it for 10 years now and after touring basically everywhere in the U.S. they have finally broken their brand of bluegrass into some international markets.
They relish their time at home but the road is always calling them. Like most bluegrass bands, Trampled by Turtles relies on the energy of their music performed live, so they tour almost constantly.
The tour they are about to encounter will not be over for a few months and then they will be headed back to Europe for May and June. Thankfully for us, they will be coming back by our little mountain town on Saturday, Jan. 12.
Trampled by Turtles started on purpose in 2003 as a beautiful disaster. Most of the band was living in Duluth, Minn. at the time, in different rock bands.
On one fateful evening, Dave Simonett’s electric guitar equipment was stolen after a show and all he was left with was an acoustic guitar. He took it as an omen and started playing acoustic duo shows with Erik Berry on a mandolin, even though Berry was a bass player in another rock band and hadn’t been playing mandolin for all that long.
“[Simonett and Berry] were playing in Duluth one night and I saw them. They played some originals and some traditional Irish songs,” says Carroll. “I asked them if they wanted a banjo player to sit in with them.”
After a couple practice sessions together, the trio embraced their acoustic sound and decided to get a bass player to make a demo. They were able to find Tim Saxhaug who plays a non-upright acoustic bass. At this time, none of them had been in an acoustic band before and Carroll had never been in any band.
They started doing shows around Duluth and because of their popularity decided they wanted to strictly pursue an acoustic sound, quitting their other bands to focus on bluegrass.
While Trampled by Turtles is an interesting name, the story behind it isn’t really worth telling. They remained a four piece until about 2007 when they picked up a fiddle player, Ryan Young.
“Collectively we all have a lot of different influences,” says Carroll. “We all grew up listening to different music.”
Surprisingly enough, none of the band members grew up with an affinity for bluegrass. They were all music lovers but with very different interests than the band that would bring them together.
“It was something that I knew existed and it wasn’t like I hated it,” says Carroll. “I just didn’t have a very large collection of it.”
Trampled by Turtles has been categorized as indie-folk, blues and bluegrass. The members aren’t really concerned with what people want to call their music but they understand there is a certain territory that comes with being defined as bluegrass because bluegrass purists have beliefs about what that means.
“Bill Monroe [the creator of bluegrass] always said, ‘Learn how to play bluegrass music and then learn how to play it your own way,’ and I kind of feel like we did it the opposite,” says Carroll. “We learned the instrumentation of it and then learned what bluegrass was.”
John Zelazny believes this charade we play must be put to an end. He appreciates your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org