Trampled by Turtles’ slow and steady Midwestern work ethic pays off

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After a nearly four-year hiatus, Trampled by Turtles is back in Michigan with a new album and a pair of tour dates. Life Is Good on the Open Road is the seminal alt-bluegrass band's eighth studio album after the most recent Wild Animals and its breakthrough, Palomino.

With a sound teetering between drunken earnest stompers, bemused and mirthful wanderlust, and dark contemplation, the danceable punk-spirited bluegrass and Americana band has been accruing rabid fans slowly but surely each year. Its Midwestern work ethic has paid off, with the band scoring a slot at Bonnaroo this year. Frontman Dave Simonett talks to MT about the band's new album, actual life on the open road, and what we can expect next from the band.

Metro Times: Good Afternoon. How has Michigan treated you in the past? You guys are from Duluth, correct?

Dave Simonett: That's right. Michigan's been great. We sadly don't get there terribly often, but every time we've been, Grand Rapids, Detroit, a couple of other smaller places we've played, it's been wonderful. I'm excited to finally play Kalamazoo.

MT: It's been about four years since your last album. So how would you describe the sound of Life on the Open Road and where would you place it within your larger discography?

Simonett: I would describe it maybe as charmingly raw? I hope it's charming anyway [laughs]. To make this record, we went into it with the thought we really just wanted to make something where we, for the whole recording process, just sat in the same room and played songs together.

So there are very minimal overdubs, a lot of really early takes in the recording process were kept, and we kind of catch that vibe where we've played together for a long time. The joy we get in playing in this band is playing with each other, next to each other.

I've found out through our recording career it's really something you can't replicate, if that's the sound that you'd like to have. So we did it in a really simple way, and it was really lighthearted and fun. I wouldn't say it went surprisingly well, because we do work well together, but it went better than any of us had hoped, I think.

MT: And where would you put this in your larger discography for fans of the band?

Simonett: That's kind of hard from my perspective to do maybe, but I will say that there's kind of no frills to it, for people who are more into that kind of thing.

MT: Tell us about the tour. It looks like you guys have been on the road pretty hard. How's it going and do you enjoy it?

Simonett: Tour has been going great. Since we got back on the road last year, it's been honestly my favorite time playing with this band. It's just been a blast.

And I do enjoy it, yeah. Like anything, it has its ups and downs, but the ups are great, and we know each other well enough now where it feels like riding around now with a bunch of family, and I treasure it.

MT: I'm glad to hear it. Many of your songs mention drinking and having a good time. Is that kind of the vibe that's going on during your tours? Are you guys buddies, and are those songs coming from real life?

Simonett: Oh yeah, absolutely. On tour that is the vibe a lot of the time. We're all just kind of best friends hanging out, and we get to hang out every day that we're out.

MT: You guys are really blowing up, you're playing Bonnaroo this year. Do you want to be the biggest band in the world? Or would you rather keep things a little more intimate?

Simonett: Oh, I don't really give a shit about being a big band. Wherever we've been has always felt great. In the start, when we were playing for nobody and sleeping on people's floors every night, if we were lucky, that seemed awesome. And every little step we've made since then has felt like a blessing, but I will say one we've earned by working a lot, you know.

I don't really have, in that way, a goal for the band. I just want to keep doing it as long as it feels good, I guess. That's the goal for me.

MT: And a question for the alt-bluegrass heads: Can you tell me a little bit about what you're listening to? If fans of the band want to check out some similar acts, or any up-and-coming bands from Duluth or the upper Midwest?

Simonett: Honestly when I'm off the road I listen to a lot of instrumental music, a lot of drone-y stuff. I don't know if it's a reaction to being around live music all the time.

But as far as on the folk-ier side or maybe friends of ours from Duluth, I'd seriously check out Charlie Parr, who is one of our old friends and lives in Duluth. He tours constantly, and plays this wonderful kind-of Appalachian blues style. He's definitely one of our favorites.

MT: And so what's next for you and the band? What can we expect? Are you writing more music, can we expect a new album?

Simonett: Yeah, I hope so. I'm always writing, and we're really busy touring for the rest of the year, and then we'll take some time to relax and start thinking about another album.

It's changed a lot. Maybe because there are a lot of us, and we have a lot of schedules to coordinate now, we have to plan these things out so far in advance it doesn't even seem real. You never say it with 100 percent certainty, but I'm pretty sure maybe within the next year we'll start looking at making another record.

Trampled By Turtles will perform a sold-out show on Saturday, June 15 at Bell's Eccentric Café; 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo; 269-382-2332; They will also perform in support of the Avett Brothers on Monday, Sept. 9 at the Detroit Masonic Temple; 500 Temple St., Detroit; 313-638-2724; Tickets start at $45.

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