Long into the game, and long in talent, Trampled by Turtles recently released their 10th album, Alpenglow, into the world this fall. Alpenglow is so confidently calm and is evidence of what a band heading into their third decade of playing together is like. Written and recorded during the pandemic, the work sometimes threatens to break into something more frenetic, but they never do. The album is strongly reigned in by the band and their producer, Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy, who worked behind the boards for this endeador. That’s exactly how it should be—a carefully waxing and waning musical hinterland of soft sounds, organic stories, and plush bass beats.
Ahead of their sold show at the Armory this weekend, we spoke with frontman Dave Simonett on the arc of their musical career and the path that led them to where they are.
The album, Alpenglow, has been out for a couple of weeks now. How has the reception been?
Dave Simonett: It’s doing pretty good – that I hear of. We did just get to play a few shows on the East Coast with the new stuff, and it was really fun. It felt like it was connecting pretty well with the crowds and so far we’ve heard a lot of nice things about it, so you know, that’s always a bonus.
Do you care if anybody has criticism about the work you put out?
Doing this for as long as we have, it’s a really hard job to have, but that’s part of the territory. Obviously you’re not going to make something that every single person likes, but I don’t see you seek out reviews. I haven’t really read reviews or anything for a while. Sometimes I can’t avoid it, but for me I’m secure enough in the creation of a thing I did. I had a really great time making the record and all of us are really happy with it. We wouldn’t put it out were we not. Hearing what other people think about it is kind of unavoidable. It’s obviously always nice to hear when somebody likes something that you’ve worked so hard on, but some person’s not gonna like it and you can’t let it get to you.
You can’t control it anymore.
Exactly. We’ve had this record for a year. We’ve mixed it, mastered it, and that was it. Internally, it’s a long time to sit with something that you can’t change. But when it comes up to the point of release, it’s kind of freeing. I’m free. It’s a relief. I do get a little nervous about it, because it feels like you’re about to give a speech or something, but it’s out there and then it’s just its own thing. You can’t take it away. It’s there forever, so that’s kind of cool.
Tell me about when you have been sitting on something so long. Are you still connecting to songs that you wrote a while ago?
We are because we really didn’t play many of those songs since the recording. We just played a couple of them live, but not many, so it was kind of a refresh for us. I think when the record comes out it gets to take on a little bit of a new identity for a while. With all of the artwork that’s involved with a tour, the stage, the look, everything is relating to this new piece of work. It’s really fun for us to be able to do this for 20 years. Anytime you get a whole new album, it’s really exciting. It’s probably the most exciting part of the cycle of a band.
How did you come to work with Jeff Tweedy on this album?
I would say we started in 2020. We had recording time scheduled in Texas at this really cool studio that we had always wanted to work in. It got canceled with everything else that year. We kept rescheduling, and started to throw around the idea of getting a producer, because we didn’t use anybody on the last album, Life is Good on the Open Road. We thought it might be nice to get a different set of ears. We were talking to Wilco because we have some shows with those guys that have also gotten canceled in 2020, and we were working on rescheduling them. It was going back and forth with their band about a bunch about dates and a producer on our new album. Those conversations smashed into each other. We kept saying producer to the band and we kept saying Wilco to our manager. Then we said, “How about Jeff Tweedy?” And that was it. We just asked him and thankfully he said yes. He had the time and the space. We were really, really happy with how our working relationship turned out. It was great.
Why a producer this time around? Did you just need something different?
That’s the baseline. It’s a constant challenge to yourself to try to not do the same thing you just did. If we were just left to ourselves, I don’t know that we would have done much differently, at least to us. The feeling of it would have been very similar even though it would have been in a different location, different songs, whatever. I think that having an outside producer in there helping us shape all the songs made it a completely different album, for sure. We’re split. Half of our records, we worked on our own and the other half we worked with other people, and it’s always an interesting experiment. It worked out great this time, I think.
Were you going into the studio with formed songs with Jeff or did you reshape them in the studio?
We did. I had written some solo demos and passed them around. We would listen to them and Jeff and listen to them, but the band hadn’t played them together. That’s unusual for us. We would get in there, and I would come with the songs and then we all work on them in the studio. So that’s where Jeff really came in. A lot of that stage was taking the song that I had my chords and melody or whatever, and then we would take it apart and rearrange a lot of them. That was so helpful to have somebody who’s got so much experience know to suggest some different ways. It’s really easy for me to kind of settle on my first idea. That was kind of my favorite part about.
I used to be, “It’s done. What do you mean by ‘different chords’?” Having somebody like Jeff say, “Well, yeah, that’s fine, but how about this? It might be interesting. Let’s just try these things and see.” We ended up using so many of his suggestions that really changed almost every song of the record.
What’s he like in the studio? Is he calm or intense?
Dave Simonett: A very calm human all the time. He’s a really intelligent and really evolved person, and I want to say calm, but not to the point of just sitting around doing nothing.
What are you like in the studio?
It just depends on the day. I really like to kind of fly by the seat of my pants in the studio. I like to record live and I like to record fast, meaning I don’t like to reduce things a lot to death. I’m definitely not a perfectionist; I actually like imperfection in music, in general. That’s kind of a broad statement, but I feel like I’m not that intense. I care a lot about it. The most important part of my work is the studio, and I listen to opinions about a lot of things when we’re recording, but I like to be very open to whatever might happen because I like when something sparks spontaneity that can flourish. That can be really cool.
We’ve been playing together long enough, so it doesn’t take that long to get a basic feel of a song. It really depends on the band, how they see all these things, but for us, if we get something so locked down before we get there it almost makes it a little bit less flexible. When that happens, you’re missing an opportunity to really give a song the space it needs. It’s not a live show. You have all the space to do whatever you want, so to limit yourself is not always a good thing. I like to use the recording studio as a creative space, not just not just getting it out as quickly as possible.
How did this song by Jeff, “A Lifetime to Find,” end up on the album?
He just asked us if we were willing to try recording it one day while we were in the studio. He brought it up at the beginning, “If we’ve got the space, we’ve got time, would you guys be interested in trying one of my songs I have kind of laying around?” And we said yes. I think it was the second to last day we were there. We got to the studio, he had the lyrics printed out. We listened to his demo a couple of times and worked it out. It was really cool to do that. I mean, I’m a big fan of Jeff’s work, anyway, so it was fun to record one of his songs. It was the first time we’ve ever really done that on a record,, but it was really enjoyable.
Why do you continue to put out full albums when the industry is so geared towards singles?
Dave Simonett: Well, I love albums. I don’t know, I think I’m a little bit stubborn in that. We’re definitely free to do whatever we want, which is pretty nice. I know it’s old fashioned to create albums, but I don’t know how much we would benefit from just cutting singles. You know, we don’t get a lot of Top 40 airplay. I love the EP format like the six songs or whatever, five songs and so that’s definitely something we’ll probably experiment with just to kind of make more music. But I’ve just got a soft spot for an album that feels like an album and that’s kind of one piece of work from start to finish.
Do you care about hitting Top 40? Obviously Top 40 radio is more pop oriented.
That’s a chicken to the egg thing with me. Maybe if we have the ability to and if we found it in a way that we should be in that space, then maybe we didn’t get it I’d be disappointed. But I’ve never thought of it as even remotely possible, so it’s never even been a disappointing thing.
You’ve shared the stage with many prominent artists—The Avett Brothers, Wilco, The Head and the Heart—do you ever get starstruck?
I will say that I’ve been one time and it was Robert Plant. It was backstage at one of his shows, and that was one time and I was like, “Shit, I don’t know if I can talk to that guy.” He was in one of my favorite bands when I was growing up. I am a big fan of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, as well. I’ve listened to them since I was in high school, but I also know what it’s like to be a band. Just doing it for a long time reminds me that everybody’s human. I summed up all my courage to talk to Robert and got a picture with him. He was incredibly sweet and very generous with his time. Sometimes it is okay to meet your heroes.
Sometimes people are really weird—like a fan relationship can be very strange. For the person receiving that adoration. I think sometimes people forget that these people are just people. Don’t treat them almost like a commodity or something that just exists to get their picture taken.
What do you get out of Trampled by Turtles that you don’t get out of your solo work [Dead Man Winter]?
With Trampled, I get this musical relationship with the guys that I don’t get anywhere else. I’ve been lucky enough to have some really strong musical relationships outside of that band, as well, but this really has been something that’s lasted half of my life at this point. I don’t think I could ever replicate that kind of chemistry. We work together creatively and we have this kind of a communication without speaking thing with us. I can confidently say I will never be as comfortable with anybody else. That’s something that’s really rare. It’s like falling in love, you know? As far as music, playing music with people goes, it’s kind of the cream of the crop to have that thing. I love to have other outlets for music, and I will always do that. I love playing music with other people because it educates me, building those relationships is great , but this thing is always kind of this warm, fuzzy ball of energy.
Well, congrats on selling out the Armory for your Minneapolis show. Remind me if this story is true or not. Erik Koskinen told me Trampled once played a sold out show at First Avenue, then drove the next day to Pennsylvania to get paid a carton of cigarettes. Is that right?
I don’t know if it was that linear, but it was definitely the same timeframe. It’s very humbling. It’s funny because we were just in Philadelphia last week, and I told that story.
That show you’re talking about, as far as we know, was our lowest attended show—which was zero people. It was Easter Sunday. I think it was our first time ever in Philadelphia, but it goes to show we have always just toured organically. The funny part was it was the early 2000s, so we all smoked back then. The guy at the venue paying us out said, “Listen, there’s no money. I’m a rep for Camel, so I have a carton of cigarettes I can give you.” I was like, “Sweet!” It wasn’t our lowest paying show, but it was the lowest attended.
So some places are dramatically different. Not as much anymore now, but back then it was rough. Especially when we would play like a big show at home and then go out to the East Coast and have to scrounge. It’s okay, I mean all of that. I look back at it as some of the best times of my life. It was such an adventure. It was really fun, and we learned a lot and don’t take anything for granted. You need experiences like that.
Trampled by Turtles will play at the Armory in Minneapolis, MN with Charlie Parr. Saturday, November 26. All Ages. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8:00 p.m. Sold out. armorymn.com