Trampled by Turtles

Trampled by Turtles

On Wild Animals, Trampled by Turtles’ seventh studio album, themes of impermanence run deep, both lyrically and sonically. The quintet’s hybrid folk sound continues its evolution pushing the band further into the grey area between genres that defies pigeonholing.  

Trampled By Turtles formed in 2003 in Duluth, Minnesota. From their beginnings on the Midwestern festival circuit, they have reached new heights with each album.  The release of 2012’s Stars And Satellites saw the band play to more fans than ever, sell close to 100,000 albums, make their first national television appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, and have their first concert feature, Live at First Avenue, broadcast on Palladia. This year will see the band headline Red Rocks Ampitheatre for the first time and the kickoff of their own festival, Festival Palomino, which will take place September 20, 2014 outside Minneapolis.  

Lead songwriter Dave Simonett has been especially affected by change over the last few years.  He relocated from Duluth to the city of Minneapolis.  “When I lived in Duluth, I think I took connection with uncivilized nature for granted. There, I had to drive 20 minutes and I was in the middle of nowhere, and I did this almost daily,” says Simonett.  “This was a very important ritual for me. Solitary time in a nearly untouched landscape is my version of church, so I think there is a bit of loss of religion in a lot of my work these days. I've always been a little obsessed with our struggle to stay connected to our simple animal side, the part of our nature that lived off the earth, hunted live game, worshipped trees and mountains. I believe a lot of sadness is caused by feeling disconnected with the rest of nature.  A lot of what is instinctual for us is beaten down and frowned upon in modern society.  It has to be confusing for the subconscious.”

Wild Animals found Trampled by Turtles working with a producer for the first time in four studio records.  The band placed themselves in the capable hands of longtime Duluth, MN compatriot Alan Sparhawk of the band Low and engineer B.J. Burton (Poliça, Megafaun, Volcano Choir) who crafted a sonic landscape that was spatial and new at Cannon Falls, MN’s Pachyderm Studio (Nirvana, The Jayhawks).  

Says Simonett on working with Sparhawk: “Alan is one of the most musically courageous people I know and that’s exactly the attitude we were looking for.  He’s great at taking a song from its false conclusion all the way down to its very core and then building it back in new and interesting ways.”

And on Burton’s contributions:  “He has an exciting way of looking at sound. He shares Alan’s courage in music in that he’s ready to take organic sounds and push them to new places. He’s extremely technically skilled but not tied to any recording dogma.”  

The band’s signature harmonies are intact, although the contributions that Sparhawk and Burton added created a new depth. Tim Saxhaug, the band member who has traditionally done much of the vocal arrangement says, “The production team pushed the band to consider new ways of approaching harmony, and the result 'opened our ears.' I wasn’t sure that recording could feel new after six studio albums, but that went away on the first day. Making this album was the most creative I’ve ever felt in my life.”

When asked about themes in his writing, Simonett says, “I’ve always felt they’re just various ways humans have attempted to explain the unexplainable. To keep the fear of the darkness that waits for all of us at bay. The death of a loved one, the parting of friends, the changing leaves, the loss of love. All the little parts that come and go. In a way it’s refreshing because the knowledge that nothing will ever stay the same offers innumerable opportunities for rebirth. “

Sparhawk adds about the band’s relationship, “The sound that caught my ear was there from the beginning and stands to this day: I call it the 'wall of strings.' Taking instruments we have heard for generations, the Turtles dive in with post-punk energy and selflessness. Everyone has a part in the arrangement that leans on and enhances the others, always serving the song. The message is not about individuals - it's about what can be done when people get together, apply their heart and soul, and make a little room for each other.  Music has always had that potential, but it's rare when it actually happens.”  

Erik Berry says of the band's chemistry, "From the earliest times we started playing, there has always been a real hard-to-define quality about our chemistry, something special. It’s been a treat to find that more than ten years in we still can turn new corners, at least new-to-us corners, together in the way we approach a song or a sound and still with that quality. That something that makes us, us."

Wild Animals is the sound of a band at the peak of their potential, strengthened from a decade together, winning some and losing some, but growing none-the-less. The album captures the intense nature that goes with being alive, melding the universal and the personal.

Hurray For The Riff Raff

Hurray For The Riff Raff is Alynda Lee Segarra, but in many ways it's much more than that: it's a young woman leaving her indelible stamp on the American folk tradition. If you're listening to her new album, 'Small Town Heroes,' odds are you're part of the riff raff, and these songs are for you.

"It's grown into this bigger idea of feeling like we really associate with the underdog," says Segarra, who came to international attention in 2012 with 'Look Out Mama.' The album earned her raves from NPR and the New York Times to Mojo and Paste, along with a breakout performance at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, which left American Songwriter "awestruck" and solidified her place at the forefront of a new generation of young musicians celebrating and reimagining American roots music. "We really feel at home with a lot of worlds of people that don't really seem to fit together," she continues, "and we find a way to make them all hang out with our music. Whether it's the queer community or some freight train-riding kids or some older guys who love classic country, a lot of folks feel like mainstream culture isn't directed at them. We're for those people."

Segarra, a 26-year-old of Puerto Rican descent whose slight frame belies her commanding voice, grew up in the Bronx, where she developed an early appreciation for doo-wop and Motown from the neighborhood's longtime residents. It was downtown, though, that she first felt like she found her people, traveling to the Lower East side every Saturday for punk matinees at ABC No Rio. "Those riot grrrl shows were a place where young girls could just hang out and not have to worry about feeling weird, like they didn't belong," Segarra says of the inclusive atmosphere fostered by the musicians and outsider artists who populated the space. "It had such a good effect on me to go to those shows as a kid and feel like somebody in a band was looking out for me and wanted me to feel inspired and good about myself."

The Lower East Side also introduced her to travelers, and their stories of life on the road inspired her to strike out on her own at 17, first hitching her way to the west coast, then roaming the south before ultimately settling in New Orleans. There, she fell in with a band of fellow travelers, playing washboard and singing before eventually learning to play a banjo she'd been given in North Carolina. "It wasn't until I got to New Orleans that I realized playing music was even possible for me," she explains. "The travelers really taught me how to play and write songs, and we'd play on the street all day to make money, which is really good practice. You have to get pretty tough to do that, and you put a lot of time into it."

"The community I found in New Orleans was open and passionate. The young artists were really inspiring to me," she says. "Apathy wasn't a part of that scene. And then the year after I first visited, Katrina happened, and I went back and saw the pain and hardship that all of the people who lived there had gone through. It made we want to straighten out my life and not wander so much. The city gave had given me an amazing gift with music, and it made me want to settle there and be a part of it and help however I could."

Many of the songs on 'Small Town Heroes' reflect that decision and her special reverence for the city. She bears witness to a wave of violence that struck the St. Roch neighborhood in the soulful "St. Roch Blues;" yearns for a night at BJ's Bar in the Bywater in "Crash on the Highway;" and sings of her home in the Lower Ninth Ward on "End of the Line." "That neighborhood and particularly the house I lived in there became the nucleus of a singer songwriter scene in New Orleans," she explains. "'End Of The Line' is my love song to that whole area and crew of people."

The scope of the album is much grander than just New Orleans, though, as Segarra mines the deep legacies and contemporizes the rich variety of musical forms of the American South for the age of Trayvon Martin and Wendy Davis. "Delia"s gone but I'm settling the score," she sings with resolute menace on "The Body Electric," a feminist reimagining of the traditional murder ballad form that calls on everything from Stagger Lee to Walt Whitman. Shejuxtaposes pure country pop with the dreams and nightmares that come with settling down with just one person in "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)," while album opener "Blue Ridge Mountain" is an Appalachian nod to Maybelle Carter.

NPR has said that Hurray for the Riff Raff's music "sweeps across eras and genres with grace and grit," and that's never been more true than on 'Small Town Heroes.' These songs belong to no particular time or place, but rather to all of us. These songs are for the riff raff.

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Trampled by Turtles with Hurray For The Riff Raff

Wednesday, September 10 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Union Transfer