Pent up in the stuffy offices of work, weighed down by the responsibilities of life, the open road can be a release valve for your average American. It’s where you can go to unwind and explore the vastness of life, remove yourself from the stagnant world you’ve settled into, if only for a short while.
But for your average traveling musician, the road is the equivalent of the stuffy office. Imagine having to spend most of your waking minutes with your work colleagues, crammed in vans and buses shuttling to different parts of the world on little sleep and little time with family. Wouldn’t you want the wheels to stop turning, for the world to cease moving by you at 65 mph, if only for a short while?
Bluegrass favorites Trampled By Turtles certainly felt that way. After 14 years of breaking strings and blowing minds on tour and releasing seven studio albums of ever evolving acoustic music, Dave Simonett (guitar), Erik Berry (mandolin), Tim Saxhaug (bass), Dave Carroll (banjo), Ryan Young (fiddle) and recent addition Eammon McLain (cello) went on hiatus in October 2016.
The members got to park the Trampled bus for a while, clock-out from their main gig and just experience other things. Simonett recorded an album and toured as Dead Man Winter, exploring his songwriting and sound with a full backing band. Berry released an album of Irish music with Teague Alexy. As Simonett revealed to Tahoe Onstage from his home in Minnesota, it was exactly what he and the others needed.
“It was a nice healthy break. After 14 years of solid touring, I can only speak for myself, I guess, I was feeling burnt out and I didn’t want to get to the point where I hated it. It can happen and it’s a terrible thing to take something for granted like that. Really good break, kept busy with a couple solo projects and everyone else did kind of the same, which was an awesome thing,” Simonett said.
Now, Trampled By Turtles are back with their first studio album in four years, “Life Is Good On The Open Road.” It’s an album that hums along at a familiar pace and feel to the band’s earlier records, when it was just the guys sitting in a room together and playing music for each other and with each other.
That was the energy Simonett was looking for when the group started thinking about what it wanted this record to be. So in October 2017 the members holed up in a cabin in Minnesota for a couple of weeks, set up some microphones and hit “Record.” The result is an LP that feels fresh and comfortable at the same time, like an old leather jacket spruced up just as the wear and tear started to show.
“When we got back and played together again, it felt great. It was a good combination of being with family and doing something new for the first time in a long time. It would be impossible to make something completely new, I think. Not make something new, but have it be something new. We’ve known each other so well, for so long now and doing this feels just kind of fresh, which was kind of the goal. It also feels like something I’m very comfortable with, which is a really good feeling,” Simonett said.
The record is a satisfying mix between the band’s revved-up bluegrass romps and tender ballads. Songs such as “Life Is Good On The Open Road,” “Kelly’s Bar” and “Right Back Where We Started” find Simonett trying to discover the beauty of his life in the vignettes of drunken nights and city lights across the country, underscoring the uniqueness of the job, even if it is still a job. It’s an appreciation that probably wouldn’t have been there without his chance to take a step back and see his life in a new and recharged light.
“The title — and the song the album title comes from — came from a place of trying to appreciate the life I have, the life of a traveling musician. It’s a common disease to get really jaded about it, just like any other job. It was trying to remind myself that I got a pretty special life that I get to lead. I love traveling and meeting people around the world and playing music, truck stops and tourist-y shit.
“It’s trying to remind myself about the parts that I like, instead of being away too much and tired all the time (chuckles), the downsides to that kind of thing. No line of work is all good or all bad, but for me it was a choice to focus on things I like about it and things that are special about it,” Simonett said.
Trampled By Turtles are now back out on the open road with a new record, a renewed appreciation for what they do and energized fans eager for their return. Life is good.
– Garrett Bethmann
- Trampled By Turtles
Opener: Deer Tick
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, June 21
Where: MontBleu Showroom
Tickets: $32 in advance or $35 on the day of the show