TRAMPLED BY TURTLES
Trampled by Turtles are from Duluth, Minnesota, where frontman Dave Simonett initially formed the group as a side project in 2003. At the time, Simonett had lost most of his music gear, thanks to a group of enterprising car thieves who’d ransacked his vehicle while he played a show with his previous band. Left with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, he began piecing together a new band, this time taking inspiration from bluegrass, folk, and other genres that didn’t rely on amplification. Simonett hadn’t played any bluegrass music before, and he filled his lineup with other newcomers to the genre, including fiddler Ryan Young (who’d previously played drums in a speed metal act) and bassist Tim Saxhaug. Along with mandolinist Erik Berry and banjo player Dave Carroll, the group began carving out a fast, frenetic sound that owed as much to rock & roll as bluegrass.
Trampled by Turtles released their first record, Songs from a Ghost Town, in 2004. In a genre steeped in tradition, the album stood out for its contemporary sound, essentially bridging the gap between the bandmates’ background in rock music and their new acoustic leanings. Blue Sky and the Devil (2005) and Trouble (2007) explored a similar sound, but it wasn’t until 2008 and the band’s fourth release, Duluth, that Trampled by Turtles received recognition by the bluegrass community. Duluth peaked at number eight on the Billboard bluegrass chart and paved the way for a number of festival appearances. When Palomino arrived in 2010, it was met with an even greater response, debuting at the top of the bluegrass chart and remaining in the Top Ten for more than a year. Two years later, their crossover appeal landed them at number 32 on the Billboard 200 pop charts upon the release of their sixth album, Stars and Satellites. In addition to major bluegrass and folk festivals, they began showing up at Coachella, Bumbershoot, and Lollapalooza. The official concert album, Live at First Avenue, followed in 2013, recorded at Minnesota’s most famous venue. A year later, the band returned with the darker-toned Wild Animals, which bettered its studio predecessor on the album charts, reaching number 29. Trampled will release their latest album Life Is Good On The Open Road on May 4th, 2018.
There are outlaws, and there are outlaws. Some practice the pose and cultivate the image, though seldom dirty their soft, bourgeois hands with anything actually outside the law. When they do, it is often despicable, irresponsible or just plain mundane. The Actual Wolf, however, is a real outlaw and has pled guilty to it. Between the bust and before the trial AW recorded a pair of EPs, each showing ‘another side of the Wolf’. The first is USA, an everyman’s acoustic album that channels both Woody and Zimmerman on a smuggler’s road trip on the cop-laden corridor of the I-80. The second—Lightning & the Wolf— conjures a 30-something’s symphony to Gawd, a rock EP at times so ethereal that it floats like smoke up into the aether, at others so earthy & grounded you can almost feel the parole. This is not music that pleads for forgiveness—the man has given his freedom as a sacrament at the altar of his beliefs. Rather, these are songs of redemption. Actual Wolf has paid a price, but like many deals with devils, seems to have come out the greater for it.
Some of you might recall Chapter One of the Actual Wolf story, but the details are timeworn enough to no longer bear repeating. The bullet points, however, remain important: trapped in a tiny town you’ve long since outgrown, the tedium of days waiting through obligations and hassles, stranded in the doldrums between tours and back-up gigs. Eric Pollard used this time as best he could, and the results speak for themselves.
In Chapter Two, the concept of Actual Wolf has evolved from ‘man’ to ‘band’. Besides Pollard, the effort now includes collaborators Steve Garrington, Jacob Hanson and Jeremy Hanson, and ‘Actual Wolf’ finds them fully enmeshed and luxuriant in their synergy together. Produced by Alan Sparhawk and mixed by Erik Koskinen, Actual Wolf comfortably demonstrates the timelessness of meticulous studio technique. Layered vocals and rich, tube-driven guitars lend a warm patina not out of place resting in a battered sleeve in a dusty record bin. Complex harmonies soar and shimmer, to hang like restless hawks in the thermals above the rich, earthy loam of Pollard’s effortless working class poeticism.
In these songs, angels and devils mingle in neutral territory, and stubborn optimism burns life’s accumulated disappointment as fuel. This is the sound of a New Americana: an accretion of influences as rich, dense and multicolored as a bed of living coral. Using ragged and tattered maps drawn by the weary, troubled troubadours of eras past, Actual Wolf navigates the freshly paved highways of the contemporary palette.