Trampled by Turtles' driving energy shows in 'Palomino'

Duluth-based Trampled by Turtles at an undated performance.
Photo Courtesy of Trampled by Turtles

The Duluth band Trampled by Turtles gained a national following for its passionate, frenetic, spontaneous acoustic music. Critics are praising their new cd, "Palomino," for capturing the band's driving energy.

It was Paul Westerberg who in a Replacements song said he hated music because it's got too many notes. So he must loathe Trampled by Turtles, which strums, plucks and picks more notes per nano-second than seems humanly possible.

Trampled by Turtles features banjo, mandolin and fiddle players but no drummer. It's built like a traditional bluegrass band, but that isn't how guitarist and songwriter Dave Simonett sees it. Simonett suspects a more purist bluegrass musician or fan wouldn't either.

"A lot of people in that world have a real strict and confining...view of what a band that has a guitar, bass, banjo mandolin and fiddle has to sound like," he said.

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"I would love myself to be in like a one-Friday-a-month bluegrass band," said mandolin player Erik Berry, "That tries to sound like 1946. But it could never really be Trampled by Turtles."

So if Trampled by Turtles isn't bluegrass, what is it? Of all the hybrid genres that have been bandied about, from new grass, thrash grass, slam grass and speed grass to non-traditional string music and indie folk, maybe rock grass or even punk grass is the most accurate.

Trampled by Turtles
Duluth-based band Trampled by Turtles released its new album, "Palamino," on Tuesday, April 13.
Photo courtesy of Trampled by Turtles

The band started in 2003 as an acoustic experiment by a bunch of rock musicians whose groups had broken up. The members even think of their catalog as rock songs played with a very un-rock configuration of instruments. Given Trampled by Turtles highly amplified sound, it might be a good idea to bring earplugs to their shows.

"We're loud," Berry said. "We're a lot louder than a traditional bluegrass band on stage."

But again, whether its rockgrass or acoustic rock, Trampled by Turtles is set apart by its lightning quickness. Berry said they started out as plodding rockers working on their musical proficiency.

"And then we got faster and we kept going with it," Berry said. "Whether it should be happening or not it is."

But singer Dave Simonett said the band never set out to play fast simply for the sake of speed.

"It was really a reaction to the energy of the room, the crowd and the song itself," he said.

The cover art for the new album, "Palamino," by the Duluth-based band Trampled by Turtles.

Fans say it's that symbiotic relationship between band and audience that makes Trampled by Turtles live shows legendary. And that's why Joshua Timmermans, founder of the Cincinnati web magazine "The Noble Visions" is so impressed with the band's new album, "Palomino."

Timmermans said chief songwriter Dave Simonett is in top form. Simonett specializes in nakedly emotional tunes about love gone bad, or good. But Timmersmans judges bands by how well their recordings match the quality of their live performances.

"If they can actually produce albums that are reminiscent of their live show and there's not much difference between the spontaneity of a live show, you know you've got a good band," he said. "Not everybody can do it and Trampled by Turtles is one of the bands that can pull it off."

The members of Trampled by Turtles make their living by touring relentlessly, playing about 200 gigs a year. They say it's something they enjoy and will continue to do until their songs either become exclusively about being in a band or being on the road, or they just become too sore to take the stage.