Trampled by Turtles singer releases his first solo album — at least under his own name

Musician Dave Simonett in the control room.
Musician Dave Simonett in the control room at the Pachyderm Studio near Cannon Falls, Minn. For his new solo album “Red Tail” he brought demo tapes recorded in his home studio and then asked collaborators to help him develop and finish them.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Dave Simonett says a few years ago he basically called it quits on Trampled by Turtles.

The Duluth-based band had been touring almost nonstop for years and he said they all needed a break. He wanted to focus on solo work. He didn't do it as Dave Simonett, though — he called the project Dead Man Winter.

A few years, and some albums, have passed since then. Things have changed for Simonett. He looks relaxed in the control room at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minn., as he talked about his new album "Red Tail."

"A lot of my stuff is real simple three-chord songs,” he said. “And for me, how I choose to sonically mess with that is finding other people to play with, and to play on top of that and each musician I know is kind of maybe an ingredient in a recipe or something like that. You can pick a flavor."

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"Red Tail" is an atmospheric collection of eight songs, very different from the bluegrass-fueled energy of Trampled by Turtles. Simonett said there is no underlying meaning, just a group of songs he wrote at a certain time. Listeners can interpret them as they will.

The album's also a far cry from his last solo effort released in 2017, which was a reaction to a painful divorce.

David Simonett at MPR headquarters.
David Simonett of Trampled by Turtles and Dead Man Winter sits for a portrait inside the Minnesota Public Radio headquarters in January 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

"That Dead Man Winter album "Furnace," [there] was a very specific reason for making it and a very specific head space” he said “And I didn't have that this time around. It was just kind of light and easy."

In time, he says Dead Man Winter became a band in its own right, and then Trampled by Turtles hit the road again after a two year hiatus. Now he has his first solo album under his own name, and an important realization.

"I feel like I am at my best when as many projects as I can have are happening,” he said. “Not at the same time, meaning I don't go from one tour to the other tour, but all happening in general."

He recorded all of the songs on "Red Tail" as demos in his home studio. He then brought them to Pachyderm, along with old friends, including bassist Al Church and guitarist DJ House.

Elephant statues at Pachyderm outside Cannon Falls.
Visitors to Pachyderm outside Cannon Falls, Minn., are welcomed by friendly elephants. The studio, which have played host to bands ranging from Nirvana and P.J. Harvey to The Jayhawks and Trampled by Turtles, sits on 9 acres of land which feature a five-bedroom house adjacent to the studio building.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"I didn't come in with any concrete ideas, and I don't think anybody else did either. Actually, I don't think I even played them the music before they got here, to be honest. So, it was kind of spur of the moment" he laughed. "But I like to record in that way."

Simonett said while these new songs are in the first person, that doesn't necessarily mean they are "true" as he puts it, but they are expressions of him. They describe life in the Midwest: people and places.

The song "In the Western Wind and Sunrise" describes a small town.

The songs changed as Simonett presented them to his collaborators. He only had two verses for "In the Western Wind and Sunrise," but on the album it ended up more than six minutes long.

"We started messing around on it in here,” he said pointing to the studio. “And really the first time that group played it, we kept letting it go at the end … where I think it ended up for me was the instrumental part became the bulk of the song.”

With "Red Tail" out and receiving airplay, Simonett has a new sense of freedom.

"There is something kind of liberating to just — it took the long way to get there — but just to use my own name meant that I can kind of do whatever I want," he said.

Simonett was due to launch a national tour in support of “Red Tail” on Thursday at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids, Minn. That gig has been postponed due to the coronavirus. A May 9 concert at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul is still on for now.