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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 4, 2018.
The Midwest is to The Pines what Monument Valley was to filmmaker John Ford. The flat, endless expanses of the band's native Iowa are at once the settings of, characters in, and muse behind the songs on their new album, Above The Prairie. Songwriters David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey—who along with Benson's brother Alex form the band's touring trio format—craft their music with a filmmaker's keen eye for detail and framing, blending celestial, ethereal atmospherics with rich, warm vocals and earthy acoustic instruments.
It's a gripping brew that demands your total presence, transporting you into vividly painted musical and lyrical snapshots. "Almost all of the songs on the album are somewhere between the first and third take," says Huckfelt. "It was a matter of capturing raw performances and preserving that spirit, of not losing the energy of the songs in the recording of them."
"It's kind of a risky way to work," adds Ramsey, "but we went back to Iowa and just did it in three days and that was pretty much it. It's almost like a photograph." Much like the photograph on the album's cover—which depicts a stunning nighttime landscape of wide-open grassland spotted with crumbling, abandoned cabins beneath an infinitely expansive galaxy of stars—the songs on Above The Prairie at once evoke the vastness of space, the ceaseless passage of time, the beauty of Earth, and the inescapable loneliness of inhabiting it.
In some ways, Above The Prairie may sound like an attempt to reconnect with the past, to capture the feel of the land and the communities of their youths, but the songs seem rather to reflect on the impossibility of such an endeavor in the modern age. "People say you can't step in the same river twice," says Huckfelt, "but you can't even step in the same river once, because change is the only constant. Home isn't the same home you remember, and you don't get a minute to catch your breath to think about it."