Trampled By Turtles has a bluegrass surface with rock and roll infused in every note. Straight out of Duluth, Minn., the band has released eight albums since 2004 and continues to evolve with each one. The band's most recent record, "Wild Animals" (2014), is more relaxed and haunting than what came before, and easily the best album of the lot. As its sound explores more dense and layered textures, the quintet is becoming one of the most exciting bands touring right now.
We had a chance to talk with mandolin/vocalist Erik Berry about songwriting and the act of playing music.
Source Weekly: "Wild Animals" felt to me a bit dreamier, darker and more haunting than previous records. Was that a specific mission going into these songs to create a more wistful tone or did that come out in the songwriting as you went?
Erik Berry: We didn't set out to do anything except to let (Producer) Alan Sparhawk have free reign over what we were doing. Personally, because Al's work with Low seems to be dreamy, dark and haunting, I wasn't surprised to wind up in that direction.
SW: The constant creative evolution with every album has always made you guys stand out from the pack when it comes to newgrass/bluegrass/folk-rock bands. Has that evolution been an organic progression for you guys after eight albums and over a decade together, or do you find yourself pressured to evolve into new branches of sound and songwriting?
EB: It's both. We have always applied that pressure to ourselves so we have progressed organically because we've all pushed ourselves to improve and build on each record. Between the earliest ones you can hear us getting better as players and singers and songwriters and arrangers. By the time you get to "Palomino" we've begun to really explore the vibe of the studio, how the recording space itself influences the recording. Coming into "Wild Animals" it just seemed like the next logical step was to have a producer who would be "in charge." Somebody from without who could push us into spaces and approaches that didn't originate from within.
SW: Was there a specific theme you were going after with "Wild Animals" or does your mindset during the songwriting process mostly inform that?
EB: It's kind of a bit of both. We knew there'd be more slower songs. Given Alan's background, we anticipated a lot of attention on vocals and vocal harmonies. It sort of worked out that the first couple tunes we tackled during those sessions wound up being the last tunes we finished tracking, so there was an interesting cyclical nature to the material. And it should be said that a nasty flu bug hit the studio so most everyone was laid low for a few days and that definitely impacted things. The quiet, meditative, simple approach I think definitely reflects a real struggle that was going on.
SW: After over a decade of touring, do you guys have a specific type of show you like playing the most? Sweaty, indoor and intimate vs. massive outdoor festivals?
EB: I like 'em both. There are also massive indoor shows and intimate outdoor ones, so there's really all kinds of experiences. Playing music for people is such a blessing in itself that I feel every venue brings something positive to the table. Not to get flaky about it.
SW: Are you recording new material? Any plans on the horizon for the next record?
SW: How would you describe a Trampled By Turtles show to someone that's never seen you live before?
EB: We're a string band with a rock and roll heart.
Trampled By Turtles & Lord Huron
Peak Summer Nights
Sunday, Aug. 21, 7 pm
Athletic Club of Bend,
61615 Athletic Club Dr., Bend