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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 4th, 2018.
The writing of the songs that became Heart Like a Levee started in a hotel room in Washington, DC , in January of 2015 during a powerful storm that darkened the East Coast. At that time I was feeling-more acutely than I had ever felt before-wrenched apart by my responsibilities to my family and to my music. Forgetting, momentarily, that for me, each exists only with the other. How could I forget? Though maybe my lapse was reasonable: I had just quit my job, the most recent and last, in a series of deadend gigs stretching back 20 years, with the vow that my children would understand their father as a man in love with his world and the inventor of his own days. They would be rare in that regard. And then-driven by monthly bills and pure fear- I left for another tour, carrying a load of guilt that I could just barely lift. But in that snowy hotel room I found the refrain that became my compass: I was a dreamer, babe, when I set out on the road; but did I say I could find my way home?
Through the spring and summer, while traveling and when I was off the road and at home in Durham, I wrote about love-the teaching kind and the destroying kind- and about movement, and being moved, really and truly moved. I wrote about our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters-of blood and the road-and how easy it can be to abdicate those responsibilities at the slightest threat of bad weather. I reckoned with things that I couldn’t see, but I could feel; and in so feeling begin to understand as real to me and those whom I love. I carried my piece of the fire, or tried to. The heart is a beautiful vessel, prone to failure and breathtaking acts of grace. An impermanent, permeable thing, lovely for its changeabil ity, blameless for its fallibility. It’s hard to even begin to conceive of how to measure our boundaries. Heart Like a Levee is my taking stock of my universe, my span, my inventory, my leavetaking and return over back roads so blue they look black until the dawn.
Heart Like a Levee was recorded in the fall and winter of 2015. It was produced by myself and Brad Cook, who also played bass. Phil Cook played the piano and organ and guitar, and Matt McCaughan played the drums and percussion. Our friends Alexandra SauserMonnig, Tift Merritt, Michael Lewis, Matt Douglas, Chris Boerner, Josh Kaufman, Ryan Gustafson, Sonyia Turner and Jon Ashley all contributed in important ways that you can read about in the album credits.
I have dedicated every day to song. I have been traveling all my life. And I understand that I am so lucky, and I am thankful. Money is easy enough to find if you want it bad enough; but art, true deep art full of grace that shakes and terrifies the soul, is an elusive spirit and damn near impossible to come by. So sitting in this sunny backyard at the end of this journey that I took with my friends and family, everyone that I love and some of whom did not even realize they were on this trip, I’m thinking: We found it. Goddammit, everybody: We found it. And that’s a rare feeling indeed.
And it’s all just a moment.
—M.C. Taylor Durham, North Carolina 15 June 2016
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