Trampled By Turtles Follows the Open Road to Houston

Trampled By Turtles
Trampled By Turtles Photo by David McClister, courtesy All Eyes Media

Neighborhoods and restaurants surrounding White Oak Music Hall should be on the lookout for roaming Turtles soon.

That according to Tim Saxhaug, bassist for the Minnesota sextet, Trampled by Turtles. The band is back on tour after a hiatus and visits Houston Saturday, March 2 to perform songs from its 15-year career and tunes from its latest album, Life is Good on the Open Road.

The album title is especially intriguing. Fans of the band’s enchanting blend of bluegrass, folk and rock know TBT made its name, in part, by incessant touring. They put the brakes on the tour busses in 2016 and didn’t meet as a group for a year. When they did gather, for a musical retreat of sorts at banjo player Dave Carroll’s cabin, song ideas flowed easily. They tracked the songs in less than a week and are back on the bus in support of Life Is Good,…, the band’s first new music in four years.

“The song 'Life is Good on the Open Road' was one of the first ones that we learned together when we did get back together and that was a couple of months before we were even in the studio,” Saxhaug said. “It seemed appropriate given our history of being on the road so much together and realizing we can take a break and just kind of get back into the swing of things if we needed to. There’s a pretty strong bond there. It’s nice to know it can withstand some time off.”

The band’s members used their down time in various fashions. Dave Simonett, the lead singer and principal songwriter, worked on his solo project, Dead Man Winter. Saxhaug said that was a prime reason for the break. There wasn’t a specific blueprint for how long it would last and the open-endedness of it all might have jangled some nerves.

“There were varying levels of trepidation I think,” Saxhaug said. “Basically, he asked us for time to make his solo project so he doesn’t have to worry about dividing time between Trampled and his family and fitting Dead Man in there. He just wanted time to put something out on his own without having to worry about all the other stuff. And when he presented that to us, he said, ‘I don’t see it being more than a year.’ And some took that at face value and others, I think, might have been worried, but that’s how it ended up and it doesn’t really matter in the end.”

Saxhaug’s right about that. Once they met at Carroll’s cabin, the songs they wrote formed what Saxhaug’s called "the most Trampled by Turtles record we’ve ever made."  There are elements of it that recall the band’s breakthrough work, Palomino. That album features some of the band’s most beloved songs – “Wait So Long,” “Victory” and “Help You,” to name a few. It remained on Billboard’s Top 10 bluegrass charts for an entire year. New songs, like the title track, the raucous “Kelly’s Bar,” and “The Middle,” which is a slight departure style-wise, have fans suggesting the new music was worth the wait. How do the songs come together, we wondered, with a group this large?

“Basically, our process is Dave kind of just starts playing and we start plunking along and then after a number of times of playing through people start solidifying parts,” Saxhaug said. “In my memory though, at the very beginning of trying to put together ‘The Middle,’ which is not even a bluegrass-style song, I think we initially tried to make it work as a bluegrass song and it kind of became apparent that it wasn’t quite clicking that way, so we kind of had to put a different feel on it and try to see how a total song like that can have a beat without having drums. Luckily, it worked out.”

The band’s current tour run is selling out shows. A week from tonight, they’re playing a sold-out set at historic Gruene Hall. We shared a little of the dance hall’s history with Saxhaug and told him he’d love the acoustics next Saturday at White Oak Music Hall. That sent us on a tangent about the band’s favorite places to play. They’ve played major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and ACL, right down the road in Austin. Saxhaug picked a couple of reliable venues among them all.

click to enlarge Saxhaug, second from right, says TBT's latest album is some of the most representative work they've recorded - PHOTO BY DAVID MCCLISTER, COURTESY ALL EYES MEDIA
Saxhaug, second from right, says TBT's latest album is some of the most representative work they've recorded
Photo by David McClister, courtesy All Eyes Media

“The Ryman, obviously, in Nashville. Once you play there it’s hard to wanna play anywhere else, just because of the history of it and just what a beautiful room it is,” he said. “The 9:30 Club in D.C. is definitely one of them. And we’ve had some fun times in Houston, too. I think it’s Fitzgerald’s? We had some fun times in that room, as well.”

Now that they’re back on the road, we asked what makes life good out there for Trampled By Turtles. How do its members fill the time between performing for adoring fans? Saxhaug said, after all this time, they’ve got it down to a science.

“We do like to find food together, that’s one of the things that everybody seems to have in common. At least once a tour, there will usually be a fairly big, nice meal. It’s one of the things we have in common. Otherwise, people just go walk around the neighborhoods where we’re at,” he said. “Really, we tend to stay out of each other’s hair. We do pretty well being together on the road.”

Trampled By Turtles returns to Houston Saturday, March 2, for an evening at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. Ghost of Paul Revere opens the all ages show. Doors at 7 p.m., $27.50.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.