5 questions with Trampled by Turtles’ Erik Berry
July 12, 2012
Steamboat Springs — For seven years, Minnesota's Trampled By Turtles was that band that sat down. The acoustic quintet perched on chairs at venues across the country as its folk-inspired songs began to take hold. About two years ago, the group stood up, forever altering the soundscape of their "fast and furious" but soulful bluegrass.
Now, catapulted by the hit album "Stars and Satellites," an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in April and a jam-packed summer of major festival appearances, the pickers are settling into the national spotlight.
Mandolin player Erik Berry took a few minutes this week to talk to Explore Steamboat about the band's early days and the significance of the first show they played in Steamboat Springs.
Explore Steamboat: What do you remember about that first show you played here in Steamboat (Ghost Ranch, 2010)?
Erik Berry: That was the second gig we ever played standing up. The change occurred in Crested Butte the day before, but it was in Steamboat Springs that we decided OK, this was not just a one-time thing.
What we didn't expect, because we were so used to sitting down, was how much more physically comfortable it would be to play some of the fast songs.
It changed a lot of things. I think there's a lot more audience interaction, and there's definitely a lot more interaction between us.
It's let everything get a little bit bigger. Since we spent seven years sitting down, even now we're still discovering.
ES: What are you looking forward to about returning to play the Free Summer Concert Series on Friday?
EB: We like what they call in the jargon of the business "city plays." What we like about that is that it has sort of the feeling of a festival with a lot more family attendance, casual attendance. I like the chance of maybe someone's planning on seeing 30 minutes of the show and going to eat dinner, and maybe we can change their dinner plans. I see it as a challenge.
What I really like about playing outdoor shows is it's really easy to see the crowd, in particular further than five or six rows out. I like looking back 100 to 200 feet and looking at what those folks are doing.
ES: Tell us about Duluth, Minn., and how that environment influenced the beginnings of the band.
EB: It's got this history of being kind of a burly, brawly, rough-and-tumble place. A lot of artisans are here. Not just musicians, but my wife is a potter, and I notice that there's a lot of potters around. I live within two miles of two separate iron forges. That whole environment makes for … they're really supportive of creativity.
There's a fairly vibrant music scene, but it's not too big that there's a folk club and a punk club.
It's not big enough that you can have cliques, and it's not big enough that you can have bands that sound like each other. And in the wintertime, there's nothing much else to do besides hunker down and work on what you do.
ES: You were on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in April. Did you ever think you'd go from Duluth club gigs to national television?
EB: We've all been dorky kids in our bedroom playing in front of our mirrors. Realistically, no, but on the other hand, yes, sort of.
I used to work a pizza restaurant in Duluth, and Dave (Simonett, guitarist) worked there, too. We used to try to have to time our trips to the cooler to get prep to talk about a game plan for a Friday-night gig. And at one point, Dave said, "We gotta get outta here, man." From the early days, there's been a focus on making it in this business.
You could feel that whole day we were in New York, a lot of attention of lots of people across the country was on us. You could feel that the energy of a lot of people across the country was pulling for us.
And then, it's Letterman. While it's happening, it's an intense experience.
ES: What sets Trampled by Turtles apart from the rest of the vast realm of bluegrass?
EB: We learned from the beginning that we weren't really good at being a jammy bluegrass band. I can take a good mandolin solo for 12 measures, but make it 24 and, eh. We didn't really try to do it. Part of our sound could be summed up as fast and furious, I suppose, and taking a lot of influence from bands like the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com