Forecastle Chat: Q&A with Trampled by Turtles

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Duluth, Minnesota’s Trampled by Turtles have become a fixture of the U.S. festival circuit, having performed at Coachella, Bumbershoot and the Austin City Limits Music festivals, to name a few.

WOUB contributor Josh Antonuccio caught up with band members Ryan Young and Erik Berry at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, where they discussed the group’s recent appearance on Late Show with David Letterman and their upcoming sold-out gig at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Josh Antonuccio: Congrats on a great set today.

Ryan Young: Thanks!

JA: So what have you been listening to this year?

RY: I really like the new Ray LaMontagne album. There are some–who I don’t agree with–that don’t like it. But I think it’s great.

JA: Is that one of your favorites of the year?

RY: Sure, I’d say that.

Erik Berry: I don’t really listen to new music. I really like Sonny Rollins’ brand new live album, Road Shows Vol. 3, which is awesome.

JA: Where was it recorded?

EB: Various places. It’s got nine tracks, all recorded at different shows and from different years, but the youngest he was on any of them was 72.

JA: His career is unbelievable.

EB: Yeah, I just found out, like six months ago, that he hasn’t died. I was like, “when did Sonny Rollins die?” and it’s like, oh…he didn’t. (laughs)

JA: I had that same revelation a year or so ago. I saw a photograph of him and couldn’t believe that the guy is still alive and kicking.

EB: Yeah, he’s been a big inspiration to me recently. I read that he gets to the show and warms up for two hours, then he does a soundcheck which lasts an hour and a half, then he plays for another hour-and-a-half, then he takes a dinner break, then he plays the show, then cools down for 45 minutes. He’s 83 years-old and puts in eight hours of playing time a day.

JA: That’s amazing. By the way, congratulations on the recent Letterman performance. How’d that go?

RY: It was great but nerve-wracking, as it usually is for me. I just try not to think about how many people are watching.

EB: My mom told me that we looked a lot more physically comfortable and not as nervous as the last time we played.

RY: But I still felt nervous, though we didn’t show it. My heart was racing.

JA: So does Letterman spend any time with you all beforehand? How does that work?

EB: No, I saw him briefly on the stairs and he told me to have a good evening. That was my “hell-of-an-encounter” with Dave Letterman.

JA: What about Paul Shaffer?

RY: Yeah, he’s great. The first time we played on Letterman, Paul Shaffer spent 20 minutes talking with us before the show and then another five-or-10 after. Really friendly and seemed genuinely interested in us.

JA: He always seems like he really enjoys interacting with the musical guests. So you’re coming off that performance, your album was released last week and you’ve got a huge tour planned–what are you hoping to see for the band this year?

EB: I don’t know. I sort of view every day that I don’t have to send a resume out to a real a job as a success. It’d be really nice if people who haven’t heard us yet could discover us. Talking about the future is tough. If you’d have asked us last year what things would look like now, we might have a general idea, but would I have guessed we would be playing Letterman the day of the release or that we’d have a sold-out show at Red Rocks? Probably not, but that’s what’s happened.

JA: How many times have you played Red Rocks?

RY: Zero.

JA: And you sold out your first time there?

EB: Yeah, the highest prediction in our “office pool” was 75%, so we were all wrong.

JA: I’m from Athens, Ohio, where there’s a deep Appalachian bluegrass network and the music scene is very familial and community oriented. Do you feel the same thing with Duluth, that you’ve had a supportive community?

EB: Yes, but it’s not from the bluegrass community. There is a bluegrass scene there, but that’s not what we came out of–we came out of the rock bands and bars community. Even in Minneapolis, we have a supportive community, but it’s not the bluegrass community. Now Ryan might feel differently….

RY: No, I don’t. (laughs)

JA: So was that a struggle then, trying to find support as you were developing?

EB: No, not a struggle, but we were just rock kids playing this bluegrass style. Our friends were like, “cool, do you want to play with our band?” Some of those early shows, we were playing with punk bands. We had a really fun show where we had a punk band and a dubstep DJ on the same bill. It was awesome; we were all friends and that’s why we put the show together. We never really played bluegrass as kids, our banjo player doesn’t use finger picks, and the first songs I was learning on the mandolin were songs by The Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath, not by Bill Monroe. So I think there’s a lot of love and respect for bluegrass on our part, but it’s not where we’re from.

JA: Yeah, there was an era where it was really uncool to come out as a Grateful Dead or even a Sabbath fan in certain circles. But now it seems like there is so much appreciation for those bands across genres that it’s ok to admit that you’re a fan.

EB: On this tour, our sound guy, when he has the desk, Sabbath comes on. And that’s how you can tell that Matt’s back there. And every time he’s back there and I hear Sabbath playing, I’m like (raises his hands), “Yeah! It’s our show now!”

JA: Do you ever pull covers into your set from those artists?

EB: We play some Sabbath, but…we have a “no Grateful Dead” rule. (laughs)

For more of WOUB’s Forecastle Festival coverage, including interviews and photos, visit this link.

Erik Berry and Ryan Young with Josh Antonuccio