116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Dave Simonett, singer/guitarist in the string band Trampled By Turtles, has a new EP out called “Orion” that’s as close to a true solo project as he’s likely to do.
While some of the songs have more than just his voice and either guitar or piano, the instruments were all played by Simonett and recorded in his home studio.
That wasn’t the original plan for the five highly melodic songs that appear on “Orion.”
“They were actually written when we were going to try to make a Trampled album (in 2020). We had a studio booked and all ready to go, and that didn’t happen,” Simonett said in a recent phone interview, noting that the COVID pandemic scuttled plans for the Trampled By Turtles album.
What: Trampled by Turtles with David Huckfelt opening
Where: Alliant Energy PowerHouse, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 17, 2022
Tickets: Club 5 standing-room-only concert, $32 general admission, $42 VIP pit ticket, creventslive.com/events/2021/trampled-by-turtles
Band’s website: trampledbyturtles.com/
“Then I was just home that whole year and I thought ‘Well maybe I’ll make another solo record or an EP or something just to make something.’ And I booked a studio in Minneapolis here and got the band that played on ‘Red Tail’ (Simonett’s 2019 full-length solo album) together and then somebody at that studio came down with COVID. So that got canceled. So I thought well, hell, I guess I’m just going to record it all by myself.”
Simonett had long liked the idea of doing a stripped back, near-solo folk-centric project like “Orion,” but had never followed through on the idea.
“By necessity it was (solo), but it’s also something I wanted to do. ‘Red Tail’ started out just like that,” Simonett said. “I wanted to do this before, and whenever I’ve started to do it, I’ve always missed kind of the band and ended up doing it another way. So this made me kind of stay in that lane. I finally was able to make something just like that.
“It ended up being a really, really enriching project for me to do at that time, something to focus on, and it was really fun to do,” he said. “Every day I was able to go to my own studio and work on it. And I’d never really done the entire process — the tracking, mixing and all of that. So it was a really educational experience and something I’d really like to keep doing now that I’ve done it.”
It figures to be a while before Simonett does another solo album — either with or without additional musicians. With the restrictions of the pandemic easing, Trampled By Turtles has gotten back to playing live and will spend much of February, March and April on tour. The band will launch its tour at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in downtown Cedar Rapids on Feb. 17, 2022.
A new Trampled By Turtles album may be in the not-too-distant future, as well. Nothing is set in stone, but the group, which includes Simonett, bassist Tim Saxhaug, banjo player Dave Carroll, mandolin player Erik Berry, fiddle player Ryan Young and cellist Eamonn McLain, have taken steps toward that end.
“I’ve been writing a bit,” Simonett said. “I finally figured out how to make some time to write at home, and I feel really good. And we have started to carve out some time in which to do that.”
That Trampled By Turtles is even around to play shows and make new music is reassuring to the group’s fan base. In late 2016, Trampled By Turtles went on what was at the time billed as a hiatus.
Simonett now admits it was more like a full-on breakup.
“We said we were taking a break, but in reality, I quit the band,” Simonett said. “I just felt like I wanted to burn everything down. We had been just so busy touring and just relentlessly (working), I was just getting really burned out. I mean, musically, I was getting burned out, but I was getting burned out by everything, you know — lifestyle, just the whole thing.
“I just needed everything that I was doing at the time to kind of stop.”
It turned out that getting away from his band of 15-plus years was just what Simonett, who writes the majority of the group’s songs, needed to get some perspective. During that time, he was able to branch out musically. He recorded a folk-rock album, 2017’s “Furnace,” with his plugged-in side band Dead Man Winter, and went on to do the more acoustic folk-oriented “Red Tail” and “Orion” — while gaining renewed appreciation for Trampled By Turtles.
“Maybe it took me that space to realize that I really loved this. Thankfully the guys were gracious when I came crawling back,” he said. “Everybody else seemed to have missed it, too. We’ve talked about it a bit where that break ended up being maybe a life saver for our band. It was really good for everybody.
“I’m just thankful they all took me back,” Simonett said. “I found a new love for Trampled, and I also found that I really need once in a while to do my own thing, hence ‘Red Tail’ and my EP. They’re cool with it, so that works out great.”
The group decided the first step in the reunion should be an attempt to make new music, and it resulted in the 2018 album, “Life is Good on the Open Road,” which marked a spirited return for the band.
As usual, the album had its share of fast-paced numbers (“The Middle,” “Kelly’s Bar” and “Annihilate”) built around solid vocal melodies and plenty of fleet-fingered playing by all six players — a sound that has always enabled Trampled to avoid being easily categorized as bluegrass, country, folk or any other style. Meanwhile, several heartfelt ballads, including “We All Get Lonely,” brought a nice musical balance to “Life is Good on the Open Road.”
The renewed chemistry and energy has carried over to the live stage, Simonett said.
“It’s cliche: You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he said. “I don’t think anybody thought we would play again. So when we did, it was so much fun. I do think the last year that we played up until COVID shut everything down, I think our band, for my personal viewpoint on stage, it felt like this is the best band we’ve ever been. I don’t know what it is, but everybody just seems to be playing with all of their heart. I feel like it’s going to be that same way here coming up.”
Things feel so good, the band probably won’t even need much rehearsal to hit the ground running on tour. The musicians probably won’t even make up a set list until the day before or day of the first show — which is typical for them.
“That’s really kind of the last of my concerns, the band’s playing,” Simonett said. “I know that maybe sounds dumb and it might not prove to be true, but I do feel like that’s the one thing I feel really comfortable with. We’ve been playing long enough now, that we can get on stage and make a show.”