Rock Candy Interview: Erik Berry of Trampled by Turtles

Trampled By Turtles

Minnesota band Trampled By Turtles wrote and recorded its latest album, “Stars and Satellites,” like many bluegrass bands before them, in the living room of a log cabin.

The band – who I’ve been hearing a lot about lately from local fans – plays the Waiting Room on Monday at 9 p.m. at The Waiting Room Lounge. Tickets, $15 in advance and $18 day of show, are available here. Joe Pug opens the show.

I caught up with mandolin player Erik Berry during a short stay at his Minnesota home before the band headed out for Newport Folk Festival and Lollapalooza and, finally, Omaha.

Watch Trampled By Turtles’ video for “Alone.”

Q. Most of the members of Trampled By Turtles came from rock backgrounds, not folk or bluegrass backgrounds. Is that what drew you guys to this kind of music?

A. It’s different reasons for different guys. Dave Simonett has the most dramatic story. He had his electric guitar and his amp stolen, so he had no choice but to play acoustic music.

I was playing bass in rock bands, but I owned a mandolin. When I was sitting around a campfire, I was sick of being another guy with a guitar, so I was itching to play that out.

One of Dave’s first solo acoustic shows was opening for one of my band’s last shows. I more or less invited myself to play mandolin with him. That’s how he and I started playing together. Then we met the other guys while we were playing.

Q. Playing the mandolin must have been a transition, but you seem to like it.

A. Yes. When I’d go rehearse with Trampled, I’d have a backpack with some cables and my mandolin. With this other band, I had to lug in my bass, my bass amp, and all the other stuff I needed. I thought, “It’s so much easier to have the backpack and the mandolin. I think we all felt a lot of that.

It’s ironic now because we have so much gear now. (Laughs) In the early days, we didn’t use much gear, and it wound up being fun and refreshing.

Q. You guys recorded “Stars and Satellites” in a log cabin instead of a traditional studio. How did that work?

A. It was a vacation rental. They were describing it as a log cabin, but it was on 10 acres in theMinnesotanorthwoods and had a sauna, hot tub and a garage converted into a bar. You name it, they had it there.

What was really nice about it was, for myself, my baby girl had been born in August, so I had this really new baby. It was important for me to be able to go home and it’s only 12 miles from where I lived. It was almost a conventional existence: I’d wake up, play with my 4-year-old son and coo over the baby and talk to my wife and then go to the recording studio. We’d record all day and then I’d go home and eat dinner.

For everyone else in the band, it was a working vacation. For me, it was on new dad thing. And for all of us, it was very relaxing and very fun.

We rented for a total of six days and they weren’t continuous days, so we had to be very focused and very intense on what we were doing. All the material we had to record we wanted to record there so they had the same feel.  On “Palomino,” that didn’t happen. We recorded in several different places.

This time, we were very relaxed, which made us even more focused. Plus, Dave brought in all this introspective material, so that was great.

That place has been sold, so we can never, ever do it again. (Laughs)

Q. As you said, there are some songs that are introspective, but slower on the album. There’s also some lightning-fast barn burners in there, too. Do you have a preference?

A. Not so much. One of the things I like about “Stars and Satellites,” it has let us play slower material during a show.

Physically, it’s sometimes nice to take a breather, so it makes it easier to play the big stuff. It’s made the setlist breathe a little bit better and it makes us a lot more physically relaxed and comfortable, so I feel like we’re playing the faster stuff better.

Q. I’ve been asking this of a lot of people lately, but there seems to be a folk and bluegrass trend going on all at the same time. Where do you think that comes from?

A. I think a lot of it comes from, if you notice a similar thing in a variety of places, they see a trend, so another person looks for that trend.

You see a band like Mumford & Sons that have a lot of that kind of music and then Dawes, which definitely fits in the spriit of the music if not the tones. At that point, you can say, “Look at all these bands that do this.”

From my perspective, there isn’t a trend. I don’t know the Mumford guys and I don’t know the Dawes guys. People will say to me, “Obviously, those guys are a huge influence on you.” No, I didn’t even know them. Our biggest influences were records of guys like Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley.

Of course, before this, we played in rock bands, so our idea of what to do when we get excited is different than Bill Monroe’s because we’re used to volume.

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