Alex: First off, I was wondering, what was the reasoning for starting a band, and playing bluegrass, for that matter?
Erik: Well, the reason for starting a band was… that was just what we all did. We all had lots, and lots and lots of them. We were all playing electric instruments when we used to do it, and we all, independently, kind of hit a point where we were really interested in trying an acoustic project. I used to play an electric bass, and lugging an electric bass and a big bass rig to gigs was getting old, and I liked the idea of a little mandolin in a backpack. We all different motivations for making that switch. The reason that we’re kind of bluegrassy is that we didn’t have a drummer, so we were just looking for music that didn’t have drums, that included bluegrass. Dave Simonett had some kind of “parking-lot pickers” songbook, or something like that, so it had a whole bunch of bluegrass songs, and we tracked down some of those recordings. But it really wasn’t “Hey, let’s do a bluegrass band,” it was really more like “Let’s do something acoustic.” We were also playing lots of old country and some Irish music, stuff like that.
Alex: Being that your last album talks a lot about life on the road, what are some of your favorite stories from being on tour?
Erik: You know, there’s really a lot of them. One of the reasons I think this band has been as successful on the road as we have is that we don’t create a lot of unnecessary drama within ourselves, and so a lot of our good stories on the road are actually not that exciting. It’s sort of more like “Yeah, we decided to go a little more out of our way to take a scenic drive,” or like when we had a night off, we went camping in Nevada, and found out it’s really cold at elevation. Playing shows is wonderful, but I almost kind of hesitate to isolate one. If I pick City “X,” it’s not like I have not had fun in City “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” “E,” you know what I mean? I could probably think of a great story from almost everywhere. I feel like I’m evading the question, but I’m not. It’s really been a genuinely positive experience across the board, so they’re all good stories.
Alex: I noticed that most of your tour dates this summer are big festivals, all over the country. Do you guys prefer festivals to normal gigs, or does that say more about the festival trend in music?
Erik: Well, there’s really not much finer than playing music in the daytime, on a beautiful day with a nice breeze, and you get to see everybody out there having fun. A festival’s really one of the few places you can do that. But having said that, playing a club date, at nighttime, and playing a festival, whether it’s in the daytime or not, they’re just such different animals that it’s not really a matter of preference, so much as, in the summertime, it can be really hard to book a tour that’s just nothing but clubs. Most people are orienting their entertainment dollar, their entertainment budget, toward going to festivals. If you look at our schedule, we’re hardly ever playing on a Monday, or a Tuesday, and that’s just because there isn’t much to do in the summertime on a Monday or a Tuesday. Everyone’s working for the weekend, you know? We certainly enjoy it, but part of it is just the nature of touring in the summer.
Alex: To a lot of people, and me personally, you guys are a pretty big deal. I love you guys. Has it ever explicitly occurred to you that the band is something big, and special?
Erik: Well, obviously, something was happening right, because we played rooms that hold a thousand people, and sold all one thousand tickets in states that none of us had ever lived in, or had a bunch of personal connection to outside of going to play at it, over and over again. The whole progression to get here felt really natural, and, you know, I think the word “organic” is tossed around a lot, but it really is right one. It really wasn’t “If we do this, if we do this, then these huge things are gonna happen.” It was so much more like “Oh, this is sounds like fun,” or “Let’s do this,” turned into things happening. Now, I say that. Our management team would probably say “No, there’s a plan, and there’s a strategy,” and we’ve done certain things to make stuff happen, but I kind of prefer to stay out of their way, just focus on the music.
Andie: What is your favorite, and least favorite, band that Trampled By Turtles has been compared to?
Erik: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to answer that. Someone once called us “outlaw bluegrass,” and I’m a huge fan of wailin’ Waylon, and Willie Nelson, and my paycheck goes to like guys like that, so that kind of made my day. There’ve been some funny ones that people have compared us to, on one of the negative sides, but I think a lot of that comes from… I’m not certain that everybody listens to a lot of music that you would think should be without drums. If you have something like that, and you’re not really a fan of it, odds are it’s more along the lines of probably something more mainstream than something more classic. The odds of being compared to Nickel Creek or Alison Krauss are kind of high, in a certain ways, but I think that’s based more on other people’s listening experience than a direct comparison. There was a funny one, very early on, when we used to be a four-piece, and I was the only one with a beard and long hair, and the other guys were all clean-shaven, and they all looked a lot younger than they were, which was like our first year as a band. The guitar player’s girlfriend overheard someone in the crowd say, like, “Who are these guys supposed to be? David Grisman and the Backstreet Boys?” But I think that was an appearance comment, not a sound-like comment.
Alex: So, “Stars and Satellites” is still #1 on the Billboard bluegrass charts. I’m wondering, what do you feel is possible for the band now that you’ve gained a much wider public-eye, and presence?
Erik: Well, one of the things that we do is we play festivals like Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza. We try to distance ourselves from the bluegrass label because we feel like it can be sort of limiting, in that the whole idea of a “genre” is simply limiting. There’s a lot of great music out there that, if it gets called something that you don’t think you’re a fan of, you might not ever check it out. That doesn’t have to do with what that music sounds like, it has to do with what you’ve been told it sounds like, and what your experience with that label is. I think, sort of, the perception of “bluegrass,” for somebody from the outside, looking in, is that it’s close-knit and really traditional, and it’s all supposed to sound the same. So if you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all, and I disagree with that. I don’t think that’s the right direction for the traditional bluegrass community to take, but I feel like that’s the direction they do take. Part of what we do, is we just try to keep distance from that description. It seems to work. I’ve read some reviews of our shows we’ve done where we’ve been called an indie-folk band, and that’s what we’ve tried to label ourselves, so that’s great. I can handle that. “Indie-folk” doesn’t really say anything, and it’s kind of true. We’re independent, and we’re folks.
Andie: In an interview that you did with Jade Presents last year, you mentioned that, with your band, you didn’t want the fans to forget that they were “watching people play music,” as opposed to getting caught up in the big stardom end of it. Do you think that’s currently an issue with your fan base?
Erik: Just trying to stay people? No, I mean, we’re all pretty down to Earth. Anything could happen to end this, anytime, so if you go ahead and build-up this big thing, and you think you’re “all that” because you’re in a band that people like, well, hell, there’ve been bands that people have loved and they’re gone. There’ll be bands people will love in 10 years, and we’ll be gone. You’ve really got to try and remember that at the end of the day, you’re still you. It’s easier now, to do that, even it’s kind of a harder day-to-day, because some of us are fathers, we’ve all got relationships or homes back home. It’s easy to stay grounded, I think, when you come home, and you’ve got to change your baby’s diaper and you’ve got to mow the lawn. Whatever happens the weekend before doesn’t really matter, and I think that’s a healthy thing.
Alex: Which album do you feel, personally, captures the essence of what the band is about? Like, what would you call the band’s essential album?
Erik: That’s a hard one, because, personally, I’m always the biggest fan of the newest one. Whether or not it’s an essential one, I’ll always be a fan of the newest one, because it’s the closest to what we are right now. We’ve evolved quite a bit, but I’m not certain that “Stars and Satellites” would be… There’s only a couple blazing-fast songs on there, and when you see a show, that is sort of an essential part of our sound. We kind of, consciously, with this new record, stepped away from that for a little bit and made sure the package was strong, as opposed to just throwing a bunch of tunes we had ready to go onto a record, and putting it out. That’s a good question, because I would probably prefer to make a “greatest hits,” and say that’s our essential. You get Ryan playing on some of the old stuff we did before he joined the band. But that’s not really an answer at all, because someone can’t go out and get that. I suppose, with “Stars and Satellites,” I’d be very happy if that was somebody’s introduction to us, and “Palomino” served as a great introduction to us, too. Like I say, at the times they came out, every record we’ve done has been, what I think, our best record at the time it was new. And then, you know, another one comes out, and that previous record kind of slips down a notch in my eyes because now we’ve got this new one that I like a lot better.
Alex: In an interview with Dave, right after “Stars and Satellites” came out, on Buzznet, he mentioned that you originally suggested the band’s name. What does “Trampled By Turtles” mean?
Erik: It’s nothing. It’s just a silly thing. I had a piece of paper with 20 or 25 names on it, and that’s the one that was hated the least. Some of them were really rejected with vehemence. I had been reading a book about ruminants, those are the animals that digest grass with a four-chambered stomach, like horses, bison and cows, and I was trying to be all clever, like “Here’s words meaning ‘We digest grass.” “Trampled By Hooves” was a name that I wrote, doing that, and then I immediately wrote down “Trampled By Turtles” right after that. I don’t know where that came from, I just wrote it down, and it kept a strong enough name than the rest of the list. I wish I still had it, because it was like 19 crossed-off names and then a question mark at the name “Trampled By Turtles.”
Andie: Being that your band comes from Minnesota, I saw that you guys recently played a Twins game. How was that?
Erik: Oh, that was fun. That was really fun. We didn’t know what to expect, and from a certain perspective it was a little unusual since we’d never done anything like that, we had to play either during the inning change-up or at the top of the inning. You know how baseball goes, an inning could last five minutes, or an inning could last 20 minutes, so you kind of always had to pay attention, ready to grab your instrument and go. You would only play 60 to 80 seconds. It was a lot of fun. We got to bring our families, and they really took care of us in our little box. I had my family there, and my parents came, so it was just super fun. From a performance standpoint, it was a little unusual, but it was definitely a good time.
Andie: Usually when people are into music, they’re not as much into sports. Now, that stereotype being what it is, would you say that your band is into sports?
Erik: I would say that there’s definitely a factor, a percentage of people in the band, who are really into the Twins or the Vikings. And there’s a percentage of us, who, not so much. I actually grew up in Wisconsin, so I sort of stay a little bit quiet about. When the Packers are doing well against the Vikings, I’ll pipe up to them, “Hey, I was born in Wisconsin! What do you think about what’s going on here?” But I don’t really follow it too much. I mean, like a lot of people, we’re all a fan of listening to, or watching a good game somewhere on the road. There’s a couple of the guys that make a point of following it, and talk about it pretty intelligently, about how the season’s going. And then there’s the rest of us, who don’t.
Andie: There’s been a lot of great music that’s come out of Minnesota, and the Midwest in general. What would you say is your favorite Minnesota band?
Erik: Ever, might be Hüsker Dü, and I kind of feel like, without Bob Dylan doing what he did, and what he still is up to, the current scene would be a lot different. There’s a lot of really good ones right now. It’s really fun. It’s fun to hear about another show of somebody else from Minnesota, or meet somebody on the road, and they’re from Minneapolis, and we’re from Duluth. We’re like, “Yeah, we’ve heard of eachother,” and like “We’ve got to do a show sometime soon. Too bad we’re not playing one here, in Austin, or here, in Omaha,” wherever it is we bumped into other folks that are from Minnesota, too.
Alex: Bit on a personal note, I picked up a mandolin about a year ago. I was wondering what pieces you practiced with when you first picked it up, and how did that lead into the bluegrass/folk style?
Erik: Well, when I first got my mandolin, I had already played guitar, and I was kind of tired of being the seventh guy with a guitar around the campfire. And also seventh, the one with the least-effective singing voice. I saw a mandolin for about a hundred dollars, and thought, “You know if I had that, and could play five basic chords everybody knows, I could bring that to the campfire, and take up less room in my stuff.” I could just contribute something a little different. When I first started, I was learning to play simple songs that friends of mine would play whenever we would get together and hang out. It was like, some Grateful Dead songs, some Dylan songs, stuff like that. I wasn’t trying to play bluegrass or anything, I was just learning to strum along and maybe play the melody. The first step I took to kind of get a little better on the instrument was learning to play Irish music, which I had always been a big fan of, as a listener, and could never have attempted, really, to play, so that was kind of my first crack at it. I don’t know if you’ve tried to learn that bluegrass G chop chord, but that sucker took me three or four years to figure out how to do. So for a long time, I couldn’t make what I think is the most distinctive sound of bluegrass mandolin, which is the "chug-chug-chug-chug". I just couldn’t execute it. So when I figured that out, I felt like I crossed a hurdle, and risen up to a plateau, or something.
Andie: What are your favorite Irish bands?
Erik: Well, the one that really got me all excited when I first got into it, they haven’t existed since 1994, is a band called Carnloch. They played at my college, and I bought their CD, then they went back to Ireland and broke up. That particular disc was a huge influence on me. Then for a while, there was a record company called Crème Lannette, and they had lots of samplers for trying to get into that. I actually have not been listening to Irish music currently at all for the last five or six years, so I kind of haven’t gotten a lot of the big names except for that one, Carnloch. A lot of them had mandolins, so it was kind of interesting, because it was really forcing me to listen to other instruments and trying to figure it out that way, which I had never done before. I’d always had the guitar players listen to the guitar music, and try to figure that out.
Andie: Well, that’s the end of our questions. Is there anything else you wanted to address?