Trampled by Turtles’ new album “Alpenglow” just dropped and it’s packed with subtle yet ear-perching nuggets of something entirely new. Extended intros; varied instruments; alt-country-ish vibes: These elements peppered throughout color Trampled’s sound, a shift reflective of the band’s freshman collaboration with Jeff Tweedy. The band sought out Wilco frontman Tweedy, known for his distinctive alternative country and indie rock sound, following the Covid shut-down of their West Texas recording studio.
“I think this album would have sounded a lot like our previous work if Jeff wasn’t there to [introduce new ideas],” bassist Tim Saxhaug says. “He helped [add] that extra layer of things to make it more interesting.”
“Alpenglow” is the Duluth, Minnesota-based sextet’s 10th album, following the 2018’s “Life Is Good on the Open Road” and 2014’s “Palomino,” which stayed in the U.S. Billboard bluegrass chart’s Top 10 for 52 straight weeks. The album is named after the optical phenomenon when the sun casts a reddish glow across the mountains at dawn and dusk, an experience Saxhaug describes as “one moment in time to be appreciated.”
Trampled by Turtles will play The Anthem on Friday, November 4 as part of their fall/winter U.S. tour. We sat down with Saxhaug on “Alpenglow’s” release day on October 28 to learn more about their new work, collaborating with Tweedy and why fans should get excited for The Anthem performance this Friday.
District Fray: Today’s the big release [of “Alpenglow”]. How are you feeling?
Tim Saxhaug: It’s fun — it feels a little bit like Christmas morning when you get up.
This is the band’s first album since 2018. What’s it like coming back after some time away — especially having gone through the pandemic?
Covid-19 was definitely a shock, but the time away made us feel a little more grateful for what we have. I think that’s where all of our headspaces are right now.
How would you say “Alpenglow” compares to your previous work?
The elements Jeff Tweedy, [our producer], brought to it makes this work different. We’ve done so many albums where, even with a producer, we just do what we normally do. I think this album would have sounded a lot like 2018’s “Life is Good on the Open Road” had Jeff not been there like, “Hey, what if you try this? Try this chord here, add a section here. Write some new lyrics, add an intro.” I think a good example is the slow, marchy string thing at the beginning of “Quitting Is Rough.” It was just going to be a normal, happy waltz, but Tweedy helped [add] that extra layer of things to make it more interesting.
What was it like working with Tweedy process-wise?
He fit in seamlessly with how we do things. He just kind of figured out our process, and then we figured out how to communicate within that. He was sitting in a circle with us right from the beginning. He really got an idea of how we work and relate to each other.
Can you share some ways working with him affected the overall feel of the album?
He definitely changed the overall feel of “Alpenglow.” I know just from listening to my bass. Usually I’m using the same instrument. In “Alpenglow,” I use three different ones and can hear how that affects the overall sound. Having access to different instruments makes it really interesting. Banjo Dave, [our banjo player Dave Carroll], used a fretless banjo for the first time. He probably uses a different guitar [in every song], and a lot of songs have little things Jeff added. It really affects the whole package.
Any Wilco-like nuggets listeners should stay tuned for?
There’s [a clear] intersection with Wilco [because they have] some country things going on. They’re not the same lyrically, but they have a similar sensibility of how they express themselves. Different habits, of course. In “Burlesque Desert Window,” for example, we do a repetition of half of a chorus at the end, bringing back the lyrics “Go on and tell me it ain’t love / As I wipe the tears right off the wall.” That to me sounds like a Wilco ending, not a Trampled by Turtles ending.
There’s also the introduction of “It’s So Hard to Hold On.” Usually with an introduction, we just [repurpose] the last four measures of a song or start playing a chord. It’s not typically that thought out and separate from the piece. Little things like that.
Alpenglow is a phenomenon during sunset and sunrise where you can see the dwindling light on the mountains — kind of a purplish glow. I’m curious why Trampled choose this title. How does this name choice reflect the album’s ethos?
When I think about it, alpenglow is something that just exists for a little while. In order to appreciate it, you need to be in the present. I think that’s how it is when we’re playing shows — whether you’re the performer or the audience, creating or listening to an album. It’s just one moment in time to be appreciated.
Besides working with Tweedy, how would you say your sound has evolved in the recent past?
I think it all evolves based on [the evolution of our] songwriting. Our songs especially [improved] when we started making more choices to support the music rather than have ourselves heard. It became much more about framing the songs rather than, “Let’s make sure everybody has a decent solo.” It went from caring less about individual parts and more about the song and arrangement as a whole.
What’s next for Trampled?
Also, next year in January we’re playing in Hawaii. That’s significant because it’s the last state in our 50; we will have played all 50 states at that point. And we’re doing it on our 20th anniversary year. [Otherwise], just being happy and spreading it around. We’re happy with this new album and will be in that mode for a while.
Catch Trampled by Turtles with Amigo The Devil at The Anthem on November 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets range $39-$65 each. Purchase “Alpenglow” at trampledbyturtles.com.
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