Sometimes a good musician knows when not to make a sound. It may seem like an oxymoronic way to go about music, but Trampled By Turtles’ fiddler Ryan Young has come to the conclusion that after years of ongoing experimentation, less (or nothing at all) is more.
“One thing I’ve learned a lot about is how to back up other people,” he explains. “I’ve gotten much better at listening to a song as a whole and adding to it without getting in the way of anything. I also learned when to not play anything, which is a big lesson, because sometimes the best thing for me to do is just not play. . . . It also gives my hand a rest.”
I spoke with Young a couple of weeks ago as the band was closing a seven-month hiatus. He, Dave Simonett (guitar, lead vocals), Tim Saxhaug (bass, harmony vocals), Dave Carroll (banjo, harmony vocals), and Erik Berry (mandolin) all live in different parts of the country and very rarely have touched base to play or write songs together throughout a much-needed breather.
“So tomorrow and the next day we’re going to get together and practice, and see if we remember how to play all the songs,” Young quips. “Then do this tour and other tours throughout the summer.”
Trampled By Turtles formed in 2003 in Duluth, Minnesota, and have since recorded seven studio albums. Though they haven’t had anything new since 2014’s “Wild Animals,” their return to formation is much anticipated. Among their first stop is Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on May 18, featuring The Devil Makes Three.
Despite a break, Young doesn’t seem nervous to start a hefty summer tour. He’s not concerned with remembering the songs or melodies, only exerting the energy it takes to execute them—and doing it over and over, day after day.
“If I were to be nervous about something it would just be the physical act of playing a two-hour show,” he says, “something we’ve gotten out of practice with. A lot of our tunes are quite fast and loud, and to do that for two hours is physically demanding: using these weird small muscles that you wouldn’t think about.”
Young describes playing with his right bowing hand like squeezing a hard fist for hours at a time. Nevertheless, like an athlete getting back into practice, once Trampled falls into a routine of performances, the musicians recreate effortless muscle memory on their respective instruments.
“It’s probably something that most people wouldn’t think about,” he says, “I’ve been playing things that are fast and loud and seeing how long I can go with it . . . and try to build myself back up to that two hours.”
In the past Trampled By Turtles had cellist Eamonn McLain join them onstage; for 2016, they’ve invited him back on the road. McLain has been covering some of the string instrumentals featured on their records. On songs like “Alone” from 2012’s “Stars and Satellites,” there were upward of eight violin, four viola and multiple cello tracks dubbed into the song.
“That’s impossible for me to do at a show [by myself],” Ryan says with a chuckle. “So when we do it live, I approximate it [and] try to get the biggest sound I can out of one instrument (and with Eamonn on cello).”
In a way, the live versions of some songs revert back to their barebones days—when they were originally written—with just vocals and a guitar. Studio time is where multiple layers are added. Though fuller sonically, Trampled by Turtles have never set out to copy recordings live onstage.
The band hasn’t settled on a new record either. Though Young assures it’ll happen eventually, maybe it won’t be in the near future. Therefore, this leg of touring will pull from their collection dating back to 2003. Usually, Young looks forward to playing whatever songs that haven’t been in their rotation in a while. Because of their extended break, anything from their last seven albums will seem new again.
“There are some songs I’ve always loved playing,” he says. “‘Whiskey’ is one. We could play it every night and I wouldn’t get tired of it. It’s super fun.” “Whiskey” allows Ryan free rein to do whatever he wants; consistent fiddle hooks aren’t written into it, therefore he can improv. The average listener may not notice, but the avid Trampled fan might pick up on little Easter eggs here and there.
“That song gets played differently every night,” Young continues. “It’s just inspired by whatever I might have heard lately . . . I might take a part of a song that I really like and try to incorporate that and see if I can make it fit somehow. It’s more improvisational and that makes it more fun for me.”