Ryan Young, fiddle player for Trampled By Turtles, sat down with Front Row Boston before taking the stage at House of Blues Boston September 11, 2014.
INTERVIEWER: EDGAR B. HERWICK III: So how did you come to be in the band?
YOUNG: I started a band with some guys in a similar genre as Trampled by Turtles called Partner Sandstone. And that band was playing a show with some of the Trampled dudes. They were just about to play their first headlining gig at First Avenue, which is the big place to play in the Twin Cities, and they asked me to sit in. And then long story short, they eventually asked me to join the band.
HERWICK: Was that exciting? Were you like well, not sure let me think about it, I’m a very busy man?
YOUNG: I knew that I wanted to join the band; it was tricky though because I had started this other band with some close friends of mine and I had to quit that band. The band is still going, but they didn’t like me for a little bit there. They didn’t hate me, but I think they were a little bit disappointed. But I think they’re over it now.
HERWICK: I think it’s interesting that here’s this thing you started with your buddies and yet the opportunity with Trampled seemed as such that you couldn’t turn it up, even despite that. So what was the draw there?
YOUNG: Well, Trampled is a little bit more unique and more….so the band I came from was more of a copy of other music, which is great I’m not against that. But they were like an old-timey, old-bluegrassy band and they tried to sort of keep that tradition alive, which is fantastic, I’m not against that. But I was always really kind of hoping to be in a band that was a little bit more original and jump into something and create something new rather than recreate something that’s already been made. So that was very exciting to me and made me excited to want to join the band.
HERWICK: How has it been playing with them? What is the dynamic like among the band members?
YOUNG: Oh it’s great. Everybody gets along. That’s another thing too—everybody in Trampled by Turtles are really mature human beings. The way we get along together personally is great. People will get annoyed or be crabby every once in a while, just like humans get but it’s never a thing where somebody has a deep-seated hatred for somebody else, which can happen. And there are probably a lot of bands where people actually kind of hate each other. They don’t show it to you, but behind the scenes, when nobody else is around people don’t really like each other and they get sick of each other and that doesn’t really happen with Trampled by Turtles. So that was another great thing that I realized right away, just being in situations with them where they weren’t in front of any public or any other people and they were still awesome to each other. So that was a big part of me wanting to join too.
HERWICK: I’m fascinated completely by bands that are able to navigate the totally topsy-turvy music business these days and find a modicum of success through any sort of avenue. How is it for Trampled? Is there an expressed band goal that keeps you guys on the same page? What is it?
YOUNG: There isn’t really. Everything Trampled by Turtles does is off-the-cuff and not necessarily premeditated. That’s true for our records for sure; we don’t have rehearsals for our recording sessions or a song list of songs that are definitely going to be on the record. The songs get written and we try them out for the first time in the studio and a lot of the time they get finished or partially written in the studio. So there’s that. With other stuff too, we’re very lucky. Everybody in Trampled by Turtles seems to have an unspoken common goal, but it’s great that it’s not premeditated and that everybody just wants the best for us and it seems to be going in a great direction. And I’m saying it’s better because we don’t say ‘in one year from now we’re going to be this’ or ‘we’re going to play at this’ and then it may or may not happen and we may or may not be disappointed. It’s just everybody has this momentum and when we’re all together its so much more than it would be if any of us were doing it separately.
HERWICK: What are your fans like? Who are the rabid Trampled by Turtles fans?
YOUNG: Oh it’s all sorts. That’s another great thing about playing in this band is that the fan base is little kids all the way up to really old people and everybody in between. I’ve been in bands before where the main demographic is 18-23 year old males and that’s it, that’s the only people that show up to shows. But it kind of starts with college-age kids I think, but then their parents find out about it or they grow up a little bit and their kids find out about it. There’s a whole wide range. It also crosses genres, like I’ll hear this all the time people will be like: ‘I’m a huge metalhead’ or something, ‘I don’t really listen to bluegrass but I love you guys.’ Or ‘I only really listen to punk rock’ or ‘I only really listen to country music, I don’t listen to bluegrass but I love you guys.’ So people that are not necessarily folk music fans will like us, which is awesome.
HERWICK: So we’re going to do song association. I’ll give you a song and you give me whatever comes to mind. “Hollow.”
YOUNG: “Hollow” was recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota on Wild Animals. Our producer for that record, Alan Sparhawk from Low, he had a lot of great advice for that song for me, and for the band in general. Because that was a song that we had not practiced, I don’t know that it was even completed before we went to the studio. So we would play it and Alan would listen and he would be brainstorming and imagining the song and how he would want it and he’s like ‘why don’t you just play when the vocals are happening. Pretend you’re a vocalist on the fiddle,’ he’s talking to me. So if you listen to that song in the choruses there’s three vocal lines going on and the fiddle line exactly mirrors the vocal line and it’s kind of acting as a vocal part. That’s one thing I remember about that song.
HERWICK: That’s awesome. “Lucy.”
YOUNG: “Lucy” was recorded for Wild Animals, and for that song I think I used three different violins. It might have actually been four. I used a regular fiddle, and then I used a viola, which is lower pitched and then I used two bass instruments: a viola with bass strings on it and a violin with bass strings on it. So they’re super low, they’re down by the cello range. So I just overdubbed a whole bunch of parts on there and it sounded really cool. If you listen to “Lucy,” sometimes you’ll hear this kind of round, distorted sound you might think is a guitar, but it’s actually a bass viola going through an amp and a bunch of distortion. But it sounds better than a guitar actually because it’s not shrill and piercing like a metal guitar would be it’s round and organic and kind of a soft sound even though it’s heavily distorted. But that’s actually a bass viola doing that.
WATCH: “Lucy” Live at House of Blues Boston:
HERWICK: How do you replicate that live when you do something like that in the studio?
YOUNG: I don’t play exactly what’s on the record. So I try when I’m playing a song live that has lots of overdubs to get the best part out of every part that I play, the best little bits and I kind of approximate the whole thing at a live show. So what I play live is not what I play on the record, but it’s close.
HERWICK: Is that fun and a challenge for you though because you’re not just mirroring what you did in the studio?
YOUNG: It is a great challenge. I love that about Trampled by Turtles actually, trying to make something live that will do justice to the recording because it’s impossible to actually copy what we did, unless we were to hire a bunch of fiddle players and viola players and cello players and all these people. So it’s great fun and challenging to make that happen.
HERWICK: Ok one more song for you. “Wait So Long.”
YOUNG: “Wait So Long” was recorded originally for our record called Duluth, which was three records ago. No–four records ago. Duluth came out four records ago and we recorded “Wait So Long” for it. And I didn’t think much of it, I thought it was a good song but…you know, it was fine. And it actually didn’t make the cut for Duluth, we decided to try it again on the next record it just wasn’t quite there. So we tried it again three records ago on Palomino, and it turned out better but once again I thought it was…
HERWICK: It wasn’t there.
YOUNG: Yeah, I thought it was fine. And everybody else was like ‘yeah it’s good let’s just put it out.’ And so we put it out and it exploded with popularity, like I did not see that coming. It seems like maybe, I don’t know, I’m just going to throw a number out there maybe 80 percent of people’s favorite Trampled by Turtles song is “Wait So Long.” And when we wrote it and recorded it, the whole time I thought it was a good song but I didn’t think it was anything extra special, written-wise or performance-wise. I thought it was just a good, average Trampled by Turtles song but it really struck a chord with a lot of people.
HERWICK: Do you hear it differently now through their reaction to it, or are you still like I don’t get it?
YOUNG: No, now I can see the happiness on people’s faces when we’re playing that song so I do feed off of that and I can understand why they like it so much. And I do like it more now than I did when we first made it, the first recording of it. We’ve gotten better at it, and just to be clear I never thought it was a terrible song, I just never thought it was anything past what we had already done, so it was surprising to me. But seeing the joy on people’s faces and the passion they have for that song has kind of fed it in me, so I like that song quite a bit now.