Trampled By Turtles is a Minnesota-based band. They are known for their passionate musicianship and excellent live shows. They play CrossroadsKC June 8th. Fiddle player Ryan Young recently discussed how he became interested in bluegrass, playing CrossroadsKC and his approach to songwriting.
Did you come from a musical family Were your parents musical?
I did not come from a musical family, but my uncle knew how to play some chords on a guitar. I was very interested in music, even as a baby so my parents bought me a cheap guitar from Sears and asked my uncle to teach me a few things. He knew some chords and a couple songs, mostly classic rock. He taught me a Creedence song, a Rush song and a couple of Led Zeppelin riffs. I took it from there and taught myself other songs from my dad’s record collection.
Then, years later, my school had an orchestra and band program. I at first wanted to play the saxophone, but changed my preference to violin when I realized orchestra started in 4th grade and band didn’t start until 5th. I wasn’t about to wait another year, so orchestra it was.
What first got you interested in bluegrass?
I never listened to bluegrass growing up. What happened was a couple buddies of mine wanted to start a band and asked if I’d play fiddle. I didn’t know anything about fiddling only having played ‘classical’ violin in school. I did know how to improvise on a guitar though, so I (very painstakingly) transferred my knowledge from guitar to fiddle, one or two notes at a time, for every key. Jumping into a band and playing shows right away gave me the fuel to learn quickly, as to not totally suck at shows. It was nice though, I think I have my own fiddle style because I basically taught myself. That band still plays, they’re called Pert Near Sandstone.
What is your creative approach for writing tracks? Do you start with lyrics or melody first?
For songs I write, the melody and chords usually come first. I’ve experimented with doing it the other way around, just to try it. I have a harder time with writing lyrics though, and usually put it off as long as I can.
How often do you find yourself writing songs?
I try to write every day. I have to miss some days, depending on whatever else is on my calendar. I would say a good 90% of the songs I write (or more) will never see the light of day. Every once in a while an acceptable one will pop out.
What inspired “Wait So Long?”
Our guitar player wrote the lyrics for that tune, so I can’t speak on that too much. The music was written about the time when Trampled By Turtles was playing a lot of fast tunes. It started out kind of monotonous with just the loud parts of the song being the only thing going on, with the lyrics sung over the top. Banjo Dave and I wrote the introduction part and melody, which happens also in the middle of the song before the fiddle solo, and that broke the song up a bit. It gave it some dynamics.
We actually recorded it for the record before Palomino, called Duluth. It didn’t quite make the cut though. When we tried it again for Palomino, we were much better at playing it. It turned out pretty good.
What’s your favorite Trampled By Turtles track to play live?
That answer will change for me all the time. Its cool to see people get excited when they hear the first part of “Wait So Long.” It’s also fun for me to play some more of the slower tunes like “Bloodshot Eyes” or “Whiskey.” I also enjoy playing songs that we haven’t played in a long time, or new cover songs.
How do you go about creating a setlist?
Guitar Dave makes the setlist. There’s usually a good mix of fast, medium, and slow tunes on there. Too much of any of those would make for a boring show.
You’ve played CrossroadsKC several times over the years. What do you enjoy most about playing CrossroadsKC?
I like that it’s in town, not way out in the outskirts. There’s restaurants, and record shops and interesting things to do and see in the hours between sound check and the show.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I’ve been pretty lucky, compared to a lot of musicians. It was pretty scary to quit my job, back when I first started touring pretty heavy. We were not making very much money and we were definitely not guaranteed to make enough to pay rent and bills. We just jumped in with both feet and it worked out eventually. There was a lot of luck involved. Determination and the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes helped too.
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
If you are undeniably good at what you do, you are bound to succeed. You can get good at what you do by putting in the time. You have to want it more than you want to party, or watch TV, or any other ‘waste’ of time. Anyone can do it, but few will.