Tim Saxhaug on Working With Jeff Tweedy on Trampled By Turtles' New Album "Alpenglow"
Click the "Listen" player above to hear Tim Saxhaug, TBT bass player, chat with Kari Hedlund about their latest album, produced by Jeff Tweedy. Plus, get a sneak-peak listen to two tracks off "Alpenglow" that will be released later this fall.
Trampled By Turtles will release "Alpenglow" their 10th album later this Fall. The album was produced by Jeff Tweedy at the Loft Studio in Chicago. Yes, the very same Jeff Tweedy of Wilco that is headlining the 2nd Annual Grand Rapids Riverfest on September 10th, 2022. Tim Saxhaug, notable Grand Rapidian and bass player for Trampled by Turtles, stopped by the studio to chat about the new album, working with Tweedy, and some extracurricular activity happening after Wilco's set at this year's Riverfest. Click the "Listen" player above to hear the full conversation.
"Alpenglow came to us from our banjo player who lives in the mountains," Saxhaug explained. "It's this phenomenon during sunset around dusk or twilight where there's a specific purplish glow going on behind the mountains and it's brief. You only catch it for a little bit."
This is TBT's 10th album release, and the first since 2018's "Life is Good on the Open Road". Making "Alpenglow" was a very different experience for Saxhaug compared to the previous release. "Coming back after a year of absence [in 2018] was kind of a big deal, so that informed the album a lot." Saxhaug said. "That album was just us. I made the comment 'This is the most Trampled by Turtles album ever, it sounds like us!'"
Listeners to their latest album will still hear plenty of the themes and instrumentation that they're accustom to, but working with a luminary like Tweedy helped TBT create something new. "After 20 years as a band, having another person in there [producing] is like a creative spark, like a catalyst for other ways of looking at things and trying different things musically. It really helps," Saxhaug said. "You get into ruts. And so having somebody in there to push you a little definitely helps keep the creative juices flowing after that many years."
According to Saxhaug, there are plenty of examples on "Alpenglow" where Tweedy's producing is apparent. "It was a collaborative producing role, yeah absolutely. We're so used to doing things how we do them and this batch of songs would've turned out great, but it would've sounded a lot like "Life is Good on the Open Road." There's new little things about arranging how a song goes that he brought to us."
"For 'It's so Hard' [a track from the new album], we had tried playing it a few times live before the studio, it was kind of longer and more meandering. On that one, the intro to it that's just the guitar and strings and mandolin, that was all [Tweedy]. That was his idea, the little progressions leading up into it. So we got that sharpened up and we even had Dave write a new verse to go in and streamlined it a lot like that."
Saxhaug went on to describe more of Tweedy's influence on the sound of the new record. "'On the Highway,' that was the first song we worked on [at The Loft Studio on Chicago]. Erik's flight was getting in two hours later, and we had already been working on it for an hour. Jeff just put the chair in and had a mic set up with his guitar and mic in our circle right from the beginning. That was the first one and that's the one that would have been a regular Trampled by Turtles-y happy bluegrass sounding thing. But then Jeff's like, 'let's try to put a kind of Blue Note thingy in there' and there's all sorts of little licks he was trying and it finally ended on the 'braaaaaaauuuuuu' slide down thing, and then he gave Erik his mandolin part when he came in that is kind of like 'daumba daumba daumba' which is my favorite part of the song."
Recording with Tweedy pushed each of the band members in their own, different directions. Saxhaug described his own journey in this new creative process. "I only use my acoustic bass that I use with Turtles on ONE song on this album. There are just all these instruments around that studio, all the Wilco instruments, and I was just sitting in John Stirratt's bass world the whole time, and they would make suggestions like 'oh, try this Danelectro short-scale with flat-wound strings...' which I used for two of the songs including "On the Highway". The rest of the time I was using a Fender Precision bass with flat-wound strings instead of an acoustic guitar. And I can hear that come through and I think other people will be able to as well."
Along with adding unique instrumentation and flourishes to the album, Tweedy also influenced the individual songs' arrangements as well. "Just, arrangement and things that we don't really... "Life is Good on the Open Road" is full of how we typically end songs, the dynamics we do. "Alpenglow" has some fun stuff. Like on "Burlesque Desert Window" [a track from the new album], there's a tag off one of the lyrics at the end, the "Don't tell me the same love as I wipe tears right off the wall." That's nothing we would have come up with. That's another Jeff thing. And when I listen to it having been a huge Wilco fan, I'm like, that's SO Wilco. And I'm fine with it being that way because yeah, it gets to feel different for us."
Saxhaug will be playing a Riverfest After Party show on September 10th at Rapids Brewing Company as part of "Wandering Eye," a Ween cover band. Appearing alongside Saxhaug is Marc Gartman of Gliteratti, Alan Sparhawk of Low, Banjo Dave of TBT, and others.