It began because of writer's block, and thanks to the pandemic it hasn't yet ended.
That's how Dave Simonett explained the rather odd existence of his latest side project, an improvisational drone band that now goes by the name More Light.
The Trampled by Turtles frontman was in a bit of a creative rut in the fall of 2019 when he booked a day of studio time at his favorite recording site, Pachyderm in Cannon Falls, Minn. He then invited four multifaceted musical companions from the Twin Cities to join him.
"It was really just an exercise and wasn't meant to be a band," Simonett said. "I wanted to get outside my comfort zone and find a new way to spark some ideas."
He and his makeshift crew wound up recording six hours of improvised instrumental music. About 36 minutes have been culled and mixed into a digital album titled "Casual Dragon," which hits Bandcamp and most streaming sites Friday.
Simonett's four collaborators in the band — which he said "is now more like a collective" — all play different instruments and have played with a wide variety of acts around town. They are Eamonn McLain (also the cellist in Trampled by Turtles), Al Church, Lars-Erik Larson and Don House.
The latter three members also helped Simonett record his 2020 solo album, "Red Tail," which dovetailed into More Light.
"We're all really good friends, and I think that was important in this case," said House, who's also a member of Dem Yuut and primarily a guitarist here.
"It helped create this sort of safe-space environment where there was no pressure, no fear of expressing ourselves, no fear of mistakes. We were free to do whatever we felt, and free to go deep."
Inspired by the annual Drones Not Drones concert at Cedar Cultural Center (on hold this year) and improvised excursions by their mutual heroes in Low and other drone specialists, the band set up their musical gear without any plans or song structures and just improvised.
To help set a mood, House incorporated samples of nature recordings he captured in Glacier National Park and right outside Pachyderm along trout-strewn Pine Creek.
"It's such a peaceful, beautiful setting there — never mind the history, too," House said.
This all helps explain "Casual Dragon's" ambient and serene sound.
The record is split into two tracks, "Song 1" and "Song 2," the former clocking in at nearly 30 minutes and the latter at just six. Each features pools of lightly rippling, mellow electric guitar parts and a layer of misty string work by McLain.
"It seemed like a kind of music people might appreciate right now," said Simonett, referring to the "transcendent" quality of drone music.
"It got me out of my head space making it, and I hope it can maybe do the same thing for people listening to it, with everything going on right now."
More light on 2021
After postponing a wide swath of tour dates last summer and fall, Simonett's main vehicle Trampled by Turtles also put off plans to travel to Texas and record a new album when COVID-19 rates started spiking again in the late fall.
"It just felt too stressful trying to make it work, which isn't a good environment for making a record," he said.
The acoustic sextet is holding out hope to return to the road next summer, with two postponed big gigs at Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver circled on the calendar for July 15-16 plus a joint tour with Wilco that was planned last year and rescheduled for this September (including a Sept. 18 date at Treasure Island Casino's amphitheater).
To tide fans over, TBT recently snuck into First Avenue and filmed four sets they'll livestream every Thursday in February via Mandolin.com ($15 tickets).
In the meantime, Simonett has stayed busy at home with his two grade-school-age kids. He also found time to finish off a second solo effort in the vein of "Red Tail," a self-recorded EP that he sent off around the holidays to be mastered.
His rockier electric band Dead Man Winter is still an ongoing venture, too.
Between all that and the pending Trampled record, it seems pretty clear the writer's block that inspired More Light is in the past.
"It worked," Simonett happily reported.
But that wasn't the end of More Light. The group of musicians has continued to make music together, often trading home recordings over the internet.
"One of us will record something and send it off to another one, and we'll keep trading off ideas to each other," Simonett explained. "It's a lot of fun, and a nice distraction."
Could More Light even turn into a live band at some point?
"Oh, God, I hope so," Simonett said.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • @ChrisRstrib
The band's self-titled album will be available for download Friday at Bandcamp.com and on most streaming sites.