The natural world is among the greatest influence for Trampled by Turtles frontman and lead songwriter Dave Simonett. With album titles such as “Blue Sky and the Devil,” “Stars and Satellites” and their latest, “Wild Animals,” outdoor themes permeate much of TBT’s music.

The band’s hard-charging bluegrass and rootsy rock sounds were born in 2003 in Duluth and have continued to blossom from the shores of Gitche Gumee to the Twin Cities, to “The Late Show With David Letterman.” In a recent interview, Simonett reminisced about his early outdoor experiences and about how nature has inspired his music.

On trips to the North Shore growing up

“In the summer my dad and I would hike a lot on the Superior Hiking Trail, and go on camping and fishing trips; that’s how we connected. In my 17-year-old mind it was complete wilderness. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly was attractive about that, but it was and still is to me.”

On Duluth

“Living there I could take a 10-minute drive and be out in the woods — there isn’t a ring of suburbs to get there. I just really dig the pine trees, clear lakes and cold weather. A lot of people living there would admit it’s all so abundant, you almost take it for granted. It was part of my life. Every day after work I would just go fishing at a river where no one else was around. It was just really solitary and peaceful, which is harder to find in the Cities. It’s where I discovered I wanted to play music the rest of my life and where I met some of my greatest friends. It’s still one of my favorite places in the world.”

On nature’s influence

“In a natural setting, I’m most mentally calm. I think of it as a retreat. I’ve created a really busy life for myself and I love it and there are a lot of great things about it, but once in a while it’s the only setting where I can just be and open myself to songwriting. There’s a spiritual thing to it. I always think about how almost synthetic our daily lives have become and how the cure for that is something as simple as sitting on a rock next to a campfire. I think that shows up in my writing a lot.”

On the inspiration he draws from poet Walt Whitman

“With ‘Stars and Satellites’ [2012 album] in particular, I was having a lot of writer’s block and trying to find exercises to unstick myself. One of them was a found poem where you open up a book to a random page and pick out 12 words, and then try to write a poem incorporating all of them. A bunch of songs on that record came from ‘Leaves of Grass.’ I can really connect to Whitman as an influence.”

On sharing the outdoors with his young children

“There are several places we go to get away right in the city. Right now I can put my son in a backpack and my daughter just likes to run around in the woods. I think everyone wants to impose what they like on their kids. From my perspective, the outdoors gave me such great life experiences and a way to stay connected to the Earth, and so far they love it, too.”


Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.