The final song on Dave Simonett’s debut solo album is one of those seemingly spontaneous free-for-alls: a group sing-along, a piano hiccup followed by laughter and a take-two. Is that a maraca?
“There’s a Lifeline in the Night Sky” is one of the tracks from “Red Tail” recorded at Pachyderm Studio near Cannon Falls, Minnesota, a remote woodsy spot with acres upon acres and a trout stream.
The scene: It was guitar player DJ House’s birthday and, after recording, people were trickling into the studio to celebrate. Simonett, of Trampled By Turtles and Dead Man Winter, passed out handwritten lyric sheets to his friends.
“I thought it would be fun to have everyone singing around the microphone,” he said. The vibe would be a “very drunken Minnesota thing.”
The result is more than a dozen voices — including fellow Turtle Eamonn McClain, Dave Huckfelt of The Pines, Sara Bischoff of Under Velvet — singing the chorus together.
“Can you feel it / Can you feel it / Can you feel it coming over you?”
Simonett liked it, so he put it on the album.
“I felt like maybe it was a little bit of a balance for the rest of the album,” he said. “It felt kind of light.”
Simonett’s album is scheduled for release on Friday. It’s an eight-song mix of nature vistas, wide open skies and changes in both people and places. He opens a few weeks of touring with a stop at Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids — the closest he will get to Duluth for a while.
Simonett’s last album without his Trampled mates is the 2017 Dead Man Winter confessional “Furnace.” It was created post-divorce, and he directly considered existential questions and numbing agents. He was literal though he prefers to keep his music open to interpretation.
“It was such a major event,” he said. “It would be impossible for me to keep it out of stuff. Maybe I’m not great at hiding that kind of thing. To be honest, having that out was cathartic and helpful.
“At the end, I just felt whiny.”
There wasn’t a lot of plotting and planning that went into “Red Tail.” Half of it was recorded at Pachyderm, half of it in a small one-person studio close to his home in Minneapolis, he said.
No pressure, no deadlines, casual.
“The whole time, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Simonett said. “It felt really easy. There is this thing where — I didn’t have to make it. I never really have to make anything. It was just something that felt like a good idea.”
Longtime friend Al Church came in to play bass and described working with Simonett as “seamless.” They would record a song, Simonett would go catch a fish, other musicians would walk around the river and hang out. Then: “We’d be like, ‘Should we go record another song?’,” Church said.
House described it as all a blur of recording. There was spontaneity and improvisation.
“Dave is a good writer,” he said. “He brings in fully formed ideas, and you get to react.”
The album’s first single, “In the Western Wind and the Sunrise” opens with slow, pretty piano and scenes from the road and the return to old vistas in a new season. Its opening track, “Revoked,” has shades of Trampled By Turtles. "Silhouette" is the barefoot-spin-at-a-festival track, with a handful of jot-worthy lines.
'A little fond memory'
House isn’t necessarily a piano player, but he was for an April recording at Pachyderm on the eve of his 36th birthday. They were a couple songs into the day, and there were some drinks. He was struck with “that sort of chemically enhanced confidence that, 'now I’m a piano player,’” he said.
The inclusion of “There’s a Lifeline Deep in the Night Sky,” gives the album a time capsule feel, Church said.
“A little memory, a little fond memory,” he said. “Every time I listen to it, I picture that moment. I think you can hear the moment. I think it’s something you can listen to and put yourself in that moment.”
Simonett and friends will spend the next few weeks touring with “Red Tail” before joining up again with the rest of Trampled By Turtles — which is scheduled to play with Ghost of Paul Revere, Avett Brothers, Erin Rae, Wilco and more between late April and mid-September.
The Duluth-bred band’s annual summer show isn’t on the Bayfront Festival Park schedule as of Tuesday, but the date they traditionally play is still open. Simonett wouldn’t say when he would next perform in Duluth.
Dave Simonett's March 19 show in Grand Rapids has been canceled because of concerns surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus.
More information at reifcenter.org.
This story was updated at 9:10 a.m. March 17 to indicate the canceled event. It was originally posted at 8:10 a.m. March 12.