Banjo Dave shares some Trampled by Turtles secrets

To hear "Banjo Dave" Carroll tell it, Trampled by Turtles owes its entire existence to some choice local beverages. Before he was a member of the popular bluegrass-leaning group, he was enjoying a set by future TBTers Dave Simonett and Erik Berry...

Trampled by Turtles
Dave Carroll (second from right) with his Trampled by Turtles cronies, who recently released the album "Palomino." Submitted photo

To hear "Banjo Dave" Carroll tell it, Trampled by Turtles owes its entire existence to some choice local beverages.

Before he was a member of the popular bluegrass-leaning group, he was enjoying a set by future TBTers Dave Simonett and Erik Berry at the Brewhouse when a few of Dave Hoops' award-winning creations pushed him into action.

"I had a little 'Brewhouse courage,' and I went up to them and said, 'Hey, I've got a banjo, let's play,'" Carroll said. "And they were OK with it."

While he was sitting there enjoying his soon-to-be bandmates' performance, he couldn't help but get involved, at least from a distance: "In my brain I was playing the banjo part that I thought I would be playing, to go along with their songs," he said.

What makes Carroll's story even more incredible is that Trampled was the first band he'd ever been in.


"And I feel super-lucky about that," he said, "but I've been playing music since I was a little kid -- and I've loved music as long as I can remember."

He's not just blowing smoke here. Carroll's family has been inspiring him for some time.

"My dad's been playing guitar for hundreds of years," he joked before straightening up and mentioning that his sister, too, has been a huge influence for him.

Though Carroll long considered his musical passion a hobby, never getting too technical about musical theory or anything, the word "hobby" just doesn't seem to cut it for this music fan.

"I remember my first freakout moment, when I was literally throwing my body into a twitch with the air guitar -- it was to Pearl Jam's record 'Ten.' I was in third grade," he said. "Before that I'd enjoyed music, but ... I don't know what that sound did to me, but there was this one time I was just losing it playing air guitar, totally rocking out."

Despite his successes with Trampled -- thanks to gigs at high-profile music festivals (like an upcoming one at Seattle's Bumbershoot, where one Bob Dylan will be performing), the group has pockets of rabid fans across the country -- Carroll remains a music fan.

He excitedly talked about the time Trampled essentially opened for Widespread Panic at the now-defunct 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes.

"I've experienced musical pinnacles in my life just watching this band," he said. "I'm just blown away by them."


As someone who's seen Widespread Panic more than 40 times "all over the country," Carroll was, expectedly, a little nervous for that show. He said he "lost it" when he first found out about it.

"I was having the worst anxiety attacks in my life two, three months before that gig," he said. "And when the day finally came, I remember looking at myself in the mirror in the backstage dressing room and thinking, Go get 'em, have fun."

On top of getting to hear John Bell talk in his "normal voice," Carroll's sister snapped a picture of the Widespread Panic frontman watching Trampled from out in the crowd.

"I'll never forget that, for sure," Carroll said. "And I hope there will be more of those to come. I know there are plenty of awesome musical experiences, but that was probably the one I was most nervous about. It was so much fun I couldn't even stop smiling."

The passion flows both ways. When I asked him what it's like to sell out shows halfway across the country, Carroll talked about a recent performance in Denver. It was at a venue comparable in size to Minneapolis' famed First Avenue, and it was packed with Trampled supporters.

"It's crazy for us, too," he said humbly. "It's really exciting to know that you're going to travel far from home but feel like you're a little at home, with the crowd and the energy they give."

Sometimes the feverish swirl of the ticketholders can get to the group, pushing the members' playing into a frenzied state.

"It's been a very gradual process up the point we're at now," Carroll said of Trampled's dependably frantic live sets. "We started out playing the same songs, but the speed has progressed. In some cases, it's really awesome. In other cases, we feel like, whoa, that went a little too fast for sloppy's sake."


Though no one seems to be complaining about the amount of sweat poured into each TBT set, the banjo player was quick to point out the downside of playing like you're in a punk band.

"We're not really a slick band," he said. "I've seen these bluegrass guys, and they hit every single note, hit every scale perfectly. We're not perfect, but I feel like we're tight so that the way it's progressed has been a really fun experience."

'Second Skin'

Believe it or not, "Banjo Dave" played guitar a full 10 years before taking up his trademark instrument.

Carroll was first introduced to the instrument when his father picked one up. He didn't think much of it at the time. It was one of those "Oh, no, what has Dad gotten himself into this week?" kind of things -- but he quickly came around. During a visit home as a UMD freshman, he eyed the instrument in his parents' living room.

"No one was home, so I picked it up and started playing it," he said.

His dad let him bring it back to school, where he quickly stashed it in his closet.

"I've always been a closet player, literally," Carroll joked. "I played the banjo in my closet so I wouldn't annoy my roommates."


The crowds at Amazing Grace's open mic nights were a little more appreciative of his new toy.

"One of the first times, I played the guitar for a couple of songs, then I pulled the banjo out," he recalled. "I didn't really play any songs, I just wanked around on it. And afterward a whole bunch of claps and cheers were there."

That applause fueled his desire to learn the instrument.

Enter his chance encounter with Simonett and Berry at the Brewhouse. While the foundation for the group we all know today soon gelled, Trampled was still nothing more than another startup group in the Zenith City -- a fact that apparently wasn't lost on its members.

"Once it was time to practice and 'The Simpsons' was on," Carroll recalled, cracking a smile. "I remember calling Simonett and saying, 'Hey, uh, "The Simpsons" is on right now. Do you care if I come over a half hour late?' and he and Erik were like, 'Actually, we're watching it too. We'll see you in half an hour.'"

The members of the group (which has since expanded to feature the talents of bassist Tim Saxhaug and fiddler Ryan Young) soon "buckled down," as it were, and helped usher in a new age of bluegrass around the region.

"It just kind of came about," Carroll said of the genre's blooming popularity. "There wasn't this whole scene going on [when Trampled formed]. I feel like it's grown in the past few years, up here and down in Minneapolis particularly."

Carroll credits Trampled's immense growth to a number of out-of-state dates early on.


"That's kind of a key for us," he said. "I feel like it'd be really hard to get a big following regionally and to start branching out after that. ... So we started going out early."

One of the group's first trips was out to Colorado, where Trampled routinely returns for gigs.

"Starting out, we didn't know what to expect," Carroll said. "We wanted to get out and play ... just staying here didn't feel right. Lucky for us, it worked."

While the next Trampled by Turtles show is all the way up in Alaska (for the Denali Park Salmon Bake), they've got a new record to enjoy in the meantime, "Palomino." Banjo Dave can also be heard on Two Many Banjos' "POW," the fifth album he and Marc Gartman have put out since forming that group in 2007.

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