Sure, Trampled by Turtles could have made a record during its COVID-forced long break from touring. In fact, the guys booked studio time in the fall of 2020 at a famously isolated facility in West Texas.
They sure are happy now that those plans fell apart.
"We're a band that records all in the same room near each other," singer/guitarist Dave Simonett explained. "That just wouldn't have worked well if we were all masked up and still tense and scared about the virus."
With a discernible amount of glee, Trampled's frontman added, "Plus, if we'd done it then, we wouldn't have made this record with Jeff."
Jeff Tweedy, that is, the bandleader of Wilco. Minnesota's best-loved Americana folk/bluegrass group recruited the singer from maybe the world's best-loved Americana rock band to serve as producer of its new album.
Titled "Alpenglow" and out Friday, the 11-song collection is Trampled's first record in four years. It will also probably go down as the group's best-loved LP since 2012's "Stars and Satellites," the one that made the all-acoustic, Duluth-reared sextet stars on the national festival and outdoor venue circuit.
In songs like the cigarette-stained "Quitting Is Rough," the contently tired "All the Good Times Are Gone" and "Burlesque Desert Window" — each laced with lyrics about settling down and appreciating what you've got — the band's string-playing feels looser and more soulful (think: "Music From Big Pink"), while their Gitche Gumee-expansive vocal harmonies sound more spirited and precise.
The band members credit Tweedy for making them rethink their arrangements and getting inside their songwriting process. But they also cite the fact that they waited to record until after returning to the road in 2021 following the longest break in their 19-year run as a band.
"Honestly, we're having more fun than we've ever had," Simonett said.
Tweedy got to see that camaraderie firsthand when Wilco and Trampled co-headlined three Midwest dates in September 2021, including a breezy gig at Treasure Island Resort & Casino Amphitheater in Red Wing.
Trampled finally plays its first post-COVID concert inside the Twin Cities proper at the Armory in Minneapolis on Nov. 26 , a midtour homecoming on the fall trek behind "Alpenglow."
In a provided statement, the Wilco frontman said, "I enjoy TBT's musicianship and ability to stick hard inside a genre, all the while stretching that same genre. It's like you need to infiltrate it before you can pull it apart.
"They have a brotherly thing going on, too, which is always a great feel."
The recording sessions took place near the end of 2021 at the Loft in Chicago, where Wilco has made all of its records going back to 2001's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." Simonett described the warehouse studio as being filled with "an amazing array of guitars" and "the kind of heavy vibe you'd imagine."
"The whole thing really suited us because the room itself is just one big room," the singer continued. "We got there, and they just had six chairs in a circle, and that was it. The place was ready to go. It was so comfortable that a lot of the times it didn't even feel like we were recording."
The setting was so informal, Simonett said, that Tweedy unintentionally wound up getting credit for playing guitar on several tunes: "He would just come out from behind the console and start strumming along, maybe show us some ideas. A lot of those parts wound up on the record."
As a producer, Tweedy is known for working only with acts he truly likes (see also: Mavis Staples, Richard Thompson) and for not doing a lot to change his subject's sonic DNA. Another prime example of this out of Minnesota is Low's Tweedy-helmed minimalist 2013 album, "The Invisible Way."
"Alpenglow" certainly follows this pattern. It's still all acoustic, still filled with hearth-warm harmonies and fiery flourishes of string work (standout: fiddler Ryan Young's outro to "Quitting Is Rough") — still unmistakably Trampled by Turtles. It's just a prime example.
"A band with our limited instrumentation — and having 20-year-old musical habits — really benefited from Jeff saying, 'What if you tried this instead?' " Trampled bassist Tim Saxhaug said.
"Arrangements of songs like 'It's So Hard to Hold On' and 'All the Good Times Are Gone' would sound a lot more 'typical TBT' without him. The intro to 'It's So Hard' is all Jeff. Didn't exist, and wouldn't, had we not recorded there with him. And it's one of my favorite parts of the album."
Simonett said a lot of Tweedy's input also came on the front end, as he helped Trampled's chief songwriter fine-tune the songs before pressing "Record" in the studio.
"Having him say to me, 'Hey, why don't you try this instead?' carried a little extra weight coming from him," Simonett said. "Not that I'm that precious about that sort of stuff, but when the advice is coming from one of your all-time favorite songwriters... ."
Tweedy also hand-picked one of his own songs, "A Lifetime to Find," as one that would benefit from Trampled's unique touch. Wilco later recorded the ode to death for its double album "Cruel Country," but it fits "Alpenglow" like a well-worn glove.
"I loved the song and the storytelling that's in it, the phrasing," Simonett said. "I enjoy recording other people's songs anytime, and in this case it was really cool to sit with the person who wrote it, hear him talk about it, and work with him on it."
Simonett said his own songwriting for this record was slow-going at first, since he started early into the COVID lockdown.
Summing up a lot of "Alpenglow's" lyrical themes — including his own personal rebound into a newly merged family life during the pandemic — Trampled's leader said the hopefulness he felt once his band came out of lockdown is one more reason he's happy this record was put off a whole year.
"Everyone in our band lost our jobs in the pandemic, and things got so dark everywhere," he said. "But there was a lot of lovely stuff going on in my life personally that counterbalanced with all the ugliness in the world.
"Once all the darkness started to subside — at least somewhat — and we were able to play shows again, I started to write a lot more. This record was kind of born out of that mixed bag of so many good things offsetting the bad."
Trampled by Turtles
New album: "Alpenglow" available Friday in stores, on streaming sites or at trampledbyturtles.com.
In concert: Nov. 26 at the Armory, Mpls., with Charlie Parr, $52-$72, ticketmaster.com.