Given their upbringing, it's no wonder Trampled Under Foot have quickly become one of the hottest up-and-coming blues bands on the circuit today. Siblings Danielle Schnebelen (lead vocals and bass), Nick Schnebelen (guitars and vocals) and Kris Schnebelen, (drums) have a lifelong connection with the blues. Growing up in Kansas City, MO, the hard-charging trio soaked up the music of their parents, who were active in the thriving blues scene.
"Our dad was in bar bands but he was also recognized as a great blues guitar player," says Nick, describing the influence his father had on his music. "He'd take us to blues jams where we'd meet some real old school artists and hear a huge cross section of roots music." His father's love of poetry also made an impact. "It led to a more intellectual style of writing and tipped us off to some techniques that made our music more dynamic."
After years of playing in separate bands, Danielle, Kris and Nick decided to keep things in the family and formed Trampled Under Foot (TUF). "The bonds are stronger with family," Kris says. "You're more familiar with each other, that's for sure."
"We just decided to go for it," adds Nick. "In our younger years, we were still developing, so it was good to take on this group in our early- to mid-twenties after we already had some experience under our belts."
A pivotal moment came in 2008 when Trampled Under Foot headed to Memphis for the Blues Foundation's 24th International Blues Challenge and walked away with first place, proving to the world that they're a band to be reckoned with. Nick also took home the prestigious Albert King Award for best guitarist. "When we won, I couldn't believe it," says Danielle. "It opened up a lot of doors for us, and we got some really great gigs out of it."
After several acclaimed self-released albums, Trampled Under Foot debuts Badlands July 9, 2013 on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group. Toughened by years of nonstop roadwork, Badlands reveals a musical sophistication well beyond the band's years.
On Badlands, the band worked again with producer Tony Braunagel at his Ultratone Studios in California. The drummer in the Phantom Blues Band, Braunagel plays some percussion on the album and recruited veteran keyboardist Mike Finnigan (Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Etta James) to play keys. Johnny Lee Schell, who also recorded the album, adds acoustic guitar to one track and even mother Lisa Swedelund provides some additional backing vocals. John Porter mixed the final results at Independent Street Studios in New Orleans.
"Tony Braunagel is awesome," Nick says. "He's the guru guy. He has a blues crew. They've all been playing together for 20 plus years. We came on their team. I was excited about the star quality of the guys on the album, but their musical ability let us really dig in. Mike Finnigan plays more piano and organ and Rhodes than he did on the last record. That makes the record shine so much more."
The album shows off the band's maturity right from the opening notes of the first track, the break-up ballad "Bad Bad Feeling." Danielle sounds particularly vulnerable (and hurt) as she adopts the persona of a woman scorned and sings, "You say I'm crazy/I'm making it up" and recounts seeing "the other woman" at a party. While the songs on the album aren't all dark, they do have a sharper edge to them than the tunes on the band's previous studio efforts.
"Everyone's writing ability came up," says Nick. "And there's grittier guitar on this record that I'm excited about. We don't pick one style of rock blues. There's gospel and full-on dirty blues. There's also a danceable quality."
Propelled by a funky keyboard riff, "Dark of the Night" offers a bit of inspiration despite addressing "broken dreams." A mid-song guitar solo shows off Nick's terrific chops. He holds his own on the mic, too, as he sings lead on the roadhouse rocker "Don't Want No Woman" and the soulful title track. The disc comes to a close with a spirited rendition of James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World."
"That song has always been propelled by such a large band, and they have a huge horn section with strings on it too," says Nick. "I think it's awesome. Midwestern guys don't get a lot of funk influence, but we got that going on. I was a huge James Brown fan. I decided to make it stark and bare and Danielle shines over the top. For this song, it's about her vocals. That's Danielle in her essence."
Kris agrees the song provides a showcase for Danielle's powerhouse vocals. "It's a legendary tune and I just lay back on it," he says. "I just try to support it and let her put it all out there. She's such a talented performer."
Danielle also demonstrates her range on "You Never Really Loved Me," as she nails the upper register notes and then simmers down into a lower register for the song's finale. And she's in terrific form on the soulful ballad "I Didn't Try" and the mid-tempo number "Home to You."
Now, only a few years after hitting the radar, Badlands represents a rite of passage for a band that is knocking on the door of greatness. "All I really want to do is inspire goodness in people. I'm really passionate about the blues and about music," Danielle says. "My lyrics are really personal to me; I'm like an open book. I'm always honest about the music, and I hope I can inspire people. I want the listener to get something out of it. I want the audience to have a good time dancing and laughing with me while I take them on a journey."
One thing is certain, Trampled Under Foot are in it for the long haul. Look for them to flex their blues-rock muscles this summer when they go on tour, performing live throughout the United States and Europe in support of Badlands.