For the Trampled Under Foot, the blues have always been a family affair.
“The core of the band consisted of me and my brothers Nick and Kris,” explained bassist/vocalist Danielle Schnebelen. “Our parents both played blues growing up, so we were always surrounded by it.”
Schnebelen’s parents were longtime participants in Kansas City’s blues scene — one that’s long been considered one of the best in the country. So when the three Schnebelen siblings picked up instruments and started to play, the choice of music was obvious.
“I always was attracted to the blues,” Danielle admitted. “I’ve always appreciated how honest it is. There’s this raw reality about it that’s unique.”
Starting as a power trio with Danielle on bass, guitarist Nick sharing the vocal duties, and other brother Kris on drums, they started out the same way their parents had: in Kansas City. But in 2008, however, the siblings took their music to places their parents never did: the International Blues Challengen in Memphis, Tenn. and took first place in the competition, with Nick additionally winning the Albert King award for the Challenge’s best guitarist.
“We didn’t go there planning on winning,” Danielle admitted. “It was such a surprise to us just to wind up in the top three. But it’s an amazing experience being there. The competition draws talent from all over the globe. It’s got an electric feeling.
“(Winning the IBC) opened a lot of doors for us,” Danielle said. “We’ve been able to tour Europe, the United States, Canada…”
In addition to touring the globe, the band has found time to write and record a steady output of material. Nick and Danielle share songwriting duties in the band, with each penning and singing their own songs. But even with the writing workload shared between them, Danielle never really leaves writing mode.
“You can never really peg when inspiration will hit,” she said. “I’m always ready. Of course there’s things that I draw from life, but sometimes a bass hook will set something off in me, and I write something from that.”
The band released its fifth album, “Badlands,” last summer on Concord Records and feels like it has put its best foot forward.
“(‘Badlands’) is the best piece of work the band has done to date,” Danielle said. “I knew as soon as we started the recording process that it was going to be a powerful album.”
While the name is evocative of the American west, Danielle said the band doesn’t head into the studio looking to tie all the songs together.
“We don’t really go in to write a theme-type album,” she explained. “We record the songs we want to record, then we kind of decide at the end what we’ll call it. You kind of go through afterward and find the song that evokes the strongest feeling and let that dictate the cover shoot. So for “Badlands,” you immediately think of deserts and desolate places.”
At the end of last year, Kris Schnebelen decided to leave the band to pursue solo projects. Danielle recruited longtime friend Jan Faircloth to replace him. The band decided to also add Mike Sedovic on keys, helping to round out Trampled Under Foot’s sound and give the band more room to explore musically, something Danielle said the band is eager to do, perhaps in the form of a live album this summer to introduce fans to the expanded sound.
“With the new lineup, I think it’s necessary to get something out there,” she said. CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.