Danielle Schnebelen, Trampled Under Foot
June 18, 2016
To say Danielle Schnebelen and her two brothers, Nick and Kris, were born into a musical family is a bit of an understatement.
"My Dad's family members were in string quartets dating back to the early 1900's," Schnebelen said. "On my Mom's side, my grandmother was a Big Band singer. She didn't do it professionally, but there is this picture I remember. She's sitting there on stage next to the piano. I love it. Here's this woman having the strength to be up there among all these men."
The Schnebelen kids spent their childhood watching Mom and Dad perform and were exposed to blues music at an early age.
"My parents played blues in the 1980's and continued as we grew up," she said. "We fell into it, and I fell in love with it. It's pure honesty. It's emotional. It's vulnerable. I love how versatile it is in every genre."
Schnebelen started performing as a teenager, joining her father at local coffee shops in her hometown of Kansas City. He played and she sang.
"It was a great way to make money," she said, laughing. "I started writing songs when I was around 16. They were all about devastation and lost love. I mean, you know everything about love when you're 16."
Schnebelen played the saxophone in middle school and eventually "messed around" a bit with a six-string.
"It was a good introduction to instrumentation," she recalls. "I enjoyed playing."
When she finally chose the bass, it was out of necessity. The Schnebelen kids were adding another page to the family's musical history book. They decided to start playing music together.
"I got into bass when we first formed Trampled Under Foot," she said. "All the other instruments were taken. Kris played the drums and Nick played the guitar. I was probably 18 or 19 when I started playing. I was horrible. But they were great and they understood."
She practiced hard, eventually landing a gig with Kansas City bluesman DC Bellamy.
"I learned a lot from him,"Schnebelen said. "How to be conscious of the fundamentals that are easily lost in a show. Vocals are so free. You can do whatever you want. But with bass, there has to be a groove and it has to be consistent. It's not free!"
Schnebelen took that training to heart and Trampled Under Foot continued to perform, playing local gigs and eventually booking some regional tours and festivals. It wasn't just about the music. It was about carrying on the family's musical legacy.
"It was a small operation for a very long time," Schnebelen said. "We funded every CD, kept it all in house and ran it as a small business. We got into a routine…we were all in our 20's and were eager and ready to play. It was a career. We made it into a business and had life goals."
In 2008, Trampled Under Foot played the International Blues Challenge and won first place in the band competition. Everything changed.
"It opened the doors for us internationally," said Schnebelen. "We blew up. That's when we went to Norway, Canada, Estonia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and every island of the Caribbean. A total of 15 different countries."
Looking back, she describes it as a whirlwind. And wishes they had taken more time to enjoy it.
"It's easy to lose sight of the family aspect," Schnebelen said. "We never took a break from each other and the road. It was a lot of years not really taking any breaks."
Her brother Kris left the band at the beginning of 2014. She understood.
"He was really burned out on everything." She pauses. The phone connection crackles. " We wanted to quit playing music with each other for a while."
Trampled Under Foot officially disbanded at the end of that year.
"The plan was to take a year off and work on separate projects, then figure out what we wanted to do. This year, we decided to come back together."
But this time, the siblings are taking it slow. They want to remember the experience and feeling of performing together.
"We wanted to make sure it was very carefully and selectively chosen," Schnebelen said. "We are keeping it very low key and minimal to celebrate the exclusivity of us getting back together."
One of those coveted reunion performances will take place at the Blues From The Top Festival at the end of June. The Schnebelens have performed in Winter Park many times before and can't wait to be part of the festival again.
"We've done so many Blue Star Connection events," she said. "John Catt has always been a huge supporter of us. It seems only natural."
Just as natural as playing the blues.
"It's what American music stems from," Schnebelen said. "Everybody's felt pain, love, excitement and relationships. That's all you have in life, relationships. It's very easily relatable."
This year's Blues From The Top Festival takes place June 25-26. For tickets and additional information, visit http://www.bluesfromthetop.org