Latest release: Sexual Harassment (Shock)
Band site: www.turbonegro.com
The self-proclaimed “world’s biggest underground rock ‘n’ roll band”, wickedly entertaining Norwegian glam-punk nutters Turbonegro are headed back to Australia for the first time in nearly a decade. This time around the band will feature new vocalist Tony Sylvester (aka “The Duke of Nothing”), who replaced long-time frontman Hank von Helvete last year. Sylvester, president of the London branch of the band’s international fan club the “Turbojugend” before landing his new role, spoke to Loud about their latest album, the expectations of the band’s rabid fan base, their Australian tour and more.
Q: What’s the latest in the Turbonegro camp?
A: Well, what we’re doing is we’re basically playing every weekend. Tom’s (Seltzer, aka “Happy-Tom”, bass) got a TV show that he does as well in Norway. I suppose it’s kind of like a topical, political sort of comedy. It’s kind of based on some current affairs, a little bit like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, something like that. So when he’s on TV season, when he’s working on that we work around that as well. We’ve all got other things going on, too. So basically, starting next week we’ll play every weekend until the end of the year, that’s how we’ll do it. So we’ll be out on the weekends playing all the shows everywhere, and then we’ve got the Australian dates in December, as you know.
Q: Indeed. I know it isn’t the band’s first time here, but is it your inaugural Australian visit?
A: Yeah, I’ve never, ever been, never been asked to go there before (laughs). I honestly have no idea what to expect. I figure it’s a good place, I imagine it’s a place where we’ll have a little bit of an affinity between people and the band. I think there’s always been a healthy scene, going back 30 years of bands from Australia that we like, and were influential on us. Bands like The Saints, Radio Birdman and then also Rose Tattoo, AC/DC, that sort of stuff for me. So I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: What kind of set lists are the band playing these days – are you focusing more on the new material?
A: Half and half. This album, honestly pretty much the whole record was written for live. So we could play every song off the record, and even if we did that would obviously only be half the set, because it’s a nice, short and sharp record. The problem with being in Turbo is, once you kind of write down what you actually have to play, what songs you have to play that people will lynch you if you don’t play, it doesn’t leave a lot (laughs). There are a lot of songs, a lot of classics there in the old back catalogue. So we try to mix it up a little bit and we’re learning more for this tour. We’ve got a group of about 40 songs that we choose from.
Q: Do you aim to put your own spin on the new songs, or try to remain as faithful as possible vocally?
A: I mean, yes and no. It doesn’t sound quite the same, because obviously my voice is a little bit different. But even just arrangement wise, some members aren’t there, so it’s a bit more of a stripped down sort of sound. But I mean, you come along and you hear “Denim Demon” and it sounds like “Denim Demon”, you know? You come to hear “Fuck the World” and you’re going to hear “Fuck the World”, we’re not putting out a reggae backbeat to it or something like that (laughs). They’re in safe hands, don’t worry.
Q: You’re a long-time fan of Turbonegro who became their new vocalist. How did that come about and what was your first show fronting the band like?
A: I’ve been a fan of the band since about 1997 and on that first comeback in 2002 we hit it off. We had sort of similar backgrounds to them and stuff; mainly skating, hardcore and classic rock. We were into all of the same things; we had a lot of common ground and a real affinity with each other. So just stayed in touch really and I did the press on like one record and I’ve been, in an official or unofficial capacity, some sort of an advisor or helper. And then so I started kind of helping them… They were talking about a possible comeback (again) and I approached them about how to do it, just as a friend. It was during that process that they turned around and said, ‘do you want to try out?’ I didn’t really think that it would work; honestly, you have this reaction of like, ‘no, that won’t work, but let’s give it a go’. I owed it to myself just to try and have a go at it. So I did, and it worked out great.
But the first show was one of the most nerve-wracking things of my life. We did a sound-check for that first show and of the five songs that we sound-checked, I completely had a mental block on four of them, just didn’t know the words. So I just sort of panicked really; I hadn’t really done enough preparation and worked enough on it. But it turned out that it worked out, so that was good (laughs).
Q: How have the fans responded to you joining the band?
A: Overwhelmingly positively, unbelievably so. They really just willed it into being, they’ve really been great. Especially the Turbojugend themselves, the hardcore fans, they have been unbelievably accepting and really, really positive. That is the thing that has made it completely worthwhile and really made us make the decision to really do this properly, rather than just maybe playing a few shows.
Q: You’re talking about a rather rabid following – one I’d place on par with the Kiss Army or Slayer fans. They’re a very dedicated bunch.
A: Yeah, absolutely. But at the same time, the difference between those groups that you mentioned in particular is it’s not really a one-way street, it’s not really like a very adoring fan base. They’re very vocal and they feel like it’s very much peer-to-peer, you know? There’s lots of dialogue between the Turbojugend and the band themselves, and there always has been. We’re a very approachable kind of band and they make no bones about anything. That’s been really helpful, because I think that keeps your feet on the ground, it keeps you grounded and it gives you an idea of where you’re going right and wrong. That’s the cool part; they tell us what they think and their attention has been unbelievably unwavering, that’s been great. It’s been a massive thing for me and I’m very happy about that.
Q: The band has a signature sound – I think by and large if you don’t stray too far from that you’re usually going to be okay.
A: Yeah, I agree and in many ways it’s a unique position to be in, like being able to add another person who obviously was a fan of the band. But they trust my opinion as a music fan. When we’re talking about other bands; we’ve got a good dialogue within the band just about music in general. They sort of trust my opinion on what’s good and they think I have good taste in the way that we’ve got very similar taste. So I think having me in is almost like, especially when writing this record, it’s almost like having someone who’s kind of outside, but who’s also inside the band, if you see what I mean. Maybe I’m able to be a little more critical. And I think through that process we really managed to create a classic Turbo album that I’m really, really proud of and I know they are as well. I think that it’s a record that sits really well within the Turbo catalogue and when I read press, when I read reviews that say things like, ‘this is the best Turbo album since Apocalypse Dudes’ and things like that, comparing it to great records; that’s an absolutely fantastic feeling. The aim was to make a very typical, very, very strong Turbonegro album. And so when you read things like that, and most of the press has seemed to echo that, it’s great. We couldn’t really have done it any differently and I’m really proud of that.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: (Laughs) Well, I’m not dead yet, so I don’t know if they’re going to be last words. But I’ll tell you what; I’m scrambling to get our flights done in the meantime, so that I can maybe get the extra legroom or an upgrade for the Australian flight. I’m a big guy; that’s gonna kill me that flight, I tell you (laughs). I’m really looking forward to the tour.
Turbonegro plays in Australia in December:
6/12: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW
7/12: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC
8/12: Meredith Music Festival, VIC