Turbonegro

Turbonegro
Many bands strive to create their own genre. The few who actually do tend to stumble upon it without even realising they’ve altered the face of music. Oslo, Norway’s Turbonegro are case-in-point proof. They are accredited with creating deathpunk, the dirty, festering, sin-laden brother of hardcore. A slimy concoction of early punk, hardcore, tinges of Venom-esque heavy metal and ’70s arena rock, deathpunk is loud and abrasive yet indulgent, intelligent and witty. Its only purveyors Turbonegro celebrate the seventh instalment of the deathpunk sound with latest studio album Retox, released August 16 on Cooking Vinyl. Highly anticipated, this effort marks 15 years of raucous performances, a brief hiatus, innumerable member changes and even a few misguided attempts at gimmickry (Al Jolson-esque face paint and fake afros?) for the band. Speaking on behalf of singer Hank Von Helvete, bassist Happy Tom, fellow guitarist Rune Rebellion, keyboardist Pal Pot Pamparius and drummer Chris Summers, guitarist Euroboy shed some light on the ever-changing face of deathpunk.

How would you define your style, since you haven’t been using the term "deathpunk” as much anymore and Retox has even more of a classic rock atmosphere than most of the previous records?
Oh, we’re still deathpunk but because it’s our genre, it changes as we do. The Turbonegro style is one that has to have fun and be somewhat cynical at the same time. Our lyrics are always intelligent while the rock’n’roll is dumb. I wouldn’t say it’s a fine line between clever and stupid so much as dumb and dumbass. We like the fact that heavy metal fans appreciate us while punk rockers do as well. They may be freaked out by parts of us but that’s a good thing. Overall though, it’s just rock’n’roll.

You’d be surprised at how many bands say that but they’re really not rock’n’roll at all. Speaking personally, you’ve been credited as altering the sound of Turbonegro when you joined around the time of 1996’s Ass Cobra. Do you think there’s truth to that?
Maybe a little bit but it’s not just me. Our drummer Chris Summers adds a lot to what we’re doing. There must be some truth to it since the band has stayed with the same members since the two of us joined. Either that or no one else will put up with them and we’re stuck together! When I came into the band, that added a ’70s rock’n’roll feel that wasn’t there before and you can hear its influence more and more with each album. [In the past] Turbonegro was just as dirty but they were certainly more punk rock-driven than when we came in. We brought the Rolling Stones into the Ramones.

Speaking of the Ramones, a lot of fans like to pick apart your songs and figure out what other bands’ songs you make reference to, like how "I Wanna Come” from the new album sounds decidedly similar to the Ramones’ "Danny Says.”
We like to have fun with what we’re doing. We have to entertain ourselves and that means changing what we do constantly. When we’re writing our music or lyrics, we do it as fans of other bands so we make mention of them in subtle — or not so subtle — ways. But as long as we can make each other enjoy what we’re doing, we know that Turbonegro is on the right track. There’s a lot of effort put into our albums but not as much intellect as some might expect.

You’re never called up on the carpet for "ripping off” bands?
No, I think that people find it fun. It’s become a game in some ways. "What songs are they going to slip into the mix this time?” There are parts some people would never catch onto and that makes us smile.

Your fan club the Turbojugend seems to be one of the biggest, most ravenous cults in rock. It’s almost like a biker gang of its own with chapters around the world…not your typical fan club.
That’s something we just let run with itself. There are chapters out there I don’t even know exist. We though about how KISS had the KISS Army so we thought that Turbonegro should have our own Navy. It started as a joke in Happy Tom’s apartment. We put his address on the album sleeves and it was all just for laughs. Ya, the Jugend blossomed into something way bigger than we ever expected.

It must be a bit of an honour to know that you’re affecting a lot of people that deeply though, no?
We didn’t think it would become as strong as it is now. There’s no way we can control the whole thing at this point but we do have specific things we won’t tolerate [such as] racism or homophobia. I think at this point there are Jugends out there that don’t even like Turbonegro but they like being a part of a club. Sometimes Jugends show up at our concerts and they’re wearing pins of bands that I don’t even like but the Jugend are what we do this for.

Doin’ it for the fans!
At this point, it’s for them too but at first it was just for the love of rock’n’roll. I remember on my first U.S. tour with the band, we had this shitty van. We bought a couple of couches and threw them in the back. The air conditioning didn’t work so the driver was wearing scarves and gloves while we were in the back shirtless and roasting across Texas. The shows weren’t so great either. You have to love rock’n’roll to endure that. At least we’re sort of comfortable now. We get to ride in a bus.

The Jugend was still going when you guys disbanded and got bigger and bigger until you reunited in 2003.
That was something we didn’t expect… from the point of being able to get back together or the cult following that had built up. We’re not a major band by any stretch of the imagination but there was a lot of attention on us that didn’t exist when we reformed. We only disbanded in the first place because Hank had a serious heroin problem. Once that was sorted out, we felt the time was right. We didn’t expect that we’d be putting out albums almost ten years later or that people would even care.

It’s interesting that Turbonegro’s music is replete with taboos — in the rock, metal and punk world — such as homoerotic innuendo and imagery, political and social sarcasm yet you’re never questioned or challenged about it. Why do you think that’s so?
I think because it’s obvious that the whole point of Turbonegro is to poke at the underbelly of what people take seriously. People should think more but at the same time, rock’n’roll is about getting your kicks or expressing a side of you that you might not otherwise be able to show off.

What does Turbonegro as a band mean to you?
We are the glitterati Motörhead; the toilet bowl Rolling Stones. We want every show we have to be a party like it’s the end of the world… on the edge of the world.