Their story is unmatched, acted out as if written by some Hollywood scriptwriters trying to land their first big picture deal. Drama that would kill most artists (and which nearly did in this case), only served to make these six
Norwegians stronger. Most bands would give their first drummer to have the success these guys have had. Though they would have to enjoy it by dwelling in the underground world of rock n' roll. But as bad luck, or some might say karma would have it, you wouldn't come close to the story wrapped around Oslo, Norway's mighty Turbonegro.
after 13 years, seven representing this current lineup, the bad boys from Scandinavia are back with a new album, a new tour, and a new outlook on life as a band. After breaking up in 1998, it was assumed by many that the greatest
underground rock n' roll band of all time was done for. This was more than another artist breaking apart due to the classic "musical differences," this was a group of men whose lives were breaking apart the band. Extravagant leader and vocalist Hank Von Helvete, battled drugs and ended up in an Italian insane asylum. The others disassociated from each other and it looked like Turbonegro were being laid to waste.
Turbonegro had spent their career building it up to near mythical status. Four albums (Hot Cars and Spent Contraceptives, Never is Forever, Ass Cobra, and Apocalypse Dudes) and a decade of hard work and all they had to show for it was a drug problem, some acclaim amongst the critics and a nice little underground following.
But a funny thing happened along the way to obscurity. It seems Turbonegro
became larger in death than they did in life. Call it the Elvis effect if you will, these guys are the real kings of rock. After being called out of retirement for some big time European festivals, the glam-rock gurus put the pieces back together, sobered up and are ready to unleash themselves on the rock
n' roll public once again. Through a massive U.S. tour with Queens of the Stone
Age and a new album to be released on May 6th with the glorious title Scandinavian Leather, it's time for rock's true heroes to get their just due.
"Nay sayers would say Turbonegro are back to cash in on the hype, but the truth
is the mainstream is now following us."
Witnessing a photo of Turbonegro can elicit many different reactions. They are part Alice Cooper, a subdivision of retro-rock denim,and an element reminiscent of an overly gay Norwegian navy. It's a shocking experience to say the least. But after listening to them, their physical (and very comical) image quickly fades from your mind. They are more than a retro-rock-revival band. These monsters destroy everything they touch, leaving nothing but damaged guitars and broken hearts in their path. For a band that is so satirical in the perception they portray, you might be mistaken to think their music is forgettable fluff built upon image and not talent. You'd be wrong once again youngster! They are
villains of true rock n' roll spirit, stopping only long enough to kick you in the head and start again. Tracking down bassist and private first class Happy Tom Seltzer, the man world famous for dressing up as a denim clad navy grunt, who knew what to expect? But luckily for me, the name truly matched this free spirited rock guru. His love
for the rock n' roll genre and for the band Turbonegro oozed through each of his
words and made me a believer that this is more than a chance to simply cash in.
He explains, "Nay sayers would say Turbonegro are back to cash in on the hype,
but the truth is the mainstream is now following us." But why now, why put it back together when many of the early years were wracked with failure and pain? "We got so big after we broke up. I mean we were the underdog as we struggled for 10 years, we were bigger after we broke up," says Tom. And to see what they had gone through, even their biggest fans would probably wonder why they were making a return to rock glory. Happily Tom says, "We've been in insane asylums, methadone clinics, we've been shot at on stage, beaten up--we're the cockroach of the rock n' roll world--you can't get rid of us!"
The idea to put out a brand new record and to reform was met with ecstatic joy by the rock n' roll underground hordes. "We never wanted to break up in the first place," says Tom, "but Hank is in much better shape now and everyone is much more determined."
You can hear it in their new release Scandinavian Leather, a blistering 13-song
attack with all of the raw, pure rock energy you have grown to love from these
"denim demons." Tom explains, "We could've made a half-assed record and gotten away with it, but we're the biggest rock n' roll lovers in the world and it
wouldn't feel right." No worries here, as the intense sounds they incorporated in their last studio release Apocalypse Dudes are all here, but this time with a little more melody.
"It's not really intentional," explains Tom about the silvery sounds, "but it's definitely more melodic, more grandiose." Don't worry folks, this thing still pounds your every orifice and sounds just as raw as anything they have ever done.
Besides laying down pure retro rock, done the way few can, Turbonegro are often
chastised or often find themselves cornered on the image they represent. So why
should I disappoint! What's up with all of this denim? "Nobody's every really done it. You look at the Allman Brothers back in the day
and they're all wearing denim," Tom says. "Denim is working man's leather!"
Their image seems methodical and yet so ridiculous, you can't even believe they
are as successful as they are. Tom tells me, "We have an impossible band image,
an impossible band name, and yet we survived." And his story about how they
ended up with the gay motif simply had me on the floor. "We had a meeting where
we tried to come up with an image, but we all got drunk. When we woke up the
next morning all we had written on a piece of a paper was 'denim homo.'" But he
is quick to add, "If people think we're a joke band, they're missing out."
When one thinks of Turbonegro's Scandinavian homeland, you're liable to think of black metal demons wrapped around burning churches and face paint, or you might picture one of the many retro rock bands currently breaking free to incorporate
the radio and television airwaves over here in the States. Tom tells me there are many more where that came from. "The big thing in Scandinavia is to dress up as Lynyrd Skynyrd and go around saying 'We're real rock n' roll.'" You would think Turbonegro would gather some pretty good press and support from fellow Norwegians, but I guess I was wrong. "People think Scandinavians are gods, but they're just vain homos!" Tom
continues to say, "We were always ridiculed in Norway. Recently, a local paper made a list of bands from Norway who were more deserving of a tour with Queens of the Stone Age." Tom even takes one final parting shot by reminding me "they just don't like us, just because we're the brightest in all of Norway!" But despite some major label attempts to buy the opening slot of the current U.S. Queens tour, they opted to bring along the rock vikings from the north for their current journey. Tom explains the connection, "We each have identical musical backgrounds. We know our rock history and we live it." He says it's already living up to the hype as well. "This tour has been crazy. The first show with Queens of the Stone Age, and the crowd was screaming 'I Got Erection' for
45 minutes before we even played!" Looking at their recently announced date in San Francisco, which sold out in under an hour, and their Los Angeles show, which was gone in under 20 minutes, these guys are growing into much more than just some underground cult band. Then there is their rabid fan base, a bastion of people from all over the world
who have created their own group called "Turbojugend"--Turbo Youth. You can go to the Turbonegro website and order your personalized denim "Turbojugend"
jacket, complete with your locale emblazoned across the back as if you were a
part of some biker gang. Tom, though stating they had nothing to do with its
creation, says, "We felt that since Kiss had an army, we needed a Navy." With
groups of rabid fans all over the world (a group of kids from Chile recently
flew into Florida to catch the Turbo's on their current tour), it's no wonder they are bigger now than they ever were before. Just look who is the head of the Sliver Lake, California chapter of the "Turbojugend" --none other than Epitaph owner Brett Gurewitz. He is such a fan that he even flew to Norway to have lunch with them, a move we wish we could all partake in.
"We're retro, we wear our influences on our sleeve."
Scandinavia Leather though is the real reason for celebration. After the instant
classic Ass Cobra and the jaw dropping follow-up Apocalypse Dudes, it would be
easy to expect a let down. But we have all been blessed that the rock tarts from
Oslo have refused to let us down on this glorious retro-metal trip. The vision
for the record was easy, according to Tom.
"Our vision was since it was 2003, we were going to follow a pattern of
threes--the Detroit sound of '73, the Los Angeles metal sound of '83, and
"America seems to be really schooled in classic rock. I mean, they have classic
rock stations everywhere!...We're giving America a really good lap dance, and
they're getting hard!"
Guess that would explain the first single "Fuck the World," a glorious song that
remains calm, while raising the middle finger to anyone they can, all the while
keeping true to the rock spirit that has made them who they are today. Tom tells
me, "For the first time, we had to take songs off of the album. Before if it
wasn't good enough, we wouldn't record it." Guess that tells you why Turbonegro
has yet to put out a sub-par effort. They are intense and honest and refuse to
make music that's just good enough.
"Fuck 'B'-sides, every song should be an 'A' side," according to Tom. And to
think, not only have they taken the legend that is Turbonegro up a notch, they
may have raised the bar musically for all that follow. "We had a lot to follow
up with in Apocalypse Dudes, but we think we've surpassed it."
As Turbonegro takes on the U.S. audience once again, it's time they are
recognized as the leaders of the retro-rock genre, really as the ones who
started all this current hype. "We're retro, we wear our influences on our
sleeve," states Happy Top.
Whether it's the glam metal movement of the mid-'80s, the punk rock sound of the
late-'70s, or classic rock in its prime, Turbonegro are honest in their approach
and pure in their heart. In addition, Tom is fired up on the American audience
"America seems to be really schooled in classic rock. I mean, they have classic
rock stations everywhere!" He concludes by telling me, "We're giving America a
really good lap dance, and they're getting hard!" Don't forget to tip your
Whether Turbonegro will ever escape the underground dwellings of critical
darlings and enter into commercial success doesn't seem to matter to this crew.
Passionately Tom finishes with, "It's like music is the best thing in the world.
I'm not a very positive person, but I love rock n' roll."
Beyond all of that denim, past the makeup and humorous names and away from the
gay viking themes, what you will find inside these six men is a spirit. It's a
human spirit where you find something you love to do, and you do it with every
ounce of your being so that you can feel proud to call it your life. Rock has
been splintered into sub-categories and has been watered down over the past
decade so that it is hardly recognizable. Turbonegro are the truth, and their
passion for what they do and for the genre they love will leave you craving more
rock... the way it was meant to be played.