By Alexander Laurence
Turbonegro has made one of the biggest comebacks of this past year. They are trashy, big, hedonistic, loud, and outrageous. Their dark origins are very mysterious. They are said to have formed in a wealthy commune dedicated to the Manson Family and who live in the countryside. Others say they were sheep farmers from in Oslo, Norway. They did emerge somehow in some form about fifteen years ago. They had much more in common with heavy rock bands from the 1970s (Alice Cooper, Alex Harvey, Judas Priest) and glam metal bands from the 1980s (Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Guns and Roses) than with the indie alternative rock scene. Turbonegro's recordings were over-the-top and took no prisoners. Their gay esthetic is the most extreme.
Like many Scandinavian bands, all of the band's lyrics are in English. Lead vocalist Hank Von Helvete is one of the most entertaining frontman in rock. Other members included lead guitarist Euroboy, bassist Happy Tom, rhythm guitarist Rune Rebellion, keyboardist Pal Pot Pamparius, and drummer Chris Summers. These guys live all of rock and roll's excesses. Von Helvete bragged about confronting the LAPD on the recent tour. He also announced that maybe Sigfried and Roy could dedicate their lives to prostitution now, since they have been forced to retire. There has been a gay mystique to Turbonegro: I was hoping that they would explain what this was about. They have refused to do any interviews. But I was granted secret access to their temporary lair. Most of the band was cruising the neighborhood in the Tenderloin in Downtown San Francisco.
In 1997, Turbonegro recorded and released their great album Apocalypse Dudes. This is the place to start for any fan. The group had broken up mysteriously at the end of 1998. Darkness Forever! a selection of live performances, was released in early 2001. They spent many years in hiding and energizing themselves in the North Pole. The breakup, however, was short lived, and Turbonegro were back for tour dates in 2002, followed by the release of the amazing Scandinavian Leather in 2003. Songs about prostitution and the adoration of flesh dominate. They have their fans too. People dress up like them in levi jackets, makeup, and military hats. They call these people "The Turbojugend." One girl who said she was a faghag approached me. This was not any ordinary band. I was supposed to speak with Hank Von Helvete, but he said that he had to save his voice for tonight's performance. I spoke mainly with Rune Rebellion and Chris Summers. Afterwards, their manager entered the room. He was wearing a tutu.
AL: Where are you from?
Rune: We are from Oslo, Norway. It's the capital. It's known for pretty boys, I guess. There is a good gay scene.
AL: When did the band get together?
Rune: We originally formed in 1989. This present lineup has been there since 1995. We had certain problems internally in the band in 1998. We quit for a few years. We put the band on ice. Then we came back together in early 2002.
AL: When did you record the album Scandinavian Leather?
Chris: We started recording last year in October. We produced the record ourselves. Any record with outside help is a sellout.
AL: Are all the tracks live takes? Or did you do studio tricks?
Chris: I wouldn't call them studio tricks. Fuck, man. You are making an album. It's not the same as playing live. Everyone always nags and says that they want to record live so it's more real and more like the live show. It's all bullshit. They are fooling themselves.
AL: You spend a lot of time in the studio?
Chris: We recorded drums and bass guitar. Then we add more guitars. We work from there. There are a lot of overdubs.
Rune: Euroboy owns his own studio. Why wouldn't we want to utilize the studio and make the album sound as good as possible? It is necessary for our strong dark sound.
AL: Who writes the songs?
Chris: Tom writes most of the songs. He writes all the lyrics too. Euroboy writes some songs too. He works on the arrangements.
AL: How many songs did you write for this album?
Chris: We had two or three songs left over that we didn't use on the album. Most of those songs showed up as b-sides on the single.
AL: How is the tour going? This is the second big tour you have done this year in America.
Chris: We played some small clubs six months ago. We also played some big shows with Queens of The Stone Age in between. This tour has been great. The whole tour is sold out. We are playing some decent sized venues. The band sounds better than ever.
AL: Hank Von Helvete was talking about his confrontation with the LAPD the other night at the Hollywood show.
Rune: Really? It was probably a lie. I don't listen to what he says onstage. We are all trying to channel some dark force.
AL: What's up with the Christmas trees onstage?
Chris: They are not Christmas trees. They are just trees.
Rune: They make us feel at home. We will have some trees tonight. There will be trees every night. People need protection when they do their dirty business.
AL: How do you prepare for a gig?
Rune: I drink some wine before a show. It helps me get into an artistic mood. I eat food.
AL: What is the focus on darkness about?
Chris: We are from the suburbs of Norway. It's one of the darkest places on the planet. It is dark half of the year.
(We get interrupted by one of the members of The Dwarves)
AL: What is the Turbojugend?
Rune: That is our fan club.
Chris: Jugend means "youth." There are chapters of it all over.
AL: What sort of music inspires you?
Chris: All kinds. The last record I bought was The Neptunes.
Rune: I like The Bells by Lou Reed from 1979. It's probably his worst record.
AL: When will you do another record?
Chris: Maybe next year. I am not sure.
Rune: It depends on how long we tour with this record. Things are just happening now. America is really great. The UK is picking up. After this American tour we are going to Australia. Then we are going to Europe to play the UK and Scandinavia.
AL: What is your favorite part of doing music?
Chris: I am not too crazy about being in the studio. I like touring now. But maybe if we did that for too long, I would get bored.
AL: Has Socialism influenced the band at all?
Rune: We are consumers.
AL: Do you get money from the government?
Chris: Some bands do.
Rune: If you are a musician, you are not really affected by the government and the social welfare system. You are pretty much on your own. If you are a farmer, you can do anything you want. If your crops fail you can get money from the government. If our record bombs, the government isn't going to give us any money.
AL: What do you think of some Death Metal bands like Burzum? What do you think of Varg Vikernes?
Chris: He's a fucking fool. He's a Nazi. He's a fucking jerk. We know a lot of those Black Metal bands like Darkthrone and Satyricon. They are friends of ours.
Rune: We are not really a Death Metal band. Many of those bands come from the same background as us. We hang out with them.
AL: Are you more into American music or British music?
Chris: Definitely more into American music. There are some great English bands. There are even some good German bands: imagine that! Most of the music we like is from California. Some of the best punk rock bands like Black Flag are from here. And most of the best Hiphop bands are from California.
Rune: Music isn't about where you are from.
AL: Have you seen any films?
Chris: I just bought three DVDs. I got Bob Roberts, Bad Boys, and the second Fletch movie.
AL: What do you think about people who call Turbonegro "Dumb Rock?"
Chris: I could see if people see a picture of us that they could think that we are a dumb band. If you just listen to our records, you can get a sense of what the band is about.
Rune: We have a wide range of people in our audience. There are university professors and this whole intellectual crowd. We are not an easy band to categorize because we have so many sides to the band.
AL: People think of the name "Turbonegro" as this dark military force that's campy at the same time.
Rune: The way we develop our image is like this: we ask ourselves "What would be the dumbest thing to do?" What would be the most self-destructive? We have a gay image. We are a punk rock band. We all dress up in Levi's, which would be a big corporative enemy. It's an image that we have developed throughout the years. When we do the most stupid thing, it actually works out.
Chris: We make these obstacles for ourselves. Every time it works. It's like black magic.
AL: Do you believe in any higher intelligence?
Rune: I believe in my own intelligence.
Chris: I believe in him too. Hank has been talking about religion lately. Maybe it's more evidence of his confusion.
AL: Do you have any advice for young people who want to start a band?
Rune: Do believe the hype.