Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Norwegian denim n' leather glam punk legends Turbonegro recently reformed, after a brief spell in limbo, with new singer - Englishman Tony Sylvester - following the departure of frontman Hank Von Helvete after his 21 years in the band. Tony fits in just perfectly, and he's a really cool guy too, so I spoke to him about hardcore, Kiss, Hank and what it's like being the new guy...

Turbonegro, with Tony second from right. Photo by Keith Marlowe.

How did you guys get hooked up with Volcom?
Blimey. They've always been involved. Not long after they started making clothes they started the label. Which not a lot of people know. So when they became a huge brand, they always had the record label because that was their passion. That was always what they liked doing. So they put out a couple of 7"s, and sponsored tours, and bits like that. So it's pretty good. And we've got it pretty good. We're label-mates with Wino, Torche, Valientt Thorr... So it's not bad company to be in, and there's no labels left, really. The way we are, we can afford to make out own records and then license them. So we make them ourselves, then go and find the record label afterwards. So we're not in hoc to anyone, which is a very enviable position to be in as a band.

Talking of enviable positions, how did you become part of Turbonegro? Are you the Sid Vicious of the band?
Yes! Simple as that! Haha! No, no... What happened was, I'd been friends with them for years - I saw the band before they split up the first time, at the one show they did in the UK - and I'd been a fan for a couple of years before that. When they came back, they kind of based themselves in London for quite a bit, and everyone kind of introduced them to me, because I was the guy who'd been banging on about this band for ages, and we became friends and I ended up doing press on the next record, which was Party Animals. Then they went on hiatus, and I actually asked Tom to join a band I was doing at the time called 33, I asked if he wanted to play bass on that.

Was that your plan? Get the bassist for your band?
No, no. I knew he was at a loose end. But then, I guess after a couple of years, I ended up going to Oslo for a weekend and it coincided with them thinking about getting back together, so the whole thing meshed together rather strangely, and here we are.

How much did your enthusiasm for the band lead to the reformation, new album and tour?

Definitely not the reformation, because that was them, but a lot of it was down to people's reactions. If that first show hadn't gone as well as it did then - we wouldn't have stopped - but we'd have taken it a lot slower. We would have gone and played more shows and eased into it.

Were you shitting yourself, personally?
Yeah, of course. I mean, they don't like to rehearse. We did two rehearsals and then went into that show.

Did you have to rehearse much? Did you know all the songs?

There's a real difference between singing along with a band, and being the actual one doing the singing. I knew the songs as in, I could sing along with the songs. Some are easier than others!

You're into your hardcore music. What do you think of the state of hardcore music today?
It's funny, there's a lot of new bands coming through that I really actually like again. The great thing about hardcore is that its conservatism is actually one of its strong points. What happens, is that everything goes off the boil and people try to make it really progressive for a while and you get some horrible things happening - like Refused - and then it kind of bangs back to what it was. Like someone comes out who's 'old sounding', and it kicks back in. There's not many genres that are like that. Black metal's kind of the same. That band Ceremony, I really like what they're doing. They're progressive in that they're regressive, if you know what I mean. I love Fucked Up. Fucked Up have a really nice take on it.

It's maybe the wrong question to ask somebody in Turbonegro, but do you not think Fucked Up's aesthetic is greater than what they actually do?
You need to go and see them. I like his voice, I like his presence. The problem with having that much schtick, is that you're going to be beaten with that schtick. If he goes on stage and doesn't strip off and cut his head open people are going to be disappointed. But under that, it's a really good band. And that's the difference between them and some other bands.

Has Turbonegro's image ever been in danger of becoming bigger than what the band are?

It's funny. You have to consider the history of the band. I mean, they were a band coming out of 'authentic' hardcore, where you can't be artificial; and the grunge thing that was going on, which was deliberately contrived, with the dressing down and the "I'm not going to be a rock star" thing. So for them to be coming out and be playing squats, but with a full pyrotechnic show and make up and guitar solos; that was what appealed to me about it when I first heard them, probably in '97. I was listening to a lot of very worthy post-rock bands, who were all wearing brown and screening their own sleeves. Just this sexless, intellectual, joyless wank. They really reinvigorated my love for caveman, dunder-headed, down-stroke riff, old hardcore. Ironically they actually became a stadium band. Rather being a tiny band pretending to be a stadium band. So this time round it's the inverse, we're a big band pretending that we're a small band. We made a conscious effort to get rid of a lot of the gimmicks. We'll probably do it again though.

It's pretty cool that this band exist, and they've got all these great songs, then you turn up and get to sing them.
Any band I've ever been in before, I've never felt like I've owed an audience anything, or that I've needed to perform anything.

You do now.
Exactly. That's the difference. Any band I've been in, we were never a draw, therefore I never felt the responsibility to actually entertain anybody. Now I'm in the position where I'm like the MC of somebody's night. If I'm good or bad it'll affect somebody's night, and somebody's put money into that. It's more of a responsibility than I've ever had before so therefore I take it a lot more seriously than I ever have before. Working on the voice, working on the actual mechanics of it. Singing's a very physical act, and it's not easy to do it several nights in a row.

Are you struggling?
I wouldn't say I was struggling, but I've had to put in the work. When you're in hardcore bands you're doing twenty minute sets, and now I'm doing hour-and-a-half sets. But we got there.

After the last time I saw Turbonegro, my wife and I had a massive argument and she moved back to Australia. Can you explain this?
I'm holding the band responsible.
I think that's fine. I think we've probably put together as many people as we've broken up. How's that?

It means fuck all to me.
Hahahaha! But you've got to look at the big picture. You only see it from your point of view!

What are the best and worst bands you've played with?
You get mismatched at festivals in Europe. We play higher on the bill in mainland Europe than we do here, and we've found ourselves north of the Arctic Circle with the other headliners being the Pet Shop Boys and Shaggy. Shaggy... That motherfucker can put on a show. Dude, that was fucking incredible. Probably one of the worst bands we've played with was this summer, with Kiss. Appalling. It actually made me angry, like "Is this good enough?" They got paid - to play this festival - like seven figures, and they've got all the make up, and they've got all the pyrotechnics, and they've got all the video screens, and they just can't play. It's sloppy, borderline school-band. It's terrible. They've realised what people want - the spectacle - and they haven't put the work in. They played 'Crazy Nights', which really relies on the vocal harmonies in the middle, and it's just these old men bellowing at you. Absolute crooks.

Do you want to talk about Hank becoming a Scientologist and making bad dance music with Marilyn Manson's band?

I don't know what to say about that. They've been really gracious in that I've been kept out of all that completely. The only reason it got shitty of late is that there was the feeling that Hank was trying to fold-in the Turbonegro name, and the Turbojugend, into Scientology. Tom got pretty upset about that. But in all the recent interviews Hank was "I'm not doing Turbo anymore, I had to kill the character" so I never felt I was treading on anybody's toes because he'd made it so clear he didn't want to do it. But I was always a fan of Hank. Because I was a fan of the band. I didn't have to put up with what they did. I'm dandy! Hahaha!

More info about Volcom at their own site.

Mike from Volcom

I'm sure you're probably aware of Volcom - you'll have seen the likes of Geoff Rowley, David Gonzalez and Dennis Busenitz throw themselves off (and up) all sorts of things on skateboards in their clothes for years now - but I'm not sure you know about their in-house record label, Volcom Entertainment. They've been putting out music via downloads, CDs and - most importantly - records, for years now. Since so many bands I like have had music out on Volcom - bands like Turbonegro, Riverboat Gamblers, Valient Thorr, High on Fire, Melvins, Harvey Milk, Tweak Bird, RTX, Andrew WK, Earthless, Kurt Vile, Torche, Best Coast and Saint Vitus - I thought we should find out what's going on. I tracked down the label's boss man, Mike Nobrega, at their Costa Mesa HQ to find out what the deal is...

Which came first for Volcom, the record label or the clothes? What do you do there?
The apparel brand started in '91, and the label pretty much came together as a fully thought out thing in '95. Eleven years ago I was hired in to work here. The label had got some notoriety through this band CKY - and some other things - and some major labels came along and wanted to do a deal where Volcom Entertainment we kind of be like a repertoire source, and develop artists that would go on to maybe be at the major label. That's where I came in, and where we really got a lot more organised as far as areas a typical 'record label' would handle. The sales and marketing, the repertoire, the development, managing the catalogue... All of the things like that. 

So you're doing the hard work for the majors? Are you not in danger of having loads of artists just pass through?
No, no. At the time, that was kind of the model, but we're not under that model any more. That went away in the late '00s. Maybe around 2007 or so. The situation with labels in the US became more dire. Labels went out of business, and you've seen over the years how it went from six giant major labels to five, to four and so on. So as we gained more independence, our bands actually stayed with us for longer. Valient Thorr have been with us since 2004, and we're about to start working on our fifth album with them. So quite the opposite happened in a way. The bands we'd been working with, from a development standpoint, actually ended up staying longer. Probably because the demands on their success we not as overblown as they would have been with a major label. A major label wants success straight away, and that's why so many bands get dropped, and careers get ruined because of that. Because we're part of this big brand, and we're a unique hybrid, we have a bit more space and a bit more breathing room to let people grow.

So it does it help that you're an independent label with the backing of a giant brand?
To a degree. From a financial standpoint, we're not a 'deep pocket' kind of thing. We're pretty frugal with the bands, we try to make really good financial decisions that are good for the bands down the road for years. The old system, where a band would take a large advance or something, you're really just taking a huge loan and putting yourself into debt immediately. That's just not a good way to go. It's better to be more financially responsible so that further down the road the artist will get returns, even if they're small. But returns, as opposed to anything they might gain having to get paid back because it all went out in the beginning. We're a small team here, but we work well together and we try to run our operation as honestly and realistically as possible. I think that's what appeals to a band like Torche, say. We signed Torche about this time last year, and released their album in April, and it was extremely successful for us. Really beyond what we had anticipated. All the bands are great to work with. They're all really good people.

There's been some really good stuff out on the 7" Singles Club. How did that come about?
That was this guy Kurt Midness, that was his brainchild. He built it over the years. He plays in a band called Black Bananas, and he has really good taste in music. It's become really respected and renowned, and it's something we're all very proud of. Everything from making the records, to designing them, to curating the release - he's done all that stuff.

How independently does the Volcom label operate from the Volcom clothes brand? Do you pass each other in the corridor?
Oh, absolutely. We're all in the same building. Our office is smack dab in the middle of the creative area of the building. It's a pretty large building, and there's a lot of people, but from a company standpoint we are actually a separate company within the corporation. From a marketing standpoint, and a branding standpoint, it all works together hand in hand. To them, we're a component of marketing; and to us we're a label to our artists. It all flows. We have our own autonomy over the label. Honestly man, Volcom is a really great place to work. They foster everybody's creativity and talent. They give you the room to do your thing and to experiment, and I think that's what makes the brand successful overall. I think you can see in the stuff that comes out of Volcom that they really appreciate art.

What have your personal highlights been, as far as music that you've released?
Jeez, there's a lot. Like I said, the bulk of our roster has really been here as long as I've been here. Riverboat Gamblers and Valient Thorr and all those things. Really, the highlight is just seeing them all grow! In 2004 Valient Thorr was just an obscure, weird little band from the southern part of the US, with a loud voice and a crazy look, you know? But seeing them develop, into a band that's toured the world, and is known all over the world, that's a big highlight! I think the whole thing is a highlight!

Cool. What can we expect from the label in 2013?
We're gonna continue along with the Turbonegro record, and the relationship there. That's been a relationship that the brand has had for a long time, but we never had the opportunity to do records with them until recently so we're very happy about that. They've got the fascinating twenty year history so we're really happy to be working with them. That, and Valient Thorr are going to be releasing a new record in the summertime. They'll be touring all over the world. Then we've got some new bands. There's a young band from Orange County called the Lovely Bad Things; their first full length is coming up in February. Out of New York we have a young bunch of guys called The Dirty Fences, and we're doing their first full length this year too. So we have our long-term artists that we're continuing to work with, then we've got some talent that's coming up. It's a really nice mix.

Check the Volcom Entertainment website for a cubic assload of cool shit.

Valient Thorr

The longest-standing band on the Volcom roster, Valient Thorr have been making insane, raw, outer-galactic rock n' roll for the label since 2004. As the recording of their fifth album (and preparations for a global tour) get underway, I spoke to leader and vocalist Valient Himself...

Who are Valient Thorr?
We are. You can either look at is as five dudes who came here from the planet Venus and ended up playing rock and roll to spread messages of peace and tolerance to a war torn planet Earth, OR you can say we are thousands of like minded people who understand what it means to be humanitarians, judge not, mind our own business when it comes to 'wedge' issues, help others always not matter what, and spread posi vibes the world over.

What is Valient Thorr?
A collection of stories that we are actively living, hopefully leading up to the eventual salvation of most of the human race through fast music that tries to inspire others to exfoliate the bad and soak in the good times.

You had a big summer of touring. Where did you get to? Did you see anybody cool?
We did US and Europe. Saw a lot of rad stuff.  Some of my favorite things was seeing Sean Kuti and Egypt 80 at Jazzfest in New Orleans, Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, The Obsessed, Sleep, Danava and Voivod at Roadburn in Tilburg Netherlands, and Orange Goblin were great at Desertfest in London. So many shows, buddies, and crazy times, its really hard to remember it all. You have to sit back and think really hard.
Who's the best band you've played with?
That's too tough of a question. We've played with so many good bands. Known and unknown. I guess out of the known bands, some of the best were Motörhead, Gogol Bordello, Mastodon and The Stooges. I think the best bands I've ever seen were Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Melvins, and Sean Kuti.
You're from Chapel Hill. There's a load of bands from Chapel Hill - who do you like from there, and who lets the place down?
I think my favorites from the old days are Archers of Loaf and Polvo. I think some new bands to check out are Caltrop, T0w3rs, Black Skies and Colossus. I wouldn't pay attention to any that let you down. Raleigh is where a lot of us stay now too. We are spread out all over NC. Demon Eye, Birds of Avalon, Thunderlip, Salvacion, Mountain Thrower, The Dynamite Brothers, 2013 Wolves, Crusades and Bitter Resolve are other great NC bands at the moment off the top of my head.

How did you get together with Volcom, and how did the split with High on Fire come about?
We met Volcom reps and company dudes way back in 2003 after completing our first album ourselves. We played a show with then recently signed band ASG in Wilmington, and they asked us to do couple things, then asked us to put out a record with them in '04. Then we quit our jobs and lived on the road the next three years solid. Over the years we've made countless buds. Volcom has a seven inch vinyl club and puts out twelve splits a year. We did one with HR from Bad Brains a few years back and then when this came up, we've known Jeff since he played bass with Zeke, and we've known Matt from a good number of years now. The suggestion to do something like that was made two years before it happened when we were out with Mastodon. Some times it takes a while for things to come to fruition.

What are your three favourite movies made between 1980 and 1985?
That's way too hard. But - If pressured, I'd say, number three Mad Max, number two River's Edge and number one, Big Trouble in Little China.

What's the best album artwork you've ever seen?
Not afraid to ask the tough ones, huh? I don't know about favorite, but I've always loved D.I. - Horse Bites Dog Cries. My brain hurts too much to think of others.
What's the most injured you've seen somebody get at one of your shows?
Hmmm. I've seen a few chicks get clocked by Nitewolf's bass. I've been knocked by guitars pretty bad before. The weirdest worst one I guess was when we were in France at the end of a tour in like '08, the music stops and all of a sudden I saw this kid come flying down to the floor from the upper balcony. Like almost on my head, just missed the stage. I immediately started laughing, then decided we better check if he was OK. It was just so unexpected, I couldn't stop laughing. He ended up being OK. 99% of the time, people are cool to each other at our shows. I usually try to intervene quickly to squash quabbles and try not to interrupt the show.

Mark Mothersbaugh does kids TV music. Can you see yourself doing that in the future?
I would love to. Even more than that, I would love to do voiceovers for cartoons. I'm actively pursuing a voiceover career. So anyone out there working production... I'm available.

Do you guys skate much?
I just cruise on a mini board, but Nitewolf rips and Eidan Thorr is still known to get down from time to time as well.

Are you annoyed or flattered that Chris Haslam stole your hair, your beard and your clothes?
Hahaha! I don't think it was like that. I know Chris, he digs the band, we're buds. I'm pretty sure it was a coincidence. He's said he gets people yelling "Valient" to him, and when I skate around town in Costa Mesa, I've heard people yelling "Haslam" as I'm cruising by.

Mötley Crüe or Suicidal Tendencies?
Is that even a question? S-T baby! Fuck Mötley Crüe! Suicidal Tendencies were a thousand times better the whole length of their careers. Even their bad stuff is better.

Steve Albini or Bon Scott?
Bon Scott. I mean, I like a couple Shellac songs, and he's a pretty good producer, but Bon Scott is Bon Scott!

What are your next plans? Are you coming back to the UK any time soon? It must be about time for another album...
I can't tell you anything except we are holed up working. You know us, we'll be back soon.
Find out everything else at the Volcom Entertainment website.