Not many bands can say that they run their own label, put together a festival on a cruise ship, tour consistently, and manage to break out new material in between all of that. Nashville garage rockers Turbo Fruits can, and still find the energy to rock your face off. I recently engaged in some interesting banter with the band, discussing how Spoon’s Jim Eno influenced some song choices on their latest record, partying hard in a cave in South Dakota, philosophical life advice, and how bassist Dave McCowen’s duck smash in ping pong totally wins.
Kelly Knapp: So this is your New York Record Release Show, for your album Butter that just came out a couple days ago?
Jonas Stein: Yeah, Tuesday. September 11.
KK: How is this different from your previous releases?
JS: It’s more hi-fi. It’s the first record that this lineup wrote together, and I think it’s just more rockin, and there are better jams on it in general than the past couple records.
KK: And you worked with Jim Eno from Spoon, who was your producer.
JS: Yeah, yeah, he was great. He came up to Nashville and did some pre-production takes with us. He came to our rehearsal room, which is my old bedroom, and listened to us play all the songs. It was funny, one of the more popular songs on the record we almost didn’t even record; which was “Sweet Thang.” We were on the fence about it, and he got in there and was like, “No, you’re keepin’ that.”
KK: And then that was your first single.
JS: Yeah. We were really happy about that. That’s why it’s good to have another opinion around. It was a blast working with him. He’s a really talented guy, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with him.
Matt Hearn: And we recorded in his personal studio.
JS: Out at some secret spot in Austin.
KK: And you guys have your own label too?
JS: Yeah, Matt and I run it. It’s mostly Turbo Fruits stuff that we release. It’s non-profit. We just kind of release singles here and there to keep fans stimulated, and keep ourselves stimulated. It’s fun, like another artistic outlet for us.
KK: Are you releasing material from any other bands?
JS: New high school kids. They’re like the next generation of rockers. They better not get too good.
KK: Do you guys have day jobs too? Or are you all just livin’ the dream right now?
MH: Yeah, two of us do.
Kingsley Brock: I don’t.
Dave McCowen: I make coffee, and I work door at a venue a couple nights a week, to help pay for beer and groceries. It sucks. I can’t wait to quit. Hopefully soon.
MH: I’m about to start working at a rock venue in Nashville, but I’ve been doing a different job for the last five years that I just couldn’t take anymore. After we came off of this Deer Tick tour in the Spring, my mind was just in a different place, and I couldn’t stand it any more.
KK: Yeah, that’s a totally different lifestyle.
MH: Yeah, the 9 to 5 thing does not fit with this.
KK: Especially when you’re playing over 200 shows a year.
JS: We haven’t really gotten to experience the Matt Hearn without a job yet, because he quit right before this tour. So when we get home, we’re gonna get his ass out and hang out late with us. It was always a problem before, because he had to get up early in the morning.
KK: And as if all that wasn’t enough, you guys put on a Bruise Cruise too.
JS: That was something our booking agent Michelle and myself did. We played the inaugural one, and that was a blast.
KK: Is it literally a cruise ship?
JS: Yeah, it’s like a real cruise ship, going from Miami, FL to Bahamas and back. About 25 percent of the ship is Bruise Cruisers, because it’s a partial charter, and the other 75 percent are regular cruisers. So it’s interesting. There’s a lot of rockers and then a lot of regular cruisers, but all of the events were private. We’ve done that twice so far. I’m not sure when the next one’s gonna happen.
KK: It sounds like it’s both relaxing and painful. Like you’re on a cruise but you’re gonna get beat up.
KB: It’s painful when you get off.
JS: I’ve had some of the most disturbing physical feelings after getting off both of the Bruise Cruises. Like, am I gonna die? What’s wrong?
KK: How different is that from just being on the road and touring?
MH: You don’t have to drive, which is nice.
JS: You can just take an elevator down to your room.
KB: It’s safer, in a way.
JS: You feel invincible when you’re on it. With all the sun rays, and all the other people around you, you just keep on partying. I think people party harder on the Bruise Cruise than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Myself included.
KK: Do you guys play on the cruise?
KB: Yeah, we played the first one.
JS: We’ll probably play it the next time, and…yeah it was a blast. There are private parties that go down in the Bahamas, and then there are a lot of shows on board. There’s probably like 10 bands each year, and some good times.
KK: I saw you guys when you played Death by Audio, and you were pretty cray cray live. Is that drugs or adrenaline?
KK: I came out of there drenched with sweat and beer.
JS: A combination of Turbo Fruits and Death by Audio usually makes that happen.
KK: Is that how all your shows are?
JS: A lot of it depends on the crowd. We like to have a good time and be rowdy, but still be precise on stage.
KB: It’s harder to do that at a legitimate venue. It’s not the same energy. Death by Audio, you can really feel it.
MH: We try some way to get our head in the game, though. Last night we got about three or four hours asleep, but you got to get your head around it somehow. Whether it’s getting drunk, or drinkin a shitload of coffee, or whatever.
KB: Get high as balls.
JS: You gotta ride the wave.
MH: We have kinda routine, if we play a show that’s not very good we just get higher than hell before it, so we’re just so stoned we don’t give a shit.
KK: And then with the rowdy ones you need to smoke afterward to numb the physical damage.
MH: A little bit, yeah.
KB: We actually stopped smoking pot as much as we used to. We drink a lot more now, which I’m not sure is a healthy transition, but…
MH: I would attribute that to Deer Tick, for sure. Those guys party really fuckin’ hard.
KK: Yeah, I always wonder, how do these guys sustain that? You play a show every single night, traveling to a new place every day…
KB: They sleep all day in their mini-bus, then pick up and go on stage and kill it, and then stay up till like, eight in the morning.
JS: They’re pretty much nocturnal.
KK: When do you find time to write new material? Do you have to wait until you’re back in a stable place?
JS: When we’re at home. Yeah, we can’t do it on the road, really. It just doesn’t work out that way. You can come up with some licks, here and there, some ideas and bring ‘em to the table, but when we’re at home is where we get all our writing done.
KB: Yeah, the record we’re working on now is different from Butter, because a lot of the songs are written by an individual in the band, and then we flesh them out. It’s been a lot quicker, and more organic. Butter took a long time for us to figure out how to write and work with each other, because we’d never written a record together. We just played. This record we’re working on now, I think we’re all really excited about, but it’s more felt out, how we all work together. It’s been a lot easier to make stuff happen, and be really happy with it as opposed to sitting down for hours and hours trying to all agree on something.
MH: The last record was kind of like, how does this lineup carry on the Turbo Fruits…because everyone’s got different inputs, and it just comes together differently.
KK: How long have you guys been in this configuration?
JS: Three years.
KK: And is it kind of like a total collaboration between all of you?
MH: Now it is.
KK: What’s the dynamic like? Do you all have certain roles that you tend to fall into?
DC: I usually rip out some stuff at home, bring some licks. Kingsley lives right down the street from me, so he’ll come over with bare bones of an idea, some riffs and we’ll all jam out on it. Jonas will come over with a song.
KB: Typically, he writes riffs, and me and him will piece them together somewhat. I bring songs closer to being done, and so does Jonas, then we just work them out. We all write stuff. Then Matt puts his spin on it, and usually influences it in a direction he wants to take it, and then me and Jonas write all the lyrics.
KK: And then does Jonas ride up on a motorcycle with lyrics in hand?
JS: Well, we practice on a farm I grew up on, so sometimes I’ll ride a little dirt bike up to rehearsal. Sometimes we’ll ride dirt bikes around before we practice, and play ping pong. Last winter, we played a shit-ton of ping pong. Sometimes we would take up half of our practice because we couldn’t stop playing.
KK: Who’s the best ping pong player?
JS: Probably between Kingsley and I.
KB: Matt’s pretty good, too.
JS: Matt did whoop my ass the other day. And Dave has got the wild card.
KB: Dave, every once in a while you can underestimate him, and then he’ll beat you. He’ll spazz out, like if you play his backhand, you will beat him, but if you give him the forehand…he’s got like a duck smash, like a…
KB: Yeah, but it works. It definitely psyches you out and throws you off.
JS: If you play the same person over and over that’s really good, you adapt to their style of playing. If you play someone like Matt or Dave, sometimes they don’t play the same way, and all of a sudden you’re getting beat by them.
KB: Yeah, when Dave beats you it’s like, fuck you, we’re playing again right now.
KK: Ok, so I was reading that Butter is inspired by the accumulation of playing over 200 shows and having all these experiences that you can’t tell your grandkids. Can you tell me one?
KB: You want us to tell you a story we wouldn’t tell our grandkids? Well they’re gonna know now, aren’t they?
KK: Well you don’t have them yet.
JS: We can tell the classic cave story. It’s pretty good. This is a tour story – it doesn’t have to do with Butter, though. We were in Rapid City, SD. A I’ve told in the past, its always smaller, stranger towns you end up getting yourself into strange, weird experiences. Not like a New York or Chicago, because you have friends there, and it’s like a routine in a big city. Smaller towns are unpredictable. So Matt’s having his birthday, and we’re playing in Rapid City, SD. No one’s ever been there before.
MH: I got pretty drunk before the show was over, and we had a smoke machine. I set the fire alarm off because I was pumpin’ it so much. He got Dennis the drummer (of Deer Tick) to distract me, and he was having this heavy conversation with me, and I had no idea what was going on. They walked me out backwards, and everybody was in this limo, and Jonas took us out to this cave.
JS: A stretch limo took us out after the show on his birthday. The promoter lives on this property outside of town, and there was a giant cave system that goes like, two miles in, and there was electricity everywhere. He said we could party in the cave. So all of Deer Tick and Turbo Fruits hopped in the limo, started drinkin’ champagne…people were getting naked and rollin’ around…it was all dudes – it was kinda weird. And then we all got to the cave, and partied in the cave and drank beer and smoked. It was awesome.
MH: I was drinking fresh spring water in the cave; like leaned over upside down.
DC: It was like a collected pool of water, from stalactites and stalagmites…whatever you call it.
MH: And there was some skull that was like, a hundred years old, probably. It was really ancient, like some historical thing. And I went over to get a picture with it, and I slipped and knocked the case over, and the skull was rolling off…
DC: And then I started wrestling Dennis. Dennis is like, three times my size. I had him in a headlock, and everyone started telling me, he’s blacking out, he’s running out of air. And I’m like, fuck, this guy sucks. So as soon as I let him go, he regains his composure and slams me on this concrete floor. I swear to god, I couldn’t breathe right for two days. Swore I had a cracked rib.
KK: So you’re already working on the next record – do you have a time lime with that?
JS: We’re going to try and record this winter, and have it out within a year.
KK: You guys are pretty productive.
DC: Now we are.
JS: Yeah, we’ve got a good lineup together, and everyone pushes each other. When we get home, we’re either demoing, getting together a few times a week to practice. The best thing we can do right now is stay really productive until we reach the point of success where we can chill out a little bit and take some more time.
KK: So you just party hard, work hard.
JS: Work hard, play harder.
MH: Productive stuff. Pretty deep shit.
JS: If we ever get super huge, we’re going to have some ping pong tables backstage. Necessary.