Intervju med Tony Sylvester i Turbonegro!
Tony Sylvester är kroppsligen ganska lik Hank von Helvete. Stor och lite rund både här och där, men rösten är inte densamma.
Det senaste kapitlet i boken om Turbonegro påminner lite om historien med Tim Ripper Owens och Judas Priest. Ett fan som får ta över mikrofonarbetet på riktigt och helt plötsligt bli ny frontman för ett etablerat band.
Jag fick möjlighet att ringa upp denne glade och pratglade britt nyligen och Tony bjöd bl a på en del outgivna sångtitlar, berättade om arbetet i Electric Lady Studios och avslöjade att han inför sin audition inte förberedde sig ett dugg och dessutom att självaste Benmont Tench från Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers lirar på en av låtarna.
Tony Sylvester: What´s going on?
Not much. I´m just having a glass of red wine and enjoying my summer vacation.
TS: Wohooo, I´m not quite there yet, unfortunately. I will be after we do this though.
Good for you. First off. How come you ended up being the new singer?
TS: Ask them! No, I´m joking. (laughs) I´ve been friends with them for a while, probably a decade or so and every time they kinda came into town we hung out together and stuff. Then I ended up doing the press in 2004 for “Party animals”. I was kinda unofficially helping them out in the UK, just with organizational stuff and then I ended up actually doing the press for them. We just stayed in touch ever since and then they heard me singing in a couple of older bands I was in and then I happened to be over there in Oslo for the first time in ages, just visiting with Tom. This was in May of last year and he said “Hey listen, I think we´re gonna kinda get back and play a couple of shows just for fun.”. We ran through a list of some people and then a few days later I´d gotten back to London and he called me and said “Why don´t you do it?” and I said “That´s preposterous!” and here we are. (laughs)
Cool! That first time you played together, that first audition, what songs did you go through?
TS: This is the thing and I´ll be honest with you and I haven´t said this in any interviews. I was totally under prepared because I was like “Oh, it´ll be fine.”. I´d been listening to the songs but I wasn´t prepared just because I´m kinda useless. (laughs) It got to the point when I was sitting in the hotel and they were meant to be picking me up at 2:30 and at 2:15 I was in the hotel lobby on the hotel computer printing out the lyrics. (laughs) And going “I can´t believe I´m blowing this so much.”. Actually even the band don´t know that, so I shouldn´t have told you. (laughs) Obviously I knew words in sense of that I´d sang along and I´d seen them live and listened to the records and things, but it´s still a very different thing to actually kinda being the main voice in something. I was really worried because Hank´s voice is a lot higher than mine and very different than mine, so I was like “I´m not sure this is gonna work.”. What I did was that I specifically sang songs that were nearer the lower end of his register. The first song I sang was “Billion dollar sadist” because I really like it and it´s also in my range, so I was like “Ah, I´ll get away with it.”. I did that and it sounded alright, but it´s not the most kinda banging of songs. It´s great but at the same time it was like “Yeah alright, we´ll play it for you.” And they weren´t really like “Ok, what else do you wanna do?”. At that point I had to go “Listen chaps, I´m not sure this is gonna work. I´ve been trying to sing along to this stuff but it´s not that easy for me.” And they said “No problem!” and they down tuned the guitars and by that point I was like “Oh well, this is gonna work then.”. Then it was just plain sailing and we went through “Do you dig destruction” and we did a lot of like “Apocalypse dudes” material and then it was just really easy and fun and it was really obvious that something good was happening. Then they said “Let´s do some covers!” so off the cuff we did “Jealous again” by Black Flag and “Search and destroy” by The Stooges just for fun. After four or five songs I was like “So, what´s the deal? What are you thinking?” and they were like “Oh, you´re in!” and I was like “Thanks for telling me.”. (laughs)
How long did it take from that to you guys actually sitting down and coming up with material for the new album?
TS: Well, in those 3½ years Tom and Knut (Euroboy) had kept writing and there were some things that maybe had stuck around from previous records or just riffs that were stuck in their heads and when I got home, they sent me over a few things and on that was “You give me worms” which they had demoed up at some time. I was like “Let´s do this one!” because how great would it be to go out and play a show a month after I´ve joined the band and play a new song? That´s not what people would be expecting and they were “Totally, let´s do that.”. We did that and the reaction was so good at the Hamburg show. It was in front of 500-600 Turbojugend who had travelled and it was probably the most daunting thing ever and they love it. They loved that song specifically, so that really made us go “Ok, let´s write some more songs.”. There were a couple of other things on that demo like “Dude without a face” was on there in some form and “Mister sister” was on there in some form. Just riffs and kinda ideas, so that was kinda our basis or writing. But I think if it hadn´t gone down as well and actually been a bit more lukewarm, we wouldn´t have stopped because we were really enjoying it. We probably would´ve gone about it in a different way and maybe not forced it as much. We probably would´ve gone and played a few more shows and get some confidence under our belt, but because of the reaction we just went straight into it. We were writing in September and October and then in December we got together and rehearsed and basically wrote it in the studio in our rehearsal studio in Oslo, the Bunker. Then we went over to New York for January and recorded it in January. We went in there with 16 or 17 songs written and wrote one in the studio, “I got a knife”, and everything else was kinda ready to go and we banged it out in 13 days and then chose the 10 that we thought were the most interesting to hear, you know.
Alright. Did you write lyrics or anything like that?
TS: Yeah. Up until the previous record Tom and Knut wrote everything, but for this one it was kinda half and half. Half of the songs kinda came fully formed and then the other half we worked up all together really. The process in Oslo was really like going to the Bunker during the day and rehearsing and me sitting in a rocking chair while they kinda knocked out riffs and piped up now and then going “Nah, play more of this and play more of that!” and then getting back to the hotel room in the evening with Tom and getting drunk on a box of wine and then setting up the laptop in the corner with GarageBand and just basically running the rehearsals that we recorded on an iPhone through that and basically write lyrics and shout into my computer and record it in GarageBand. We had kinda like GarageBand demos… well, not demos but rehearsals, so the record kinda built up that way. And the poor people at the hotel. All they would´ve heard was disembodied shouts because I was listening to the music on headphones and just screaming at the screen. (laughs) That´s kinda how we did it.
Those songs not used for the album, any plans for those songs?
TS: Well, you know, some of them were great songs, but they just didn´t quite fit the mood of it because it is a kinda fast high hitting record and we kept back some of the things that are maybe a bit more… it´s just that the mood didn´t quite fit and then there are others that will end up out there in some form. There is one that I really wanna get worked out for the next record definitely. I´ve told no one else this but I´m gonna tell you, there´s a song called “Mr Fancy pants” (laughs), which is the only one I would´ve liked to have on the record but we decided in the end that it didn´t quite fit, but it´s a belter of a song so it´ll be on the next one for sure. There are things like “Hang on” and bits they´ve tried for other records that will probably resurface again. We´ll keep going at it. As soon as we´ve got this summer stuff out of the way and we´ve got the autumn kinda club tour out of the way, then I think we´re gonna start writing again because we´re really on a roll. Obviously not release it yet, but get writing on it.
What was it like recording at Electric Lady Studios in New York? That´s a classic place.
TS: Yeah, that´s obviously the fanciest place I´ve ever recorded in. It´s really nice. It´s like a really big room and a great control room and great equipment. I mean, it´s not like a residential studio with a pool table and jukebox and all those things you kinda think of when you think of those classic studios. It hasn´t really got that. It´s very much a working, functional studio and not really like one of those residential ones where people stay, you know. It was pretty much focus on the recording. I was there 12-13 hours every day and then going to sleep. The other guys were partying a little bit and doing their thing. The basic tracks were done really, really quickly. Two or three takes on everything and then with the vocals we took our time and tried them in different ways and different ideas so I was working every day, but it really paid off. It´s the first time I´ve ever made a record where I wouldn´t have done anything differently. I´m really happy with everything. It´s funny because loads of my friends in New York were like “Oh, can I drop by?” and I was like “Yeah, of course.” So they would turn up and go “Oh my god!” and I was like “Yeah, yeah, it´s my place of work. It´s like someone would turn up at your office and go “Oh my god, I´m so excited!”. It´s like “Shut up, we´re working!”. (laughs) Patti Smith was wondering around so I said hello to her and that was nice. She was in right after us and of course “Horses” was done there. But apparently it´s mainly used by hip hop guys and it´s not really that much of a rock studio anymore.
Who owns the studio these days?
TS: Some guy. (laughs) I´ve got no idea. Obviously we had our team in there with Gus Oberg, who´s worked with The Strokes and an amazing and quick engineer and then Matt Sweeney produced the record. He was absolute god send to have working on it. Really, really good. For me recording music has been a very alien experience and I come from bands that are rough and ready and that´s what it´s all about. Every record I´ve ever recorded always felt like a compromise and I´ve never really enjoyed the process and I´ve never really understood the process to a certain extent. It was really nice going with somebody and that was their home and that´s what they do, they record music and he really made it seem like it was the most natural thing in the world to be holed up somewhere for 15 hours with no sunlight going over things again and again to get them right. It´s a hard thing to do, so on one level it´s not a very enjoyable thing, but at the same time he really made it an enjoyable experience. People dropped by all the time. Andrew WK was in every day because he´s a friend of the band and he hooked us up with Matt because he´s real good friends with him. Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came into see us and he played on the record on “Mister sister” and Nate Newton from Converge came down from Boston to visit us and did some backing vocals on some tracks and we got to hang out with him for a couple of days as well. It was great fun.
How do you come up with a title like “Shake your shitmachine”? Kinda Spinal Tapisch in a way.
TS: (laughs) It´s Turbo isn´t it? It´s prime Turbo. It´s like “How can we say shake your ass or shake your moneymaker in our own perverse way?” and there it is, for everyone to hear.
“Sexual harassment” then? Were there other titles floating around before you settled on that one?
TS: No that was the first one. It appeared fairly early in the proceedings and then we toyed with a load of others but in our hearts we knew it was gonna end up being that. There are some other great titles but obviously again I can´t tell you. I´ll tell you one, “This is death punk”. (laughs) That was one of them. That was a contender and then there were a lot of other ones going the rounds.
Ok. Did you work for VICE Magazine?
TS: Andy Capper the editor, is like one of my oldest friends and I´ve written for them and I´ve done a load of photo shoots with them over the years for various different reasons. I seem to be the guy they´ve been able to rope in when he has a ridiculous idea and I´ll go “Ok, you can photograph me in my underwear.”. I´ve done quite a lot for them over the years.
Are you gonna keep doing stuff for them?
TS: Yeah, sure! I mean, at the moment I´m busy. I write for a few different people, but I´m actually… I shouldn´t say that because I´m really late with handing in my copies and their mad at me, so hopefully, yeah.
When did you get into music and start playing in bands? Did that start yearly on?
TS: No, I was a bit of a late starter. I was going to shows and really involved in the hardcore scene at age 14, which is kinda typical in hardcore. You get involved young, so I was kinda doing fanzines and everything else really, but the problem is, even though I came from London there wasn´t a really big hardcore scene and especially a straight edge hardcore scene. There was already a band or two and there wasn´t really enough people to get a third or a fourth one out. I was about 19 when I started a band called Fabric, which was like a post hardcore band and I did that until I was about 21 or 22 and then I did various things after that like the Dukes of nothing, which was like 10 years ago and that was for about four or five years with the guys who were in a band called Iron Monkey. I´ve been doing it on and off but I didn´t start as early as a lot of people.
With Turbonegro, where you into them from the get go?
TS: Form when I heard them, which was in ´97 or maybe ´98. I heard “Ass Cobra” and then from there really. I got to see them… they played once in the UK during that time and they completely blew me away. Then they were gone and they broke up. We started Turbojugend London kinda after they broke up and then I met the band in 2002.
Cool. Another thing I was thinking about. You´ve got a lot of tattoos and some really big ones. That tiger on your belly, a thing like that, is that something you think about for a long time or do you just wake up one day and go “I´m gonna get a big tiger´s head on my belly!”?
TS: No, it´s much more… I think once you get passed the stage where you´ve got a lot of tattoos, you just really kinda look at it as space to fill in a way. I guess I wanted a tiger´s head… another idea was a boar, but that didn´t stick. That´s kind of a Scandinavian thing. There were a lot of tattooists in Sweden and Denmark and to a lesser extent, Norway, in like the 1920´s through to the 1970´s and a tiger´s head appeared a lot there compared to other places, funnily enough. That was drawn up and tattooed by a guy called Steve Burns, who´s incredible. He´s an Englishman who now lives in Austin, Texas and has a shop called Rock of Ages. He drew it up on Christmas day during Christmas with his family and then we tattooed it on the next day, on Boxing day as we call it.
Nice. Touring wise then? I know you´re playing a bunch of shows in Europe and three dates in the US and a bunch in England. In Sweden so far it´s the Peace & Love Festival. Any plans for more shows in Sweden?
TS: Yeah, they´re all getting filled out now. This summer it´s the festivals and that little run in the US and then once we´re back from that in October through November, we´ll be doing club shows and do a Norwegian run and a Swedish run.
Great! Looking forward to it. Thank you so much Tony and the album kicks ass and good luck with everything!
TS: Alright man. Thanks very much! See you later!