Article by: Seth Graves | Photo Credit: Kate Brock | Posted: 08/28/2012
Interviewing bands isn’t hard. In fact, bands practically interview themselves. When it comes time to start an album cycle, artists have already answered just about every question most interviewers are going to ask them. When I sat down with Turbo Fruits frontman, Jonas Stein, in an East Nashville coffee house to start the process concerning their latest album Butter, I came prepared to break the routine talk about everything except music. That isn’t to say there isn’t plenty more he could talk about. The guy runs a fairly successful band, an equally thriving record label, is the co-founder of the Bruise Cruise festival and is one hell of a motocross enthusiast. The notes I had prepped on my laptop, however, concerned only television shows, the Taco Bell menu and a few questions about marijuana. From that short conversation I gleaned that Stein prefers Will Ferrell movies, his Taco Bell go-to is the No. 7 quesadilla combo and he gives the wacky tobacky a great deal of credit for keeping the band together. So much for my experiment...
But hey, Stein himself is also tired of the typical album cycle interview rigmarole. The mission behind his own Turbo Time Records is to produce “lots of singles, no full-length records” on a monthly basis, subverting the cyclical two-year-album-tour monotony completely. “But the music industry isn’t really ready for that...” he disclaimed, citing their decision to write another full length record while still using Turbo Time as an artistic outlet to toss out demos and limited edition vinyl – from the likes of Turbo Fruits, PUJOL, Jacuzzi Boys and others – keeping fans and consumers stimulated in the meantime.
By this point, the conversation inevitably steered back to music, so I figured we might as well talk about Butter – a curiously strong and refreshingly dynamic effort that goes well above and beyond the pint-size bar fans of the garage rock revival have learned to expect. Not unlike a hot knife, Butter rips through stoner-fetish riff rock a la Blue Cheer on opener “Where the Stars Don’t Shine” and four songs later smooths into a sweetly-tempered power pop ballad called “Sweet Thang.” Produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno, Butter takes the foot off the gas from the flat-lining bluesy punk fury of their first two records, exploring quieter lows that inevitably bring about soaring highs. “I think that’s just something I’ve started learning after doing it for awhile... you start writing songs to entertain yourself, not just the crowd.”
Stein started the band back in 2006 while still touring the world in teen punk sensations Be Your Own Pet. After the group disbanded, he expanded from a two-piece to a three-piece and now a four-piece, cycling through over half a dozen members in the process. The thought the band may not have matured in the past half a dozen years would be more cause for alarm than anything. Stein cites the current lineup – bassist Dave McOwen, drummer Matt Hearn, and guitarist Kingsley Brock – as its longest and strongest. In fact, he attributes the maturation of both himself and the band to their hellish stints on the road, and the newer habit of writing songs together and ignoring trends amidst the garage rock trend as factors in the record’s new sound. “We try not to stop what we’re writing if it sounds too much not like the Turbo Fruits... it’s like, whatever comes up, let’s give it a chance”.
For being in his early twenties, the Fruits’ six years in existence with three records under their belt, plus the two records and countless tours he did with BYOP, Stein is essentially a veteran by today’s standards. So what exactly does working with a guy like Jim Eno bring to the table?
“He pushed us really hard. We didn’t have a whole lot of budget for recording and we had a limited number of days to track and a limited number of days to mix. So, he pushed us.” Eno came in for a few days of pre-production and indeed pushed the band to play the new songs as much as possible before tracking. He insisted the band embark on a tour on their way to his studio in Austin, playing the yet unheard songs at each show, night after night. Stein concurs the preparation paid off. “We got to that point when we were in the studio where we were just nailing shit left and right [being] really productive and effective with the time we had.”
In the end, it stands to reason a singer, songwriter, label owner, cruise director and bandleader like Jonas Stein doesn’t have as much to say about television shows, fast food, and recreational activities as he does about business. Then again, maybe that’s why he’s the guy being interviewed, and I’m the one eating a Doritos Locos taco for lunch.
Turbo Fruits - "Where The Stars Don't Shine"