Turbonegro Interview: Originally ran in Razorcake #15, with new intro by Kristen K. By Todd Taylor

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Resurrected like Jesus on Easter Sunday, 2004 found the five sailors in denim navigating international waters as they toured for Scandinavian Leather. Tickets to The Troubadour gigs ran dry in under an hour, despite a five-year hiatus which allowed Hank to recover from heroin addiction. As if to say, “Nothin’s changed,” Hank stomped on stage shirtless with charcoaled Alice Cooper eyes, his signature Buddha belly jiggling with each step. Their set pulled heavily from Apocalypse Dudes and Ass Cobra,which incited the knot of their über fans, the Turbojugend, to sing along to old favorites, “I Got Erection” and “Midnight NAMBLA.”

Not stopping long enough to let the dust settle, TRBNGR released their seventh album, Party Animals, in April 2005 and embarked on another tour. A month later, Small Feces, a collection of forty-two rarities, covers, b-sides and outtakes, was issued in limited release. Included in the grab bag were pre-1993 cuts featuring the previous singers, Harald Fossberg and Pål Erik Carlin. That same year, Pål Pot sold his beloved pizza parlor in Norway. “He sold it because people were calling from all over the world to see if it was really Pål Pot Pamparius’ Pizza Parlor. It was a real hassle. They didn’t order anything, they just sang Turbonegro songs on the phone,” Hank said in an interview with Thrasher magazine.

The following year the Norwegian deathpunks sailed into mainstream media. “All My Friends Are Dead” was played on Jackass and an off shoot of the CSI conglomerate; they were courted to play at Ticketmaster sponsored festivals, all of which directly lead to Turbojugend chapters popping up like mushrooms overnight. In July 2007, the outfit released yet another album, Retox. Guitarist, Rune Rebellion, distinguished itfrom the previous Apocalypse Trilogy with, “We wanted to… get back to the roots of 1982 heavy metal, American hardcore with skate punk!” Four months later, the relentless schedule of touring and recording that began in ‘03 had taken its toll. Rune announced he was leaving the band, citing exhaustion. Taking a back seat, he managed their label, Leather Recordings, and booked gigs. Drummer, Chris Summers, also stretched thin, broke his foot and was eventually replaced by Vikings’ percussion man, Thomas Dahl.

In March 2008, Euroboy announced he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a type of lymphoma. The already waifish guitarist endured chemotherapy every two weeks, although he claimed it wasn’t as bad as he expected. Despite his tough guy nonchalance, the band canceled shows in North America including Southern California’s hipster-infested, Coachella Music Festival. Taking it easy, Euroboy got reacquainted with his record collection, spent time with family, and wrote songs. For the tenth anniversary of Apocalypse Dudes, he pooled his strength to play the Øya festival in Oslo, where they performed the album in its entirety. After a rocky beginning, the end of that year was joyous. Given the green light to travel, Euroboy recommitted to touring for Retox. In November, he made an announcement that he was cancer free. At the tail end of December, Hank’s daughter was born to model Gro Skaustein.

The dawn of ‘09 saw the band putting the Retox tour to bed, after which they stated the band was going on hiatus. In March, Hank began to pop up in the media explaining the reason behind the sudden break. The Duke found himself strung out again and went another round with rehab, but this time he credited Narconon, a Scientologist front, for his new found sobriety. Hank claimed he became interested in the organization after hearing they could help him kick Subutex, a “cleaner” version of methadone, which he had been hooked on with no end in sight for four years. Hank’s link to Scientology rose more than a few eyebrows on the Turbojugend message boards. Some washed their hands of TRBNGR altogether. In October 2009, the baffling announcement was made that Hank had left the band to pursue acting and music. The remaining members clarified that they did not share his views of Scientology. Immediately, the Turbojugend were all a-twitter. Wish lists for new singers began to stack the boards but not so much as a beer fart was heard from Happy Tom and company as 2010 turned into 2011. The hopes for another resurrection sank. Meanwhile, toward the final part of 2009, it was reported Hank had formed a goth band, Doctor Midnight & The Mercy Cult.

One boozy night in 2011 found Happy Tom and Tony Sylvester playing with the idea of having one, last Turbo show where their friends would share the mic. Tony was the singer of Dukes Of Nothing and President of the Turbojugend chapter in London, which was arguably the most active cell. They guzzled beer and made up a list of vocalists they wanted on board. A few weeks later, Happy Tom was struck with an epiphany. On July 15, 2011, Euroboy publicized the reformation of Turbonegro and named the new vocalist as Tony Sylvester. Rune Rebellion would also be reprising his role as guitarist. Tom was quoted saying, “We always loved [Tony] as a front man with the Dukes Of Nothing, and he was just perfect. “We auditioned him, and after one song,” Euroboy said, “I’ve never heard the band sound this good before.’” Tony’s first gig would be a month later, at World Turbojugend Day in Hamburg, where all things denim, nautical, and beer were to be honored. Tom was nervous about the reception of the bitingly critical Turbojugend. Tony’s persona was markedly unsailor with his sandpaper vocals, tweed vests, and signature bowler hat, but Tom’s anxiety abated within minutes of the opening chords. Denim-jacketed fans wept and dove from balconies into the crowd. In the following weeks, Tony found himself flying from London to New York to record tracks for the next phase of Turbonegro.

In May 2012, the boys announced they would be releasing Sexual Harassment, the band’s ninth studio album in July 2012. As a teaser, they dropped the single, “You Give Me Worms,” with Tony’s gruff, Lemmy-inspired vocals over The Stooges-meets-Ramones riffs. Harassment was lauded as their best album since Apocalypse Dudes by skeptical critics and fans alike. Retaining the over-sexed satire and party anthems of the old and new, Turbonegro was back. They found themselves booking festivals throughout the summer, including Fun Fun Fun Fest. 2013 has seen a continuation of the band booking and playing festivals such as Belgium’s Gröezrock where they shared the stage with X and Rocket From The Crypt. A handful of U.S. gigs kicks off in May.

–Kristen K., 2013

FROM THE ASHES OF THIS GOLDEN AGE OF CONFUSION

Resurrections are rarely this satisfying. I’d had the good fortune to catch the Norwegian denim demons a couple of times prior to Hank’s mental breakdown. No big crowds, rabid Turbojugend. Tight science. Circa ’98, as Turbonegro’s Apocalypse Dudes was fully taking grasp in the United States, the rug was pulled. It was like watching the space shuttle fire its rockets, only to have the parking brake engaged right before its ass left the pad. The engines were turned off. The apparatus disassembled. Official word was that the band was kaput. Instead of the memory of Turbonegro—one of the true underground heroes of ‘90s punk rock—dissolving into ether, their records continued to sell, their myth enlarged. In fact, in death, they became bigger than ever. It was a testament that they were both ahead of their time and their songs were becoming timeless.

Rewind. With Ass Cobra, Turbonegro broke their early musical bonds to Mudhoney, and constructed hooky, vicious axe handle assaults of songs by mixing Poison Idea, the Dicks, and The Lewd. Their barbed wire affection for punk rock also took a new twist. They began to grasp the power of a panel of things that would truly horrify the general populace and claim them dedicated throngs: homoerotic denim sailor punk. Were they joking when they yelled “Hole in the ground. Erection!”? Definitely. Were they serious when they hated “your new wave hooker girlfriend”? More so.

With Apocalypse Dudes, the punk was sieved through rock. Glorious, dark, weaving rock that was stadium-filling, anxious, complex, and monstrously hooky. Anthems that riots could be held to. Pimple glam for people with beer guts. Sweaty salvation. It’s even more satisfying when you realize they’re singing about “a headache in their pants” and “sperminator of the asshole.” It’s so unapologetic—not made for the radio but the music fan. Huge destruction has rarely sounded as sweet.

It’s 2003. Turbonegro’s back, have released Scandinavian Leather, and are playing live. Heed this simple advice—see them. You have that rare, real second chance to not fuck up.

Interview by Todd Taylor
Pictures by Dan Monick
Originally ran in Razorcake #15, 2003

Todd: How does resurrection feel?

Happy Tom: Great.

Todd: Is it better the second time around?

Happy Tom: Yeah. We never wanted to stop playing in the first place. Hank was doing better, we all started getting restless, and we got some really incredible offers from these festivals this summer. We said, “Hey, let’s try it and if we’re better than we used to be, let’s keep going, but if we’re worse, we’ll just have fun this summer.” So we earned this really immense response from people and played for all these people and they went nuts. Then we listened to the recordings and said, “This is much better than we’ve sounded ever.” We took it seriously. We rehearsed for a couple of months. We’d already talked to labels and said, “Okay, let’s do another record.”

Todd: So, this is actually the second time that you broke up, correct?

Happy Tom: We’ve broken up a couple of times, but this one was real.

Todd: What did happen in Milan? Why did it end there? [Hank walks in as the question is asked.]

Hank: What happened in Milan? I don’t have much remembrance of it. I had this mental breakdown. My hallucinations grew stronger and more vivid and real than the real world, so I just needed some help.

Todd: Does Norway have socialized medicine?

Hank: Yeah, we do.

Todd: Could you get a program through that?

Hank: Oh, yeah everyone is safe in Norway. You don’t need a social security number. You don’t need insurance. You’re always taken care of.

Happy Tom: It’s getting worse.

Todd: Is it?

Happy Tom: Trying to private enterprise it.

Todd: That’s awful. So, what have you guys been doing in the intermediate years? I’ve heard that someone’s a real estate developer?

Happy Tom: I’m in market analysis. I actually teach consumer behavior at the business school in Oslo. It’s kind of fun because it really pisses off all the little punkers.

Todd: Do you apply those things to Turbonegro?

Happy Tom: No. If we did—that’s for all the press in Norway. Because Rune works for the major label and everybody knows that we’re kind of smart guys, so they’re like, whenever we have a success, “Yeah, no wonder. Those guys are strategists, you know.” And whenever someone has a success they’re like, “Oh this is great. It’s a Cinderella fairytale.” And we’re like, “Fuck off.” I’ve been in bands for twenty-two years and we never made any money. If we’re so smart how could we have a band name that could be interpreted as racist in some way? Or, how come we have a terrible image. Stupid, silly hats.

Todd: I have a couple of questions about that. It’d be wrong to call you guys a joke band, because there’s definitely a level of seriousness.

Happy Tom: That’s what we say. If you think that Turbonegro’s a joke band, then you’re really missing out on the biggest joke.

Todd: You’re playing with people’s fears a lot, especially with homosexuality and fascist imagery. What are your aims with these two concepts specifically put together?

Happy Tom: Just because rock’n’roll should be about freedom. To achieve freedom there has to be some danger in there. You have to break a couple eggs to make an omelet. When we first started doing the homo thing—this era that we grew up in—was the epicenter of black metal in Norway and all of our friends were killing each other and burning down churches. And we’re like, “Fuck. How can we out-do this? What is the only thing that scares even these guys? Ahhh! Homos!” So we got the sailor caps and the make-up. They gave us props for it, though. The guy in Mayhem said that Turbonegro’s the most evil band in the world.

Hank: It’s also a kind of a tension relief. I was talking to another guy just now and figured out that a lot of kids who are going gay-bashing get some tension relief and kids who are uptight about their own sexuality get their own tension relief. It’s all about tension relief and if we can stop some people bullying homos or help some homo coming out, why not?

Happy Tom: Or make some homo go back into the closet again, that’s nice, too. It’s all about personal growth.

Todd: Do you think that your aims are more complex than the bands that influenced you to be in a rock’n’roll band?

Happy Tom: I think we have the same exact—we just basically want to rock out. We could take off. We could stop doing all our silly stuff and we’d still be a great band.

Hank: I would love to do some skin, you know, cry a lot. Or torn anus. Share myself a lot. Share my traumas a lot, and cry about it all the time. Like this crying body of fans telling me their personal stories—that they’d lived through the same thing.

Happy Tom: A catharsis? A public catharsis.

Hank: I would love to do that.

Todd: Was it true that you were on a death list for neo-Nazis?

Hank: I was on it.

Todd: Was the band itself on it?

Hank: Not the band, no.

Happy Tom: We’re Nazis, he’s not.

Todd: I’m just trying to see if there were any paradoxes.

Hank: I had a radio show and I was basically fucking in all directions. The police were busting up this very hardcore, violent Nazi group because they were doing death threats to really famous politicians. They found the death list of big Jews in the financial world and politicians. In the middle of that list, my name came up.

Todd: Was it pretty scary?

Hank: No, I wasn’t that scared.

Happy Tom: The thing with neo-Nazis is like, “This week it’s my turn to be the Führer!” “No, you were already the Führer!” It’s true. That’s why they never get anything done.

Todd: There’s always a power struggle.

Hank: They’re even worse than Trotsky-ists when it comes to splitting and sectarianism. The cops called me about it and offered me some special attention. I never felt that was proper at all. It’s just these kids with guns. Let ‘em shoot me.

Todd: What do you think has changed in the world when Sid Vicious and Ron Asheton (Stooges) could sport swastikas and they didn’t really get a lot of guff, but someone in Turbonegro had swastikas painted over their eyelids, there was a lot of trouble with that.

Hank: It wasn’t a lot of trouble with that.

Happy Tom: People have suspected us of that.

Hank: It is true. There was a thing with punk in the late seventies that they actually could wear swastikas.

Todd: Siouxsie Sioux could do it.

Hank: As a statement, as a negative statement. We could never do that today, and I don’t think we should either, because the situation is so hardened now. The fronts are so polarized. So, we should not wear swastikas. We should just stay with cross burning. And dressing up as mongoloid goats.

Todd: What is the power of provocation that fascinates you?

Hank: We never aim to provocate.

Happy Tom: Just irritate a little.

Hank: And it’s not irony; it’s just plain sarcasm.

Todd: This is a personal question. I don’t know what you have against “new wave hooker girlfriends.” I mean, new wave chicks are pretty hot. Is there anything specific?

Hank: They’re just so uptight about anal sex. And I’m an ass man, you know.

Happy Tom: Always in subcultures there’ll be couples and the guy will always be into the harder-edged version of the subculture. In Norway, a lot of the black metal guys have goth girlfriends, ‘cause that’s sort of the watered-out version. It’s more effeminate.

Hank: I actually got a letter last year from a guy who told me that his best friend was a hardcore punk rocker, Turbonegro fan, and he was marrying a girl who was totally into Weezer and new punk and Limp Bizkit. I was telling him I was going to write a death threat to him as a wedding gift, that he’d married a new wave hooker girl. It was so typical, that couple. He was really hardcore into punk and metal, but she was all into those new MTV shit.

Todd: What do you really hate the most? If you know you’re using imagery that will bring a reaction…

Happy Tom: What I hate most now is all the nagging, like in Scandinavian rock, that you have to be “for real.”

Todd: What does that mean?

Happy Tom: I guess it means you have to dress up like Lynyrd Skynyrd. That means you’re real. It’s these middle-class Scandinavians dressing up as poor Americans. I think it’s fucked up. It’s depressing. We had that in Norway, back in the seventies where upper class people will become radicalized and dress up like the working class people and go work in the factories.

Hank: Basically slumming.

Happy Tom: My wife is a third generation soap factory worker and her parents always told her, “There’s some people at the factory who dress up like us, but don’t talk to them because they’re the enemy.” And that’s rock’n’roll all over again. I hate that. I think it’s better to be fake in an honest way than to be honest in a fake way.

Todd: I totally agree. Can you clarify this statement: “Apocalypse Dudes is about jerking off, despite a massive amount of sexual interest from great-looking people.”

Happy Tom: It’s about isolating yourself.

Todd: Really?

Happy Tom: Self-imposed exile on the island of St. Helens.

Todd: Why is that? Why the self-imposed…

Happy Tom: I was just saying that.

Todd: Okay: true or false, in 1994/95 Turbonegro went through an Al Jolson phase?

Happy Tom: Yeah.

Todd: And you actually hung out with Bad Brains?

Happy Tom: We were sitting backstage with black face and huge afro wigs.

Todd: Total black face, like big wide lips?

Happy Tom: Shoe shine.

Hank: Dressing up like minstrels.

Happy Tom: And they didn’t mention it. I guess they just thought it funny, and when they offered us pot, we decided on smoking it.

Hank: Nobody mentioned it. It didn’t strike us until the day after—Hey we’re sitting there with black face, ‘cause we’re all drunk.

Todd: Do you think other people take more of an offense to that then? I mean, I live in a poor neighborhood and we hang out with our neighbors all the time. People seem to get more offended on their behalf than these people do themselves. Do you come across that?

Happy Tom: It’s like that in Norway. A lot of journalists go, “Oh, Turbonegro, they’re standing in front of a big breakthrough, but they’ll never make it in America because of their band name.” I mean, half the people who we play to are black and they know every word of our lyrics. They want black people—if you’re black, you should only be into hip-hop. And we tell them, hey, there’s a lot of black kids into punk in the states, there always has been since Bad Brains. And even before that with Neon Leon.

Hank: But they’re not supposed to be. So there’s oppression once again.

Todd: Have you ever been on a FBI file? I’m thinking of the song “Midnight NAMBLA.” The Candy Snatchers are on an FBI file because they had picture of a little girl and she’s showing her panties and licking a lollipop on a T-shirt. The FBI take that kind of seriously.

Hank: This is a very anti-pedophiliac song. We were reading about pedophiles in America actually organizing—this North America Man Boy Love Association—and we read an interview with the leader of that organization. It was so weak that he was trying to justify these crimes and suddenly I realized that they had an observation status in the UN as a gay organization.

Todd: Wow.

Hank: Yeah, so they, as an organization, have come pretty far.

Happy Tom: It’s like if you take the rainbow flag and you mix all the colors and it turns black.

[laughter]

Hank: It was a really dark organization that wanted to come out legit. We just made that song. We’ve never done any pedo aesthetics ever, and we would never do that.

Todd: Allen Ginsberg was a member of NAMBLA, actually.

Hank: Really? That says a lot. Sig transit gloria mundi. (“Thus passes the glory of the world.”)

Happy Tom: I’ve been on an FBI file.

Todd: Really?

Happy Tom: Yeah, my dad was an American radical. He was the youngest shop steward for the Teamsters, ever, in Kansas City. Then he became political. When I was born, he had to sign all these papers, “I’ve never be a member of the Communist Party,” that “I’ve never been in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.” He asked them what was wrong with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, that was people from the Democratic party, right? They said, “If you want your son to attain citizenry, just sign that paper.” So, at least my dad has file.

Todd: Who loves dolphins?

Happy Tom: Everybody.

Hank: I love dolphins. Don’t you?

Todd: I love dolphins.

Hank: They’re loving creatures.

Todd: Yes they are.

Hank: They can speak. Some of them are actually so intelligent that they’re really bad. Swearing, and they’re badmouthing tuna fish, oppressing tuna.

Happy Tom: Ruining those tuna nets.

Hank: That’s funny. We heard that’s why Guns n Roses—that was the last final straw why they broke up—because Axl insisted on having dolphins in a video and Slash was like, “No!”

Todd: What’s Turbonegro’s beef with Tolkien, with Hobbits?

Hank: Tolkien himself was a great writer and a great scholar in the German languages and in the German folklore. It’s a great book. It’s a great story. It’s founded on one of the greatest aspects of the European cultural heritage. What we don’t like are the followers, the fans. The kids playing on the vacuum cleaner tubes wearing turds.

Happy Tom: There was so much of that in the ‘90s. We call them jugglers.

Hank: Yeah, trying to find a circus that they can run away with. Circus punks. And those turds as hair-dos. It’s the fans we have something against.

Happy Tom: All of those films are really fascist, and so are the jugglers, because in the film the dark forces—look at the Hobbits. They live in a very idealized part of rural society, whereas the dark forces are all industrialized. They’re just pumping people and steel out of the ground and that’s evil, like technology is bad. Rural society looks like it’s shifting and that’s good. And that’s wrong. I like industry, I like infrastructure.

Todd: I like electricity and plumbing.

Happy Tom: I like medicine and bridges.

Hank: And cures for cancer. That’s cool, to cure cancer. I prefer that.

Happy Tom: I think Tolkien himself was extremely conservative.

Hank: Also, someone claims, especially Norwegians—some of them are Nazis, actually—but they claim that Sauron, the dark side, are all like symbols of old Norse gods. And the one eye, the evil force, that’s actually a symbol of Odin, the one-eyed god. They are kind of intimidated by that as well, that Tolkien had a really negative outlook on the old Norse religion.

Todd: I know Burzum, the black metal band, had taken their name from Tolkien actually. It’s Dark Speech for “darkness.”

Hank: He’s actually talking about this a lot. How he would choose the dark side in Tolkien’s world because it’s the one eye. Odin is for him. I don’t agree with that, personally.

Todd: Didn’t your uncle work for Thor Heyerdahl? And he did expeditions on Easter Island?

Happy Tom: Yeah, he was the chief archaeologist on Easter Island. So, whenever you see pictures from the fifties, you see a guy with a pipe—it looks like Matt Groening drew him—with a beard and a safari helmet, with a bare chest. Just like all the guys looked like in the fifties—that’s him.

Todd: Did he go on the Kon-Tiki?

Happy Tom: No, that was too early. That was 1947.

Todd: But he was…

Happy Tom: Chief manager at the Kon-Tiki museum. We took Eugene Chadbourne there when he was there.

Todd: Really? Did he enjoy it?

Happy Tom: Yeah, he liked it.

Todd: For American audiences, can you tell me who Gustav Vigeland is?

Happy Tom: He’s a sculptor from Norway, early twentieth century.

Todd: Doesn’t he have a large public park?

Happy Tom: There’s a park with all his statues. It’s all about man versus nature.

Todd: Right. Isn’t there several of a naked guys…

Happy Tom: They’re all naked.

Todd: …booting babies, and they’re flying all around?

Hank: It’s very raw stuff.

Happy Tom: Somebody told us that that was Hitler’s big dream, to see this park.

Hank: Vigeland was a Nazi. He has a brother, Emmanuel, who has a mausoleum.

Happy Tom: Like a bitter little brother who never got any recognition. He was a nihilist fascinated with pedophilia.

Todd: Really?

Hank: Pregnant women giving birth to skeleton babies.

Todd: Holy shit!

Hank: Copulating with devils and skeletons. It’s a whole life cycle and it’s in this mausoleum. And you have to go through a little door—bow down—and you turn and you see his urn is in the door, and you have to bow to it. There’s these great acoustics in there, so a lot of contemporary musicians, they do great recordings down there.

Todd: No shit.

Hank: That mausoleum, it’s a museum, and it’s only open in the church hour on Sunday.

Todd: That’s creepy.

Hank: He was really anti-religious and was really anti his brother. They were really enemies, but I prefer Emmanuel’s works.

Todd: He was a sculptor, too?

Hank: Yes, that too, but he was a painter more. He spent his whole life building his own tomb.

Todd: I have a more philosophical question. You’ve said that Apocalypse Dudes is an important album because, “It is a timeless source. It’s beyond good and evil.”

Happy Tom: No shit!

Hank: Hinsides gode og slem.

Happy Tom: And what?

Todd: So, are you tapping into something that’s primordial? Something that is before religion or morals came in?

Happy Tom: Blood and iron.

Todd: Is that what the claim is? I’m just trying to make sure.

Happy Tom: Yeah.

Todd: Who is Torunn Alsaker?

Happy Tom: Torunn Alsaker, that’s how we got our band name. This is one of the versions. We were sitting by a ouija board—we just stole this story from Alice Cooper. And a woman had died in a car accident on New Years Eve in, 1987, outside of Oslo. Her spirit materialized and told us that we should start a band called Turbonegro.

Todd: Where did you find tracks of Evel Knievel playing country ballads?

Happy Tom: There was a record that came out during the seventies. It was pretty big.

Todd: What was it called?

Happy Tom: The Ballad of Evel Knievel or Evel Knievel Sings or something like that.

Todd: Did your mom go to school with Sirhan Sirhan? (The man accused of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968.)

Happy Tom: Yeah, in Pasadena.

Todd: In Pasadena? So, were you born here?

Happy Tom: No. Born in Norway.

Todd: Did she say anything about him?

Happy Tom: No, she just recognized him when he was on TV in 1968. She’s like, “That’s my schoolmate.”

Todd: When was the last time that you felt like a marionette, like a puppet?

Happy Tom: When I was a mime.

Todd: Really?

Happy Tom: No, I’m just kidding.

Hank: Well, the last time I did acid, I guess. I was in this car with a driving computer and it said to me, “The door is ajar.” How could a door be a jar? I felt like a marionette right there and then. I’m just a marionette. This isn’t a door. It’s a jar. I’m a puppet.

Todd: Is it true that Euro-boy was a gymnast?

Happy Tom: Yeah.

Todd: Do you know what his discipline was?

Happy Tom: I’ll go ask him.

[talking in Norwegian]

Hank: Oh, the horse with two handles.

Todd: The pommel horse.

Happy Tom: Is that what you call it? Pummel Horse?

Todd: Pommel, like when you have a saddle, the pommel is in the front, the part you tie the rope around… I have a series of questions about the Ass Rocket, are you okay with that? How many people have lit their cigarettes off of the Ass Rocket?

Hank: It was a skin, a Norwegian skinhead. That’s been caught on film, but it has happened a couple of times.

Todd: Has anyone singed their eyebrows from it?

Hank: No, but I’ve burned some… hairs, from there. We’ve been very careful.

Todd: I was going to ask you that. Now is the Ass Rocket, is it really in there, or are you just clamping your cheeks?

Hank: Just clamping my cheeks.

Happy Tom: It’s not a rocket.

Hank: It’s just a cake sparkler that you put on a birthday cake at restaurants. We did it at the first show in New Orleans on this tour. The management and the house crew came tumbling down, almost crying. “After the Great White incident, you can’t do pyro.”

Happy Tom: What people are most afraid of—I think Americans are kind of a tough people, in many ways—but there’s this culture of fear. So, after Great White, then people are going to be real obsessed with that. Maybe, after a year, everybody’ll forget about it. I can understand club owners, “Hey we know you’re not gonna burn down the house or anything, but if two people start freaking out…”

Todd: It’s gonna set a shock wave.

Happy Tom: I mean, we never called it Ass Rocket, even.

Todd: What’d you call it? The sparkler?

Happy Tom: If people, like Norwegian journalists, say we set it up that we’re big strategists and I think there’s this curse over us that whenever we do something that it turns into a big myth. It’s almost like the chaos theory with the butterfly fluttering its wings and it turns into a hurricane on the other side of the globe. It’s like when Hank swooshes his cape, some fans are gonna say, “Oh yeah, we read there was a typhoon down by New Zealand.” They put a little too much into it, but that’s fine with us.

Todd: How is life “a sexually transmitted disease”?

Happy Tom: That’s what it is.

Todd: How so?

Hank: That’s how it starts.

Happy Tom: That’s how it’s transferred.

Hank: Life and AIDS starts and spreads the same way.

Happy Tom: Very easily.

Hank: And the result is always the same: death.

Todd: It’s kind of dark.

Hank: It’s poetic. We didn’t say that the disease in itself is bad. Hinsides gode og slem.

Happy Tom: “Beyond good and evil.”

Todd: There’s Turbonegro slip mats for record players, there’s…

Happy Tom: Alarm clocks.

Todd: Is there perfume?

Hank and Happy Tom: We’re making one.

Hank: It’s called Hank.

Todd: Have you ever thought of making the dildo?

Hank: No, we’re not actually that into sex toys and S&M games, S&M fashion. We’re into…

Happy Tom: Meat and potatoes.

Hank: Meat and potato sex, but infrastructure gayness. Industrial homosexuality.

Todd: As a concept.

Hank: The construction worker means a lot to us.

Todd: Gotcha.

Hank: The gay redneck. Garth Brooks, man.

Todd: You’re the Norwegian Garth Brooks?

Hank: Yeah!

Todd: Okay, this is a foreign concept for Americans: How does a band get sponsored by the government and given a grant?

Hank: All bands are in Norway.

Happy Tom: We’re probably the least sponsored band, us and the black metal guys. We never got anything. It’s part of this branding of nation. They give you money to go tour abroad, because it’s the spreading of culture. They want Norway to be represented by like, Aryans. And then black metal and us. It’s like, “Fuck these guys. They’re not getting anything.”

Todd: Is it true that you had a tour that fell through in Berlin?

Happy Tom: We asked for sixty thousand dollars once to go to Japan. It was almost a joke and they gave us five thousand bucks, so we just went down to Hamburg and drank it all.

Todd: Did you get receipts or anything?

Happy Tom: Yeah, we got all the receipts from this is one pub: “rental of guitar amplifier.” Every little thing was from, like, Hansa Bier Kelugan.

Todd: That’s great.

Happy Tom: We handed these receipts in like [mischievous voice], “Here you go.”

Hank: That’s the cultural politics of a country with a mixed economy. They support some cultural brands. They try to.

Todd: At least they give it some effort. As opposed to America, there’s nothing.

Hank: And that’s kind of sad, too.

Happy Tom: I don’t know. I actually think the cultural side of the market is one of the best things about capitalism. In Norway, there’s so much state-sponsored culture that’s only there to reproduce so that people who used to give out film grants end up giving film grants their own children, who then sit on the committee to give film grants to their children. They never make any good films. I mean, Spielberg and Scorsese, they’re not from Norway. How many of these government-sponsored bands are any good?

Todd: Doing an independent magazine, no one gives us free money. It’s really scratch and claw.

Happy Tom: Yeah, I’ve been in bands for twenty-two years, and we never got any. We got that money once and we drank it up, but if people love what they do, they should just do it and not expect working people to support them.

Hank: You can also see it in some left-wing, or artist, upper-class artist slumming—when they come with their criticism against the right wing in Norway, they say, “I’m opposing the right wing because I’m a ceramist.” That’s the explanation.

Todd: That doesn’t hold a lot of water.

Happy Tom: “I don’t support the Republicans because I’m a painter.”

Todd: It doesn’t make any sense.

Hank: It doesn’t make any sense. We know what they mean, because, “they would take away my government support and I would have to sell instead of just sitting in my own cocoon.”

Todd: Do you think someone like Edvard Munch would be a product of that society?

Happy Tom: What you have to remember is that a lot of big artists were in some rich guy’s pocket. Black Flag and Charles Bukowski were never in some rich guy’s pocket.

Todd: Have any Turbonegro prophecies come true?

Hank: Well, the “Grunge Whore” prophecy. The “Grunge Whore” song, we wrote that two years prior to Kurt Cobain’s death, and look at the lyrics.

Happy Tom: You know, looking back at it, I think it’s kind of sad because I think he was a really sweet guy. What we really thought was kind of stupid about Nirvana, at the time, was that instead of accepting that they were a mainstream band, they brought in Steve Albini and tried to make an alternative record with In Utero. Cobain said stuff like, “I don’t want to play for the people who used to beat me up in school.” I think you should play for the people who beat you up in school. I think, in retrospect, that he was a very talented and sweet person. I can’t say that about his wife. I think it was very sad and I think he could have made some really amazing stuff through the rest of his life.

Todd: Levi’s is a smart company and they have to get something from you. What do they get from Turbonegro from sponsoring you?

Happy Tom: The band.

Todd: A band, just…

Happy Tom: You know, we say that we’re sponsored by Levi’s, but we’re actually sponsored by the local Scandinavian office. I don’t think people in San Francisco know what they’re up to, and it’s not like some big global strategy. We started doing denim—we went out and bought it in Norway. It cost two hundred bucks for a jacket.

Todd: Fuck.

Happy Tom: So, we went to Levi’s and said, “Give us some jackets.” ‘Cause they were already sponsoring, giving away—you know the way corporations try to get into the “in” scene by giving clothes to the cool people? They’ve been doing it for years in Norway. So, we said, “Stop giving it to those fucking trendy idiots. Give it to us. We’re actually wearing the shit on stage.” They’re like, “Uhhhh, okay. Here’s a jacket.” We just started hassling them, “Hey, give us some more.” “Okay, we’ll give you some more.” Then, eventually, some friends of ours got hired there and it’s just this dirty little corrupt thing. And these German guys got in touch with Levi’s Germany after a while. It’s not a big deal, but then they gave us five thousand bucks for us to rent a van for a whole European tour. So, it’s not living high on the horse or anything. We should get a lot more.

Hank: One time it got a bit aggravated between us and Levi’s Germany because we were doing a German tour, and we had this thing where we wanted to throw away one jacket at each show. So they gave us some jackets for a tour, but then the jackets came with these huge Levi’s banner. They expected us to hang it up there at our show.

Happy Tom: I mean, we’ll suck some cock, but that’s gonna cost a lot.

Hank: We didn’t hang it up. We just threw it away. They became really aggro, “Here we are giving you clothes.” We said to them, “It’s not a Levi’s show. We’re not serving you in that aspect for a couple of jackets.” We’re serving them by being a great band wearing their shit, and they’re getting a lot of free shit from us. Each song we’re playing, they make money off.

Todd: Like any video.

Hank: After all this time we should go more formal with those guys.

Happy Tom: Yeah, we should try to get a good deal. We don’t have any management, so we’re just stuck losing money all over the place.

Todd: You’ve said that, “Rock’n’roll shouldn’t be some kind of championship in earnesty and down-to-earthness, but rather a display of magic, brilliance, and power.” Is that what you guys set out to do?

Happy Tom: Yes. I think so. Some of my favorite bands are down to earth and earnest, like Black Flag, Minutemen, I think now is the time to…

Hank: To be a bit decadent about it. Be some space dandy cowboys.

Happy Tom: Some people do that wrong, too. We’re taking darkness back from the goth people. Back where it belongs.

Megan: Thank you.

Hank: A lot of people say that.

Happy Tom: We’re taking darkness back from the art lofts and out into suburbia again.

Razorcake is a bonafide 501(c)3 non-profit organization. It is also a bi-monthly fanzine. If you’d like to read more, please visit razorcake.org and consider a subscription or a donation.

This Razorcake ebook is made possible in part by grants from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and is supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles Arts Commission.