More Years, More Reasons: Less Denim, Less Sailor Hats – an interview with Turbonecro.
Vocals – Harald Fossberg
Bass – Bengt “Bingo” Calmeyer
Guitar – Vegard Heskestad
Drums – Carlos Carrasco
Words: Simon Gore
Turbonecro is the self-proclaimed toxic debris that was left behind by the rock’n’roll machine that is now roaming the world – Turbonegro. Formed from early and founding members active in the band between 1989 and 1991.
I gathered in Oslo music venue, Kafé Hærverk (where I happen to be the stage manager) owned by Turbonegro’s original guitarist and founding member, now Turbonecro guitarist Vegard Heskestad. Accompanying him were 3 other kindred spirits: Carlos Carrasco, Bengt “Bingo” Calmeyer and Harald Fossberg. Life-long friends of Vegard and fellow, former players in Turbonegro.
Unlike many of the original punks, these guys have never seemed to grow up. Their presence is both humble and welcoming. There is no rockstar attitudes or amateur professionalism. But for what they lack in traditional pretence, they make-up for in honest, punk experience. Very few can be credited for establishing one of the most iconic and successful cult bands in European music history, but these guys can.
The 4 spent a considerable amount of time discussing the idea of uniting to revisit what live punk once was. Rekindling an extinct spirit with no further intention, other than the initial experience. But until the evening of the 25th of August 2018 the occasion was lacking. This fateful night welcomed the stag party of Thomas Seltzer aka Happy Tom, fellow Turbonegro founder, to Kafé Hærverk where Harald, Vegard, Carlos and Bingo honoured him with a surprise set, playing early Turbonegro material as “Turbonecro”.
I sat down with the guys to talk rock’n’roll university, compliments from Mayhem, and the things that really matter in life.
SG: To start with a horribly cliché question, when did you guys start working together?
VH: One day before the concert, we had one-hour practice before the gig. Me and Harald have been playing around with the idea of doing some old Turbonegro stuff, just for fun. We have this monthly supper together, and after 9 beers we were talking about maybe doing the original Turbonegro thing.
HF: It would be some sort of guerrilla warfare against the happiness that is produced around many bands.
SG: You mentioned the idea to me, Vegard, but I didn’t expect it to be that night.
VH: I guess it was Thomas Seltzer’s (aka Happy Tom) bachelor party that night and it seemed like a good occasion. I think the energy was quite good considering it followed an hour’s practice. It was good fun
HF: Good, unclean fun.
SG: Was there at any point, 20 or 30 years ago, that you were all in Turbonegro at the same time?
HF: Me and Bingo were together at the same time and Vegard and Carlos were together at the same time.
VH: But us four never played together.
CC: I was the drummer in 1991, before I was kicked out.
SG: But you then joined Anal Babes, right?
CC: Yeah I joined Anal Babes, happily.
VH: They’re much nicer people.
B: A lot more fun, and not so pretentious
SG: So, when you did the surprise concert, did you ever intend on doing this again?
VH: No, not really, but then again, I think I was totally taken and surprised by the reaction of people. I thought we sounded like shit on stage, we couldn’t hear what we were doing, but, you came up and said “wow, that was fucking cool”.
CC: When one person says “yeah, that was good.” It’s nice. But a lot of people said “wow, that was really good”.
VH: I’ve actually spent quite some time thinking about what’s really happening. Because I thought it would be shit and I thought it sounded shit but the comments came in from some really good people.
SG: Were you surprised by that though?
VH: I was!
HF: I would think people would be pissed off or angry, but not happy with it.
CC: Especially when the guy, Necrobutcher from Mayhem comes up and tells us it’s really good.
HF: He was raving, “you mean it, I can see it in your eyes”.
B: Then people started to try and book us – let’s go with the flow.
HF: The best part of being booked, is being able to say “no”.
VH: And the next gig, here at Kafé Hærverk, on the 22nd, sold out in like 3 days. In more than 300 concerts over 16 months, it’s the one that’s gained the most interest.
SG: I am a firm believer that you can have all the musical education you can find and all the virtuosity in the world, but it is no substitute for decent musicianship and the natural chemistry between people. And that, for me, is what’s most important in live music.
B: Yeah, I’m fucking surprised – you could tell that after the one rehearsal we had. I hadn’t played in a band for many years, because I was just so tired of other psychopaths trying to connect. But this was an instant connection.
VH: This is the fundamental basis of why we are doing it. I don’t give a shit about the other stuff, really.
B: We’re basically a cover band…
HF: …but playing originals
CC: I haven’t played drums in 25 years. When I playing started in Anal Babes, I played drums for a short while, but we got a better drummer, so I started playing bass and guitar.
SG: So, have you guys got any plans to record as Turbonecro, or will this be deliberately short-lived?
VH: Well, Harald said, “let’s do 5 jobs”, then we will see how that goes. So we have 2 gigs in Oslo, one in Stavanger, one in Gothenburg and we’re talking about maybe doing Hamburg as the last one.
HF: I’ve been approached by some people to potentially record stuff, too. But again, the most fun thing, is the option to say “no”. I’m too old to care about that sort of thing, anyhow.
CC: I’m on social security, so I don’t have any money, so anything out of town, I’m all for it. It’s nice to have a free ride out of this fucking place.
SG: I realised that this was going to be pretty mental that when you first mentioned this to me, Vegard. But of course, I didn’t know when it was going to happen. Then when you guys started playing, and I happened to be behind the mixing desk that night and realised, this is a holy-grail level concert, for more than a handful of people in the world. There are a lot of people, of mixed generations, who would consider it to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to see you perform.
HF: That’s entirely based on some things we did a long time ago.
SG: It is, but not everyone is good when they organise a reunion. For a lot of people, it’s the financial incentive – the royalties have run out and they don’t want to get real jobs. So they get back together but still hate each other and there is no chemistry and they suck. But it’s a different motivation with you guys. Obviously, the initial motivation was there, to do it as part of a celebration for Thomas, but what is your motivation to continue with this, now?
HF: Bring back the hate. Turbonegro, the first time I saw them was when Carlos and Vegard were in the band. I was blown away because they had a bit of MC5 Stooges and some grotty Mudhoney thingy without being grunge. But I thought, like, “OK, this is some good noise.”
CC: Rock was really shit at the time, REM and all this.
VH: and things haven’t changed that much, really. There’s a lot of reasons to hate and be angry still.
CC: More years, more reasons
HF: We used to be young and angry, and now we’re old and bitter. So it’s very good motivation.
VH: I’m speaking for myself. But I think it’s fun to be 50 years old and be able to do it again. A lot of things haven’t changed. We haven’t really changed. I certainly still have the same ideas and attitudes as I did when I was 19.
B: It’s the same shitty, punk, attitude. We’re not in it for the money.
CC: …well, I am.
B: it’s still all about the joy of playing in a band and playing for a good crowd – doing the fun things. It’s not about the expectancy of performing to thousands of people and having a huge rider and everything.
VH: Because a lot of music is fake and it’s just re-circulated. I mean, we are re-circulating it as well, but we still have the same attitude. There is something there – it touches a nerve. It’s something that people miss, now everything is so designed and prepared and streamlined.
CC: Nowadays they’re all so fucking good at playing their instruments.
VH: I remember seeing this hardcore band at Øyafestivalen some years ago, they were tight, good musicians, but they had no attitude. Totally boring – what the fuck is that? Hardcore in 2014 with no attitude?
SG: That’s one thing that really struck a chord with me, because, moving here and seeing people leave music school at 25, then walk into a venue like this all wide-eyed and open-mouthed, set back by a “real music venue” with “real musicians” working and playing there. It’s just amazing how much later people here get into this these days. The idea of doing things independently and at a young age, is almost in extinction now. It’s like this natural punk ethos, as a life-style is something written about in the history books.
HF: The Ramones talked about rock’n’roll high school, now everyone signs up for rock’n’roll university. But we’re like still in kindergarten, slinging mud at one and other, crapping in our hands.
VH: Like, why was it easy to say “yes” to the Stavanger gig, for example? Well all the guys in the scene down there are amazing – we can go there and hang with them.
SG: Well, the Stavanger noise rock scene is amazing. Obviously, it all stemmed from Noxagt and those guys but when No Balls came here with Golden Oriole, that is still one of my favourite gigs ever.
CC: I saw Noxagt and No Balls at Blitz. It was just fantastic – the Noxagt guys are incredible.
SG: So what have you guys been doing for the last 25 or so years since you played in Turbonegro.
CC: Fucking up. I also did Anal Babes for a lot of years, but mostly fucking up.
HF: Dabbling in music, radio, playing around.
B: drugs, divorce and time. Working as a bouncer and bartender. Plus working in schools for special-needs kids.
You know, I didn’t see Turbonecro coming, but despite the bureaucracy, it’s hit the internet with enough velocity to make people listen through the bullshit.
HF: Which I think is quite good, considering we’ve not made a release and did one gig with no promotion.
CC: I remember when I was a 14-year-old punk, who wanted to fuck the system. Now I’m 50, and I’ve been through and seen through the system, I really truly and deeply hate it. I know first hand. It’s very sad, because the social security and good reputation we had is all just disappearing.
HF: It’s more money in the pockets of people who already have more than enough.
CC: You have to put a monetary number on everything nowadays. Efficiency is measured and graded by money.
VH: We know how idiotic the system can be and how people are playing and pretending to do things. I remember someone saying it’s like “playing adults”. They are very serious idiots, pretending to have control.
SG: It’s really grandiose performance art, but at the cost of the working class. Have you seen anything else these days that could bring back what you miss in live music?
VH: I don’t know what the kids are listening to these days, but I’ve seen nothing that connects in the same way that punk used to. Nothing that gives people answers to whatever they are looking for. So what happens with a 16-year-old today? I miss the danger and anger and energy that used to be in music. Who does it today?
B: Sleaford Mods – I like them. He’s fucking angry and I love him for it.
HF: Jason in Sleaford Mods is the Nottingham equivalent to Mark E. Smith of The Fall. Both are seriously pissed off people from Midlands, and having been there a few times, who can blame people from the Midlands for being angry.
SG: Funnily enough, the only people of my generation who I have experienced doing it very recently, is Dog Feet. I believed them. I didn’t think that was performance art.
VH: That was genuine. The guy collapsed and broke down on the couch upstairs afterwards. They were good and they were serious. But that was rare, totally rare.
SG: Looking at it from that perspective, do you think there is any scope for an honest punk revival? I think it’s certainly needed in society now, but do you think it could happen despite the restrictions of digital/social media and the fucking ridiculous social pressures that young people experience today?
HF: If they don’t adhere to the formula. Because if they are formulistic they won’t have a chance.
VH: I accidentally ended up at a Nazi bar in a basement in Namibia once, and I get the same feeling in some places here, now. People thinking or saying “who the fuck is that”, in their leather jackets, drinking whisky from the bottle. I mean, come on.
SG: That’s one thing that actually disgusts me– the massive amount of contradictive conformity within the punk scene. I’ve heard of people being asked to leave gigs because they haven’t followed the “correct” dress code.
B: Go where you belong. Sadly, things have been really commercialised, but the skate scene still has that edge. It’s also been commercialised, but the underground still has the same attitude it had 30 years ago. That’s nice.
CC: That’s why when we did Turbonegro, we really didn’t conform to anything. We had Blitz and the hardcore thing and some good links in Europe. Blitz was vegan and feminist, whereas many of the places in Europa we played, we used watch porn and eat meat, so we were on the fringes of that part of punk.
VH: especially around that time, ‘84/’85, it was conformist and too politicised and boring. I didn’t agree with everything, even then.
CC: I was at Blitz all the time watching hardcore bands which were really good live, but seldom good on records.
B: In those days, you were happy if you left a gig with just a bloody nose.
CC: There was a recipe for being a punk rocker, I heard I Don’t Care by The Ramones when I was 11, and that was it. There is lots of people who are lost – they follow Hare Krishna, or become punk rockers, or Nazis. It’s just happenstance where they end up.
HF: But they all need something to cling to which is formulised. It’s like the “righteous vegan of the month”.
SG: One of my theories is that good pop music is not about intellect, it’s about algebra – you pick an existing equation and you conform to it. This is exactly what you’re talking about. Do you think a lot of what is titled as punk these days, is really pop in punk’s clothing? Especially considering the aesthetic and pressure of conformity that people feel.
VH: I don’t know anything about punk today, whatever it is.
HF: The best bands I have seen are the ones that just don’t give a shit. The ones who don’t want to fit in – they’re the best.
CC: There’s something interesting happening. I’m fucking 50, I’m not supposed to know what’s happening. But it’s more for the “kids”.
SG: Are you guys for the kids or the old guys?
HF: We are anti-everything. We hate the kids, we hate the parents, we want to murder your grandmother. And then steal her money! But if you look at how this thing started, I knew that with Bingo, it would be good. Because we were, sort of, partners in hate, when we were playing together.
B: I missed you.
HF: We were the shit-stirrers and I knew Carlos and Vegard from before then it was like, wow, finally, grumpy old men, not giving a shit. This must be nice. We don’t care if anybody else likes it. I’ve enjoyed this ride so far and we are already about 3 or 4 weeks into it!
SG: Are you going to expand your set any more or are you just sticking to the same 4 songs?
B: We’re just going to extend them!
CC: No, we’re going to play more than 4 songs.
SG: How have you chosen which songs to play, being as you have never been in the band at the same time, before now?
B: Anything before Apocalypse Dudes.
VH: We just picked the old songs we liked. And relevant covers that were played, or should have been played.
HF: It’s from the first single to the Never is Forever album, and then when they put on their sailor caps we went the other way.
SG: What has been the response from the current Turbonegro guys, and the Turbojugend community to Turbonecro?
HF: Vegard told Rune and Thomas that we might do some more and we got their blessing. Bengt and me are honorary members of a local chapter called Turbojugend Scumfuck, which is the original chapter, at least. The first Turbojugend ever – Ronnie Scumfuck, it’s his chapter.
CC: He’s a very good friend of mine, I’m not in Turbojugend but Ronnie, he’s the king of rock’n’roll in Oslo.
B: He used to be our security.
HF: He was good to have when there was trouble, and there always was. But I would never leave him in-charge of certain things.
B: It would be like, “you wrecked the backstage, you won’t get paid”. Ronnie said, “yes, we will”.
SG: He’s given Turbonecro the seal of approval, then?
B: Oh yes. Turbojugend Skum Fuck had half the tickets to the show here.
HF: They have to love us, or else … and if they don’t love us, we can deal with that too.
SG: I know about the religious Turbonegro following in Germany. Is this why you have decided to go there as your last gig? Is it even confirmed?
VH: No, no.
HF: We have the possibility to play there. But you know, we said “no” to a gig in Halden because the place name was wrong. It was called Feel Good.
B: We can’t play a place called Feel Good. We’re not about feel good.
HF: We’re not about feel good. We feel really bad, actually. Horrible.
SG: I mean, you’re hardly The Lighthouse Family, are you?
SG: So how did you end up with the name Turbonecro?
B: Well me and Harald had been talking about this for a couple of years, just doing one gig, a tounge-in-cheek kind of thing. Fuck that denim jacket, sailor cap, happy-go-lucky thing. Fuck off. Let’s play some 70’s rock’n’roll. So we talked about calling it Turborejects, blah blah blah, but was Turbonecro because this is something that was dead and resurrected.
HF: Deep, we are.
VH: And we are 205 years old, combined.
HF: And we should be dead by now, but we aren’t.
CC: I’ve beaten the odds pretty good.
HF: And also, in Black Metal, things are always very “necro”. I think we are probably more Black Metal than Glam Metal.
VH: We’re also making a t-shirt with our anti-everything logo.
SG: Are these T-shirts going to be available at all major high-street outlets, or…?
HF: We made an agreement with Hennes&Mauritz, we’ll be replacing the Ramones and Misfits t-shirts at the moment. We’re in the spring collection I think. Stella McCartney has done it. It’s going to be in a very nice off-pink and there will also be an amount of anthrax available, in limited addition.
SG: In little sewn-in purses?
HF: Yes. So people will probably get sick from it, but they’re so rich that they can afford it.
SG: You’re like my brain personified. I love it. Right, so, we better sign off here. Any inspirational last words to the generation of people who only learn from the internet?
CC: Fuck you.
HF: Just give up.
VH: It’s not worth it.
B: It’s hopeless. Live you’re life in defiance.
HF: That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we are about – the two things that matter in life – sex and death. Pain is just an extra perk. You know you want it