Turbowolf has returned! The British “essentially punk” rock upstart has revealed a new album, its first full-length studio release in four years. The new disc, titled Two Hands, contains 11 tracks of heavy-hitting, hard rock music. A quartet who met through playing in other bands, the group is confident, brash, and just a little twisted.
Formed in Bristol in 2007, Turbowolf gained some initial footing and traction on the local rock scene by throwing “Wolf parties”, concerts where they’d invite friends’ bands to play. Word began to spread, and momentum began to build. Enlisting manager Don Jenkins, the band signed to Hassle Records to record their debut disc. Due to financial constraints, the quartet recorded the album piecemeal, rather then all in one session.
The eponymously titled debut eventually hit store shelves in 2011, but even after extensive touring, the band found itself without a record label home for a time, to say nothing of a lineup that required revamping, with the role of bass player taken over by Lianna Lee Davies. Eventually signed to earMUSIC (for Europe) and Spinefarm Records (for the USA), the band finally obtained the financial wherewithal to record a second disc. The label’s backing allowed the band to experiment and explore further limits of sonic creativity, the end result of which was Two Hands.
Recorded in six weeks at Rockfield Studios in Wales, Two Hands features thick, soupy guitar riffs, aggressive synthesizer, and enough distortion to make the floor rumble. The album represents a band who isn’t content to fall into a sophomore slump. Two Hands displays a wide variety of “rock” flavors, from the cocky punk of “Invisible Hand”, to bits of funk and even disco, which seep into “Rabbit’s Foot” and “Solid Gold”. Some of the glory days of arena rock or hair metal pervade the disc, most noticeably on “Good Hand” and “American Mirrors”. Quirky, neo-psychedelic components include twisted vocal parts, ambient synth insertions, and even an instrumental in the form of “Toy Memaha”.
Hot on the heels of this new release, Turbowolf’s vocalist, Chris Georgiadis, spoke in some detail about the new album, the band’s songwriting process, and the music industry overall.
What’s the most enjoyable or rewarding part of the music cycle for you?
Hey, it’s all good stuff! It’s nice that there are so many different elements to being in a band, as it keeps us from getting stuck doing the same thing. Writing, touring,
and recording is where I’m at. The parties and all that is for the industry people to back-scratch and blow coke up each other’s asses. Not my bag.
You’ve got some nice momentum built on “American Mirrors”. The song is reminiscent of your debut. For the most part, it’s a little more straightforward then the new material. Some would peg that type of tune ‘more accessible’. How important is accessibility in your music?
We certainly didn’t consider that one particularly accessible. It was meant to be kind of fast and horrible, actually. I guess we always try and get some pop music elements in our songwriting, and therefore, it makes even the nastier songs more listenable. That’s really what we like to do; disguise a horrible noise within something catchy.
You mentioned “fast and terrible” and “nasty” songs. What makes up a “nasty” song vs. a “nicer” song?
Well, “nastiness” is of course relative. If you’re listening to Darkthrone, then we probably sound like Britney Spears. In terms of what makes a “nasty song vs. a nicer song”, well, most of our songs have some disgustingly wonderful guitar fuzz tones. We like to emphasize them in certain songs or parts of songs, and at other times those sounds are more hidden. It all depends on what we want the overall listening experience to be, and therefore, we treat each song as individually as possible.
The countermelody in “Nine Lives” is very effective. When you’re writing, do you work those layers in from the outset, or do you add them later? Who wrote the lyrics to this song, and what message are you trying to bring to your fans?
I write the lyrics and melodies, and Andy writes the music. We go back and forth with ideas, and it slowly falls into place. With “Nine Lives”, I wrote the melody with some other words at first, and then changed them once the concept had formed. It’s about making the most of your life. Some people don’t like the idea of death, and want to believe in some kind of afterlife to help them get through the day. I believe that if people understand that this is it, this is your life, they might learn to embrace this awesome existence and love it for what it is… short but sweet!
Where do you draw inspiration for lyrics? You mentioned making the most of life (for “Nine Lives”), so at least some of it is introspection…
It’s a mixture of personal experiences and ideas that exist outside of myself. I don’t always look for relatability when writing; I’m much more into using exciting or inspiring words to paint a larger picture.
How do you choose what to write about versus what to leave alone? Anything can be a song…
Trying to find exciting and inspiring words is the key for me. Making it “hit” is a combination of music, lyrics, society, and luck.
The discordant, distressed childlike vocal effects at the beginning and end of “Solid Gold” are really strange. How did you come up with that idea, and why do you feel it worked in this tune?
We had the kinda robotic intro / outro guitar riffs over the drums, and it just needed a little humanity in there. Finding the right sounds was the tricky part, and also making them work in the track, but once I’d cut and bent them into shape, they fit just right.
There are a lot of ideas in “Rich Gift”. How do you combine what seem like disparate ideas into one smoothly flowing song?
With that song, we really just let ourselves loose. We’re very good at cutting stuff out of songs; boiling them down to a concentrated stock. But with “Rich Gift”, we had so many ideas, and just though we’d experiment and go wild. Really glad we did, as it’s probably my favourite on the album.
Why does “Pale Horse” bring to mind old Neil Young? Is including discordant or unexpected notes in guitar solos (a la Jack White, at least live…) the new thing?
I’m not really sure if playing discordant / unexpected notes in solos is the new thing, really. We like that sort of thing, because sometimes, it’s more fun to be wrong than right. Oh, and we love Neil Young, so I’m glad that comes through a bit. Especially his guitar sound on songs like “Hey Hey, My My”.
A lot of musicians seem to embrace ‘living in the moment’. Writing and recording an album is very much a fixed set of points in time though… it’s an interesting juxtaposition. How important is perfection, versus spontaneous action, to Turbowolf?
In terms of writing, we aim to make each song as good as it can be. That’s when we look for perfection. In the recording process, obviously there are time constraints, and we tend to go for feel in performances over a “perfect take”. Then, live, it’s all about matching the energy of the audience and putting on a great show. It’s all a balance.
From Two Hands, which song would you utilize to introduce Turbowolf sonically to a new listener?
I’ll pick “Rich Gift”. It’s got most of what we’re about, and goes by in a brisk seven minutes.
The Two Hands mix is excellent – warm and full. Did you make an “audiophile” mix to press specifically to vinyl?
Thanks! We mixed it ourselves, with co-producer Tom Dalgety. We didn’t do a mix specifically for vinyl, but we did take into consideration how frequencies would sound on most mediums, while in the mixing phase.
Can you talk a little bit about your general songwriting process?
Like I mentioned earlier, Andy (guitar) writes the music, and I write the words. That’s how it’s been for both albums. We arrange the songs together, and then present them to the other two, where we breathe some life and soul into the songs.
At what point did you realize you needed management, and is that when the band really took off?
Don has been our manager for about eight years now. He’s the reason we’re still going, I think. He really brought so much that we were lacking, and to this day, represents us in a formidable way. We love him.
What’s the biggest obstacle (or pitfall) you faced as a band?
I’d say the biggest obstacle for most bands is money, or lack of it. The fact that we’ve all held down jobs, as well as doing the band for so long, is a testament to how much we love what we do. We’ve been pretty good at avoiding pitfalls, so far.
How did you choose your producer for Two Hands?
We met Tom Dalgety when he was engineering on a demo session we were recording. He was so good, and we got on so well, that we asked him to work with us on the album. Besides bringing the knowledge of how to make horrible noises sound massive, he’s also a wonderful person with the sort of sick humour you need when spending all hours together.
Have you ever toured through the USA?
Never toured in the States. Hoping to make our way over there at some point soon though!
Do you have any especially memorable onstage crazy-moment type tales?
We all have nightmares of a gig gone wrong, no trousers, hands don’t work, setlist written in French… that sort of thing. But in reality, we do all we can to avoid any of those things happening, and if they do, we embrace the chaos. Surely makes for a more exciting show.
How has the crowd response been to the Two Hands tunes? You mentioned embracing chaos…
Crowd response has been great! We’ve been slowly adding more new songs over the last year or so. In terms of “embracing chaos”… that was in regards to our live set in general. We play and perform with passion and energy, and if that results in a non-perfect live recording, then so be it. We provide a live experience, not an album playback.
Who is your ideal touring partner, band-wise? Who would you like to tour with?
Well we’ve just done (a tour with) Death From Above 1979. That was awesome. I’d quite like to tour with The Dead Weather…
How do you get through the “drudge days” — uninspired, ill-feeling, or cantankerous days?
Like anyone does, really. If you can chill out, then do. If you can’t, then just suck it up and get on with it.
The live versions of your tunes – are they faithful to the studio versions? Or do you change up the arrangements, instrumentation, and so on?
We’re essentially a punk rock band, so live versions are always different, and sometimes wrong. That’s okay, because seeing us live is all about energy, and having a good time.
Pure punk didn’t seem to be too deep with their lyrics back in the day… they wore it on their sleeves, so to speak. Is a more interpretive tangent where modern punk music (or a hybrid, like Turbowolf) is headed?
I think punk is doing what you want with no care for societal/cultural pressures. We have no interest in fitting in, or being part a scene, so we try to make what we do in terms of writing not a reflection of anything else – rather a diffraction of everything we enjoy.
Is that a southwest USA native headdress on the Two Hands cover? How do you pick, or create, the images for your albums?
Andy makes all the artwork for the band. He’s a talented artist in his own right. The album cover image is of a Native American crown dancer in a mysterious valley.
A powerful image, and a reminder of how much knowledge we’ve cast aside and forgotten.
The octave fuzz on the guitar seems to be a foundational element of the Turbowolf attack. What do you feel are the core elements of your sound, especially on
Oh, I’m not sure… probably the guitar represents Turbowolf most. My vocal delivery also, and the songs as a whole.
What continues to inspire you regarding music?
We’re inspired by being the underdog, and by not liking what we’re seeing around us, both politically and also musically. Using negative things to create something positive.
What negatives have you made positive, so to speak, this time around?
We’re positive people! So we just wanted to show that more on our latest album.
Okay, peer into your crystal ball… What’s up next for Turbowolf?
Festivals all over the UK and mainland Europe. Then touring after that. Hopefully coming to the States at some point, too.