An Interview with Happy Tom of Turbonegro


By Wendy WWAD & Justin Buzzcrusher

JB: What are you wearing right now?

 HT: I’m a 43 year old man dressed as a 18 year old, it’s kind of a discreet form of cross-dressing. Levi’s and a Skateboarder Magazine retro-reissue hooded sweat from Vans.

WW: You guys will be returning to Austin for the first time in a while as one of the headliners of FFF Fest. Are you excited?

HT: We LOVE Texas. And for me, it’s basically a homecoming of sorts, as my dad’s family is from Midland. And the line-up at that festival is AMAZING.

JB: Quick math question: “If eighty sailors went out to sea, how many couples would come back?” (thank you FuckEmos)

HT: 40, unless they are Mormons, which kicks the equation into a totally new realm of arithmetic.

WW: You guys are a very highly sought after festival band…what’s one of your favorite festivals to play?

HT: Europe and especially Scandinavia have some very cool festivals. My favorite these days is probably the Malakoff festival in a very idyllic fjord in Norway. It’s like playing on the set of Lord Of The Rings. Or the set of a Lords Of Dance video (the riverdance troupe).

JB: Honest answer please, “Are drummers expendable, or are they a necessary evil?”

HT: Woa woa woa, watch it, I used to be a drummer myself. The biggest problem I see these days is what I call ”bacism” or ”bassism”, the fact that bassists are being discriminated against with the whole influx of bass-less bands the last decade, a Jim Crow nightmare that started with The White Stripes.

WW: How did you guys hook up with the new vocalist, Tony Sylvester, aka the Duke of Nothing?

I read that he was the former President of Turbojugend London…did you guys have tryouts?

HT: Some Turbojugend guys got in touch and asked us to play at the Jugend World Convention, just do a very informal party show with different guest singers doing different songs. We said ok, what the heck, and sat down to make a list over various people who would do it. We knew Biafra would, possibly Mike Patton, possibly Damien from Fucked-Up, Keith Morris for sure. Then I thought, hey, let’s ask Tony since he better then anyone we know knows our band and what would sound good. I sent him a short mail and lo and behold, he was scheduled to come to Oslo that very next weekend with some friends to see Dwid from Integrity’s new band. So we met up at Elm Street (legendary metal hang out they just tore down) and sat down and drank and made up a list. Then, a few days later, it just struck me out of the blue: Hey! Why can’t Tony sing?? We were always huge fans of his old band, the legendary Dukes Of Nothing. I called him, he flew in to try out, and after the first minute of playing I saw Euroboy and Rune just strumming away with these weird smiles on their faces. I asked Euro later why he was smiling, and he said it was because he hade never heard the band sound so good ever. So that sealed it. However, now it was up the fans to decide. We figured it would be about 50/50, with 50% haters (we have EXTREMELY conservative fans) and 50% people who just wanted to sing along drunk no matter what. But after that first song that night in Hamburg there was this weird silence for about two seconds followed by this massive fucking ROAR. Some people were crying and the rest of the show was just INSANE, the best crowd we had had in years. So that sealed it. We all looked at each other and all thought the same thing: ”Oh fuck. The BITCH IS BACK.” Because playing in Turbo has never been easy. But at the same time we are all hooked, it’s like being married to this crazy beautiful woman you hate but at the same time just love the shit out of.

WW: What does Tony Sylvester bring to Turbonegro?

HT: Tony comes from the school of in-your-face hardcore singers, like John Brannon. In fact, he’s a kind of famous Northern Soul DJ, and in his gruffness you hear this soul-influence. Kind of like Gary Floyd on steroids, to give it some local coloring.

WW: Long-standing and most well-known vocalist, Hank von Helvete, left the band in 2010. What caused the parting of ways? Was it amicable?

 HT: I can’t really say so, no. He left to pursue a career in goth rock and scientology.

JB: Boxers, briefs, t-backs, speedos or g-strings? And does it depend on your mood that day or the weather?

HT: I’m a boxer guy. Tony – who is a big fashionista, quite literally, he’s a XL male model for amongst others Burberry – gives me shit for that, he’s a classic briefs guy.

WW: You guys recorded the most recent album, Sexual Harassment, in NYC. How did it go working with a new vocalist? What was different about recording the most recent album? 

HT: Writing-wise it was a new experience. Hank never wrote anything, despite us trying to get him involved, while Tony is a huge music nerd and quite the lyricist. Tommy is also a huge asset both musically and production-wise. We came in well prepared – several of the songs were written a few years ago for this band Euro, Tommy and I had with Nick Oliveri called The Germans – and recorded it all in 12 days, while our previous records have taken months. Sexual Harassment is a back-to-the-Deathpunk-roots record. Guitarwise it’s only Rune and Euro with one track each, while we used to layer the guitars to create the wall-to-wall carpet of guitars. Euro even plays some of his leads on the basic live track. It’s a totally organic record and I think it just sounds awesome. Matt Sweeney who has worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Billy Gibbons really whipped us through it and got the best out of us like a high school coach. A STONED high school coach with rocknroll knowledge dripping from his fingertips. We got Andrew WK in there doing backing vocals and piano, Nate from Converge, Benmont Tench from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on piano, it was a party and a blast. And the album became our first number one on the Norwegian charts in 10 years, so it all worked out great.

 JB: Klaus Nomi or Nina Hagen?

HT: I grew up with an older brother who played the shit out of ”Unbehagen”, so I have to say Nina. Can’t dismiss Nomi though, he made Bowie look like GG Allin on a very sloppy night.

 JB: I know at one time Turbonegro was sponsored by Levi’s. Has Turbonegro had any offers from make-up companies like Revlon or L’oreal! That shit ‘aint cheap.

HT: We are IN FACT working on an endorsement with MAC, who also make pricey stuff! But until then we’re sticking to Hennes&Mauritz, the cheap Swedish shit.

WW: You guys have had a number of lineup changes over the years. What do you think is necessary to a band’s survival?

HT: I have NO idea.

JB: I have heard that “pimpin’ aint easy”, is this true?

HT: It’s hard out there for a pimp, so DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB. Of course, there’s always night school and The Learning Annex and stuff like that. Community colleges, etc.

 WW: When you guys broke up in 1998, did you think it was the end of Turbonegro?

HT: Yuppz.

JB: They say “Haters gonna hate”. Do you think people hate Turbonegro because they are beautiful?

HT: ”People hate what they can’t comprehend” HAHAHAHA. I don’t know, maybe some people hate us because they saw us on a night were we sucked? It does happen, not THAT often though (I hope).

WW: How would you describe deathpunk to the uninitiated?

HT: A euphoric mix of classic rock and punk rock. Kind of like a grown man’s version of trance.

JB:  We live in HARD economic times, I have found that the price of MOUSTACHE RIDES has remained relatively affordable. Do you agree?

HT: The moustache ride market is recession proof. Ass, ass or ass, nobody rides for free.

WW: Did you have any idea that you would become such a huge cult phenomenon?

HT: No. People like to wear denim , get wasted and listen to Deathpunk, I guess.

JB: “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison, Tommy?”

HT: No, I can’t stand confinement. I’m a man for the wide open mountain range and a swan landing on the water like one of those corporate motivational posters.

WW: You guys are quite the fashion trend setters. Who’s the stylist? Haha. And what’s this obsession with denim?

HT: We HEART Denim signalz. Leather ain’t bad either.

WW: Can you tell us about the origin of the Turbojugend? Did you ever think it would grow to 2,600 chapters worldwide?

HT: It started out as a joke and ended up as this vast global army. That was VERY hard to predict, indeed. I guess there are a lot of people just like us  out there: SMARTY-PANTS beer drinkers who dig good tunes and even better times.

WW: If Turbonegro had a mission statement, what would it be?

HT: Just do it! (it = fucking).


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