NEW BOMB TURKS
Turks live- photo by Karen E. Graves, courtesy of New Bomb Turks website
BOMBS AWAY!Holed up in my barrage dungeon bedroom, my "fortress of solitude" if you will, lurks my musical discovery chamber. Clad in Ramones and early Stones posters lies my rocketship, through constant spinnings of worthy melodic concoctions, it blasts off this astronaut to a cosmos far distant from the radio's vapid void that fills Edmonton's aural airwaves. The New Bomb Turks are one such group that makes up this potent cosmic fuel, kinetic explosions breeding fantastic stellar voyages.
by Kortney Jmaeff
A professed "fast rock n'roll" quartet, the New Bomb Turks have literally explored the globe in their close to a decade's existence. The New Bomb Turk canon includes such explosive gems as Information Highway Revisited, Pissing out the Poison and their most recent The Night Before the Day the Earth Stood Still. What can you expect from four thirty-somethings with English degrees in a rock band named after a mischievous rogue from an early 80's B-movie?
The New Bomb Turks' secret weapon is Eric Davidson's caterwauling vocals. Davidson has mastered the sneering, glaring madman role, a fusion of elements of yesteryears aristocrats made up of Johnny Rottens' piercing stare, David Johansen's freewheeling prancing, the microphone trickery of Cleveland's own Stiv Bators, and the audience bantering of Iggy Pop. Eric's favorite vocalists are many, "Joe Strummer, Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Morrisey, and this guy John Peck, who's in this band called Death of Samantha, a really great Cleveland band." Jim Weber slashes and crashes on guitar like a runaway chainsaw and cites Andy Gortler of the NY combo Devil Dogs as his favorite axeman. Matt Reber pulses on bass and digs Charles Mingus and Denver hard rock quintet the Fluid's Matt Bischoff as his inspirational favorites. Sam Brown pounds out the beats as the skin basher, and has been with the Turks on their last 3 records, following original drummer Bill Randt's departure. Sam was a fan of the Turks before he joined, as he relates, "I definitely love Destroyo-Boy. I like it that I'm not on it because I can listen to it without criticizing it at all, from a fan's standpoint. I like Information Highway and I think that Pissing Out The Poison is really great. I'm still kind of flattered that they asked me to play with them because I think they are a really great band."
It was Davidson who originally christened as the band the New Bomb Turks. New Bomb Turk is a character played by Robert Wuhl in 1980 B-Movie Hollywood Knights. This movie, described as "American Graffiti meets Porky's," marks Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer's film debuts. "It was a good eighties movie, and so Eric said "Ah, we should call ourselves the 'New Bomb Turks'," describes Matt. "We never thought we were going to become anything, it is a silly, obscure name, but it stuck." Eric describes the movie as "A bad version of American Graffiti, it's about these guys that have to go away to Vietnam, and they're having there last fun night at their hangout. There's this guy New Bomb Turk, he messes with the cops, like when there in the bathroom, he clogs up the door and puts potatoes in the exhaust pipe of the cop car. So when they finally get out of the toilet, they get in their car and it explodes. It's just a weird name, and (it was) the first name that popped up that we all didn't retch at." Jim fancies his favorite part of Hollywood Knights to be when "New Bomb Turk farts along to "Volare." It was one of those cable staples when I was a kid, so something that me and Eric both had in common." An endearing icon such as New Bomb Turk provides a vital piece of humor to the jigsaw that is the puzzle of the Turks.
The New Bomb Turks hail from Ohio, home of legends like proto art-rockers Pere Ubu, Devo, the Dead Boys and indie favorites Guided by Voices. Matt described how his stomping ground affected his outlook on music: "Devo lived a block from where my grandmother lives. My uncle was in the same class as Chrissie Hynde in High School. My uncle saw the Pagans and the Dead Boys, Devo, Pere Ubu and Tin Huey, he even saw Rocket from the Tombs and the Electric Eels. Then there were bands like Prison Shake and Death of Samantha, a lot of '80's bands that were active." Eric is a man who appreciates the underground Ohioan circuit and is deeply influenced by the past Ohio rock scene: "All these Cleveland bands I liked in the late '80's, early '90's, that I thought were really great, they were some big influences on me, like My Dad is Dead, the Mice, Death Of Samantha, the Reactions. No one has ever heard of them. That kind of cemented in my mind, that if no ones ever heard of these great bands that's kind of the attitude I took into this band. I didn't really worry if we didn't have big hits. It kind of gives you this idea when you start a band in Ohio, you don't really have these career aspirations of stardom. One thing that was funny is even though the Dead Boys were from Cleveland; it just showed you how bad the big chain record stores are, because even in Cleveland it was hard to find Dead Boys and Pere Ubu records. But now it's better, and there's people in Cleveland who appreciate the history, there a little more. Its definitely a blue collar aesthetic compared to out West where all these skateboard kids, the pop punk kids, with happy happy music, because it's happy happy weather. Whereas growing up in Cleveland, everyone's middle class or lower, and you kind of make this kind of dirtier rock and roll. You don't expect anybody to ever really care except you and some friends." Jim is in agreement, " You got to hear the early Pretenders records on the radio a lot more then you would other places in Ohio. Bands that had a bigger influence on me from Cleveland were Death of Samantha and the Mice, because they were making great music when I first started really getting into alternative music. The radio in Cleveland would play a lot of their own artists, I'm sure they didn't play Devo on the radio anywhere else until they had there big hit." Sam was the odd man out in not embracing the past underground Ohio scene, but cited Guided by Voices as an inspiration, "I don't think I really started having Ohio rock pride until I really started playing out in bands, realizing how many good artists there are in Ohio. My favorite artist from Ohio would have to be Bob Pollard. I'm a big Guided by Voices fan, so I'm proud to have him."
Very similar preferences make for good unison in any band, and the Turks prove this by their tight, high octane, in-your-face sound. With bands like the Strokes, the Hives, The White Stripes and the unworthy Vines stealing the spotlight with their raw, garagey sound, some other bands who didn't receive due credit may take offense to the public's sudden hankering for true rock and roll. The Turks, however, are happy with this trend. "I don't look at them as enemies at all," explains Sam, "I'd rather hear them on the radio than Limp Bizkit. I think, that except for the Vines, the hype around the White Stripes and Hives and the Strokes was warranted. The Vines are horrible. They bought the cover of the Rolling Stone. I think that they were just at the right place at the right time. The record was right when the mass media was willing to admit that rock was popular again, on the pop radio level. I think that all the hype around those three bands, they deserve it. They made really good records. I liked those records before people started listening to them. It's cool that people are being turned onto good music." Eric agrees, " I don't think the Vines are a garage kind of band. They all seem really young; they all look like there 18 or 19. The fact that there from Australia, I think they probably just got big management. I mean if you were 18 and someone wanted to throw you on the cover of Rolling Stone, you'd probably want to do it too. I like the single but the rest of the record doesn't sound like that. I mean its kind of annoying that they got thrown in there. Its pretty obvious its all been bought, but the Strokes hype was pretty much all bought too, they all have pretty big connections. The Hives kind of weathered it for a few years and really toured that record in Europe a lot, and got picked up by the British press."
The Turks were formerly on the famous Epitaph label, releasing three full lengths, 1996's Scared Straight, 1998's At Rope's End and 2000's Nightmare Scenario. Epitaph is primarily a Punk/Hardcore label, so the Turks didn't have much in common with the other bands. Eric described the Turk sound as, "Fast rock and roll. Because if you say punk, they instantly think you're going have a Mohawk, like my sister Claire once actually said to me, "But you don't have Mohawks!" So you got to say like fast rock and roll. "You mean like the Beatles?" That's always there, its like, (in a sarcastic voice) "Yeah, like the Beatles"."
The band agrees the best aspect of being on Epitaph was the distribution and freedom of artistic expression that Epitaph afforded them. "When our first record came out on Epitaph I felt the power of a big label because a lot of people were behind the record." relates Matt, "It was owned by Brett who was really behind us and they did a lot of promo stuff. Then Brett had a bout with drugs, and the label kind of went down from there. They had money to throw around on plane tickets or hotel rooms. They could fly you to Los Angeles to do interviews. They flew us out to master our record. I mean you saw that big money thing, we were used to just kind of scraping by." Eric also remembers the Epitaph days as a bittersweet experience, "Well, the good thing was just flat-out distribution. Everything else kind of went downhill after the first record on the contract, because the people that we met there that we really liked and worked with ended up quitting or getting fired. And they kept trying to hire these different people from bigger labels, thinking that they were becoming a bigger label, And those people didn't really know our band, didn't really care about that kind of music and didn't know where to push us. By the last record they said that they weren't even sending promos to college radio, which in the United States that's the only way we were going to get played. They paid the money when they said they would and they never told us we had to change recording or change artwork. They were always very cool about that." Jim was optimistic yet agreed about Epitaphs lack of zeal and ability in promoting the band. "I don't really have any regrets, they put the records out. They did what they said they were going to do. The best thing was just the distribution. They were able to get the records out into stores worldwide the week you're record comes out. The worst part about it was the fact that we were a rock and roll band on a southern California hardcore label, and that doesn't really translate that well as far as sales and marketing. They didn't really know what to do with a band like us."
The New Bomb Turks stay smokin' in their new home of Gearhead Records. Their newest release, The Night Before the Day the Earth Stood Still, confirms that even in the decade old Turkmobile, the New Bombers can still burn rubber and thunder down the highway with obscene muscle and ferocity.
The Turks have stayed put in their Ohioan stomping ground, and have only the kindest words for their birthplace. Common praise was given to the cheap rent, the local music scene, cool record stores and its central location. "There's a lot of young people in Columbus, so there's a lot of bands," says Sam, "sometimes good bands, sometimes bad bands. There's always been a lot of people making music and writing their own tunes. It's a really cheap place to live, so it's a great place to be in a band. You can find a cheap place to practice. You can get by on a part time job and have time to create art." Jim declares "The coolest thing about it is that's its centrally located, you're not that far from New York or Chicago. If we've lived in L.A., then getting out to New York would be nearly impossible." Eric had lots to say about the advantages about Ohio, "Cleveland's a really neat town. It has a lot of cool old neighborhoods, great art museums, movie theatres and great radio. There's like five really great college radio stations. A lot of its pretty flat and boring but you'd be surprised at the number of big cities in Ohio. It's right near Pittsburgh and Detroit and a little ways from New York."
The Turks surprise concert in Edmonton on October 2 marked their virgin performance in the "City of Champions," Edmonton. Matt noticed differences between the Canadian and American scenes. "It seems that Canadians know more about music because a lot of American bands don't come to Canada as much. There are people who collect records and they know every little intimate detail about everything, especially when you get up north here. You have more die-hard music fans. I think that the clubs treat the bands a little better than in the States. I know there's more respect for musicians and artists, a lot of our friend's bands get grants to record and to tour. It's considered an art form, so it's just an all around better appreciation for music and musicians."
The Turks have been around and staked out their favorite places to rock. Eric relates how the Columbus crowd feels about them. "Every band complains that nobody in their hometown likes them and they play three hours away and the place is packed. That's how Columbus is; everyone's sick and tired about hearing about us. Favorite places to play are like Toronto, Austin, Texas, London, Cleveland and New York. We do pretty well in bunch of little towns in France for some reason. Green Bay, Wisconsin's got a cool little scene. Actually the better, crazier crowds are more devoted out in the east coast and down south. But out west we usually get the biggest crowds, so many more kids. It just depends on the night, we just had a night in Vancouver that was great, you never know where you are going to find a good crowd." The Turks days of tearing up the concert circuit is nearing its finale, however. Following their past fall tour of Canada and the States, and their European tour in November and December, the Turks plan to slow down and only record albums, except for the odd live show in Ohio. They chalk this up to busy family lives, further schooling, and a desire to leave on a high note and avoid the old lifer band type stereotypes.
Witnessing the Turks in action on that mild autumn night was similar to watching your cousin peeling out of the high school parking lot in his rust n' primer '73 Duster; sheer obnoxiety always slayed subtlety. The frenzied Turks blasted out scorchers like "Automatic Teller," "End of the Great Credibility Race," "Snap Decision" and Epitaph Punk-o-rama favorites "Jukebox Lean" and "Defiled." Watching the Turks live show, with its breakneck tempos married with Davidson's juvenile antics, was like scarfing down junk food and watching a 3 Stooges episode with the Nuggets box set, Ramones first album, and the Stooges' Raw Power cranked up to 10 on shuffle mode. Not the most intellectual excursion, but I dare you to find a more mirthful experience.
But what makes seminal forces of nature like the Stooges, Ramones, early Stones and Who, Troggs, Blue Cheer and MC5 so seminal, so timeless? What made their raw, relentless releases corking blueprints for longhaired misfits for decades to follow? What made gargantuan gonzo critic Lester Bangs fervidly dig Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, and the Velvet Underground's White Heat, White Light? Why would possess him to arduously praise crude obscures like Black Pearl, Dust, the Count Fives and Savage Rose? What divides the pack of full throttle, carnivorous eternal gems from the obsolete, all-bark-no-bite, bombastic tripe? The answer lies sealed in a solitary attribute, the ability for the legends to sound... PRIMITIVE (I said primitive, not technical inept). Reminiscent of this theme is the Nuggets collection offspring, the Groupies, with their 1966 release, "Primitive." Illustrative to my point, the lyrics say it all, "Primitive, that's how I live... I take what you give. Coz I love, and I live... primitive." The banal quagmire from the '70's and '80's featured groups with names suited for Atari game cartridges, (Journey, Styx, Kix) and missed the mark entirely. They opted for synthesizers, glossy overproductions, all-filler-no-killer technical noodlings and gaudy neo-troubadour lyrics over the ingredients that really make up a smoking hot rawk n'roll pie: the metallic squeals, blistering feedback, fuzz tone-fueled wah wah pedals, the plodding, rumbling bass licks, the unembellished tribal drum rhythms, the skronking sax spicings, the throaty, who-cares-if-I-hit-every-note-as-long-as-I-have-spunk vocals. These qualities are tantamount to sifting the raging contenders from the throwaway fossils. The point is that the Turks possess this primitive charm; they have passed their history exam.
From 1993's Destroyo-Oh-Boy! to the autumn released The Night Before the Day the Earth Stood Still, the Turks have proven time and again to be the kings of energetic, fast-paced, frantic "Rock n' Roll." For over 12 years (in band years, a near eternity), the Turks have given their best. In an era glutted with nu-metal/rap schlockery, candy-coated 4th generation gutless pop punk and scantly clad pop divas whining about trite infatuations, the meaty, old-fashioned roar and roll of the Turks will remind you that rock is still alive and well.
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