Though Mark Knopfler famously satirized the attitude most people have toward rock musicians, nobody will ever accuse Turbo Fruits of getting money for nothing. Lead singer and guitarist Jonas Stein did this interview after “magically” waking up in one of the few hotel rooms the band sprung for on the tour. Accommodations usually consist of a friendly floor, but after the spending 23 hours in a loaded minivan, the band decided a little splurge was in order. Stein, in a touching show of band camaraderie, snuck into the motel’s bathroom to discuss Turbo Fruits’ cross-country odyssey, a possible follow-up to Echo Kid, and a giant baby that lives somewhere in Texas.
For those not up to speed, you are a band from Tennessee named after an English gambling machine that rose from the ashes of Be Your Own Pet. Correct?
I will say that’s correct.
Turbo Fruits has two albums under its belt, both pretty popular with the indie-rock crowd, right?
That is also pretty accurate.
Now you’re on a cross-country tour with Surfer Blood.
Yeah, we’re on the road with Surfer Blood, and it’s been great. They’ve been pulling out big crowds throughout the tour, and that’s been important. If we were out by ourselves the tour could have been pretty hit or miss. We have fans, but there would definitely be some nights where we would have ended up playing for five people in a bar. That can be fun, but it’s been good to have a big, energetic crowd out there every night. It’s also been really fun to be out on the road with Surfer Blood, because they’re just a great bunch of guys.
The band plays a pretty energetic brand of music. Is that hard to keep up day in and day out?
If anything, it gets easier. It’s like going back into the gym after a long time off. The first three days are hell, but then you get back into a rhythm. Our bodies are used to it at this point. We’re tough dudes, too. And whatever toughness doesn’t cover, that’s where the alcohol comes in. At certain points, though, doing it becomes grueling. We tried to break the record for shows played at SXSW this year. We needed to play 21 shows to do it. We ended up playing 17 shows. We did all that work and didn’t get the record. We had a few shows fall through, and that’s it. We’re never going to do something like that again. The toll playing all those shows was just too severe. The disappointment is so real, though.
Then you add travel to the mix. What kind of conveyance is Turbo Fruits rolling in right now?
It’s pretty tight. We have a minivan packed to the brim with gear and the three of us. It’s not as comfortable as a sweet bus or flying on a plane, but it gets us where we need to go. It’s had a good run, and we might get something bigger when it starts to ghost out. Right now, it’s what we have. We can’t really afford anything else, so we don’t have to worry about replacing it.
So wherever you’re going, it’s in the van.
The driving is one of the harder parts. We started the tour in late February, and snow was blanketing the entire Northeast. We had to get from Baltimore to New Jersey, and the snow held us up for three hours leaving. Then what should have been a three-hour drive turned into something closer to seven hours. I’m white knuckling the entire way in one lane of traffic, trying not to get run off the road by tractor-trailers.
You’re probably not having your meals catered either. Give me a breakdown of your typical calorie intake.
The calorie intake is amazingly inconsistent. Since we drove for 23 hours yesterday and didn’t have a lot of time to stop, we were on the gas-station diet. It was a lot of hot dogs and gross shit like that. If we have any time to eat, we’re big fans of Japanese food. You can usually get a pretty good lunch special, and the fish and rice counteracts all the garbage we’re putting in our bodies. You have to watch what you eat when you’re out on tour, though, because even though you’re exercising more it always seems like you gain weight on the road.
Being on tour doesn’t sound fun at all.
Not so. There have been lots of highlights. Portland was really fun. We played a venue that was attached to a hotel and got discounted rooms. We splurged and got pretty saucy that night. There was a cool strip club close to the hotel, where there were these insane indie-rock chicks working. The level of talent there was so much higher than you’d expect to see in a club, and we had an amazing room party afterward. It was so epic. And there are always places on tour that know how to take care of artists. One place that I particularly love, though we missed it on this tour, is called the Bottle Tree in Birmingham. It’s run by a dude who played in bands, and he sets it up so sweet for bands. There’s always lots of beer and fresh socks after the show. No matter how dark a tour gets, there are always places that make it worth it.
And there’s always a chance of seeing a giant baby in Texas, right?
We were cruising through Texas, and I had just smoked a little bit, which made me a little nervous. I had these visions of being pulled over by a Texas Ranger. I look out the window and there’s this giant baby playing with a tractor. It just about blew my mind. The best part is, I still don’t know what the heck it was. That baby is just out there along the road somewhere.
What do you have planned after the tour, other than locating the baby?
I want to record a new album as soon as I have some time off tour. It’s nearly impossible to write on the road with all the driving and the close quarters. I want to make sure that I have the right songs for this one, so I need some time to write and lay down the tracks. Ideally I’d like to have a record in October or November, and then it can be turned in and ready to release in the first month or two of 2011. I’ll have that going on, and then I’ll probably just sleep.