The first time I talked to Turbo Fruits’ Jonas Stein he was in a hotel bathroom and, by his own admission, “out of his mind” after having spent twenty-three straight hours in a van getting to the next date on a tour with Surfer Blood. Roughly two years later, times have changed for the band. Stein is working with a permanent lineup, and the reconfigured Turbo Fruits are showcasing a more confident and layered sound while touring with Deer Tick and on Butter, the band’s third full-length, which will be released in September on Serpents and Snakes Records.
The last time you spoke with Prefix, you were in a motel bathroom. We’re not going two for two, right?
Yeah, that was in Minneapolis. It was kind of crazy. And no, I’m on ten hours of sleep right now. It’s great.
You have a new album called Butter coming out in September. Can you give us a little preview of it?
It’s a little bit different than the first two records we released, because it’s more of a collaborative effort. Previously, the band was just me bringing in ideas and pursuing them. Now Turbo Fruits has a set lineup, and everyone brings in his own ideas. The record starts out pretty heavy, with kind of a Black Sabbath vibe, and then progresses into something more poppy by the end. It sounds a little strange to say it, but all the songs really complement each other- I feel like this is a much more dynamic collection of songs than the first two Turbo Fruits records. I’m really excited about the first song on the album, “Where The Stars Don’t Shine.” We released it a while back on a seven-inch, but we got another really good studio version of it. It’s really ripping and sets the album off in an exciting way.
The first single from the album is “Sweet Thang,” though.
Yeah. I like that song too.
It has a little jangly, sweeter, and retro sound to it. Are you into expanding Turbo Fruits’ sound?
I think there are some things on the album that work with that song. It flows pretty naturally when you listen to it, but you could take a song like “Sweet Thang” and a song like “Where The Stars Don’t Shine” and be like “What the hell is going on?” We had to be very careful about how we arranged the songs on the album, but I think that there are songs that flow with “Sweet Thang.” The sound of that song is indicative of one direction that Turbo Fruits is taking, but we’re trying to keep it fresh. We’re going to do that as much as possible, without trying to freak anyone out.
You seem to be pretty excited about the first song on the record, but you made “Sweet Thang” the single. How did you arrive at that decision?
I am really excited about the opening track, but I’m also really excited about “Sweet Thang.” I think when we were listening to the mixes to figure out what was going on the full-length, we told the producer we were thinking about nixing “Sweet Thang.” He told us that we were keeping that song, and not to even think about nixing it. And then when we listened to the final mixes, it was the song that stood out the most. It was like a breath of fresh air. You could hear all the parts, and it just had single written all over it. We weren’t interested in denying that because it sounded poppy; you have to pick the single that’s supposed to be the single. Don’t worry about your pride; pick the one that’s going to reach out to the largest amount of people. “Sweet Thang” is definitely that song- it’s catchy, it stands out the most, it just feels good- so we were like, “Let’s do it.” It’s the song that’s going to suck people in; if they find something else that they are more attached to, that’s great.
You mentioned your producer. How did you get Jim Eno to work on the record?
We have a manager in New York that works with Guided By Voices, really even before those guys were big enough to be well known at all. He’s kept in touch with those guys over the years, and through them met some of the Spoon guys. So then we tell him that we want to work with a producer this time around, because before we had been doing it ourselves or working with our friends. He sent the songs out to a bunch of people, and Jim was the first one to get back. We listened to some of the stuff that he worked on in the past, and were pretty stoked about it. We just decided to go for it. He came up to Nashville for a couple of pre-production dates, and then he made sure that we toured our way down to his studio so we could play all the new songs. He wanted them nice and tight before we recorded, because we had just a limited amount of time. We tracked all the songs in eight days and mixed them in six or seven days. He was just a blast to work with- good with people, great behind the boards- can’t really say enough good things about him.
You make it sound like a pretty smooth process. Don’t you have at least one good recording drama story?
There were a couple of nights where I would have to stay later and work on vocals and the rest of the guys would come back to the studio shit-faced. I’d be in productivity mode and we’d get in each others faces a little bit, but surprisingly I think we were pretty damned well-behaved when we were in the studio. We were pretty focused and motivated to get the record done. Fights really happen more when you’re out on tour. We’ll brawl and throw down there, but when we’re in the studio we tend to be very supportive of each other. It’s when you get in the tour van and are around each other nonstop for two months. That’s when fights will break out.
Our first interview happened right after your second album, and Butter is your third. It’s taken a little while for this record to come out. Is there a story there?
This is like the fourth Turbo Fruits line-up, and these are the people that are staying. I had a lot of temporary members until I found the ones who are truly committed. I was finished with the drama of having people leave because they wanted to move to another city or work on their other band. I kept losing time finding replacements, until the guys in the band now sat me down and said they were here to stay and ready to commit. And to be honest, I wasn’t really ready to write another album. I thought it would be better, rather than pressing, to release singles on some different labels to keep the momentum going. When we finally decided to write the next record, it was January 2011. We recorded it in September, and now we’re on the fast track. We already have seventy-five percent of our next record written. That’s the story, but I think people will be hearing a lot more from Turbo Fruits in the next two years than they have in the last two, because we have a committed line-up that’s ready to bust ass.
How did the new line-up come together?
The last line-up I had quit maybe ten days before a tour. I was like, fuck that; this isn’t even going to slow me down. I called up the rhythm section of this band that I played a lot of shows with and asked them to come on tour with me. I was so jaded at this point from losing band mates that I made it clear it wasn’t anything permanent- they just had to learn the songs for the tour. They played with me for a year, and then I felt like we hit a glass ceiling, so I decided we needed to get another guitar player. I called up a guy I knew from high school, who was a great friend, but someone who I’d never gotten along with musically. I asked him if he wanted to come on the next tour, but I made it clear that he had to fit in with the band. He was totally willing to do that, and was really into it because he had never been on tour before. Everybody liked having him around, so we asked him to join full-time. This is the new Turbo Fruits- it’s the first time I’ve ever been the youngest member of my band. I’ve always been committed, but until now the other members have been kind of wishy-washy and still figuring things out. This incarnation of Turbo Fruits is ready to make some real noise.
If we talk in another couple of years, what are your predictions for the band?
I think we’re moving towards supporting ourselves wholly as musicians, which has always been the goal. I’ve been nickel and diming for the last couple of years, but I’m ready to hit the fast track. We just want to pay bills by playing music, and I think we’re getting closer to that goal.