Turbo Fruits' Jonas Stein on maturity, prank wars, and life in the van

Turbo Fruits at SXSW 2011
Turbo Fruits at SXSW 2011
Photo by Ian Witlen

Jonas Stein, lead singer and guitarist for indie rock four-piece the Turbo Fruits, is growing up. He's been going at this music thing pretty hard with the Fruits for about six years now, and after three albums, countless hours spent in the van, sweat-drenched and booze-driven sets, and nights spent sleeping on the floors of friends and strangers, Stein feels like the group has finally found its groove.

The third Turbo Fruits album, Butter, packs a punch like the dirty punk kid Stein is as heart, metal-cased knuckles and all, but there's a crack in the armor that suggests that with maturity comes self-awareness. On the opening track "Where The Stars Don't Shine," Stein admits he's "a little scared," and over the next ten songs, we get an idea of why. Butter is a departure for Turbo Fruits; the sound is overall cleaner than on their previous Echo Kid and self-titled debut, and it's a deliberate move. These days, Turbo Fruits are about creating music with intention beyond keeping the party going.

Gimme Noise caught up with Stein about the new record, becoming road warriors, and that one time they had a full-on prank war with Those Darlins ahead of their Monday night gig at the Turf Club.

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Gimme Noise: Let's talk about Butter for a minute. Your third album, and it's pretty rocking. You told Rolling Stone that your main influences were Lil Wayne, 1970's soul, and Enya. Quite a mixed bag. Are you for real on that?

Jonas Stein: [Laughs] That's what we were listening to for fun on the side. I mean, obviously there can't be any comparisons from those artists on Butter, but we weren't really listening to other rock music at that time. We were just tired of listening to other rock bands, and we were just looking for something to take us out of the norm a little bit. When you're surrounded by rock and roll music all the time, it's pretty refreshing to be able to listen to something that's totally on the opposite side of things.

GN: Butter is pretty different, sonically, compared to your first two records -- still rough around the edges, still rock, but maybe not quite as grungy. What made you change sounds?

JS: We're just getting older, and I think with aging comes maturation. I mean we didn't turn 45 or anything, but we've been doing this since we were 17. We want to keep on evolving from album to album. I'm not a big fan of when groups have one monotonous sound, and every album sounds really similar... I like to hear a different personality in each album that's released, and that's something that Turbo Fruits will be working on for the rest of our career.

GN: I heard you're already working on a new album. What does the new stuff sound like?

JS: I think you'll make a new, similar comparison from Butter to the new record. It's a little more catchy, a little bit of pop, still some heavy rocking tunes. I think it's gonna be our best album yet -- I haven't ever listened to Turbo Fruit demos in the past as with these current ones, which means I like it more. It's a more dynamic, more interesting album. I think it's going to be a bigger album than Butter.

There was a three-year lull between Butter and the previous record. This next one, we want to release within a year of Butter, and we're moving on the fast track right now. We just want to keep moving.

GN: I definitely hear some of that in the song "Gotta Get Along" off of Butter with the lines: "time to bust our ass/don't wanna be stuck inside this van forever/we wanna see the sun/driving through this stormy weather." Are you frustrated by the lifestyle at this point? Are you thinking about other possibilities?

JS: No, not frustrated, but that's a good observation. That song was kind of more or less... really, it's just kind of about the band itself. We wrote that song about kind of keeping moving on and wanting to go forward... I don't mind the van, but we can't be touring around in 13-year-old van, leading into our thirties. We can do better for ourselves.

GN: How has your attitude changed since you started making music as Turbo Fruits, six years ago to now?

JS: I was like, 17 or 18 years old [when I started playing music]. I was just kind of like this whatever punk teenage kid, I just didn't give a fuck, and now I want to be able to have a nice life and pay bills and not be just like a... We want to have a healthy lifestyle, and we work really hard. I think it's a lot easier to be a little of an "I don't give a fuck about the rules" kid when your parents are paying for things, and once reality hits, I think it's like, you need to work really hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle while maintaining a crazy one.

But we love doing it. We work really, really hard and I don't know if it's... I don't know what anyone's perception is. We're sitting in a band for six hours trying to get to a show, navigating through New York traffic, two of us have the flu, and we load the gear in ourselves and play for 45 minutes, we play really, really hard, and then we try to figure out where we're going to sleep that night so we don't have to pay for a hotel. We have a lot of fun, but we work really hard.

GN: Are you thinking about trading in your rock and roll gloves for something more stable?

JS: I think that thought has crossed pretty much every musician's mind, for sure, but it's not strong enough a thought to become a reality. At a certain point, when we're not getting enough income to support everyone in the band, that will maybe be a stronger thought.

Turbo Fruits haven't really had overnight success by any means, but we have been gaining traction, I think as long as we're moving forward every year, then we're on the right track. I think we'll get to a point where everyone will be okay.

GN: Do you have any crazy, weird road warrior stories? Have you gotten any accidental tattoos, eaten the wrong gas station egg roll, that kind of thing?

JS: [Long pause] Plenty... I'm just trying to think of the appropriate one, one that's not too outrageous... Well, here's something that's kind of fun: a couple years ago, we were on tour with Those Darlins from Nashville, and we had this gig in Minneapolis with them a couple years back, and they're some rowdy girls and we're some rowdy boys, and we kind of got into a prank war, which was a horrible idea. It got to the point where we were carrying around eggs and going up and smashing eggs on each others' heads and egging each others' vans while we were sleeping. and whipping out shaving cream during each others' sets. It got pretty wicked, and I would definitely not recommend getting into a prank war with a band you're touring with.

GN: Cool. So, what can we expect to see this month at the Turf Club from you guys?

JS: I would expect from Turbo Fruits a very whiskey-and-tequila-filled rocker set. You won't just be listening, you'll be watching knee slides, extremely high jump kicks, and some bickering between the band. I think when you watch the band, you'll be able to get to know the us. We don't just play our instruments and are done with it, we like to interact with the crowd and party with the crowd and stay out late and give the crowd something to look at.

The Turbo Fruits will be at the Turf Club on Monday, November 26 with the Goondas. 9 p.m. doors. $7. 21+.

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