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Turbo Lovers

Conducted originally via AIM for Artless Nonculture Webzine, September, 2008.

Interview with BJ Lisko of TURBO LOVERS
by Sam Sinister (well, okay, mostly by BJ Lisko...)

SS: So, where do we start?

BJL: Whereever you want man.

Alright, sir. So, I hear tell of a new album in the works. Wanna tell us a little about that?

The new record is called Outstanding, keeping in line with the title of the previous record, Cock of the Walk. If you notice, there's a theme going on here with Turbo Lovers - "I Am The Swagger", "I Want It All", "Rock 'n' Roll Son of a Bitch", "On My Way" - It's all about that swagger and all about having that ego, plain and simple. Some call it cocky, I would call it cocky even, but you have to be that way when it comes to rock 'n' roll anymore. We're not pompous about it, we're approachable and as nice and talkative as anyone, but I do feel that we put on one of the best live shows in the area. I didn't tattoo "I Am The Swagger" on my arm for nothing. It's a mindset, whether we're playing for a ton of people or just a handful, we are committed to putting on the best show possible. No one wants to see a group of nervous guys standing entirely still fumbling through a set list all awkwardly. We are the furthest thing from that on the planet, and basically that little bit of ego is us telling you that ahead of time.

As for album specifics, it's going to be done again at Mars Recording by Bill Korecky, who did Mushroomhead, all of it's offshoots, as well as Disengage, Integrity, and a host of other hardcore bands. He's also done numerous rock projects, most recently Donnie Iris' latest records. We like to record there because he knows what we want. It's so easy to already have someone recording you that's on the exact same page, and to know that what you record is going to sound bombastic before you even put anything to tape.

How did you first end up working with him?

Bill did Silver Tongued Devil and Disengage. I was extremely partial to the sound of the Disengage record and I was tired of recording on a budget. So basically, my previous band, Hellvis, decided to spend the money and went there for the Rock 'n' Roll Motherfuckers album, and it just came out huge. That record still sells all over the place. I'm sure it's the most successful record I've ever been on, and I was glad to have co-written a lot of that and to have produced it.

Anyways, I didn't think the formula with Bill needed changing, so I went back for all the Turbo Lovers stuff. I can tell you, he's a drum freak when it comes to recording, and luckily he liked me at first and didn't throw me out. I've brought drummers in there with some pretty horrid kits that he's made sound pretty incredible. We won't have that problem this time with our drummer, Josh Owens, thankfully.

We're looking at ten total songs for the record, most of which has been the live set recently. We are going to re-record "On My Way", which was on the "No Longer Attractive" album, because vocally, now with our bassist, Angelo Scordo, helping me out with singing, it's taken on a whole different feel, even though the song [itself] is basically the same. Also, "I Am The Swagger" will be included as a bonus track at the end of the disc, since it's been out for a few years but has never been on anything other than a compilation CD.

The material is more straight-forward than previous records, and it's more cohesive since I've written the core of everything myself, and I've had Angelo and Josh there to help arrange the songs. It's going to be way tighter, considering there's an actual band recording the album now, as opposed to [myself] doing everything but the drums. I think we practiced maybe five times before recording the last two records, so there was a lot of "Pro-Tools fixes" on there, rhythmically. That won't be the case at all here.

The songs all pretty much clock in around 3 minutes, and I would dare to say that they are catchier and poppier than anything I've ever done before. That's not to say that it's a pop record by any means. The stuff still rocks. Anyone that's bought a disc of ours in the past will not be disappointed. This record is going to surpass both of the previous efforts, hands down.

You mentioned re-recording "On My Way"... I've noticed, while hearing you live, that there's also been some bit of development in your song "Vegas Heat", as well (like the brief stop during the third "Wooooah-oh" in the chorus). Any chance of that getting a sonic makeover, too?

Honestly, if we wanted to, we could re-record just about everything with the new lineup. When I went to the studio for the first two records, as I said, it was just myself and a drummer (or drummers), basically. So there was no real cohesive band recording the songs. Naturally, when Angelo and Josh came along, they kind of put their own stamp on everything, so the live show has progressed from the recordings. We want to re-do "On My Way" because I never felt like it got a real shot on the first record, and Angelo's backing vocals have taken the song to a new level. That song actually fits better with the record we're about to record than it did on "No Longer Attractive." That was more of a Judas Priest kind of rock 'n' roll record, and "On My Way" was sort of the pop song on there.

There's a song called "Ride the Eagle", from Hellvis' Rock 'n' Roll Motherfuckers album, that I sang and played all the instruments on but the drums. That very well could make it to "Outstanding" if we decide to re-record it.

But as for other older songs in the live set, there aren't any plans to re-record any of that. Although, I do hope to record a live record, about six months or so after the release of the new album, and a lot of those older songs will certainly be on there.

Where do you plan on doing that?

I'm not exactly sure yet. It's not like the acoustics of any bar in Youngstown are too good. Cedars probably sounds the best, but to be totally honest I'd rather do it at The Royal Oaks, and then we can fix it up just a tad in Pro Tools afterwords. Really, I'm not sure. It might be somewhere totally off the wall just for the sake of the recording. We'll have to see.

How did you hook up with Get Hip for the distribution end of Outstanding?

Well, we didn't actually. Our record label, Cracked Piston Recordings, did. They are one of Get Hip's exclusive labels. Get Hip basically puts our records in their catalogs, that they send to record stores all over the world and online. Whatever place thinks it can sell it then picks it up and stocks it. So we sell records all over the place. I get e-mails from Belgium, France, Brazil, and Spain, asking when we're going to tour there. That would be nice to actually do someday.

But I initially hooked up with Cracked Piston through Hellvis. They put out our Rock 'n' Roll Motherfuckers record. Cracked Piston is almost entirely a rockabilly/psychobilly label. I say "almost" because Hellvis was more like Motorhead meets Elvis, and we are what we are. It's kind of funny being the only band like us on the label because recently this big rockabilly magazine did a feature on Cracked Piston, highlighting all of their releases. When it came to us, it just said that we sounded "like AC/DC and Kiss", and didn't even put the catalog number. Haha.

But Big Myke Destiny, the owner of the label, loves Turbo Lovers. He's wanted to put out pretty much everything I've ever done since I met him. He's just as excited as we are for the new record.

Tell us a little bit more about "I Am the Swagger". What was the inspiration for the song, both lyrically and musically? Was it recorded specifically for Glamnation? Did they approach you, or the other way around?

"I Am The Swagger" is a saying that a close friend of mine and I actually used on the golf course. For those that don't know, I am a bit of a golf freak. Whenever we played, if we got into a rhythm, we would say we had "the swagger". Well, once I said to him that he had the swagger, and he responded with "I am the swagger." That was years ago, but I always wanted to write a song around that lyric and attitude. Originally, I wrote that song when Ted from Hellvis was in jail. The idea was to put out a 7-inch while he was still behind bars, as sort of a gimmick to prepare for when he got out, with me doing all the instruments, singing, and getting a drummer.

Sound familiar?

Well, Ted sent lyrics for another idea I had, a song titled "It's Not The Rock, It's Who You Know." I used his lyrics around my music for that, then wrote "I Am The Swagger" myself with a drum machine. But there was a mixup concerning the artwork at the label, and by the time they were going to have it fixed, Ted was out of jail. So we thought it would be kind of dumb to put something out with just myself and a drummer when he was actually available again. So we scrapped the idea, and the song Ted wrote the lyrics for ended up as a bonus track on the Hellvis re-release of Dixie Fried Hellbilly.

Since "I Am The Swagger" sounded more like Turbo Lovers anyway, I kept that song around and was eventually approached by 272 Records to have it included on their Glamnation comp after they heard it online. That's the only place it's been released so far, but it will be on Outstanding as a bonus track.

Lyrically, again, it's about coming from a place that constantly drags you down, but it's [also] about never losing that cockiness or attitude. It's about saying, no matter what, "I Am The Swagger."

You have to be cocky to play golf well. If you're not, the game will eat you alive. You have to be cocky to play rock 'n' roll, too, or you'll just be another band among millions that never gets a shot at anything. Same deal.

I recently got the phrase tattooed on my arm.

Do you ever have people come up to you after a set and ask you questions about Hellvis, or do most people not even make the connection?

All the time. Typically, they want to know when the band is getting back together or when it's going to play again. But I don't have any control over that now, since I left Hellvis last year. The Hellvis lineup that did the most damage, literally and figuratively, was Ted Laskowski, Marty Katon, and myself. We recorded two full-lengths, played all over, regionally and in the Midwest, opened for Reverend Horton Heat, Nashville Pussy, and Five Horse Johnson. I get asked all the time because when Hellvis was around with that lineup, it was an anomaly. Marty was in his mid-50's at the time. Ted was in his early 30s, and I was 21, 22. You couldn't have scripted that. It was the weirdest thing to try to explain to people, but when they saw the band, there was such chemistry there that it was absolutely electric. And it totally happened by accident.

[To answer the second part of your question], most people know that I was in Hellvis. Like I said, most of them think I still am.

Does it ever upset you when they ask you specifically about your Hellvis years?

I never get upset when anyone asks me about Hellvis, because it was such a great time in my life. But that lineup was one of those things you just knew couldn't last more than a few years. I tried very hard for Hellvis to get its big break, as fast as possible, because it always felt like at any moment the entire thing could go down in flames. Marty was getting close to 60, although he was in much better shape than Ted and myself - Ted drank like a fish, and I wasn't much better. Plus Ted and I each drove over an hour to get to practice in Twinsburg.

But our shows were events, and the fact that it felt like it could spiral out of control at any given moment made it feel like every show we played could be our last. People caught on to that, and some planned their entire weekends around our shows. They would come in from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, sometimes further, party all Friday night and Saturday, see us blow holes in the clubs of ceilings with shotguns, and nearly catch people on fire (one time I did) with 20-foot showers of completely uncontrolled Phantom Fireworks napalm, party all night afterwards into Sunday morning, then recover before the work week.

We were on the verge of some bigger label interest, planning to tour, and that's when Ted went to prison. He is out now, of course, but he was incarcerated for three years. I kept the band alive best I could when he was in jail, but Marty moved to California following his third divorce.

When Ted got out, we did a reunion/comeback show, but without Marty it just wasn't the same. Plus, Ted had lost his license and still lived in Cleveland, so I had to drive a total of six hours in order for us to practice for two or three. The logistics of it at the time were just too hard, and that's when I left. Ted is trying to get it going again now, and I hope he does, because he's a tremendous talent. I just don't know if you could ever recapture what we had, unless it was that lineup again. It sort of feels like there was a huge opportunity there, and the train just derailed. I'm not saying it was a surprise, but it still sucked.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were originally a bass player. How do the two differ for you, if at all? Do you ever miss playing the bass live?

Yes, I was a bass player for eight years before I switched over to the guitar for Turbo Lovers, when our last guitarist left. Bass is still easier for me to play, and I’m better at that, but I’ve gotten worlds better at guitar in the last seven or eight months. To be honest, I think I like playing guitar live better, now. The only thing that sucks about guitar is that I don’t own as many of them to light them on fire or smash them on stage, haha. I’m working on that, though.

You mentioned hardcore earlier; What's your connection with Crowd Deterrent?

I know Samoan Rob and Steve [Assault] from when we were teenagers playing in our crappy hardcore and metal bands. Back then, there was a big scene of kids that actually cared about shows and playing music, but it was pretty apparent that for about 99 percent of them it was just a fad. For us, and a select other few that are still doing it, it wasn't.

I've been friends with those guys for a long time, even though, musically, what we write and play is way different. Our common ground comes from our viewpoints. Those guys never gave up, and neither did I. We were genuine about what we were doing and still are to this day. We hated the same things about certain aspects of the scene. We hated people who were fake, and we constantly made fun of a lot of the clueless people that were playing music back then (we still do, actually). And, even though what we we're playing is different, generally we listen to the same punk, hardcore, rock, and metal.

I filled in on bass for Crowd Deterrent for a few shows right before Hellvis formed, and I was happy to be able to fill in for them again at a show in Pittsburgh last year. I'm still on call for them if they need anyone to fill in for a show in this area. Hardcore shows are fun, and I like doing them from time to time because it's so different from what I'm used to. There's so much more energy from the crowd, and just about everyone that follows Crowd Deterrent is genuine. You don't run into a lot of the crap you run into playing in a rock band, at bars, when you're playing hardcore. It might be more "violent" to people outside of the scene, who don't know what it's all about, but really, hardcore shows, aside from a few bumps and bruises, are less likely to have any kind of stupid drama at them then any rock 'n' roll show. At least that's how it is in Crowd Deterrent. Because if you're an idiot at a Crowd Deterrent show, the crowd there will eat you alive pretty quick.

Those guys are friends, and Crowd Deterrent is known and respected in hardcore music circles all over the world. Our connection comes from the fact that Rob and Steve aren't ever going to quit doing what they're doing, and neither am I.

How do you feel about people calling Turbo Lovers a "punk rock band"?

I don’t mind that at all. It’s funny, because what some people refer to as punk, I just call rock ‘n’ roll. Same deal with metal, and a lot of genres that have those similarities, but are basically separated by fashion and the crowds that go see them. As long as people take the time to actually listen, I don’t care what they call us. We play with punk bands, metal bands, indie bands, alternative bands, etc. There’s so many labels and it’s all so up to individual interpretation that it’s hard to ever be upset with anyone for putting you in a certain category. Most of the people that call us punk aren’t associating us with MTV punk like Blink 182, they’re associating us with good punk like New Bomb Turks, Zeke, Rocket from the Crypt and Gluecifer. And, even though I just said those were punk bands, I personally call them all rock ‘n’ roll, haha. So really, that’s perfectly fine with me. No one that says we’re punk say we sound like Good Charlotte, so it’s all good.

Who are some of your favorite NE Ohio/Western PA bands, past or present?

Anyone that I’ve been in, haha. Really, whenever I’ve wanted to hear something I just went out and did it myself because it wasn’t around here. I’ve got a line from an early Turbo Lovers song that we actually named our publishing rights after, called “Not In This Town Music.” The line says “It’s all been done before, just not in this town.”

But there have been things that I’ve liked. I’m not a huge history buff of the area, and I know the Dead Boys are a big favorite to name drop, but honestly I was never really into them. Personally I was more partial to the 80's and bands like Salty Dog.

There have been a few bands recently, as in the last six or seven years, that aren’t around anymore that I liked. Boulder was a fantastic metal band from Cleveland. The guy that basically founded that is now in Midnight, who is also excellent. Silver Tongued Devil, who occasionally plays a one-off show in Pittsburgh were cool. I liked them better than Todd Porter’s new band, The Cheats (although The Cheats would go into the present category for bands that I like to see live).

I don’t know, I don’t want to really start mentioning every band in the area that’s remotely rock ‘n’ roll, because I’d just be name dropping and being a politician, which I can’t stand to do.
I’ll pretty much just leave it at: There’s some stuff going on that’s very good for the area, and a good deal of it is happening in Youngstown, whether it be the 70's rock/stoner rock thing, or punk. It’s good to see that at least some bands around here aren’t totally devoid of influences.

How do you feel about "cover bands"? Do you think there's a bigger demand for original live music than there was, say, 2 or 3 years ago?

I’m not a fan of cover bands. I understand why people play in them, though. The money is so much better. But to me, learning four hours worth of popular music to make more money on the weekends just isn’t worth it. I personally have way too much pride to do something like that. But most people in cover bands got their start doing that, and don’t write anything original. That’s what they know. They don’t care about writing anything of their own; they would rather just earn some easy cash a couple times a month.

I think my main dislike of cover bands has to do with the fact that so many people associate live music with that. You can go to a million bars on a Friday or Saturday, and see someone playing a host of covers. And a lot of people think that’s all that’s out there, which hurts anyone trying to make any kind of money doing their own material.

As far as the demand for live music, there is less of a demand for it now than at any other point for the 10 years I’ve been doing this, and I think it will continue down that trek. The internet, which I admit is beneficial in some ways, has really killed the live show. Everything is at your fingertips for free with a simple click. Why go see it, when you can just download whatever you want, to your computer at home? There are still a lot of people that love live music, but no one is coming along to take the place of those people, because kids and teenagers are being brought up in an age where everything is so readily accessible via their computers. It’s a shame, really. I remember when Metallica came out years ago and sued Napster, and everyone seemed to cry foul on Lars Ulrich. The thing is, Metallica was absolutely right. Look what’s happened to the record industry and record sales. That has filtered right into ticket sales and attendance at live shows. But there’s no other choice for bands today but to stick their music online. You have to now. Search “Turbo Lovers” on Google and at least three different sites have both of our full lengths available for download. You sell a couple discs and it’s online for everyone for free.

Bands are touring less and less because it’s such a fruitless effort. There’s not enough interest in touring bands anymore. I can’t honestly remember the last big live show I saw in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, because none of the bands I really want to see are touring outside of their region. If you didn’t come along years ago, you almost can’t tour, because there’s almost no way to make any money off of it. Factor in the state of the economy, and you’re lucky to see anyone at all.

We haven’t seen the worst of it yet. What happens when bands like AC/DC and Motorhead aren’t around anymore? Then you really won’t be able to see anyone that didn’t just win American Idol. Music in general is in a very bad state right now. I hope it improves, but there would have to be a revolution in the complete opposite direction of the one that the internet took the business. But I think people like their internet a little too much for that to ever happen.

How would you characterize the Youngstown music scene?


I’m not so sure where all the jam bands came from all of the sudden. It’s like half of the bills in town are comprised of bands that listen to Phish and the Grateful Dead all the time. But at least I can tell where the jam bands are coming from.

Most of the bands that play around here, I literally have no idea what they listen to that makes them sound the way they do. Like I said before, it’s almost like bands are devoid of influences. Either that, or I’m just plain missing something.

Regardless, we really don’t fit in well with the Youngstown music scene, which is why we almost always book and play our own shows. Even the bands we get to play with us, we don’t fit with. The closest band in town that we do fit with, I’m about to marry their bass player’s ex-wife, so that pretty much rules that option out, too. We do what we do, try to get as many people to listen to it as possible, and that’s it.

I used to do a magazine in Youngstown called The Youngstown Pulse. It was a free music/entertainment mag. When I stopped doing that a few years ago, I really cut myself off from the local scene, because I felt like I was being a politician to try to make it profitable. It started as a good idea, but then it became like I had to be everywhere, all the time. And if I wasn’t, people would be pissed off about it, and think I was playing favorites with certain bars or bands.

After I quit doing the magazine, I just did what I did musically and didn’t really pay attention to anyone else, because there wasn’t anything going on that was blowing me away, or that I wanted to go out of my way to see.

There are all kinds of promoters now, too, which I don’t understand. How lazy are you as a band, that you need a promoter to play in Youngstown? You can’t make your own flyers? You can’t promote it yourself? You’ve got to pay a promoter to do it and take a cut of what little money you do get? And selling tickets for shows … what, are we all 15-years-old again? Is everything local a big battle of the bands now, too?

I don’t fault the promoters at all. Hey, if someone wants to have you as a promoter for a show, and you as a promoter get money for it, more power to you. It’s just not something I would ever do. I’ve been around too long for that. I’m good enough at performing that people want to come back. I’m good enough to promote my own show to get plenty of people there without having to pay anyone else to help me. And honestly, Turbo Lovers has a great following here, but none of our fans would buy tickets in advance for one of our shows. They don’t buy tickets for shows in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, let alone here. I wouldn’t ever ask them to do that anyways.

Youngstown is weird. There are some good things going on here, and people trying to get things revived to what they were years ago. It is at least refreshing that there are a lot more bands now than there was just a few years ago. That helps everything, regardless of the genre. But we don’t really fit in with the scene. Honestly, though, I like being the only band that sounds like us. I’m glad there really isn’t a bunch of other bands that we can be categorized with. I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

What are some of your favorite places to play?

When I was in Hellvis, the only Youngstown bar we played was Nyabinghi. But they closed, which sucked.

With Turbo Lovers, we didn’t play anywhere but The Royal Oaks for a while, but recently have done Cedars and Barleys.

The Royal Oaks is still my favorite place to play around here. All you do is plug in two vocal mics and rock. It’s so raw, but it’s so easy. Plus I can hook up our CD player to the PA and blast ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll before we come out on stage, which is always fun. You get paid a lot better at the Oaks as well, which is nice. The place is so small that with 30 people it seems packed, even though there is always more than that.

Out of town, I like Excuses in Pittsburgh, and the 31st Street Pub. In Cleveland, the Beachland is nice. In Columbus, Café Bourbon Street is a lot like the Oaks. And they have Ninja Taco in there, too, which serves some pretty awesome tacos all night long.

Toledo has The Bottle Rocket, which is a total rock bar. Philly has a couple cool working class joints that are always fun. Akron used to have The Lime Spider, which had every kind of beer you could possibly want. I’m sorry they closed down.

Any immediate plans after the release of the new album?

A CD release show at The Royal Oaks, and a couple shows regionally. Basically, I will be shopping the disc to bigger labels in hopes that someone [will want] to pick it up from Cracked Piston. That would work out well for everyone if it happened. This is easily going to be the most marketable release I’ve ever done.

I’m also planning to release a book in the fall, if I ever manage to get it finished. It’s going to be called (Still Trying to Figure Out) How to be a Rock Star. It’s sort of a "how-to" guide on not being famous in the music industry, and everything you have to deal with because of it, haha. Like I said, hopefully that’s out by fall. But by the looks of things right now, it probably won’t be until the winter at least. We’ll do a book release party for that, too, at the Oaks, where we’ll play as well.

Well, thanks a ton for the interview, BJ, and good luck on the new record. Any final last words?

Buy our new record when it comes out. Try to give us a month to sell a few before you upload it to a music sharing site.

If you haven’t seen us live, come check it out. I still don’t think anyone puts on a better live show than we do around here. And it’s all good, fun rock ‘n’ roll.