Get your Scandinavian leather ready, this weekend Desertfest tempt the Norse sexgods TURBONEGRO back to Camden, for their first London show in almost five years. We caught up with apocalyptic bass-dude, Happy Tom to find out what kept them so long, and what tuck shop treat he wants on his rider, and what the hell is he doing in Central America with Mayhem…
Hang on, what’s this? You made a documentary about Mayhem?
No, I mean I’m actually not that much of a documentary maker, I’m more of a talk show host. I have a panel show on national Norwegian television, called ‘The Welfare Office’, because in Norway there is a welfare office. It’s known to be the place where you come with your problems, but when you leave, you have even more. So that’s the concept of this debate show. It’s a pretty serious thing, but we have some funny stuff in there too. That’s been going on for 12 seasons now and we figured there’s so many panel shows, let’s start making documentaries. So we made a documentary about a woman in North London who, by accident, was sent to Auschwitz as a child, which was a fascinating story. And then, I’m an American but I grew up in Norway, and there was so much talk about Trump that I went back to visit my family in the U.S. and several them are big Trump fans, and they’re American working class, so we went back and made a documentary about that, which was shown the night before the election here. And then I went on tour with Mayhem in Central America.
How did that come about?
I’m from the same small area as them. Basically Turbo, the roots of Turbo, are from the same small area as Norwegian black metal. So Mayhem, Darkthrone, Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon and Turbo are all from the same very small area called Follo. I grew up with these guys and I knew Jorn and Oystein since we were kids. We both had, well obviously Oystein was killed, but Jorn [Necrobutcher] and I, had separate careers in rock and roll. Over the years we always stayed in touch. You know, I think Jorn’s an awesome guy and quite a character. I always enjoyed being with him, he’s funny as hell. He’s just this formidable person, despite his size. You gotta know that [laughs]. In Norway it’s very accepted now that black metal is one of the main exports aside from salmon and oil. But Norwegian people have never seen what people in South America think about that? What do they think about black metal? What do they think about Norway? So, it’s fun to go to South America with Mayhem, the main black metal in the world, and then show Norwegians how this works out down there.
I loved the documentary because it showed such a true side to Mayhem, and to Necrobutcher. A side away from the pig skulls and controversy, it showed a guy who picks his grandkids up from school and gets pissed off with the drudgery of touring and does DIY around his house from time to time. I know he’s sardonic and has a dry humour and then I know what people think from the outside. But your documentary, was it made for a black metal or more of a mainstream audience?
Yeah we showed this on prime time television at 9:30, before the big evening news, so yeah, a lot of people saw this, but like I said even people in the thickest of the mainstream in Norway know about black metal and they know this is a big deal in other countries. So, for the first time we went behind the scenes and went to these countries that are very different from safe Norway. We went to El Salvador with Mayhem, which is maybe the most dangerous country in the world, apart from Syria right now. It’s interesting to go and see what the perception of Norway was. It was everything from the intellectual black metal kid in El Salvador who was a big fan of Henrik Ibsen, our famous playwright, to kids who think that 70 percent of the Norwegian population are black metallers. It was funny and really interesting. I mean Jorn’s going to be 50 next year, rock and roll is such a big part of our lives, and it still is. When we were 14 we never knew that we were going to headline all these big festivals, go play in Australia and sell out shows in Los Angeles, we never knew that. We were just kids fucking around with amps and guitars and the city council would give us rehearsal rooms [laughs]. That’s where we started and here we are, and like I said, Jorn’s a year older than me and he’s a grandfather. There’s a lot of life within the Mayhem stories, but the myth is more about death. Look at Jorn, he’s a really good grandfather.
That was the moment where he picks his grandchild up from school and it was lovely, but it also made me think, what is the perception of the other parents at the gates when they see this guy? What is the perception of Mayhem particularly after your documentary? Is he the guy you say hello to in the supermarket or someone you hide from? Same with Turbo. You have a talk show, but are you an accepted part of mainstream Norwegian culture?
Yeah, I think for us in Turbo and in Mayhem, there is a lot of fucking personal tragedy or, I don’t know. But it’s been so long and like I said, soon we’re 50. In 1993, when the whole black metal thing exploded with the murders, the church burnings, of course that was a big shock because it was something so out of the ordinary for Norway, which is a harmonic country with low crime rates. That someone would do something like this was mind-boggling, but there’s an endearing part of the Norwegian mentality. A lot of the old folk tales and fairy tales are about this young man named Espen Askeladden. He outwits everybody. You know Pippi Longstocking? He’s the ancient version of that. He’s a smart, poor kid, that due to his wits makes it in the world and that’s the main folk hero of Norway. Jorn is that guy, and I think when we showed him on TV, people saw that. He’s this regular guy, who lives in a cabin but he goes out and plays for thousands of people and I think tthat touched a lot of Norwegians because that’s the ideal. We never had palaces here, even millionaires and trillionaires live in meagre-looking houses. You’re not supposed excel, you’re supposed to be hardworking and supposed to be not flashy and just work hard and have success but don’t brag about it, which we saw in Jorn… he’s just a guy in a cabin, talking about how his TV freezes when he’s on tour because he doesn’t have electricity. That’s very Norwegian.
I’m so glad you said that because that was going to lead into another question, Mayhem have never really seemed to reach for celebrity status. A band like, for example, Immortal can split up, come back, headline Wacken, be massive, get all the magazine covers, but Mayhem seem to just be satisfied being, well, Mayhem. Do you agree?
I think we see that in Mayhem, and we see that in Darkthrone, they never even play live. This is our thing, we keep toiling away at it year-after-year. This is our life, it’s not a career option, it’s not a media strategy or it’s not a marketing gimmick. Mayhem are like old circus folks that just keep going. They should at least get some credit for that. Coming back to the part of black metal in Norwegian history, we started touring just a few years after the church burnings and we just watched the whole myth about Norwegian black metal grow. Wherever we went people were really interested in it. I think for Jorn, for him his best friend killed himself and another one got killed. That was never part of the marketing plan… Jorn feels a lot of grief for Pelle and Oystein, he carries that around and like he said, he just gets sad whenever he sees those fucking t-shirts, you know the ones I mean.
Sure, that’s really poignant part of the film. And I know he’s spoken about how he hates to see those shirts from stage, or bootleggers selling them or the record outside the show. He actually seemed pretty broken, which is the opposite of the tough bastard image he usually puts across.
I think other bands would be like, no I don’t want to say that in the interview because it will fuck with my brand. With Jorn, what you see is what you get. That’s the way he feels about it. He’ll tell people even if it demystifies him, he doesn’t give a fuck. I know quite a few people affected by everything that happened in those days. But like we said in the documentary, people think that Jorn lives in a cave with candles wearing a cape. People have to realise what happened in the ’90s was a really big tragedy. A lot of innocent people were killed and I think black metal fans think Norway was like Lord Of The Rings, wizards and orcs and burning down churches. But it wasn’t, really it was more like Lord Of The Flies; young boys caught up in this blood fever trying to out do each other. It was a big tragedy!
I know that Jorn released his memoirs in English last year thanks to Thurston Moore. That books is very funny and very human! What I love is when he’s talking about the rehearsal room, when they want to get some beers, but Oystein doesn’t drink beer, he just drinks Coca-Cola. Or when they take the train to Italy and they don’t understand menus so they order some food that is inedible. It’s just a diary of teenage naivety and excitement at being in a band and seeing the world, and I just loved it so much. And then your documentary, I feel is a good partner to that. But how difficult was it to get him to agree to do it? As you said, he’s a private person that doesn’t want to be a celebrity.
We basically almost grew up together. We’re friends that go way back, since before we played in the bands so I think that helped out. He likes the TV show and he knows we’re not out to make this spectacular thing or being sensationalist or ridicule him. We want the world to see him, give a portrait of him as a person and the band in 2017, what Mayhem is today, which incidentally is fucking awesome. And also to see this myth around the band, the myth around Norwegian black metal, the myth around Norway and how it exists and thrives in these weird, far-away countries that are so different from Norway.
Can I ask you about Turbonegro as well? You’re doing these films and your TV show, is the band more like a hobby for you now?
I mean Turbo has always been on and off, we had a few years where we would tour a lot. And now, like I said, people are pushing 50 and everybody has families now. We always had extra jobs on the side. I’ve been working in television for 20 years. Rune is a big CEO at Universal. Euroboy is a sociologist who has worked for Tidal and now he’s going to work for an architect’s company. We have these side jobs that aren’t very connected to our stage personas, if you know what I mean. It’s not like Euroboy is a cowboy, that’s not his actual job. It’s not like The Duke is a street hustler, well, he kinda is though. We can’t go on six week tours, we’re lucky if we can play one show in England, one show in Germany, one show… last year we did five days in North America and that was a big ordeal just to make it fit in the calendar. That’s the way fucking 40-something rock and roll animals.
You’re coming back to the London this weekend? It’s been a long time and you have an English singer now so there’s no excuse. Have you always felt like Turbo had a home here in the UK?
Of course. We’re such pop rock culture history nerds. We love going to England. We’re just driving from the airport, driving by the Battersea power station from the Pink Floyd cover. It’s always fun being in London. We have good friends there. I mean our singer started Turbojugend in Englnd. For us it’s coming back to that for us as well having him in the band. It’s weird being in England, it’s just so different from Norway even though it’s so close. We’re going to have mulligatawny, we’re gonna have some tea, and we’re going to have some of that, what’s it called, the spread, the yeasty stuff?
Bovril. You like that?
Oh-la-la. The nectar of the gods!
No, it’s disgusting, it’s what old men eat.
Yeah, but Gods are old men. They like that stuff.
What else is on your rider?
Sherbet Dib-Dab. I do watch a lot of documentaries and it’s a part of my job and like I said I’m not much of a documentarist but I kind of turned into one. I saw a documentary about this British journalist that went undercover with some hooligans. He had a hidden camera in a car with a bunch of hooligans going to another town, and they’re on the cellphone with their other hooligan friends. The other hooligans asked the others in the car, so what are you doing? We’re going great, we’re swigging lager, snorting charlie and eating sandwiches. So basically I think that sums up what I’ve been doing when I was in England.
So you’re excited to come back to Desertfest then – oh we will warn you, it’s not in an actual Desert, it’s in Camden!
London has changed, man. Maybe they won’t let us in after Brexit. Oh and you’re wrong when you say that England doesn’t have any deserts because there’s a garbage dump somewhere around London where Motorhead took the ‘Ace Of Spades’ cover shots. So if Brexit happens maybe we can go have a generator party out there.
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