Just days before they lock themselves away in practice rooms ahead of their release tour, Upset catches up with Chris Georgiadis to piece together the ever-changing cryptic-code that is Turbowolf.
Some bands find themselves flirting exhaustingly with experimentation, ripping out the stitches of their own fabric for small print creative justice. Some bands stick to the formula they’ve always used, never straying from the age-old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And once in a blue moon comes along a band like Bristol’s Turbowolf who don’t as much disobey conventional musical habits as much as rip up all of the rulebooks and rewrite them. Over and over.
2015’s ‘Two Hands’ was a sonic progression from their self-titled 2011 debut, and here, on their third album ‘The Free Life’, the quartet find themselves free from the boundaries of creative prison, recording much of their wildly experimental paint pallet record in vocalist Chris Georgiadis’ flat. The DIY nature of the album's recording only adds to its creative cocktail of groove-riddled riffs, trippy crystalised synths, seventies disco, gritty garage punk, and power-pop psychedelia. It sounds nothing like anything they’ve done before and yet it is the only follow-up to their previous work that you could possibly imagine.
“We don’t care what people want to label us, if they want to label us as a rock band, or a metal band, they’re wrong, but they can do it, it doesn’t affect what we do.” Chris is as standoffish as the music he makes when questioned about pinpointing even the minutest glimmers of an association with a genre for his band. “People always want to know what sort of music we play. If someone ever asks me that, I say punk rock just out of ease. We leave it for the journalists to describe us if they want to in that way, there isn’t a need to do that because you could just listen to it.”
While the psychedelic trips and space-disco trappings of ‘The Free Life’ suggest anything but punk rock, Turbowolf truly evoke the spirit and attitude of the punk movements of the seventies, looking to create uncompromising non-conforming art. “For us, punk has been so stretched, and pushed around, like there’s a lot of stuff that’s called punk, but doesn’t resonate with me as punk. We see it as a certain non-conformity to a certain extent, without it sounding too much like teenage angst. I see it more as being the want and need to push things forward, to progress, to not be happy with the status quo, and to not compromise your art - that’s what punk is to me. A punk rock band is the nearest you can get when trying to explain what we do. I can see how that can be misleading when you’ve got other punk rock bands who sound nothing like us, but that’s the point.”
Sounding like nothing before them is the very essence of ‘The Free Life’, reverberating around your eardrums from the machine-gun drum salvo of opener ‘No No No’ to the hauntingly-harmonic acoustic closer ‘Concluder’. Everything is everywhere, so many sounds to find, so many things to understand. This isn’t a one-listen wonder; it’s a work intended to be studied. “Something we always try to do is make our stuff very layered, and to try and give it that second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth listen vibe, where you’ll be able to get more things out of it each time. It’s really hard to know if you’re doing that in the best way when you’re making the album, I find, because you’re so close to it you can’t see it, but we try to create things that might not be as apparent first time around. It’s a really hard thing to do, and we’re still learning how to do that.”
"To push things forward, to not be happy with the status quo, and to not compromise your art - that’s what punk is to me."
Along with making a record that easily racks up hours of listening, Turbowolf have created a body of work that makes you think, yet at the same time is entirely accessible and fresh. It’s like nothing they’ve made before, and yet it’s instantly recognisable and infectiously catchy. “We knew we wanted to make something that was its own thing; we didn’t want to make ‘the last album part two’. It’s important to us that we’re always trying to push ourselves and evolve our sound somewhat. Whenever you make something, you just have to hold the reigns and hope that you can hold on and it’ll take you somewhere new and exciting. We’d been touring a lot before making this record, so we were so used to the songs from the last album, and how they sound and how they work live. We were keen to create something new and different, something that doesn’t sound like the last album, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Keeping the record fresh, not only for its unsuspecting listeners, but for the band themselves, ‘The Free Life’ reads like a who’s who of their friends list, with features coming from members of Death From Above, Idles, Vodun, and Royal Blood. “It’s quite a nice thing," says Chris, "if you’ve got the same singer on a record all the way through for like forty minutes or whatever. I can find that to be a little tiring on the ear, so it’s nice to break it up and have some other people involved. Also, for us, it’s fun to get our friends involved, it becomes a bit more of a communal creative thing, rather than it coming just from me and Andy [Ghosh – Turbowolf’s resident axeman].”
The artists featured weren’t just sought after, they wanted to be a part of the artistic explosion of experimental sounds. In particular, Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, who features on explosive single 'Domino'. “Mike wanted to be a part of the album from quite early on, as soon as he knew we were writing it, he sent a message to Andy asking if he could be on it in some way. When we wrote that song, it felt like it had a good amount of space, a good amount of back and forth that could work well.”
The guests aren’t just friends doing features either; they’re fellow creatives bouncing ideas off of each other’s experimental walls. “Chantal [Brown] is all over the album. She’s only noticeable really in a couple of bits, but she’s there, and you’d notice if she wasn’t. We spent quite a few days with her in the studio, and she’s so great at coming up with harmonies, and hearing new things in the music, and that’s a really exciting process because it suddenly makes the song fresh again and it’s just nice to hear somebody else’s perspective on it.
"Seb [from Death From Above], we sent him the part, and yet again he did a few different things with it, did it in different ways, and did some different harmonies, slightly changed the cadence of some of the stuff. That was cool because I wasn’t expecting that.”
Creating an album so monumentally different is always a risk, and yet Turbowolf grab that risk and run with it, taking it to the live domain, with the majority of their 2018 scheduled to be as tour-and-festival heavy as possible, with lots and lots of experimenting. “You want that energy, and that sense of danger. That thought in everyone’s mind that it might fall apart at any minute. I think what makes an exciting show is being on the edge of ‘is everything going to fall apart or is it going to be great?’
"It’s quite fun for us, but it’s quite scary too. It means we’re kept on our toes at all time, and it keeps it fresh for us. I don’t think anyone would really want to see us just staring at our pedals and our synths, they’d much prefer that we were engaging with them. And maybe I don’t think it matters that much if it doesn’t sound the same, because you have that other element live, you have that visual spectacle.”
A spectacle. That’s one way of describing Turbowolf. They break the rules, they ignore formulas, and they pull it off in fine fashion. Nobody knows where ‘The Free Life’ will take Turbowolf, and nobody is betting their next experiment, but what we do know is that they’re going to explode in your ears. “We’re gonna go from zero to a hundred in the first ten seconds, and that’s where it’s going to stay. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s where we’re at.”