Alt-Nation: The Turbo A.C.’s Rock Newport

turboIt’s hard to believe, but The Turbo A.C.’s have been kicking up a punk rock ruckus for 20 years. They bring it with fist-pumping adrenalized anthems. I’ve always liked The Turbo A.C.’s because their tunes mix the fury of punk rock with infectious surf hooks. In the post-apocalypse world, The Turbo A.C.’s will probably be considered classic rock for both their anthems and staying power. It’s been a few years since their 2011 album Kill Everyone, but the band has been working on a follow-up. With The Turbo A.C.’s making a rare Rhode Island stop, I caught up with guitarist and Newport native Mike O’Donnell to talk about all things Turbo A.C.’s and the upcoming show. Mike also plays in a local band called The Skinny Millionaires.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): What drew you to The Turbo A.C.’s?

Mike O’Donnell: I like rock ‘n’ roll. The real shit. The guys that are a band’s band, that aren’t huge, but have played with everyone and know everyone and have truly die-hard fans. Turbos seemed to have that when I found them, but mostly I just loved the tunes. They started with kind of a greased-down, revved-up kind of rock and have progressed and diversified so much over the years, but somehow keep that original rock ‘n’ roll spirit alive. They had the best influences all put together, and the surf guitar aspect makes it very original … Motorhead meets Dick Dale, The Misfits meets The Ventures. It’s well done.

I’m pretty picky. I love punk rock, but honestly, most of it sucks. This is like one of those bands that would rather take the long road and do it right, and it really shows. There are a few other bands that do the surf punk thing, but not like this. This is the best one. It has lots of sing-a-long hooks, but we’re not a pop punk band. The songs are mean. Within one song you can hear diverse influences from ACDC to NWA. A lot of it would be the perfect soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino movie, as we incorporate our love of kung fu movies and spaghetti westerns. There’s really no other band like us. I’m not just saying that because I’m in the band. I wasn’t always in the band. I’ve been hanging around for almost 15 years with them, but they’re approaching the 20-year mark. Most of the Rhode Island scene only know me for my locally based band, The Skinny Millionaires, because The Turbo AC’s members live so far apart now. We have members in Austria, Canada, Newport, Rhode Island, NYC and Puerto Rico. But we still manage to tour and put out new material regularly.

MC: How long have you been playing with The Turbo A.C.’s? What are some of the most memorable moments?

MO’D: Probably around 1999 or 2000, I was just a fan. I had never met them or anything. I was young and itching to get out on my first tour, I was confident. I basically kept bugging these guys online. Then when their old bass player had a melt-down mid-tour and left, I happened to be online at the right moment and emailed, “I can do it! I totally know the parts already.”  

That was a lie. But they took the bait and less than 24 hours later I was on a plane to Sioux City, Iowa, where we had a Halloween show that night. I quickly met them at a hotel and started trying to learn the songs. The show was actually awesome, and in some form or another I’ve been touring with them ever since. As a fill-in guy on bass, guitar, or acoustic guitar, or sometimes merch guy, roadie, whatever, at the time I was just doing it for experience. Eventually they kinda just went, “Okay, you’re in the band.”  

That was maybe three or four years ago. We went out on tour with Flogging Molly, many tours with The Dwarves (singer Blag Dahlia produced our album “Automatic”), Dropkick Murphys, Turbonegro, Stiff Little Fingers, Hellacopters, Social Distortion and Warped Tour w Rancid in 2001. Deconstruction Tour 2002 with Bosstones, Lagwagon, ALL, The Slackers … so many more … all over the states, Canada, Europe.

MC: Do you have any new material in the pipeline? For a while it seemed like you were doing some acoustic shows – do you do that regularly?

MO’D: The latest record is Kill Everyone, and there’s a new one in the works. Find the videos on YouTube, buy the records on iTunes or anywhere else, or go to turboacs.com for merch, vinyl, and all kinds of cool shit.

We occasionally do acoustic stuff. We played a whole Ramones album front to back acoustically at The Ramones Museum in Berlin — that was really awesome. And when all our gear got destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, we did an acoustic tour with Lenny Lashley from Darkbuster, which was also really fun. Usually we bring the rock. That’s what we do, but we have the ability to do acoustic shows when necessary. So we’re bringing the rock. We’re heading out with opening band Two Man Advantage, who are a hockey-themed punk band — really cool stage show. But on September 24, the tour starts at The Parlor in Newport with just us and locals, all-around awesome guys We Own Land, and The Atlantic Thrills. And there’s been talk of an after party show. Maybe we’ll take the acoustic out for that … or maybe we’ll just keep the rock going. 

Turbo A.C.’s, We Own Land, and Atlantic Thrills will rock the Parlor in Newport on September 24.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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