The Turbo A.C.s, like Electric Frankenstein and Degeneration, are one of those bands that just personifies New York City. Their sound defined the NYC scene in the late ’90s and frontman Kevin Cole is considered the modern day king of the New York punk. Go to a show anywhere in Manhattan and you’re bound to see him. He has his fingers on the pulse of rock and roll and his cool, calm demeanor just screams punk rock.
This interview originally appeared in Life in a Bungalo on March 16, 2006
If kicking ass had a soundtrack it would feature more than a few songs by the Turbo A.C.’s. This band of NYC castoffs has created the perfect melding of rock and punk satisfying both the greaser and mohawker nestled deep within your rock ‘n’ roll soul. After stints on Blackout and Nitro Records, the trio is back with a tremendous record called Avenue X out on Gearhead Records. I caught up with singer/guitarist Kevin Cole to talk about the current scene, the new record, and kicking Dexter Holland’s ass.
Your band was conceived during the huge rebirth of punk in the mid-’90s. What was the NYC scene like when you were starting out and how does it compare to today?
Well, a lot of the clubs and bands that were around at that time are gone. We were playing this garage punk rock and kinda got lumped into the Bar Rock Scene. We didn’t really embrace or invest a lot in that scene, because honestly we thought it was pretty lame — a bunch of bands sitting around talking about “getting signed” and how they’re “gonna be huge” whatever, same shit as always. Although we did play quite a bit around the city, we had our sights set on getting outta here. We were convinced that if we were gonna make any kind of difference as a band we had to get out of that rut and play all-ages punk shows everywhere — from the small towns to the big cities coast to coast. I’ve always thought the punk scene here was cool, with bands and people doing their best to make something happen in a city that doesn’t give a shit.
Can you give me a history of how you guys got together? It seems like you guys popped out of nowhere with ton of songs on comps like the Punk Rock Jukebox.
Right when we started we were lucky enough to get a break and get a couple 7″s, a song on the PR Jukebox, and a full length album out on Blackout. Although at the time it was pretty frustrating because when it came out there was really no distribution for our album in the U.S. Actually, it wasn’t even pressed here; it was pressed in Europe and brought over as an import. Anyway, in Europe people loved it and booking agents started calling us to come and tour there, while in the U.S. you couldn’t even find our album yet. So we were touring in Europe before most people even knew we existed.
A lot of punk critics throw out tons of genres to describe you guys — punks, NYC trash rock, gearheads, and surf. What do you describe your sound as and how do you go about creating a Turbo A.C.’s record?
I describe our sound as punk rock mainly because of the energy and the “fuck you, we live to win” message we pack into every song. We take a lot of influence from ’60s garage and surf. That’s what makes our style unique. Creating the album just happens — things just fall into place.
What was it like being on Nitro during they heyday of punk rock when labels were fighting for bands like the Turbo A.C.’s? How did you get signed to the label?
We recorded Fuel For Life with Roger Miret from Agnostic Front producing. Roger played it for Billy Milano (S.O.D.) who was AF’s manager at the time. Billy loved the album and wanted to manage us and help us get a deal for the album. We spent over a year waiting for the deal to go through. Finally, Nitro flew out to see one of our shows and we signed to Nitro for the world. That turned out to be a mistake. Over in Europe where we were already quite established, our album was really hard to find and all our agents had lots of problems dealing with the Nitro people. We complained about it, they complained that we weren’t selling enough records in the States. Billy Milano flew out to California to beat up Dexter Holland — haha, no more Nitro.
The Turbo A.C.’s have continued to pump out dozens of 7″s and splits over the years, while most bands and labels have phased out the format. Do you think there is still a need for grassroot releases a vinyl in the current punk rock scene?
Sure, but it’s purely for the fans who are collectors.
Rumor has it you guys run Turbojugend New York. Any truth to that?
Well I wouldn’t say I run it. Bitzcore, our label for Europe runs the entire Turbojugend worldwide. Upon signing with Bitzcore I was awarded my Turbojugend New York Jacket and given the title of vice president. I’m definitely a proud member, but as far as being active I’m pretty lazy compared to other Jugend clubs I’ve met around the world. Some of these clubs go all out and organize huge events. One of the most impressive was a show we did in Belgium where the Jugend there organized an all day drunken sailing trip with about 200 Jugend attending before a big show with us and the Meteors.
You guys headlined the huge Jugendfest in Europe last year. Can you tell me what that was like? Was the crowd nuts? Are you huge fans of Turbonegro?
Totally, the Welt Turbojugend Tag (World Turbojugend Days) in Hamburg was great, the crowd totally nuts and a great party for sure. We’ve been lucky enough to play with Turbonegro a few times — they’re great.
Your latest record Avenue X is tighter and darker than anything you guys have done before. What was it like making the record? Are you happy with the results and the reaction from the fans?
Yeah, I’m happy with Ave X and really glad that a lot of our fans thought it was our best record too. It was great to work with guys like Blag from the Dwarves, Billy Milano and Roger producing on the earlier albums, I learned a lot from them. Ave X was the first one that I produced all on my own. So seriously, I’m really stoked for the next album. It will be even a step above that.
Are there any bands that still blow you away, or that you go out of your way to see when you are home?
On the large scale, the Hives are a band that I see every chance I get. But on the local scene 2 Man Advantage is my favorite.
Rock seems to be making a comeback (sort of), with what passes as punk making its way back to MTV. What do you think of punk rock today?
I don’t know about MTV really I don’t watch it. It’s hard to say what’s real anymore in regard to punk rock because people think that it can be a vehicle for making money. It’s the same for any art, once the catalyst for creating it becomes money rather than art it self the art is lost. There are still plenty bands that keep it real, but I don’t know how many of them are on MTV.
What’s the biggest misconception about your band?
That we’re a rockabilly band.
What are your feelings going into possibly you last ever CBGBs show? Is this an end of an era for NYC? Should it move?
It’s sad. It’s my favorite place to see a band in this town. But I believe the era really ended long ago. I mean look at the city. So if it moves, fine; I don’t think it’s blasphemous or anything. As ugly and sad as it is, we all have to embrace the future.