Norweigian band Turbonegro might be on singer number four by now (the wonderfully named Duke of Nothing), but their fans the Turbojugend (Turbo-youth) remain utterly committed and loyal. Only the Insane Clown Posse can boast a modern fanbase so rabid at this cult level. These guys love their band.
Hank von Hell was the third singer, immediately preceding the Duke. Last year, he released his debut solo album Egomania having stepped out of the rock world for eight years to focus on theater and other musical genres. And damn, it’s a great record — a swaggering, pummeling rock & roll beast. The video accompanying the opening track “Bum to Bum” kicks off with a little skit alongside Jackass’ Steve-O, the gist of which is that Hank is coming out of obscurity to rock again. But why now?
“It came to me when A.W. Nine, the producer, contacted me,” von Hell says. “He searched for me. I was far from the rock scene, and he had spent time and effort trying to figure out where the fuck I was. I was Indiana Jones hiding in the corner of a small tavern, staying away from everything. He gave me this offer that I would never expect to be given. Put me out solo and see what happens. I can create the album of my dreams and he will make sure I’m assisted and get the apparatus that I need. I felt the word ‘yes’ shaping. It was all about timing. The necessity of coming back and taking charge of rock & roll again. It was all there and then. It needed to be done, and I realized that.”
If that all sounds a little self-important, don’t sweat it. That’s been the Turbonegro vibe since they formed in the late ‘80s — saviors of rock & roll. The only difference this time is that von Hell is going it alone. Naturally, the Turbojugend are quite taken with Egomania. They’re generally delighted to have their old captain back. That’s not something that Von Hell takes for granted though.
“Even in Turbonegro, you can’t take dedicated fans like that for granted,” he says. “ I was away, I did desert them, and if somebody was resenting that they’d be entitled to. I was of course very moved by the fact that the major body of Turbojugend embraced it. But then again, I would never lean on the old fan club for a solo career because it is a fan club for the band I was singing in 10 years ago and they are the fan club of Turbonegro, not me. I would never challenge that fact and try to assume some ownership. Whatever comes from Turbojugend is a bonus and really cool and touching to discover. But I would never calculate it.”
It’s not surprising though; fans of Turbonegro classics such as Apocalypse Dudes and Scandinavian Leather will be instantly comfortable with songs on Egomania such as the title track and the bouncy fun of “Pretty Decent Exposure.”
“It’s of the genre,” agrees von Hell. “It was just, I did it on my own. I was not expecting to be back. I was expecting to be back with my other projects — acting, and other types of music that are more Scandinavia/Norway-based. I think Egomania is very innovative. It’s my version. It’s how I wanted rock & roll to turn out. I wanted to make a good album. With all the streaming and stuff, the rock & roll album as a concept is fading away. A lot of the good old veteran bands were releasing as they always had and I just wanted to make the album I’d want to buy if I was 15 and spending my weekly allowance. I felt that it hadn’t been released this last decade — no hallmark albums, the way I see it.”
The frontman says that he’s enjoying being in the position to do all of the things he wasn’t able to do while a member of Turbonegro. He made sure the shows were fronted well, and that was his job done. Not anymore though.
“Now I’m facing my own demons,” he says. “If I don’t do it, nobody will. It’s all up to me. It’s a little bit new to me in terms of rock & roll. I can empathize with the producers and executive forces that worked with me earlier, when I was not an easy person to work with. So I’m getting an opportunity to see how it must have been. I have the last word in all decisions. I have a great team around me. It’s rewarding but it’s also very challenging, to be a responsible person in rock. I have never been that.”
Smack bang in the middle of his return to rock, von Hell’s song “Fake It” was a contender to represent Norway at the much-maligned Eurovision Song Contest, a TV event that doesn’t hold the same gravitas that it once did.
“It is what it is,” he says. “It’s TV and a different area of entertainment. If you don’t accept and embrace that, it can seem a bit silly. If you embrace it and accept the fact that it is what it is, it’s great fun. There’s a lot of cool stuff to take from it and it was a cool experience. If I was emotional about it, it would have probably drained me in some way but I was in it for fun”
“Fun” is the perfect word to describe von Hell and Egomania, and it will be wonderful to hear those tunes in Los Angeles this week, as well as a few treats.
“We will of course do most of the Egomania thing,” Von Hell says. “That will be the Christmas tree and then it’s all about makeup and possibilities. I take my palette and add a few candy bars to it. There will be some Turbonegro songs too, and some songs from the coming album. Olden goldies from the past, and some arrows thrown into the future.”
That’ll do for us.
Hank von Hell plays with Spiders, GayC/DC and the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 23 at the Echoplex.