JONAS STEIN (THIRD FROM LEFT) AND THE REST OF TURBO FRUITS.
Carnival Cruise Lines' reputation as the party-friendliest of the oceangoing outfits will surely be tested come February 25, when the Carnival Inspiration sets sail from the Miami, with a guest list OF 400 folks for whom cutting loose is pretty much a way of life. It's called the Bruise Cruse, and the passenger manifest includes some of the more esteemed names from the worlds of garage, punk and indie pop—among them, The Black Lips, Vivian Girls, Surfer Blood, Strange Boys, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Nashville rabble-rousers Turbo Fruits, whose guitarist and frontman Jonas Stein conceived of the whole shebang.
Along with Michelle Cable of Brooklyn's Panache Booking, Stein has spent much of the past nine months organizing the event, which he says has taught him quite a few things. For one, it's not a boat, it's a ship. When not taking meetings with corporate types, arranging backline for a dozen artists, arranging swag bags and much more, Stein has tended to his own career. He's started his own label, Turbo Time, through which he's released several Turbo Fruits singles, and he's contemplating whether and when his band should look toward another album. But back to the Bruise Cruise. To get some idea of what we're in for, we caught up with Stein on the phone recently, from Nashville.
JOHN NORRIS: Congratulations on pulling this thing together. I can imagine this was something new for you?
JONAS STEIN: Yeah, it's totally new. It's been pretty crazy.
NORRIS: When and how did this idea come about?
STEIN: I've had the idea for a few years. My dad is in the music business, he manages a few country artists, and he used to work with Vince Neil of Motley Crüe. And they did this thing "Vince Neil's Motley Cruise", and I had the opportunity to go on my first cruise. I was probably 18 or 19. But I went on a couple of them, and at first I think I was just prejudiced against cruises. I thought, "It's gonna be a bunch of old people and families and I'm not gonna like this." But I had such a good time. And I just thought, "Man, this would be so cool if a bunch of garage-rock bands were playing." So the idea just kind of festered for a while, and the last year we were down in Miami and I was just looking at these cruise ships and I told Michelle, "I've got this crazy idea, but I know it can be done." So we just started talking about it, I got back to Nashville a few days later, called Carnival Cruise Lines, figured out the details and just went in head-first.
NORRIS: What has been the biggest challenge about making the cruise happen? Has Carnival been easy to work with?
STEIN: Yeah, they're nice people over there. It is a giant corporation, so there's a lot of pretty strict guidelines we had to follow. Trying to ride a fine line of what's appropriate and what isn't. We've had to be very PG-13 with a lot of our advertisements. And there are a lot of rules. Like, initially we were calling it a "boat," and they have someone there who goes through the booking and makes sure everything is according to plan, and they had us go back and change everything from "boat" to "ship." So little, weird things like that. Just comes with a big corporation. It's just the first time I have worked with a company that is so hands-on. But that said, Carnival did their research, and you can go on YouTube and see The Black Lips getting naked in India. So they seem pretty open to the event, and it is a private event. I think Carnival has the reputation of being a little more of a party cruise line.
NORRIS: Speaking of The Black Lips—how easy or not was it to get the bands to sign on?
STEIN: For this year, we wanted to stick with younger, more garage-rock-type bands. And we kind of thought, "Who are potential headliners?" And when it comes to garage rock, I think it's fair to say Black Lips are one of the top names out there right now.
NORRIS: For sure.
STEIN: They came to mind, and then Vivian Girls. And then we wanted some more up and coming names like Jacuzzi Boys, and my band Turbo Fruits. A little selfish, but I always wanted to play on a cruise ship since I went on one. So the fact that I could book my own band was great.
NORRIS: And wasn't Surfer Blood one of the last to sign on?
STEIN: I ran into them at a festival, and their drummer TJ was like, "Hey man, I heard about this cruise thing. I wanna see if there is any way we can get on it." So we started talking to them, but at that point we had used up all our budget for bands. And they were like "This might sound crazy, but we'll play for free! We just really wanna do this." And so, Surfer Blood is playing just for a few cabins.
NORRIS: I've seen the itinerary and it's really one show after another, both onboard the ship and Saturday night in the Bahamas. And it's interesting that only part of the ship will be the Bruise Cruisers.
STEIN: Yeah, it'll be interesting—the capacity of the ship is 2000. But we only have a group of 400. So it's gonna be an intimate club-type feel—all private events. There will be special passes for all of them.
NORRIS: So, Bruise Cruisers and regular cruise passengers will be mixed together?
STEIN: Yep. And the first night on board, after our first show, there is "fine dining" for all the Bruise Cruisers. All these young garage rockers sitting down for fine dining, I'm looking forward to seeing how the passengers react to that.
NORRIS: Meantime, in the last few months, you've started your own label in Nashville, and you've been releasing Turbo Fruits singles, with no new album?
STEIN: Yeah, the idea came from me not wanting to concentrate on a full-length. I was starting to feel the pressure. So I thought I could do better concentrating on one good song at a time, and a B-side, rather than 15 songs right now. So I just walked into United Record Pressing over the summer, and I had two things to talk to them about, pressing records for Bruise Cruise for free, which they've done for us, and the new label, Turbo Time, and how I wanted to get that started.
NORRIS: Just digital and vinyl?
STEIN: I think it's obvious to most people that vinyl has played a larger role in music in the past couple of years. Vinyl sales are definitely up. It seems like CD's are kind of becoming obsolete, so I was like, let's do digital downloads on iTunes and vinyl 7-inches, and let's do limited enough amounts where I'm not in over my head, and just kind of aim small.
NORRIS: And you've shared releases with another Nashville musician?
STEIN: My buddy Daniel Pujol. I went to him with the idea over the summer, said, "You've got all these awesome songs, I don't know who is releasing them, but this is the idea I have for Turbo Fruits, do you want to get in on this and do this together?" So I've been releasing a single of mine and a single of his at the same time, and it's been great. Because the singles impact each other in terms of sales, I can release two at the same time and when people go to the website, they'll see two releases and be like, "Oh I gotta have that one too." And it kind of helps expose us to each other's fans.
NORRIS: And you're gonna continue with the singles, or at some point will we see a Turbo Fruits album?
STEIN: For now, the plan of action is to release a few more singles until we have enough A- and B-sides to put together a compilation, and so ideally I'd like to have that singles collection released by next fall. In the meantime, we've been working on a whole separate new album. This album, we want to really refine it and make sure that it's worth releasing. I want to give this a really good shot. But what's been great about the singles is that it's been stimulating the audience, and there hasn't been a downtime in between releases—which happens to so many bands, they're forgotten about because they haven't released something. These singles are doing what I hoped—keeping people interested and catering to their short attention spans, so it's been good.
JOHN NORRIS WILL BE FILING REPORTS FROM THE BRUISE CRUISE, FEBRUARY 25 THROUGH 28, AT NOISEVOX. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JONAS STEIN AND TURBO FRUITS, VISIT THE BAND'S WEBSITE.