INTERVIEW: Elliott Turton Gets Spiritual About Guitar Shreds, Bourbon, and Mike Judge!

Pictured Above: Turton’s first day as bouncer at Roadhouse, a legend in the bouncer community.

Elliott Turton spins a lot of plates. As a musician, Turton plays in the noise pop (or minimal grunge) trio Skin Tone, and the punk furious Waxeater. On top of that, Turton hosts the music nerd podcast the None of the Above podcast. And this is on top of being a father, worker, and all of the other things that occupies our time as we get older. Turton is pulling double duty this Saturday at the Mag Bar, opening the show up with both Skin Tone and Waxeater, for Wisconsin political punk outfit Tyranny is Tyranny, and his old bandmates in Trophy Wives. We sat down with Elliott to ask him all sorts of questions about his music history, podcasts, good tv, and atheism.

Never Nervous: Tell us about Skin Tone and Waxeater. How did each start?

Elliott Turton: WAXEATER started in 2006 in Bloomington IN by Rob Montage and two other dudes named James and Jeremy and they used to be called Mouthbreather (a reference to The Jesus Lizard song) until there was already a semi successful band called Mouthbreather so they changed the name to WAXEATER based on yet another Jesus Lizard song with the same title.  I joined Trophy Wives around late 2009 and we started playing out with WAXEATER a bunch on tour and locally, where I instantly became a super fan of there’s.  I had never heard music that was so loud, funky, funny, dark, and brooding all at the same time-I was hooked.  During the summer of 2010, the rhythm section members of WAXEATER bailed on the band and moved to different cities leaving a bass and drum hole in the band.  Rob asked me to play bass to which I immediately said yes.  He asked if I had anybody in mind for drums and Aaron Sortman, the drummer from Zombie Chickens from Outer Space at the time, was my first pick.  We all jammed together and picked up the songs right away and then bonded as bros even quicker.  So we’ve been a band with this current line up (Rob, Myself and Aaron) since 2011.  We’ve seen our share of craziness (getting electrocuted on stage in Austin, staying at crazy peoplels houses while on tour, van breaking down in the middle of nowhere. etc) but we don’t have bad times.

I started Skin Tone as a way to manifest all of these song ideas that had been floating around in my head since high school, but never had the proper outlet to make them come to life at the time.  I had just left Trophy Wives to take care of my new born daughter Luxie and the guitar was still calling me to get a new project going yet it couldn’t be anything too demanding that would interrupt my Dad schedule. So during an exceptionally blistering hot July in 2012, Skin Tone was formed with myself on guitar, Darcy Flanagan on bass, Zach Johnstone of Alcohol Party on drums and Amelia Barker on vocals.  We spent a few months banging away on four songs over and over and over again. Two songs Amelia sung and two I sung.  We had booked our first show for Sept 29th 2012 at Zanzabar opening for Trophy Wives. A couple of weeks before our first show, Zach told us that our first show would be his last.  We played our four songs which took up like 15 minutes.  After that, Zach dropped out of the band because I think we weren’t weird enough for him and Amelia had practice scheduling issues, so that left Darcy and I.  I met our current drummer Cory[Zimmerman] while working at Za’s Pizza.  We would jam 90’s alternative wall-of-sound type stuff like Swirlies, Hum, Unwound, The Warmers, Silkworm, Sebadoh in the kitchen at Za’s while discussing our music theories. So I asked him to play drums and he said yes.  Our sound immediately changed once we added Cory to the mix, plus we had places to practice because of him like his mom’s empty house that was up for sale in Indian Hills and a giant warehouse/dude crash pad called the Candy Factory off broadway. We got heavier, darker, and more dynamic and by this point now we had a very good understanding of what we wanted to sound like and what we needed to do to make us sound like us.

NN: I’ve been struggling with articulating this question properly lately, but what makes each band unique? Is it that the music of each of your bands cannot be reconciled under one band name, or is it the relationships with the members of each? I was thinking about this recently in relation to the Swans, and how the distinction between all of Gira’s work seems relatively marginal when taken as a whole. What do you think?

ET: I think both bands are very unique from each other sound-wise yet both still find refuge under the “don’t take yourself too seriously” umbrella.

With WAXEATER, there’s a blanket of fun and light-heartedness that drapes over the loud, and brutal sounds coming out of the speakers.  We have inside jokes, we cover goofball 90’s grunge songs by Rob Zombie and Filter, we write concept albums about HBO’s The Wire, our band mascot is Nermal from Garfield; there’s just a whole bunch of ways we try to keep our fans engaged both on and off the stage.

With Skin Tone,  our set, to me, feels like we are navigating a boat, much like the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, with audience members in it, down an audio river.  You might not know what’s around the river-bend. Will it be rapids or a gentle stream, or hungry alligators-whatever.  It’s an adventure that ends with everyone drinking bourbon, feeling good and having their ears ringing.

NN: How do you describe your band to people that might not be as familiar with your musical heroes?

WAXEATER=Brutal fun loving party-dude music that’s loud as hell delivered through an interactive multi-senses experience

Skin Tone= Slow burning mental rock music made by a heart dipped in bourbon with big amps generating a pulse

NN: How does each band write? Is it just righteous riff jams, or more compositional?

ET: Rob comes in with the guitar parts and lyrics and general blue print of a song, or as I call the “skin and bones” of a song, 98% already done for WAXEATER. He knows exactly how he wants to shape a song and how the script of a song should read, but he leaves Aaron and I in charge of building up the guts and meat of the song.

In Skin Tone, I usually withdraw a song idea from the mental bank I have been depositing songs ideas into for the last 10 years.  Then we all kind of bat the main riff around like a bunch of cats swatting at string until new ideas and riffs clump together and form a finished song.  A bulk of Skin Tone songs start off as bass lines Darcy’s been playing around with which act as great foundations to build a song from.

NN: I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are a music gear nerd. What is the one piece of gear that you couldn’t live without and why?

ET: That limb you went out on is very short buddy because yes, I am a gear nerd.  I spend at least a couple of hours a day looking a regional craigslist musical instrument sites looking for unique gear.  I watch pedal demo videos like some people porn.  As far as main big gear though, I do love the shit out of my Music Man HD-130 amp head.  It just has such amazing distortion tones, whether it’s running “dry” or fully “wet”, it’s just tones for days.  But the one piece of gear I couldn’t live without would probably be a tuner pedal.  You’d be surprised at how many people still don’t use a tuner peda,l let alone a tuning app on their phone or any tuning device. I’ve seen/ran sound for so many awesome bands who’s sets were blemished by them not taking 2 minutes to tune up using a tuner pedal.  The motto myself and my peers use is “Pro gear, pro attitude.”

NN: Are you a big pedal user? If so, what is your dream set up? If not, why?

ET: No I am not a big pedal user, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with big pedal users, I just don’t require them for the stuff I do. I’ll do a quick “rig run down” for ya.  For Skin Tone,  I only use a Rat 2 for dirt, a Boss Equalizer for punch (a tip Billy Bisig from Trophy Wives taught me), an Aqua Puss Delay for space jammin, and a Morley ABY to run 2 amps (the mentioned Music Man HD130 into a Fender DT 4×12 cab and a Traynor Mark III YGL-3 2×12 tube combo) and that’s it.  Although I AM currently searching for cheap-o “color” pedals to add to my rig, like DOD/Digitech stuff from the 90’s that have goofy names. Salena Filichia from Madame Machine knows what I’m talking about. I’m secretly jealous of her vintage pedals, she has some awesome ones.

And for WAX: Travis Bean Bass ran into a BBE Sonic Stomp for a shapely boost, then both channels on the vintage Ampeg SVT (once owned by John Cougar Mellencamp) are patched together with a Boss Bass Overdrive ODB-3 sitting in between the channels and always on, putting out the signature “WAX Snarl”.  If we’re talking my dream pedal board,  it would be awesome to have a whole rainbow of Way Huge by Dunlop pedals.  I’m a big fan of all of their stuff.  They’re all analog, built like tanks, funny names, vintage look and very shapeable sounds. I am available for endorsement deals if anybody from Dunlop is reading this.

NN: Are you originally from Louisville? I feel like I heard you had moved here years ago, around the time of your tenure in the Trophy Wives. What brought you here?

ET: Newport Beach, California is my birthplace and I grew up in southern Orange County in Mission Viejo hood. First, I got into the budding OC Christian Ska scene as a young teen then rejected that for the budding secular indie/alternative/post rock/emo scene happening with bands like The Killingtons, Limbeck and Midsummer, who greatly influenced Skin Tone’s sound. I lived in LA for 4 years, and went to The Los Angeles Recording Workshop I learned how to mix and record which I began my interest in running live sound for shows.  Started working in talk radio in LA on KLSX 97.1 which is the station that the Howard Stern on in the mornings for LA.  That station, and a lot of stations in LA around the early 2000’s, switched over to either Spanish pop music or teeny bopper pop out of thin air and everybody lost their job.  So I moved down to San Diego and worked for another talk station working as the sound effects guy for a few different talk shows for a while.  Eventually that station also switched to pop out of nowhere so at that point, I decided to move to Louisville then.

My mom’s whole side of the family is from New Albany and Louisville and I had already been visiting here about twice a year since I was about 5 years old before finally moving here permanently in March of 2007.  Things were just done differently in Louisville compared to Orange County California.  The town spoke a cultural language I could understand, everything moved at a pace I was comfortable with. My older cousin Lewis was an original bass player for Operation Cliff Clavin, so he was kind of my gateway into the Louisville music scene and just punk rock in general. Every time I would come to visit, I would gawk at his collection local 7 inches, CDs, LP’s and comps from Louisville that blew my mind and I connected with them immediately.  There wasn’t any scene like this in my part Orange County growing up so a whole new galaxy birthed itself to me and I fell in love with all of it.  Ear-X-Tacy was my heaven.  Cousin Lewis also gave me my first bass (a Peavey Fury for the gear nerds) which opened all sorts of other musical door for teenage me.  One of the best decisions in my life was moving here; it saved my creativity.

NN: How has fatherhood changed you in general, and as a musician? How do you make time to play in some many bands/do a podcast as a parent?

ET: As I’m sure any dad/mom in a band would tell you, it’s certainly not easy but doable.  I think you just have to approach time management with being a parent and musician at the same like you would with being a parent and a dolphin trainer, or brick layer or music blogger or any profession. You make your own schedule that works best for everybody. For some parents, it’s playing an instrument for hour by themselves at home while their kid is napping. Others, it’s being on the road touring the land for months with or without your kid.  For me, it’s being in two great bands I love being in, playing great regional shows that at least 10 people show up to while making records and connections along the way. Skin Tone and WAXEATER let’s me be both a dad and musician, we get our work done without killing ourselves in the process.  Well OK, I killed myself once (on accident) during the process but yeah, it’s a flexible schedule that balances everything.  I don’t get to go on long tours much anymore but I would probably find a way to kill myself again, be it slowly from eating shitty food or something else.

NN: Speaking of podcast, tell us about the None of the Above Podcast. What got you into that?

ET: I have a love/hate relationship with radio.  I love the fact that radio is solely an audio based medium that you can create an entire world using only audio elements; that sound can be broadcast across the galaxy and can reach anybody anywhere anytime.  On the con side of it though, I believe that power radio holds should not be censored, governed, or used for evil in anyway.  When you start fearing change and spontaneity in radio, your left classic rock stations playing the shit out of Hot Blooded by Foreigner for the billionth time,  you end up with morning radio show host making fart noises over their news girl’s news report, and you end up with human bags of hot air fear mongering to their listeners. Nothing in radio seems to have changed since about 1989. I take that back, they have almost completely eliminated the purpose of having an opinionated, living human DJ programming the music.  Radio used to be about exposing the masses to undiscovered hidden gems in music.  DJ’s were musical wells which you drew your musical knowledge from.  That format for terrestrial radio has changed drastically now thanks to iPods and services like Spotify,  Ever since I started working in radio, ten years ago, I had always kicked around the idea of what my own radio show would be.  What would I do, what I would say, what music I would, what sound effects would I use?-all of that.  After listening to countless hours of other podcast like Nerdist, WTF, Phil Hendrie, Adam Carolla, our NYC buddies podcast called Live from the Barrage and many more, I had a general idea of the structure for what my show would be. An opportunity came up where I could get a bunch of radio gear so I cleared out my basement, ran wires everywhere and built a nice podcast studio where we do None of the Above co-hosted with my WAXEATER brethren Rob, Aaron and our friend Kyle.  We record every Monday night, comment on music news, drink weird beers, talk to regional underground bands, play heavy music from around the world and just speak our minds without any filter.  I couldn’t be happier with it.  My ultimate goal with this studio is to rent out the studio while harboring and taking people under my wing who want to do a podcast of their own, eventually resulting in a local rock and roll podcast network.

NN: If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and why?

ET: Haha, last night on Fargo the TV series, one of the characters said “It is foolish to think you can solve the world’s problems”  I think pulling NCIS and the Disney Channel off the air is a good place to start.

NN: At what age did you come to a decision about religion? What prompted your current views?

ET: I was a Christian from about 2nd grade till about junior high.  Going to Christian schools that whole time, I was exposed to a lot of Christian public speakers. I’ve sat through so many muscle men running around on stage tearing phone books in half while screaming into Britney Spears style head set mics JESUS GIVE ME POWER”  and guys that looked like a photoshopped Ryan Seacrest leading a 3 hour acoustic power jams that I was just really turned off by the whole experience. While my classmates were balling their eyes because some stranger with a microphone just said they were going to hell forever if they didn’t believe in God, I was saying to myself “who is this guy, why is here?, why are we listening to him?, why does he represent God?, To sum it all up, I just had to many questions for religion that never really got answered.  I am, however, an ordained priest in the Church of Dudeism. “Takin’ er easy”, bowling and drinking white Russians is a religion I can get into.

NN: What are your non-musical interests? Watch or read anything good lately? I’m an avid thrift story junky.  I was sad to see the Portland Unique go because it was a paradise destination for me when visiting Louisville but I’ve since found other thrift store gems in the area.  I take care of daughter Lux during the day and I love taking her to thrift stores trying to get her super pumped about finding a cool western shirt, or sunglasses, or beer coozie.  She seems to dig it as much as I do which is cool.

ET: My favorite shows right now are Fargo and Silicon Valley.  Like most I’m sure, I was skeptical about a Fargo TV series but now I am super hooked.  Everything about that show is spectacular.  It’s brutal, whitty, suspenseful, thought provoking, and a good ride.   The funniest show on TV right now Silicon Valley.  Mike Judge has a way of creating characters that you might actually encounter in your day to day routine, yet he makes them hilarious. I feel that modern comedy is really raunchy and vulgar heavy these days like “Oh I can’t believe they told the granny F off”.  Mike Judge’s work still has a bit of raunch and vulgarity to it but it’s more a laser guided missile strike rather then a careless carpet bombing and that’s what I like about it.

NN: Name your top-five desert island records at the moment. I don’t know about desert island records only because I would need more time to think about that but five albums I have been digging on lately are:

1.  “SHEILA” ep by Sheila – Sheila is from Barcelona SP and they sound like the Spanish Pissed Jeans. Pounding coed noise rock trio that twist and slither all over the floor.

2. “Tribute to a Bus” by 18th Dye.  They’re a fuzzed out German post rock band that kind of have strong yet disinterested feel to them that I really like.  This album was recorded in ‘94 by “magic ears” himself, Steve Albini.

3. “S/T by The Warmers– Continuing my list of power coed 3 piece noise rock bands- one my favorite’s is DC post hardcore The Warmer’s featuring Ian Mackaye’s wife and brother.  Their sound is a bit haunting, angular, and stirring which are theme Skin Tone aims to accomplish.

4. “Downed-a singles collection” by Butterglory.  Soft spoken female fronted lo-fi rock from Lawrence KS who were part of the early 90’s Merge records hay-day roster.  There are just so sweet and cute and well structured indie pop jams.

5. “Jesus Horse” by War Baby.  This grunge trio from Vancouver BC take almost all the pages from the Nirvana bible for their sound…but in a good way.

Local bands I am stoked on and can’t wait to see how they progress as bands are Mote, XOX, Neighbor, Madame Machine, Great Floods, Empiria Vultura, Blood Planet, Dead Halos, Satellite Twin, Cougar Ace, Twenty First Century Fox, and Plastic Bubble.