Have a Party, Take Your Clothes Off
Rio Turbo really likes to rile up the audience. The party reconvenes Saturday night at Linneman’s.
I’ve yet to see Rio Turbo live, but that will change on Saturday night at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. My girlfriend described their Hotel Foster set during the MKE Film Festival like this, “For the first three songs, my friends and I were just standing there with our mouths open, looking at each other like “What the hell is going on?””
“I get that reaction a lot,” said Joey Turbo (aka Joseph Peterson) over drinks last week. “It tends to take like half of the set for people to either get it or hate it. It’s kind of a punch in the face. We party up there.”
Turbo and I met for an interview at Riverwest Public House, a fitting location. Not only does he bartend at the cooperative on Tuesdays, but he played his first show there in 2005. Back then it was known as Riverwest Commons and Turbo was a high school kid from Appleton. I asked him about those days and how he got into music.
“My junior year I went to high school in Green Bay and when I moved back to Appleton I got into this arts charter school. I wasn’t a fan of the traditional school setting but the arts school was alright. We had a class on 50s musicals. I met so many like-minded people. The guy who basically ran it was my middle school football coach, who I didn’t like when I was on the team, but it was cool to see a whole different side of him.
“The summer after we moved to Milwaukee the band toured a bunch. I started meeting people in the scene and it felt like Milwaukee would be a good launch zone, being so close to Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Indiana. I’ve been a really lucky guy so far. Eric Schultz of Holy Shit!, who helps generate and run the DIY punk scene, has been a big supporter from the beginning. He’s helped me book a lot of cool shows and meet people.
“Most of the shows I’ve played with bands that don’t sound like us. I’ve played basement shows with punk and hardcore bands, experimental noise bands, pop-punk bands, I’ve played with them all. That’s what I like, a diversity in sound. Because that’s where I pick up my influences. With Rio Turbo I have the freedom to change my sound anytime, it’s really nice to have that creative control.
“My main influences for this project are a mix of Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, and professional wrestling in the early 90s. I had a baby sitter who would constantly watch wrestling, and my dad was a huge Elvis fanatic, so I think that rubbed off. He was a party boy too. For a long time he was a bouncer at disco clubs, when that was hitting its prime. I remember seeing pictures of him in really short shorts, with a flowing, beautiful mullet, cut-off flannel shirt, just thinking he was God. There’s actually a line on the last track of the new album, “Take a look in the mirror, say to myself, “Don’t ever die.” Papa used to work out and look in the mirror and say that. He was a good looking dude, very fit, took care of himself, street smart, and he could rumble.
“My best friend Isaac (aka Nike Mane), who was in Catacombz, was an integral part of the Rio Turbo vision and vibe. It was always a dream of mine as a kid, and Isaac helped me recognize and shape what it would look like. I get really neurotic and crazy, especially on show nights. Isaac was always the one who kept things flowing and kept me from getting in trouble. I owe a lot of it to him. He moved out to Oakland at the end of last year. It was tough for sure. We’ve been homies since the fifth grade. But we stay in good contact. He’s gonna be a star someday, he’s a magic boy.
“So I was doing Catacombz and Rio Turbo at the same time for a while. And then Platinum Boys started a year ago. So there was a lot going the last couple of years. I’m like the laziest hardest working dude in show business. I’m always doing something, maybe I’m not always happy about it. It gets pretty hectic, but I wouldn’t change anything. It’d be nice to have more time to grab dinner with my girlfriend, get back to my hometown and hang with my family, but this is what it is, and I anticipate things getting crazier as time goes on. I’ll be able to relax later.”
“The first cassette I had was Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. My older brother was heavy into rap. When my Mom found that tape she threw it down a sewer. There’s a natural compression that occurs on a cassette tape that just strikes a chord with me. And they’re cheap and fun to collect. It’s a more affordable hobby than record collecting.
“When you’re touring, you find a lot of bands with vans from the 90s, and they tend to have cassette tapes. We trade tapes when people come through. It’s like a mid-level touring trend. But we’re trying to build up a nest and eventually put out both cassettes and vinyl. That’s the goal.”
During our conversation we reminisced about Arte Para Todos, where we first met, which was only a month ago. Joey loved the whole thing.
“That was the best weekend for Milwaukee music, hands down, that I’ve been a part of, at least since I moved here in 2006. It’s an incredible time to be in the city. There’s been some great stuff that I wish was still around, but in terms of all of it happening at the same time, it’s never been this good.
“I’ve always been going to shows and I’m pretty diverse in my taste, and there’s artists killing it in every genre right now. It’s been super inspiring too, so many shows where the act blows me away and I just want to go on after them, or go home and work on music. The other night I saw Holy Shit! at Cocoon Room. Those guys are lifers, they’ve done countless shows and so much for other bands, and here they were in front of maybe 20 people and destroyed. They give it their all and I try to do the same thing, everything I’ve got in me and then some. A lot of that mentality comes from the hardcore/punk scene.”
Rio Turbo – Lip Service (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
Do you have any national influences, I asked.
“Being able to do that show with Big Freedia was amazing. That’s someone I’ve looked up to for quite some time. But I don’t really idolize people anymore. I just don’t think it’s healthy and I don’t have time for that.
“I’ve been on a John Prine folk kick lately. There’s this band Rupert Angeleyes from Minneapolis that Platinum Boys played with who stayed with me and were kind enough to give me a copy of their record. It’s awesome, I’ve been listening to that nonstop, definitely look them up.
How do you design a Rio Turbo show?
“It goes back to the boyhood fantasy. It’s designed to either have people love it or hate it, and generally that’s been the response. The goal is to give the audience a choice. We like to blend a lot of different styles. We bring things to the forefront in terms of sexual tendencies, looks, human empowerment, no gender specificity. We’re going to throw all that at you.
“Trilla and Cat (the dancers) are two of the strongest people I know. I’m extremely lucky to have them represent the female stylings in the group. I’m not straight, I’m not gay, I’m just living. I push that out there and see how people take that or don’t. That’s how the show is designed. If you’re down for a good time and you’re open minded and like to party, then you’ll probably have an awesome time at the show.
“I don’t care what party means to you. It means something to me and maybe it’s the closest thing to a religion I have. I think you can party and not touch any kind of substance and still be an awesome person. It’s all about understanding the vibe and making sure you have control over yourself. So it’s been nice to party with a bunch of different people. That’s the underlying vision of it all.
“Anything can happen at any time. You gotta enjoy yourself. It’s important to keep your life together, but if that’s all you’re concerned about all the time, what’s the point? I guess that’s the message. I might promote drinking, recreational drugs, that’s me, that’s my perspective, but I absolutely respect anyone who doesn’t have that perspective.”
Have you ever lost anyone to the party?
“Not in the sense of them passing away. I’ve lost people spiritually and as friends. It’s a thin line. I take a look at myself and make sure I’m not getting too carried away. I get the perspective of people around me that I care about because it’s easy to tell yourself you’re okay. Do I overindulge sometimes? For sure. I’ve seen some guys get hooked on some stuff and it’s gotten weird. It’s impacted me heavily and been a learning experience. I know the damage that can bring.
“I try to pass my energy on to the people I meet and the people I play for. I feel like I have a lot of it, I feel overloaded with it sometimes, and I want to share it. I get sick to my stomach, no matter the venue size, it’s the same exact damn feeling every time. I can’t eat, I can’t smoke a cigarette without gagging, but the second I step onstage I get launched into some weird fucking zone that I really enjoy being in.”
Has it always been like that?
“I remember doing a talent show in the fourth grade. We lip synced Fastball’s “The Way” and I was the singer. I froze up so bad. My face turned red, I freaked out. If you had told me that I’d be hanging out half-naked in front of strangers at 27, getting partied on, no way I would believe you. Maybe I’ve been making up for that all this time.”
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened at a show?
“There was this one show at Quarters. It was my golden birthday and I invited people onstage. Someone grabbed my genitals super hard, just squeezed them as hard as they could. Like my junk was a pressure ball. I got dizzy and thought I was going to puke. I’m all about sexual freedom, but I’m also about consent, decency, common sense and logic, and I don’t think any of those were being practiced at that moment.
“I don’t know if that’s the craziest. People get naked, people do illegal activities. Sometimes it brings out the best in people, sometimes the worst, but I guess it does that in me too, so it’s a fair reflection. But going back to that Quarters show, I didn’t think my penis was going to work again. I thought that was it. If you’re going to grab Joey Turbo’s junk, it’s because you’re supposed to, I’ll let you know.”
Rio Turbo play their self-titled album release show Saturday night at Linneman’s. Also on the bill are label mates NO/NO, scene favorites The Fatty Acids, journeyman Kid Millions’ project the Sounds of Time, Sriracha-loving rapper Lorde Fredd33 and DJ Tyler Robots.
When I messaged Turbo on the eve of his third album’s online release (March 24) to gauge his feelings on the sexy, beat-heavy, party pop record, he got back to me with the following:
“I feel like I’ve been to two dances and no one has noticed me. This time is different. This time I feel like I’m walking through the door pretty boy style with a respected neck ache from looking to what some people call the sky and I call success. I feel nice about this one. It’s everything.”
Linneman’s Riverwest Inn is at 1001 East Locust Street. The party kicks off at 9pm and costs $5 or $7 with a cassette.