The Milwaukee DIY music community consistently produces organizers and musicians who keep the scene healthy and sustainable.
Joey Turbo is a prominent personality in that community. To many he is Rio Turbo, a flamboyant stage persona accompanied by a posse of expressive and colorful characters.
Turbo contributes to the DIY scene in other ways as well.
He is a founder of the rock band Platinum Boys, which has toured and created a name for itself in the greater American DIY culture. He also works as a booker, show organizer and fundraiser, and is co-founder of the local label Gloss Records.
In January, Turbo organized the Listen Up Volume 1 event to raise money for local nonprofits impacted by the changing political climate. He did what he does best and threw a great party, where the proceeds went directly to these organizations.
I recently met up with Turbo at the Riverwest bar Hi Dive to talk about music, bands and the DIY scene.
Wisconsin Gazette: So, to get started, I wanted to ask you about your early influences and how your interest in music started.
Joey Turbo: As a kid, a close friend of mine, Aaron, had a family that was very musically involved. I got into going to shows and his dad’s shows and we would record songs on a tape player. He started a band with my friend Isaac, who played guitar, and Aaron played the drums. I naturally got a bass and it was the beginning of that.
The previous band that you were in — Catacombz. Is that from Appleton?
Yeah, that was with Aaron and Isaac, actually. It was our first band, we had different names growing up but it was us three. They went to school in Milwaukee in 2006, when we all graduated. Then I went to MATC and I didn’t know what I was doing. I dropped out and stuck with the music thing.
Catacombz hasn’t put anything out since 2014. Are you guys still active?
No, we aren’t a band anymore. At the time we had our last show, Isaac was planning on moving to California. That was approaching and we’d been at it a long time. We had toured a lot and we just kind of reached the point where it wasn’t the main focus of everyone involved.
What were the first influences of that band?
It started with punk music and similar embarrassing influences. We toured right out of high school. We met these people in Missouri — they were a certain kind of kraut rock, psychedelic stuff and we saw what they were doing. It opened up our eyes a little bit about pushing the boundaries and getting more into the live show. It got weirder. German music was a huge influence.
I also wanted to highlight Rio Turbo and what that means to your performance.
… I always have been more collaborative with groups and projects and I wanted to do something that was just my vision. So I started that. I had another band to play shows when touring bands came through. It was something that I’d always wanted to do. It was my dream; it was kind of like Elvis Presley. Not musically, but the idea of it. It made me feel a little uncomfortable and it worked right off the bat. People either hated us or really enjoyed us and I was turned on by that idea. … We played a lot of punk shows, so we didn’t really fit in. There wasn’t much happening that was like what we were doing. I got lucky enough to have a bunch of people throughout the course of the project that had been into it and supportive of it. As it sits now, it’s more of a collaborative project. It’s still my thing. But many current members have been in it for a long time. Cat Reis has been a part of it for a long time. She owns it too. What we are trying to convey is owned by all of us.
Are you writing for Rio Turbo right now?
Yeah, I’m always kind of writing for it. There will be lulls when I’m really busy with other things, like Platinum Boys stuff. That’s kind of the beauty of it. There are no rules for it and I can do it pretty much whatever I want to. There are no deadlines … except for the ones I set. … As far as an album, I’ve probably written about two since the last one came out. I’ve scrapped them due to them not being impressive to me. There is no rush. The base ideas stay the same. It’s electronic, bass and dance stuff. The songwriting changes. Sometimes I feel like I know what I am doing. I have a bunch of songs that are in the same vein, same idea.
Platinum Boys — you guys have put out quite a few albums in the past couple of years. Is that your main focus at the moment?
Yeah, that’s totally my main focus. It started when Catacombz was ending. I met Casey Hughes and we became friends very quickly. We had a lot in common and Catacombz was very drawn out and complicated (in terms of stylings) and I wanted to create something that was easy and fun. We liked the party idea of Rio Turbo but with rock and roll music. I had never been in a band like that. We got to talking and we were talking about who we would like to play with and Matt Pappas and Aaron Skufa were brought up. It was very easy to do. …
The style of Platinum Boys does fit into the same aesthetic as Rio Turbo — a similar mentality.
Yeah, it’s more honest. It’s pretty much what life is to us. We don’t want to overcomplicate that. We are just going to sing about the s--- we do. We are going to write music that we are capable of playing. If we write a song, we very rarely will change the structure. We write everything on the spot. No one comes with a song. We write together. …
Since you are integrated into the current American DIY scene, do you have comments about how it has evolved?
As far as Milwaukee goes, I feel it’s really healthy right now. Minus the availability of spaces. That seems to be what is happening everywhere. As I get older, it changes. I still care about it and I want it to exist. But when I was 18 and 15 it was a huge deal. There were more house shows and buildings that we’d rent out and it would get shut down. People were willing to do that. I’ve done that and I’ve lost quite a large sum of money attempting to do that. It seems good and with the internet as it is today, it changes everything. I think about punk bands touring in the ’90s or before that and it blows my mind.
The number of DIY spaces has diminished or downsized in recent years. Yet there is still a deep community existing online.
Yeah, for sure. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes a DIY community exist. If it’s a physical building or something online. As far as clubs in Milwaukee, such as Cactus Club, the idea is still there. People are still booking shows in a selfless way. They give the money to the touring bands and are doing it for the right reasons. As long as that exists, then this community will always exist. …
Touch upon how you are very involved in Milwaukee and how that is your role.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of people help me out. The book aspect of that is returning the favor and understanding what it means. Eric Schultz actually taught me a lot about that from Holy S---! He taught me a lot about the ins and outs of the DIY scene. For example, the etiquette in booking shows in smaller music communities. Being respectful is a really underlying aspect of the DIY scene. It was huge for me to understand this. Right now he’s riding in a van with a group from Japan so that they can tour the United States. He’s someone that I respect greatly and I think that’s the way it should be, putting yourself second or third in a situation. It keeps you moving forward.
As far as booking Milwaukee shows, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different venues, which makes it easier to have the proper contacts. … When you work these venues, they take care of you and you take care of them. It makes it a lot easier to do in the future. You just create that relationship. …
How does your involvement with Gloss Records tie in to the mentality that you are referring to — investing in where you are and being an outlet for musicians to display their work?
Yeah, the beginning of that was exactly that. It’s nice to have something that’s going to back up your releases. If you have a little bit of money and time to do this, it creates an umbrella so that bands are helping other bands. As the label expands, the reach grows for everybody. It creates a way for bands to make money, which is always a difficult thing. We’ve put out enough that the label can survive and bands get X amount of the release at no cost. It profits them. That was the idea.
So it’s a nonprofit record label?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It will probably never be a profit, but we’ve put enough money into it, just little stuff. It’s worth it. …
I wanted to ask you about the event you organized last winter, Listen Up! Volume 1.
It was one of the most rewarding things that I’ve been a part of. Every artist I asked said “yes” right away. The venue was so helpful with making it look and feel the way we wanted it to. The people who came to support it, gave their money knowing where it was going to and the final step, which was what was going to these individuals and giving them money was incredible.
How was that process?
It was really cool. It all lasted much longer than I expected it to. When I went to the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, it was the middle of winter and it was freezing out. They invited me in for tea and I was wearing many layers. I’m a sweaty dude, I was dripping and it was pouring down my body. I was intrigued with everything they were telling me. They educated me on why they exist and what they stand for. They help. It was totally worth it. I didn’t expect to have that much embarrassment and it was very nice. I felt lucky to be a part of that. I’m going to do it again. It will probably be after the holidays. When fundraisers and events slow down a little bit. …
How did the idea develop?
It started right after the election. That brought up thoughts in everyone about who we are. I started to see people around me becoming really affected by it. I was hearing about how scared some people were about things changing and the climate changing. I thought about what I could do. I did what I’m good at. I threw a party to raise money. That’s what I can do. There is always something to do. It can be little stuff. The first step is to care. …
Do you consider yourself a lifer?
Oh yeah. The day I dropped out of school is the moment when that was decided within myself. I get bored easily. I like to keep myself on my toes. I don’t know where it will take me. What avenue that will mean. Will I be wearing lipstick and costumes with some of my friends and dancing sexy when I’m 55? I hope so. But I don’t know. I don’t know what I will be doing. I’m dedicated to the scene. It’s everything to me. Everything that I’ve put into it I’ve been paid back. The people I’ve met, the friends I have and the lessons I’ve learned. It’s all made me a better person. It’s really cool. It’s here for everyone. … In Milwaukee, there is so much great stuff. It’s really neat. …
Are there any projects that you are hoping will materialize that do not currently exist?
I’ve been recording country music. I don’t know if ideally anyone will hear it but maybe one day I will get courageous enough. It’s been something that I’ve been doing for a long time. It’s a lot of little tapes. I always thought about doing something with it. But I don’t know if I will. I also recently started playing the drums in a band called Tubbs. That materialized very quickly and unexpectedly.
Are you going on tour anytime soon?
Platinum Boys has some big stuff coming up. I don’t know if I can announce it. We will be touring somewhere that we’ve never toured before. That’s coming up in the winter. Before then, we will probably go out and do a Midwest thing. It’s been great. Our last record was put out on Dusty Medical from Milwaukee. We also put out stuff through Forged Artifacts from Minneapolis.
Are there any anticipated albums from Platinum Boys?
It’s hard to say right now. The next release might just be online. It will be a smaller thing. Hopefully we will put out another record within the next year.
Platinum Boys performs Sept. 8 at the Mondo Lucha! party at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Tubbs performs Sept. 15 at the Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave., Milwaukee. Rio Turbo performs Sept. 28, also at the Cactus Club.
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