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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012

Rio Turbo Brings the Party

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As we settle in at a remote table in a nearly deserted Riverwest watering hole, Rio Turbo asks me if I’d like to take a shot with him before the interview gets underway. I politely refuse, explaining that I have to drive, but encourage him not to let that hold him back. He bounces off to the bar, buying a round for the few folks sitting around, quietly sipping beers and observing the Chicago Bears trounce the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. It’s not a grand gesture, a few dollars and a few minutes spent drinking a toast with total strangers turned instant friends, but it’s indicative of what appears to be his operating philosophy: It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with, it’s never a bad time for a party.

“It’s a hard lifestyle,” he jokes, “a lot of partying, a lot of beautiful women, a lot of hunky boys.” And indeed, if you’re in attendance at a Rio Turbo show, that’s exactly what you’ll find, Turbo flowing over punchy, sexed-up dance jams in his sleazy, clipped mumble, flanked by the limber Turbette back-up dancers and an animated, be-jumpsuited DJ, known as Nike Mane. If the audience is going in cold, the first reaction always seems to be laughter, and while there is an element of mischievous humor at work, they soon realize that he’s more fun than he is funny, and doesn’t cut any corners musically either. “If I’m one of four groups on the bill,” he boasts over his whiskey, “the other three are going to sound exactly like each other. Some of them might be more talented than the others, but I’m going to be the only thing anyone remembers about the show.”

As you can probably tell by now, he’s not exactly unsure of himself or of his music (one of his more memorable lyrics declares the inevitability of his being bigger than Elvis Presley and marijuana combined), to the point where you’ve got to wonder where the persona of Rio Turbo ends and his secret identity of Joseph M. Peterson begins. “It’s just natural,” he explains, a little wary of defining anything too much. “It’s not an alter ego, though some people have tried to pin it down as that, because it’s not too far off from who I am.” Of course, when he’s on stage, it’s clearly performance and a theatrical one at that. “There’s showmanship involved, and I try to give people their money’s worth,” he says, citing ex-Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry as an idol in that department.

Since last year’s Heart Attack, a promising but rough-around-the-edges affair freely distributed on CDR and online, he’s upped the quality of his tracks exponentially, mainly by seeking out talented local producers to work with, and then learning everything he can from them, which bodes well for his new release, Party Trash, due out Nov. 8. “Half the tracks, I did everything on my own,” he says, “and then the other half is stuff that good friends have come up with, Willy Dintenfass and Tony Dixon, who’ve helped make some of the beats that I use. I’m really fortunate to have those guys, they understand what I’m trying to do; half the time I don’t understand what I’m trying to do.” The development is clear on the title track, released via Bandcamp as a teaser, where speed-freak vocals race feverishly against a wobbly, immediately infectious bassline. It’s a shame it’s only two minutes and 19 seconds long.

True to form, the album release show will be somewhat over the top, featuring five other bands in addition to Turbo’s 15-minute opening set, only one of which, Outside, is local. It also serves as the kickoff for Rio Turbo’s first tour, which will finally give Madison and Chicago audiences a chance to get in on one of Milwaukee’s best kept secrets. Quarters is an appropriate place for the sendoff—although with only two dates it’s more of a “see you later”—since it’s become Turbo’s quasi-official home base, a testing ground and a home away from home. “I love the atmosphere and it’s run very well,” he says, “I think everybody there understands the rules of life basically, respecting people and not being afraid to party like crazy.”

Rio’s Turbo’s album release party is Thursday, Nov. 8 at Quarters Rock ’N Roll Palace.