Jonas Stein & Kingsley Brock
Turbo Fruits front man Jonas Stein, aka JoNasty, hammers out a series of vicious, distortion-drenched power chords as he struts across the stage at Riverfront Park. Suddenly, he leaps in the air á la Pete Townshend and lands next to band mate Kingsley Brock, who is in the midst of a blistering solo. Stein and Brock comprise one of the city’s most dynamic guitar tandems, and together, they make a big, joyful noise.
Still only in his mid-20s, budding rock star Stein is already a legendary figure in local rock circles, having been the guitarist for the seminal Nashville garage-punk outfit, Be Your Own Pet. He formed Turbo Fruits as a side project in 2005; after BYOP broke up in 2008, he focused entirely on Turbo Fruits. There have been a few lineup changes over the years, but the current group has been together since June of 2010, when Brock, whom Stein has known since high school, joined the band.
Stein’s current axe of choice is a Gibson SG, a gift from the manufacturer after he agreed to use it in a Be Your Own Pet music video. It features a custom-painted, American-flag motif by David Johnson, which was inspired by the American-flag Fender Stratocaster played by Wayne Kramer, guitarist for MC5, a band Stein counts among his influences.
“I was walking through a guitar shop one day in New York and I saw Wayne Kramer’s guitar on the wall,” he says. “I thought maybe I could do something really similar for my own. I was thinking about my SG and I hadn’t seen an American flag on an SG before.”
It’s a durable guitar, which is a good thing because he gives it a real workout over the course of a show. “It’s seen some tough days,” he says and laughs. “I’m not the type of dude to baby my shit. I want to respect it, but I’m going to use it how I want to use it.”
One of his earliest influences was Led Zeppelin. “My brother turned me onto Led Zeppelin when I was 11 or 12 years old — he gave me the record Led Zeppelin II,” Stein recalls. “I would listen to ‘Whole Lotta Love’ on the way to the ice rink to get pumped up. I’d be head banging in the backseat while my parents were driving me to the hockey game.”
In his early teens, he was introduced to punk rock. “I was really interested in the culture behind it,” he says. “Looking at all those old photos would just make me feel something, like there was something special going on.
“So I was listening to The Clash, and the Buzzcocks, and The Ramones, and the Rezillos, and Television. Television’s Marquee Moon was something I listened to all the time for at least a couple of years.
“I would say the whole punk culture was most responsible for me playing music,” he continues. “You look at these dudes and you recognize they are not that great on their instruments, but they are singing songs that are cohesive somehow or another, and they have melodies, and hooks. So someone who is not that skilled on guitar, it gives you hope: ‘I might be able to do something like that.’ And then you start going for it. So I definitely have a place in my heart for the ’70s punk scene.”
Inspired by the punk ethos, Stein decided he wanted to go for it. “I kind of jumped the gun, man,” he says. “Before I really knew what the hell I was doing on guitar, I was like, ‘I’m going to start a band.’ So I started a two-piece punk rock band — that’s the kind of music I was into at the time. I was yelling at the top of my lungs and there were lots of power chords. But standing up in front of people and playing whatever little minute-and-a-half punk song I wrote did me good. I wasn’t good at the time, but looking back on it, it was an important move to make — going for it.”
That two-piece punk band was the genesis of BYOP, and in many ways, of Turbo Fruits as well. At this point, Stein is a veteran recording artist, but he is humble about his guitar playing.
“I still don’t feel very good on the guitar,” he says. “Whatever skills I have now have just come over time from doing this. A lot of my practicing — aside from just goofing off in my living room — has been from touring. I’ve gotten better at guitar from playing 200 shows a year, becoming more comfortable with it, more familiar with it.”
Brock echoes that in regards to his own playing. “I didn’t really start focusing on playing guitar until right before Jonas asked me to join the band,” he says. “I was always focused on playing rhythm and singing. My lead playing — I was only really doing it for maybe about six months to a year when I joined the band. But as soon as I joined is when I really started to actually progress because I was practicing with these guys so much or playing so much live that it really helped speed up that process.
“It was like, ‘OK, here’s the part where you’re going to solo when we’re playing this show, and you’re either going to nail it or totally screw it up.’ So there was enough of that, just being in front of people and being forced to learn how to play.
“In a lot of ways, Jonas was the one person who gave me a shot to do what I always wanted to do,” he continues. “One day, he came over to the house, and we were just sitting there hanging out, and he was like, ‘Hey, would you be interested in going on a two-week run?’
“I had never toured. I was always doing shows, but I had never had the opportunity of going on a tour. So I went out with them for 10 days or 14 days, or something like that, and around the middle of it, they sat me down and asked if I’d be willing to be a full-time member. I immediately said, ‘Yes.’”
Brock usually plays Gibsons, either a Les Paul Deluxe or a Firebird. “With Jonas playing that SG and Dave [McCowen] playing that bass with those humbuckers, if I want to get a lead to cut above a mix, I have to be playing a guitar like a Les Paul or a Firebird, something with humbuckers that has a little more output to get above everything, or at least to cut through.”
He cites a variety of influences, including Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and East Nashville’s Jim Oblon, whom he considers the best guitarist he’s ever seen. But Brock also draws heavily from classic rock: Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, Keith Richards and his “favorite of all time,” Ritchie Blackmore. “Most of the stuff I listen to is older,” he says.
Watching classic rock clips on the Internet, and seeing six-string wizards like Oblon perform live, fuels Brock’s creative fire. “It inspires me and pushes me to try to over time figure out my style and figure out what I’m capable of, and find my voice on guitar — which I haven’t done yet,” he says. “I want to do that, it’s what I’m here to do.”