The Turnbull ACs have been called a lot of things and they think every one of them is pretty funny. As the quartet prepares for a practice on the eve of a studio session at WOXY.com, frontman Dan Mecher and drummer Brian Penick laugh as they recount the mangled pronunciations that have been inflicted on the band. Turbo ’80s. Turtle Hayseeds. Turned Balls even.
“‘Turned Balls … what the hell is that?’” Penick recalls. “I like playing out of town and people start asking what band you’re with and you tell them the name and they come up with the craziest concoctions. I guess the professional thing would be to be in a band that’s a household name, but I like this.”
If there is any confusion over the name (which, truth be told, is a reference to the late ’70s cult film classic, The Warriors), there’s no doubt about the sound that emanates from the band. The band's 2006 eponymous debut was a masterful blend of brittle Bright Eyes Indie Pop and jagged Elvis Costello New Wave that had Big Time written all over it, and they were deservedly praised in a good many quarters as a result.
The Turnbulls had begun with Mecher’s transition out of Denial in 2005, leading to a solo acoustic gig at Allyn’s singer/songwriter night, hosted then by Cari Clara’s Eric Diedrichs. He loved Mecher’s songs and suggested that his brother Mark (a former bandmate in The Simpletons and Cari Clara) would be a perfect foil for him, which turned out to be the case. In short order, they completed the lineup with Spindle bassist Chris Rebholz and Wojo drummer Matt Retherford and began playing countless area shows.
“I never tried to be too serious about the band,” Mecher says. “I wanted it to be fun and a creative effort. But we played locally too much off the first record, and over the last year we’ve been trying to play more shows out of town.”
In the two years since their debut release, The Turnbull ACs have experienced some turbulence, including the loss of Retherford (former Death in Graceland stickman Penick was recruited last year), and Rebholz, all of which required retooling and a bit of reexamination.
By summer, the bass slot had been ably filled by Brad Stenz, taking a busman’s holiday from Moth, which is on, as they say, indefinite hiatus.
Although all of the Turnbulls’ current members had a hand in the creation of the band’s sophomore release, the eight-song, 33-minute EP Small Town Parade, the upheaval within the band is reflected in the album’s personnel assignments. Drums were played primarily by Thistle/Ampline timekeeper Rick McCarty, Rebholz played bass on two tracks and everything else was pretty much done by Mecher at home, fleshed out by Diedrichs, Penick and Stenz and mixed, mastered and sweetened by Mike Montgomery at Candyland Studio.
One of the bigger shifts in the Turnbulls is in the songwriting department. Where the first album was composed mainly on guitar, Small Town Parade’s songs were largely written by Mecher on the piano, resulting in a gentler Americana atmosphere.
“I was listening to a lot more Rock on the first album,” Mecher says. “On this one, I was listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon and Randy Newman. I put a little more first person experience into this one. For the new record, I kind of took a little more of what was happening around Cincinnati for some of the tracks.”
One facet of Mecher’s songwriting that has threaded its way through both albums is his preoccupation with death. It’s not a subject he forces into his work, it creeps in all on its own.
“Everybody who knows me knows that I’m a big hypochondriac and have all kinds of irrational fears of dying young,” Mecher says with a laugh. “I think a lot of that fear and anxiety goes into everything I do artistically. I guess it might be therapeutic to write about this stuff; unfortunately, there’s still tons left that my wife deals with.”
True to form, when the question arises of Mecher’s blueprint for the Turnbull ACs in the coming new year, his answer is both darkly humorous and slightly neurotic.
“Not die,” Mecher says of his 2009 plan.
For the new release, the Turnbulls are planning an unusual three-night CD launch at three venues that have some significance for the band. The first night is Thursday at Price Hill’s Blue Note, where several of the members’ previous bands have gigged. Friday night finds the Turnbulls at Northside Tavern. Saturday night has them opening at Covington’s all-ages-friendly Mad Hatter. As Penick points out, the three shows mirror the three phases of the Turnbulls' evolutionary arc.
“A lot of bands got their beginning at the Blue Note, and the Northside Tavern has been really good to a lot of bands I’ve been in and to the Turnbull ACs,” he says. “Northside is just a haven in general for a close-knit group of people who appreciate good music. And at The Mad Hatter, we’re playing with a national band, and we’re trying to be known as a regional and national band. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s like a past, present and future thing.”
THE TURNBULL ACs host CD release parties at The Blue Note Thursday, Northside Tavern Friday and The Mad Hatter Saturday.