Turn it Up
Photos by Chelsea Marshall
By Cassondra Guilbeau Research Turtles is a curiosity that goes beyond its name—a group of artists that take their craft seriously while maintaining a healthy sense of humor about work, themselves and life in general. Over the course of a 90 minute interview, the band members laughed almost as much as they talked. The group—which consists of lead singer Jud Norman, lead guitarist Logan Fontenot, guitarist Joe Norman, and drummer Blake Thibodeaux—started out life as two separate bands, with two separate agendas. Jud Norman, 24, and Thibodeaux, 25, played together as part of the cover band The Flame Throwers, while Jud’s brother, Joe, 19, and Fontenot, 22, were in a band called Plaid Carpets. About two years ago, when both bands lost members, the four came together, or “joined forces,” said Jud
Norman, whose brother was on a camping trip and could not participate in the interview. Of course, in their new life, the group is still two separate bands, but now they have one agenda—to ultimately play their own music. “We played as the Flame Throwers for about a year, and Jud was writing his own music during that time,” Fontenot said. “Then, we started working them into our set and got good feedback.” With the encouragement, Norman kept writing music and the band kept working on the songs. The guys knew this was the direction they wanted to take. They didn’t see a real future for themselves as a cover band, acknowledging that there is a stigma associated with being a cover band. “It’s like you’re not good enough to do your own thing, it’s a safe road,”
June 11, 2009
Fontenot said of what is often thought of cover bands. But, like the Molly Ringwalds, the group has seen that being a cover band can bring its rewards. “You can make great money doing it,” Thibodeaux said. And they use their gigs as the Flame Throwers to subsidize their work as Research Turtles. The Flame Throwers is a side job for the struggling artists.
( Just in case you were wondering, The Flame Throwers have covered the Beatles, Weezer, Metallica…whatever “drunk people like to listen to.” But their one rule, according to Jud, is to never play Sweet Home Alabama.) The original stuff is a collective process that originates from Norman, who Fontenot calls the “hook master.” “I come in with two versus, a chorus and a bridge and we say, ‘how are we going to piece this together?’” They throw in their musical influences, which include many of the bands they cover as the Flame Throwers, like the Beatles and Weezer in addition to Tom Petty and Led Zeppelin. Then they bring all of their own styles together to create the finished product. The best songs come when you least expect it, according to Norman. When a moment of inspiration hits you, and 20 minutes later you have a great song. “Sometimes you write something real personal, but if you make it vague enough, people can look at it from different perspectives,” Norman said. “That’s the great thing about Jud’s
music,” Thibodeaux said. Of course, not letting the moment get too serious, Jud added, “and I try to keep it about boys and girls, that seems to be what sells.” The group, all from Lake Charles and graduates of St. Louis High School, sat down to talk one week after recording their first album at Dockside Studio in Maurice, La. With the slogan “Move in, Make Records,” which is what Research Turtles did. The studio is in a plantation home on a 12 acre riverfront estate and boasts a musical legacy that includes BB King and Bonnie Rait among others. (Of course, the guys were all too happy to talk about one of those “others,” Scarlett Johansson. After all, they may have sat in the same chair she did while they were there.) Justin Tocket is the Nashville producer the band has worked with on the album. His resume is impressive as well. He has worked with Marc Broussard and Sons of William. “We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to work with,” Fontenot said. The album only took one week to record and there was plenty of stress involved. Being in a professional studio with a producer watching you play and asking you to “do it again” can be intimidating, but you have to get past it pretty quickly, according to Thibodeaux. It was especially important for him. As the drummer, he had to lay his tracks down, and get them right, first. Fontenot had his wisdom teeth removed the week before the trip. So he was faced with the challenge of playing through the pain. And the stress was a lot to carry for songwriter, lead singer and self-proclaimed perfectionist Norman, but the experience was unforgettable and invaluable. “It was the best worst week of my life,” Norman said. The band is currently planning its album release party. As of press time, it is set for Aug. 14 and they are hoping to throw a huge party at Luna’s with Pensacola rock band The Gills. “We feel like once the record comes out, people will see we are worth listening to and worth coming out to see,” said Fontenot. The finished album has more of an edge and rock feel than even this typical pop band was expecting, and they are very excited about it. They think it will give them a new energy on stage. Right now, the group is playing weekend gigs and making connections, trying to learn the ropes of planning an actual tour. Fontenot does the booking, but they are hoping to be picked up by a booking agent. They have their sights set on big things. In the fall, they
will be playing all over the Gulf Coast, from Houston, to Pensacola. They are also hoping to play Summerfest in Milwaukee. In the immediate future, they will be playing Scout Bar in Beaumont on July 4 and Party by the Pool at L’Auberge du Lac on July 9. Their fan base is building not only from their live shows but by their online followers as well. Research Turtles can be found on myspace (myspace. com/researchturtles), twitter (twitter. com/researchturtles) and facebook (facebook.com/researchturtles). “They say that the best time to be a band is right now,” Norman said. “Getting your music out now is easier.
There is so much music out there, people can find it on their own without relying on the radio.” Someone from Argentina purchased the band’s EP through their myspace page, according to Norman. “And I don’t even have any relatives in Argentina,” he joked. It’s just the beginning for Research Turtles as they add more gigs and plan for the big Aug. 14 album launch. They all agree it is a tough business to break into, but they just want to do the music they love and have the band be able to support itself. With bands like Research Turtles and Magnolia Sons coming out of Southwest Louisiana, Fontenot sees a
bright musical future for the Lake Area that Research Turtles can spearhead. “The people of Lake Charles not only support live music, but they support so many different types of live music,” he said. Oh, still curious about the name of the band? “Picking a band name is probably the hardest thing,” Norman said. While they won’t reveal directly where they got their name, they will say they are big fans of director Wes Anderson. So, now you have your homework. Check out Research Turtles and google films by Anderson to find the origin of the band’s name.
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June 11, 2009