ROCK & REPRISE.NET
I think of Tiger Beat magazine when I think of Judson Norman. His sense of the sixties is at times so overwhelming that he drags people who experienced those times through the wormhole while giving those who didn't a taste of something they are fascinated by but can only pretend to know. He is to Research Turtles what Michael Rabon was to The Five Americans and Emitt Rhodes was to The Merry-Go-Round. He is the core of their sound. But it wasn't always that way. It never is. There is always a beginning.
The real beginning of what evolved into Research Turtles was not Turtle-related at all. The seed of the once and future band, in fact, germinated in Baton Rouge. Remember Darbonne and his year off at LSU? Well, it was only one year.
“Jud came to LSU and wanted to start an original project,” Joseph recalled. “It was going to be called just Jud Norman, at first. It was going to include myself, Jud, Paul Gonsoulin and Blake Thibodeaux. As we rehearsed, the name morphed into The Stone Protectors because Jud saw a toy by that name or something. This is how Jud gets band names, evidently. So we played a couple of gigs as The Stone Protectors.
“The first gig we ever played together was an all-original gig featuring a bunch of Jud Norman songs, and those songs were damn good. It was kind of a showcase--- big stage, really cool. It was here in Lake Charles and it wasn't a big deal, though it was to us. The crowd was a little older than we would have liked because it was a showcase of art in general--- lots of visual art and stuff like that.
“After that gig, Paul and I came up with the idea that we could make a lot more money if we started playing cover songs. We figured we didn't have to play all the hits, that we could play the songs we liked and the most other people liked and that it would make us look all that much cooler for playing them. Thus began The Flamethrowers, though we would not be called that for awhile.
“We were playing gigs here and there and I was a junior in college, sitting out by the pool nursing a hangover when Jud calls and says, 'Dude! Dude! I got a name! I was looking online at some hard drugs and what they're called and, Dude, when you lace a joint with heroin and PCP, it's called a Flamethrower!' (laughs) See, we couldn't find a damn name. We worked hard at it too, because we didn't want to sound so serious. We didn't want to be called The Fallen or something like that. That's what most bands do anymore. I mean, I wanted the name to be at least a little tongue-in-cheek. So we threw a bunch of names back and forth and decided on The Flamethrowers not only out of frustration but also because of that phone call. It was hilarious.
“We played around for awhile and built up the band name and then, at the end of the 2007 school year when both Paul and I were scheduled to graduate, we played this gig in Florida at this place called The Swamp, right on the beach. Very cool. Anyway, we overdid it--- four nights in a row of steady partying. Paul met a girl and had a bit of a manic episode and had to shut himself off from the band--- doctor's orders. When that happened, I was already a bit fed up and was already playing a bit with another band in Baton Rouge, Lazy K, which was also good money.
“I had been booking gigs for the band with Jud and it was bumming me out. Nobody volunteered to help and I was a full-time student. We were all a little spoiled because we had seen success as a band, at least around that area. At least as regards cover tunes, which were very popular.
“I think Jud was a little resentful because his songs--- Jud Norman songs--- couldn't penetrate that, no matter how good they were. He had to fight a battle for his songs. And we wanted to play them more, but he did not like the lineup. He wasn't happy with the overall state of the band. Because it was go, go, go all the time with the cover tunes.
“As far as the live shows were concerned, Paul Gonsoulin and I were the show. Jud just put on his sunglasses and thumped through everything. Gonsoulin was a guitar player as well as a singer and he and I would ham it up on stage. You know. Kick spins and stuff. My best Eddie Van Halen impression.
“It was built-up resentment, I suppose. I don't know if you've ever heard Jud's Apples, Oranges album. There are some good songs on there. We never wanted to stop playing them but Jud did, so we finally said okay.
“There was this one song in particular on Apples, Oranges, in fact, which I think is killer. We would play it live and the place would go nuts. It's called Waste All My Time. Write that down. You have to hear that song. It's gorgeous. I asked him once why we couldn't play it at the Turtles shows and his response was simply 'That was then. That's in the past.' And that is all I could get out of him. And I don't touch it because it is his.
“I moved on from Jud and Blake. They were ready to bring in new band members anyway. The split was amicable, though they were pissed to see me go. But I had to. Jud and I were butting heads like you would not believe. It wasn't pretty. We weren't so much friends anymore.
“A couple of little prima donnas is what we were. Jud had his ideas and I had mine. My attitude had changed a lot since starting with the band, though, from sheer exhaustion and drug use, plus I was a 23 year-old kid without a plan. Youth is wasted on the young. (laughs)
“Nothing ever seemed concrete and I could never see past the next week because everything was just peachy. I'm part of that generation which is overly peachy for a number of years until we have to grow up. But I was rocking and rolling all the way through it. It affected my mood and my attitude toward the band in a very negative way. I lost my sense of humor and my sense of adventure.”
“Joe Norman, Jud's little brother, had played with Plaid Carpet for a couple of months,” said Logan. “While we were gigging, we found out that the original lineup for The Flamethrowers had broken up. I think Jud, out of sheer necessity, wanted to start the band back up and he called Joe and asked him to join and Joe told him about me. We had a couple of practices together and decided to do it just because the band had a couple of gigs booked in Baton Rouge that they needed to fill. We said, yeah, let's do it and if we embarrass ourselves, so be it. We showed up and it went over pretty well. It wasn't polished or anything, but it went over. That was my first experience playing a show at which the music was actually decent.
“Moving from Plaid Carpet to The Flamethrowers, I went from carrying the band to being the young guy out of his league. I was scrambling to keep up with these other guys who had already done the circuit, had already played in front of huge crowds and were all super-talented. This was myself, Jud, Joe and Blake. Later, the original Research Turtles lineup.
“I always felt over-shadowed by the original members of The Flamethrowers. At the time I joined, neither Joseph nor Paul were in a band, so I felt like I was taking a spot and that any time they could come back. Don't get me wrong. I was totally accepted, but I was very insecure as to my position in the band. Jud has a very stand-off personality. He doesn't let on a lot. It wasn't so much that he made me feel like an outcast or anything, it was just that I could not get a lot out of him or them, so I was formulating all of these worst-case scenarios in my head. I remember having nightmares about being on stage and botching guitar parts or having my amp set up way too far away and I couldn't reach it with my guitar cord and Joseph showing up like Superman with all his gear and saying, 'That's okay, I got it, guys!' and kicking me off the stage and I was, like, 'Nooo-o-o-o!” (laughs)
“Logan and I had gone to high school together,” Jud said, “but we didn't start hanging out until The Flamethrowers. I must have been a senior in college by then. I was always worried about Logan. His singing isn't really his strength and his guitar playing was a little shaky at first, but he's really come around. It is ironic that the person I at first considered the weak link ended up being one of my best friends and someone who shares the same dreams I have.”
“So I played a bunch of shows with The Flamethrowers,” Logan continued. “Jud had written the Time Machine EP and had expressed an interest in playing some of the original songs he had written, so we got together and learned them. He had pretty much recorded Time Machine on his own but had not yet refined it. As he was putting the finishing touches on it, I got to go into the studio and throw out a few ideas regarding the mixing. He finished it and was ready to release it as The Flamethrowers and keep everything in one package, but we ended up talking to a friend of his who had I think graduated with his older sister, Rosie. This friend worked for a music company in New York City called Woozyfly. They were a small music promotion company trying to give bands a leg up. We sent them the EP and said we need your advice. We don't know what to do. We don't know anything about the music industry. She ended up being the one who suggested that we separate our original music with another name. That started a two-month long effort to find a second band name. I don't remember what the other name options were, but they were pretty bad. (laughs)
“When I joined, see, it was pretty much Jud's band,” said Logan. “When we played our first show, it was basically just the EP Jud had recorded. So it was all of his guitar parts and all of his vocal melodies--- all of Jud's ideas--- that we were replicating on stage. It got to the point that we had a show booked where we were going to play only our original music. The day of the show, Jud walked in and said, hey guys, I got it. He threw out the Research Turtles name and explained it and, at first, we all said no way. After I thought about it, though, I said, well it kind of sucks but let's just do it. At that time I was really into The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand and that whole dirty New York leather-wearing scene. I wanted a name that depicted that. When Jud said 'Research Turtles', it went against the grain of what I envisioned.
“I think our first gig as Research Turtles was at Luna's in Lake Charles. There were three bands and we opened. We played and it was okay, but it wasn't super-smooth. At that time, Jud and the other guys were living at Baton Rouge, so I was making drives every weekend so we could play or practice. We didn't get as much practice time as we would have liked. We played the songs on the EP, Damn and the others, but we had written some since then that were more hardcore and riff-heavy. The songs similar to Damn went over really well. That's when we started to realize that we needed to start gravitating toward that sound--- Pop, but harder.
“I wanted to write songs and play them in front of people and it was obvious that the crowd was digging the happy, up, melodic songs. Songs that were in major tonality and you could sing along with, but at the same time grooved. We thought, here is what we dig and what the people seem to dig, so let's meet there.
“After that first gig, there was a lot of practicing and a lot of writing. Jud graduated from LSU and moved back to Lake Charles and Joe transferred to McNeese State, also in Lake Charles. Blake was at McNeese by that time. So since we were all in Lake Charles, we start getting together a lot more.
“We started writing after the EP was released but weren't sure if we were going to be able to record any of the songs. We just wanted to write new songs. Some ended up being okay, but some of them really stunk. I remember one moment where Jud said, okay, I've been playing this one riff over and over and I can't seem to stop. It ended up being the intro riff for Let's Get Carried Away. So he's playing the riff and we all started adding things and trying to come up with the verse beat and the verse feel. When we reached the point that I thought a solo was needed, I hit the first note wrong, but from that point on the song poured out of us as opposed to us struggling to write it. It was very surreal, but it worked. That was the point that I thought, man, we can do this. I think it was also at that point that Jud felt, okay, Logan has talent and he can put some stuff out there. I think that was when he initially started to trust me. It was almost as if at that moment I had finally proven myself.”
Meanwhile, Back in Baton Rouge.....
“I played in Lazy K for about five and a half years,” Chad said. “Our band got to know Jud, Joseph, Logan and Blake. They had another guy who played with them before named Paul Gonsoulin. We played a lot of the same venues and even played a few shows with them and became friends.
“We used to pick on the RTs because we all liked Wes Anderson movies and we thought it was funny that Jud came up with Research Turtles as a name. Another reason we messed with them was that they were a little younger than us so we played the senior card. You know. Those young guys and their goofy names.
“We had named our band Lazy K because of a street that had a dairy on it--- Kleinpeter Farms Dairy. Later,when we came up with The Last Chalaron as an alter band name under which we played original music, people would go, what's that? But Research Turtles--- you know it when you hear it. It is hard to find a name that all people relate to. At least, all of the people who are familiar with Wes Anderson.
“As Lazy K, we were goofy and so bad sometimes, but you wouldn't have known it by the number of people who came to see our shows.
“We wrote two albums with the same guys but under that different name: The Last Chalaron. It was the name of a friend our singer and guitar player lived with and he was the last Chalaron at the time. There has been a Chalaron baby born since, but in America, he was the last Chalaron of child-bearing age. We were sitting around drunk one night and he said, well, I'm the last Chalaron and we looked at one another and said, holy shit, did he just say that? We said, we're using that as a band name. He was kind of a funny guy and he loved it. He told people all the time that he had a band named after him.
“There is a sound company here in Baton Rouge called TSS. We were good friends with the engineers because we had played shows with them for years in bars and other venues around town. What ended up happening was that we had written these songs. It started out as a joke. We were going to make fun of, not indie bands, but indie hipster bands. We were going to write songs that were more hipster than hipster and go out and play shows and dress funny and make a big joke of it.
“We had a really hard time writing songs. It was almost to the point that you might even say we sucked at it and it seemed like we were never going to get it. We got frustrated and started doing this thing as a joke and called it 'secret whistle'. The 'secret whistle' was--- Do you remember that Peter Bjorn song? (sings) That was the secret whistle. We would whistle that all the time and dance and make fun of it. We were thinking, man, this is so hipster cool. We would show up at the hipster club and do the secret whistle and everyone would say, oh yeah, come right in, you know? So when we started writing the songs, we started thinking, hey, we don't want to make fun of anybody. I was thinking, I like these songs we're writing. These are cool. We should start a band and not make it a joke.
“And we did. We wrote two albums--- right around 20 songs. It was awesome. A lot of fun and totally worth it. And we started getting better.
“Anyway, when Lazy K began winding down, Joseph came over and played with us for about a year. Our previous guitar player had gotten married and got a job as an engineer and stopped gigging with us and Joseph was a lot of fun because he was always so high energy.”
“Yes, I was a fill-in for Lazy K for awhile after I left The Flamethrowers,” Joseph said. “I did what I could to learn songs in the van on the way to gigs. It took a lot of energy and it was a lot of fun because those guys were funny. Chad being the drummer in that band made them good. He had that certain hammer required to play all the Red Hot Chili Pepper tunes and stuff like that.
“Lazy K played covers, though they moved on to some original stuff with The Last Chalaron and wrote some very pretty songs which sounded a bit too much like Kings of Leon, if you ask me. Let's see, that was at the very end of 2007. I was with The Flamethrowers, playing a little too hard and messing around with drugs. Not hard drugs. Painkillers. See, we had a bit of a situation down here in Louisiana--- doctor shopping, where you go across the border and buy a few prescriptions of barbiturates and opiates for a very small amount of money and come back and sell it for a huge amount of money. All of my friends were doing it. So I would get the stuff for free. I don't like to drink a lot and it took the edge off and before I knew it, it was every day. Not a lot, but definitely every day, for sure.
“It took months for me to realize it because it was pure leisure. I was enjoying my college, you know? One day I went without it and about six o'clock, I began feeling that jonesing and I thought, holy shit, I need to fix this now and worry about it later. Right now, I need to do something, because I feel like ass.
“I beat it on my own just by weaning myself off of the drugs. It was never more than, say, 20 milligrams of Lortab, but it was enough and it doesn't really go away. I stay away from it completely now.
“I lived in Baton Rouge for another year until the gigs started started dropping off because the guys started doing their own things--- like getting jobs and girlfriends and things like that. When the gigs stopped, I moved home (Lake Charles) and worked at a plant nursery for two months. I cleaned up my act working all the time. Then I moved to Europe.
“There, it started all over again. I worked on Pub Crawl for, let's say, a small company in Prague. A Pub Crawl is where you gather in one spot, start drinking, then move from bar to bar. You provide shots and beer and camaraderie. With a little crew, we ran pub crawls every night for maybe a hundred kids from all over the world, for English-speaking countries from Iceland to Australia. Eventually at the end of each night, we would end up at some big thumping night club listening to Euro-style house music. At that point, if the kids were interested in something other than drinking, that was also available. It was Eastern Europe, you know?
“Well, after four months of that during the summer, I was ready to come home. My Seratonin level was bottoming out and I needed some normality. Normality for me consisted of moving to New Orleans and going to grad school. For no reason other than that I wanted to stay in school.”
There, Joseph stayed, but just for a short time.
Let's Get Carried Away.....
It looked like the lineup for The Flamethrowers and Research Turtles would stick, so Jud threw himself into overdrive and, along with the other members of the band, started writing. Ideas flowed (such as what happened on Let's Get Carried Away) and the music became more of a shared experience. Before long, they had what they wanted--- enough songs for a full album. The question was, where to record?
Jud's dad, Rick Norman, put out feelers. One came back. A fellow lawyer who had attended LSU Law School with him had a client, Justin Tocket, and suggested the band contact him. They did. A deal was reached and the writing and rehearsing began in earnest. There was a recording studio just down the road in Maurice, Dockside Studios, which looked like it would be a fit, too. They checked it out and arrangements were made.
The lineup for the self-titled album was Jud Norman, Logan Fontenot, Joe Norman and Blake Thibodeaux. Jud was worried about the money, so they spent a lot of time preparing to limit time needed in the studio. There was no doubt that it was going to be Jud's album, but the dynamics were beginning to change within the band structure.
“During the work on that album, I was the only one who offered comments,” said Logan, “like that sucks and, man, we can't do that. (laughs) Everyone else hung back and Jud and I would get into it. Sometimes both of us would shut down and would be at an impasse. It was interesting partially because that album was where Jud and I found out how to work with each other.
“See, I was always intimidated by Jud. He is an enormously talented writer and a great vocalist. Going into that album, it was about my trying to get input into the songs. I didn't argue just for the sake of it. If I thought my idea was worth it, I would say, Jud, you need to shut up for five seconds and listen to me.”
Jud did. The resulting album, Research Turtles (hereto referred to as self-titled) was, according to the handful of writers and critics who found it, a gem. Powerpopaholic.com said “for a debut, this is more than enough to get excited about.” Power Pop Criminals picked up on Bob Segarini's take, giving them a verbal two thumbs up. Radio Six International ended up naming the self-titled album Album of the Year for 2010.
With the secret out, the Turtles were ready to make their move. The question was, which move? Let's see. They needed a manager. They needed a plan. They set up a Myspace page and plugged into the social networking sites. They talked with people--- people who said they knew things. And they tried to work with a few people. Nothing seemed to work, at least not the way the guys envisioned it working. They plugged away at The Flanethrowers gigs because that was where the money was, but the dream was Turtle-based. Then, just as it looked as if there was a light at the end of the tunnel.....
Boys From Lake Charles