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Juke Kartel Is Your Hard Rock Fix
Juke Kartel Is Your Hard Rock Fix
by Paula Hansen
As a self-proclaimed headbangin’ rocker chic, I have become increasingly frustrated with the dwindling supply of anything that would come close to qualifying as hard rock. The entire genre has apparently been hijacked by the bubblegum pop, hip-hop, and emo-whine that now dominate the charts and the airwaves.
Still, I often find myself half-heartedly scanning the dial, or rummaging around the record store or the internet, in futile pursuit of the rare and elusive shredding guitar riff or high-octane bassline.
Alas, to no avail.
Until now . . .
If, like me, your question is, “What the hell ever happened to bass-heavy, amp-exploding, in-your-face rock-and-roll,” well, here’s your answer: JUKE KARTEL.
Melbourne’s Juke Kartel gained worldwide exposure last summer when their frontman, Toby Rand, made his reality-TV bid to join Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica), and Gilby Clarke (ex-Guns ‘n’ Roses) in their new band, Rock Star Supernova. Although the Aussie was the odds-on favorite going into the final show, Canadian Lukas Rossi scored the gig to front RSS on their 33-city tour of the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
But don’t feel bad for Toby who says, “I feel like I won. Coming in 3rd is the best thing that ever happened for me.” He now has the opportunity to capitalize on the international exposure, but with his own band. After the show’s finale, Juke Kartel went straight to work at Pulse Studios with producer Mark Weinberg on their eagerly-awaited CD, due out in April. They were also tapped as openers on the RSS tour which began in January.
No doubt, when their CD is released and hits the charts, some uninformed critic will call them an overnight sensation or instant success, but Toby, Todd Burman (guitars), and Dale Winters (guitars, vocals) have been together for several years, stretching back to their days with coverband Tarko. After an original, “Fallin” started getting airplay and attracting label attention, the boys decided it was time for a new direction. Voila! Juke Kartel was born. Enter bassist Tommy Kende and the band’s latest addition, drummer Eddie Murphy. These are no fresh-from-the-garage amateurs. They’ve been rocking Australia for years, opening for Nickelback, The Used, and Killswitch Engage, to name a few.
As if moving to LA, recording their debut album, and preparing for a world tour wasn’t enough work, they also squeezed in a 17-city, 5-week North American tour of their own in November and December, kicking it off at LA’s iconic Viper Room. During the last week of that tour, they also filmed a pilot for an Aussie TV rockumentary, a behind-the-scenes look at life on tour. Before they could unpack their suitcases, they were on the road again - this time, with the RSS tour, along with the other runners-up, Dilana Smith and Magni Asgeirsson. The Panic Channel with Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and RSS show host) round out the bill.
The 3 ½-hour, 4-act extravaganza rolled into Fargo, North Dakota on February 9th. Misha Lapine, Juke Kartel’s tour manager, escorted me through the Fargodome’s maze of gray cinder-block hallways, to the locker room doubling as Juke Kartel’s dressing room for the evening.
The tour bus caravan had pulled in just minutes before our scheduled interview, and the boys likely rolled out of their bunks around the same time. But, the Aussies lived up to their national reputation - friendly, laid-back, and ready to tell a story.
Toby’s rockstar.msn.com profile called him, "a charismatic and hunky tall drink of water" who "absolutely oozes the kind of working-class, tough guy 'it' factor the Aussies are famous for." A salacious description, indeed, but as it turns out, it doesn’t begin to cover that which is “The Rand,” and the same goes for his mates.
Todd or “Hot Toddie” as his rockband.com fans have dubbed him, could easily be mistaken for a southern Cali surfer dude, though his “like totally rad” Spicolli appearance was belied by his outspoken passion for his band and his music; a passion that became even more apparent on stage.
Juke’s drummer and baby of the group, Eddie had just celebrated his 21st birthday the evening prior to our meeting, but don’t let that fool you. Baby Eddie rocks well beyond his years. His power and skill behind the kit had heads banging in the aisles and my car windows rattling as I listened to my newly-pruchased Juke EP on the drive home. As an added bonus, he looks like he could have just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad. My teenaged neighbor said, “Yum,” and is now in LOVE with him.
Dale is just as funny and charming as the rest, but - sorry, ladies - he’s taken. He was excited to share the news of his wife’s impending visit. They’ll be celebrating their first anniversary in March.
With three of they guys married or with girlfriends, bassist Tommy says it’s up him and Toby to “keep the female population honest.” He didn’t seem to be complaining, and with his mischievous smile and what his fans have come to call “fuck me hair,” I don’t think he’ll have any problems. The boys were sweet enough to thank ME for MY time, saying they appreciated the chance, “to spread the JK word.” When I was ready to leave, Tommy gave me a little hug and said, “Thanks, Dove.” Too cute. ***I would just like to publicly announce that I will no longer be answering to anything less***
Outrageously talented, down-to-earth, with charisma and energy to spare, Juke Kartel has what it takes to make the music world sit up and beg. Did I mention their collective yummy-enough-to-eat-with-a-spoon Aussie accent? These boys could sit in the floor and take turns reading the phone book and I’d buy a ticket.
They’re cutting a swathe through North America, gathering speed and a devoted fan base. So dedicated, in fact, they couldn’t wait for the anticipated April release of their debut CD. The fans demanded, and the boys obliged, producing a 4-song teaser EP available at their shows and on their web site. The disc includes the indelible “Throw it Away” which Toby performed on Rockstar: Supernova (also on iTunes), as well as a phenomenal acoustic version of the same, “Save Me” reminiscent of old-school metal, and the somewhat softer yet just as powerful “December.” Each night, the discs are barely out of the box before they’re sold out. Todd marveled at the sale of 250 EPs to their fans in New York. Tommy added “That’s more than were even at our last shows.”
It’s no surprise, really. The songs are also streaming on their myspace page, with over 700,000 plays since the songs were added a mere month ago. To put that in perspective, John Mayer is also in the 700,000 range. The Panic Channel and RSS have less than 600,000.
Although they are the beau ideal, I will resist the urge to call them rockstars on the rise. Toby crunched Doritos as he explained, “We’re actually anti-rockstars. I think rockstar collectively means untouchable, very mysterious, and very hard for fans get close to. We walk out in the crowd, we’ll talk to every single person, we’ll sign whatever they want. Get on our myspace page, we reply to every single message personally.” Tommy chimed in, “It never gets boring, everyone has a story to tell ya.” Toby finished, “We want to be approachable.”
They seem to be doing a damn fine job of it. Their many fan sites attest to their accessibility and to their fans’ love for them and their music. They love their fans as well. Yeah, I know, every band says “we love our fans, they’re the reason we do what we do…, ” But how often do you hear, “As I was leaving the show, there was Toby hanging at the back of the arena just talking to people and taking pictures,” or, “They spent 2 ½ hours signing autographs after the show, until they got to every single fan?”
Todd flashed a flattered smile when he talked about the fans who wait to see them after a show, “These people wait in line, and buy the EP, and what do we have to do? Sign autographs? They’re just so excited and so nice to us.”
They also give a lot of credit to their adoring and devoted street team members who volunteer an exceptional amount of time and energy to a grass-roots effort to promote the band. Members have redesigned the Juke Kartel myspace page and created a slew of promo materials - glow bracelets, matchbooks, dogtags, and cards with the band’s contact information and the status of their upcoming CD. Toby said, “They’re our little PR machine at the moment.”
OK, so they’re engaging and their fans love them, the real test of any band’s mettle is whether they can pull it off live. According to the concert reviews, you can forget about last summer’s TV show (as if you haven’t already), Toby and Juke Kartel are the hands-down winners in the arena. Reviewers and fans alike have raved about them, consistently tagging them the best performance of the night. Pretty damned impressive considering they only have 20 minutes and no stage set - just 5 killer musicians dripping with adrenaline and sweat, playing their hearts out and flat-out killing it.
When the Fargodome lights went out, the five charmingly humble Aussie blokes I’d met hours earlier exploded onto the stage with a tight sound and raw energy that was infectious. Todd had said, “All we can do is go on stage and take our 20 minutes. We go on first every night, we say all right let’s just go on, let’s just wake ‘em up and kick ass.” And they did. The crowd was immediately on their feet, singing along with a fanatical enthusiasm worthy of any seasoned headliner.
When Toby grabbed a camera from the front row then jumped off the stage to get up close and personal with a few of his female fans, I feared being trampled in the ensuing stampede. Mr. Security Guy seemed less than thrilled with this move, but the girls more than made up for his lack of appreciation.
With their 5-song set of originals and covers, Juke Kartel set the crowd on fire. I snapped a few photos, turned to watch the amped-up crowd, and couldn’t help thinking I was witnessing the beginning of something huge.
Simply put, these guys get it. Fuck the seizure-inducing strobe lights and the over-the-top theatrics. No crazy costumes or gimmicks here. It’s all T-shirts and Converse and unadulterated rock.
Can I get a “Hell Yeah!” ?
So what’s next?
After the US leg, the boys will be back in the studio to put the finishing touches on their debut album. Todd said “It was 90% done in October,” and it should be on the shelves in April.
Beginning March 15, they’re taking RSS to their home turf, playing Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane as well as 3 dates in New Zealand. They’re hoping to hit the US again this summer, but no details yet.
LONG STORY SHORT: Juke Kartel - Toby, Tommy, Todd, Eddie, and Dale - an attention-grabbing group of guys who love - not like, LOVE - their band, their music, and their fans. With the modesty of unknowns and the charisma and stage presence of veteran rock stars, they’re on the road and rocking the shit out of every city they hit. If you’ve been lulled into unconsciousness by the monotonous aural assault of teenybopper pop and gangster wannabe rap, this is your wake up call. Hard-hitting, turn-it-up, no-shit hard rock. Halle-fucking-lujah! Rock-n-Roll Lives!
SHORT STORY SHORTER: Juke Kartel fucking rocks!
Look for the boys in upcoming editions of my “Pash Page”. Also see my interview with Dilana and Magni, as well as a review of the whole Rock Star Supernova show.
Give Juke Kartel a listen, join their street team, buy the short disc, or pick up a little Juke bling (I particularly dig the new dogtags.)
The anti-rockstars can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. They really do read their messages and they really do respond.