Interview: Turtle Soup

bill bodkin enjoys a bowl with Asbury’s jam band …

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There’s an infectious energy in the world of groove-based music. It’s consuming, it’s joyous, and it can melt the hearts and inhibitions of even the staunchest of music fans — inspiring them to unfold their arms, let loose, and embrace the joys of dance.

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At the Jersey Shore, the master purveyors of this groove-tastic joy is Turtle Soup. Their funky, funky sound was born on the beaches of Asbury and fine-tuned through relentless touring throughout the Northeast. And while they’ve been entrenched in the scene for years, it was 2012 that marked the band’s ‘souper’ break-out as they organized and headlined the first-ever Souper Groove Music Festival which, through complete grass roots, D.I.Y. promoting, drew well over 1,000 people. Riding the wave of this success, the band is releasing their second full-length record, headlining the famed Stone Pony and announcing their second Souper Groove Festival.

Pop-Break spoke with the band’s frontman, Jeff ‘Mud’ Mahajan about their upcoming show at The Stone Pony, their next music festival and their new album.

Pop-Break: You guys are performing this Saturday as the headliner at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Can you talk about the significance of headlining a venue like The Pony which has such a rich history to it?

Jeff Mahajan: It’s pretty great to have the response we’ve been getting from this show and venue. Turtle Soup’s played the Pony many times, but never as headliner. There are so many legendary acts that have graced that marquee, that it’s a real honor. It’s particularly significant because they’re giving us the nod after our Souper Groove Music Festival was such a hit this past September. We’ve been looking for venues to upgrade to because we’ve been packing out the smaller clubs.

Jeff Mahajan of Turtle Soup
Jeff Mahajan of Turtle Soup

PB: In keeping with the Asbury Park theme — talk about how Turtle Soup’s place in it? How has working in this city by the sea helped in your career, what hurdles have you to face and lastly, what’s your overall opinion of the scene?

JM: We have a very long and rich love story with Asbury Park. From growing up there at the arcades, to playing the clubs, our history runs deep in this scene. We used to rehearse at the Hot Dog House and throw wild all-night jam sessions after our shows. Then, we began throwing our own parties at The Saint and drawing crowds. The parties became really well attended, so we began to throw festivals. We became great friends with a host of amazing bands from the Asbury Park scene, we tapped them to play Souper Groove.

There are a few political hurdles of the scene, but hurricane Sandy came through town and pretty much became the biggest problem out here. Asbury Park went through some real tough times in the 80s, but anyone who’s been there in the past 10 years knows that it’s a totally different town than it used to be. There are new bars, clubs, shops, restaurants and lots of things to do. We just need more people coming to the town to where every bar is packed all the time, like it was during the Bamboozle Festival, or every night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Live Nation came in here and helped bring a few big concerts, which helped people fall in love with AP again. We’re on the upswing, that’s for sure.

PB: You guys have a new album, Seconds, that’s going to be released in 2013 – when can people expect the new record to be released?

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JM: This weekend — March 23, 2013!

PB: How does Seconds stand out from your last recording? How has Turtle Soup grown as a band since then?

JM: Seconds shows our development as a band since the first album. For the recording, we’ve gotten deeper into the material, and tapped everyone’s creative potential a lot more. We’ve extended the song length to include more instrumental jams. I think that we’ve really grown in terms of how we approach the production. We are much more focused on the collective sound of the band as opposed to individuality.

PB: What are you guys most proud of about this new record?

JM: We’re really proud of the fact that it represents what we sound like on stage. It’s tough to capture that live energy in a studio, but that’s what we did here. Plus, that we recorded and mixed it using 100% solar power.

PB: You guys have opened for a number of national headlining acts, which one of these bands did you learn the most from either through words of wisdom or from just watching them perform?

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JM: There are so many, that it’s tough to say. Blues Traveler always puts on a great show … Steve Kimock gave me some unforgettable guitar tips backstage once… We’ve had great times jamming with members of Gongzilla, Fishbone and Bad Brains. I’d say that all in all, the best advice I hear all the time, is that if you want to get big, you’ll never do it by latching on to someone’s coat tails. You have to create your own scene.

PB: Turtle Soup were the masterminds behind last year’s Souper Groove Festival — what was the inspiration to throw a local festival like this?

JM: We’ve been touring around regionally for about seven years now, playing many clubs and festivals. Yet, we always had to drive hours away for the gig … and we would still only get to play for an hour. Our fans were writing to us to put together shows where we were playing for longer or multiple sets. So, we decided to throw our own festival around here… but we wanted to do it our way, from the perspective of a fun band throwing a massive party with our friends. We wanted everyone there from the bands, vendors, staff, and venue to walk away smiling … and we definitely accomplished that!

PB: Were you surprised at the massive turn out the festival had?

JM: The response to the festival and Turtle Soup has been enormous. It got really huge. attendance was well over double what we were expecting. When we sold out the car camping – in the rain – before sun down on the first night, we knew that this thing was a hit. Even as we were finishing our last notes on Saturday night, there was still a line of cars from the stage to the street, full of people still coming in. I’ve never in my life received a crowd roar like the one from Souper Groove. I still get chills thinking about it.

What is so incredible is that even with the massive turnout, the staff kept it together… there were no incidents. Nobody got hurt, nobody got thrown out, there were no fights, nothing but amazing, friendly people coming together for an unforgettable experience.

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PB: We’ve heard rumors of a Souper Groove 2 — can we get any insight on the new festival?

JM: We are doing Souper Groove 2! The festival was such a great time, that we’re doing it again. It will be held September 27-28 2013, at the same location (Priedaine Latvian Society). We’re upping the number of bands, and have some ridiculous surprises in store for everyone. There’s a huge amount of buzz and we’re planning on selling it out this year. Early bird presales start Saturday, March 23, and keep an eye out for Souper Groove showcases around the area.

PB: When Christmas 2013 rolls around, what would you like to have accomplished as a band — both creatively and from a ‘business’ standpoint?

JM: We’d like to have our third album released, Souper Groove be sold out, and we’d like to sell out the Stone Pony for our annual holiday festival. Also, we’d like to have been playing around the northeast quite a bit by then!

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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