Turf ‘N’ Turf: Building a Most Exquisite Cage
Written by Joshua Reedy on November 27, 2020
Turf ‘N’ Turf is the extremely unique audio/visual project of Kevin Vaill. Vaill’s goal is to create a long-lasting impression with his impressive one-man show that features waves of guitar that are as imposing as his aesthetic. Not only does Vaill play guitar from his home-made Blues Brothers inspired “Noise Machine,” but he also provides percussive elements via some innovative equipment. Turf ‘N’ Turf is an experience, and one you shouldn’t miss.
RRX: Give us some background on your stage name; I know you go by Snail and that your very unique setup is called “the noise machine.”
KV: I’m good friends with the band Eastbound Jesus, I was their roadie for about five years. My last name is Vaill so they just call me Vaill the Snail, or just Snail and that’s really all there is to it. Turf ‘N’ Turf is also kind of dumb (laughs). The main thing is, when I was a kid, I saw the Christmas movie “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” have you ever seen it?
RRX: No, actually.
KV: It’s about a guy in California and he’s trying to get back to New York; his father bribes him by saying he can have a car if he comes back. It’s a whole zany journey, and there’s a scene where he goes into a steakhouse that’s called Turf ‘N’ Turf and I remember being a kid and not getting it but my uncle bursting into laughter, and it just stuck with me. There’s a band that I really like from Australia that made weird grungy punk in the 80’s called Grong Grong; I was like: “They have a stupid name, I should have a name like that with the same word repeated.”
RRX: So tell me a bit about the inception of the box, or the “Noise Machine” as you’ve branded it.
KV: I tried for years, upwards of ten years, to put a band together. I would jam with people and it was cool, but I never had something where we could play live. I came here to Albany, I was near Utica before, and I put flyers up about a band but apparently it was just too bonkers for anyone to respond to. And all I wanted then was to get a band together. I watched the Blue Brothers and saw the scene where they’re in the chicken cage and I always thought it was great; and I had the thought about how cool it would be to have a band whose schtick is playing behind a collapsible chicken wire wall in the front of the stage. I was thinking about how cool it’d be to have this noisy, bluesy band and just look ridiculous behind this chicken wire cage. And I just never really got anything with the band, so I just said: “Well dammit fine, I’ll just be in a cage by myself!”
RRX: Yeah, Albany can be tough with finding like-minded people sometimes.
KV: It was probably just too niche. But anyway, the cage was originally just going to be a prop but I mentioned it to my friend who’s a drummer and he was saying: “Dude that chicken wire idea is awesome, you should hang crazy shit from it and make the floor a stomp box, dude you can do anything with that!” It’s been mostly me building it, and me conceptualizing but also a lot of taking ideas that people throw at me after each show.
RRX: And thinking back to Blues Brothers, it even comes with a built in defense against stuff getting thrown at you. I’m hoping you’ve never had beer bottles thrown at you though (laughs).
KV: Oh, no I have. The thing is that it seems like it would protect me, but it just sort encourages some people to throw shit at me. I’ve played with my friends in Eastbound Jesus at their festival for like, three years now; there’s this one guy who’s come the last two years, who recognized what movie I got the idea from and he started it: He crushed up a can and chucked it at the cage. At first I was like “Well that’s pretty annoying,” but I also thought “I kind of asked for this, so it’s fine.” But then the next year it got a little worse. Everyone was hammered and they started throwing things; it wasn’t just empty cans now, it was a lot of half-full cans and cups of beer. At one point an entire freaking cooler got thrown.
RXX: That sounds like it would also destroy your equipment!
KV: I was kind of worried about that. When the cooler came up, and I think it still had ice in it, I was kind of like: “Guys I know this looks like a piece of shit, but it’s my piece of shit! Cut it out! I worked really hard on this terrible-looking thing.” It sucked, but I rolled with it.
RRX: The setup looks really good from the two times I’ve seen it, what was the building process like?
KV: My friends in Greenwich have been kind enough to let me use their wood-working set up. I had a bunch of scrap wood at my disposal and all their tools as well. It was a lot of brainstorming what was gonna work and wouldn’t. In the beginning I was only playing that festival which was one show a year, so it was an idea of: “What am I gonna do this year?” But now that I’ve been playing other shows out it was more like: “I gotta make this more efficient.”
RRX: Let’s talk about your stacks and how you get your sound. I’ve seen some Orange stacks in pictures before, what goes into getting your sound?
KV: So the setup now, they’re two 3×15 custom bass cabinets, and then I have a Univox head on one as like, a tube amp and then a custom head on the other with built in reverb. When I first started I just had an Orange amp, and it wasn’t extremely expensive. Before the Orange amp I just had a little crate amp that I broke playing a bass through. So I played guitar through a broken amp and thought it sounded great! I was trying to find a new amp at the store, and I thought everything else sounded awful and the people there were like: “You broke your amp, idiot, that’s why it sounds like that.” But anyway, Orange was the only thing that came close to that sound. Are you familiar with Love of Fuzz over in Troy?
RRX: I’m not.
KV: Oh, it’s great, my buddy TJ runs it and he just sells vintage amps, guitars and it’s awesome. He was really helpful with me when I was trying to build my sound up from the Orange amp; he knew which directions to go in, and sort of steered me towards the less expensive side of things while maintaining a distinct sound. The stuff TJ helped me find also sort of looked like junk, which was great, because that is the sort of aesthetic I’m going for.
RRX: Tell me about the percussive elements of the Noise Machine, I know you mentioned the stomp boxes already.
KV: Yeah so my friend helped me come up with the wiring for it. There are two separate stomp boxes that are just slightly different in how they’re wired, and they each have a mic mounted on them and they run to a ¼ jack with a potentiometer so I can adjust the volume for a show. The snare side stomp box has a treble-boost element, and then I have two hi-hats lying on the stomp boxes.
RRX: Do you mic any of the cymbals too?
KV: I just let them fly, at the last show I did the cymbals got picked up by a mic and it sounded like an explosion.
RRX: I can’t tell if that’s good or bad for your sound.
KV: I’m not usually too particular when it comes to the sound, as long as it’s loud and people can hear what’s going on; so if it’s like: “Oh, it sounds like an explosion today. Cool!” Or, I also have a bucket filled with parts and I had a mic on that one show and that was absolutely unnecessary. The bucket was also like an explosion, because I didn’t kick it once, it was three times with steel toe boots and it was like (imitates explosion) but also louder with the reverb. My friend after that show was like: “I liked the bucket.”.