Turbo Widget Eschews Traditional Album Release for a Song-Per-Month Approach

Husband and wife duo Ben and Kim Hanvy have collaborated with musicians across the world for the project.
Husband and wife duo Ben and Kim Hanvy have collaborated with musicians across the world for the project.

As self-described "artsy weirdos," Ben and Kim Hanvy take their happiness where they can — painting, hosting jam sessions, making goofy green-screen videos in their garage. "We're constantly trying to do something that will bring other people joy," Ben says.

But in their group Turbo Widget, the traditional arc of music-making never seemed to fit. Ben tried a few novel approaches a couple years ago: He bought a drum kit despite not knowing how to play, just to make it easier for drummers to tap along with his guitar and Kim's bass. He offered his recording services for free to bands on Craigslist, just to get the experience of engineering under his belt.

And while those experiences helped shape the sound of Turbo Widget, which leans toward modern rock with elements of blues-inspired classic rock, the pair soon abandoned the usual trappings of a many-membered band.

"I struggled for a long time to get to know local musicians and get them to come over and record with us," Ben, a New Orleans native, recalls. "In St. Louis it's not hard to get someone to come over and jam, but it is hard to get someone to learn a part and commit that creative energy."

That struggle forced the couple inward, and the Hanvys decided to keep the band small at its core.

"We wanted it to be as small and as performable as possible — we wanted to be able to do everything by ourselves," says Ben.

That led to the release of the group's 2016 debut EP, First Light. The Hanvys say they got positive feedback from people within their circle but had trouble taking it to a larger audience.

"We chased that for a little while after we released the EP," Ben says of booking local gigs. "We really tried to book gigs for a little over a year — they were smattered here and there."

So rather than commit to another cycle of writing, recording, releasing and supporting a new album, the Hanvys are using 2019 to try a new approach. Turbo Widget is planning on releasing an original song (with an accompanying video) each month, alongside a sprinkling of cover songs and other surprises.

The set kicked off in the middle of January with "Maria," a flamenco-kissed border ballad with enough desert-noir to ensnare fans of Calexico and the Cactus Blossoms.

"I've always enjoyed that Spanish feel," Ben says of the track. "As far as style goes, we let the song dictate where it's gonna go. We kind of have to do what seems to fit the song the best."

The Hanvys' approach to the project's first release — both in song and in video — speaks to their modern DIY methodology. The acoustic guitar part on "Maria" was played by a friend of the band years ago, with lyrics and overdubs added recently. The accompanying video, with close-ups of models and art-directed sets, is taken from copyright-free creative commons, giving a high production value to the shot.

For upcoming tracks, Turbo Widget dove deeper into the web for collaborators. Rather than rely on band members or local players, the band has turned to the online freelancer hub Fiverr to recruit musicians.

"If I want an upright bass or cello, I can do it all online," Ben says. "Honestly, I've found some pretty darn amazing musicians. I have a kid somewhere in Scandinavia playing guitar on an upcoming song, and a piano player in Pakistan."

For her part, Kim is as excited about the visual element of the band, and has embraced its move to YouTube as a primary medium.

"What I would love to see happen is continuing to make the music where there's an audience for the music," she says of the streaming site. "Anyone can go on YouTube and check out your music anytime you want, and that's where my focus is.

"I think I get a little more insight into the artist and the music in that medium."

Turbo Widget's monthly release cycle is ambitious, but Ben sees it as more rewarding than the traditional release schedule most bands follow.

"A lot of it stems from seeing other bands and how they release music. It's more of a singles game now," he says. "We like the idea of an LP, but you can only reveal that once. You drop twelve songs and people say, 'What's next?' The idea is to continually create content that we can provide."