Hank Von Hell: A Life Of Punk Rock, Addiction And Intergalactic Rockstardom

Former Turbonegro frontman Hank Von Hell reflects on his introduction to punk and why he's taking it to strange new dimensions

Hank Von Hell: A Life Of Punk Rock, Addiction And Intergalactic Rockstardom
Ian Winwood

Hans Erik Dyvik Husby – Hank Von Hell to his friends – is a 47-year old Scandinavian who has never once lost his sense of wonderment about the majestic power of rock’n’roll. As the singer with the dependably provocative Turbonegro, Hank has seen it all, he’s done it all, he’s bought the t-shirt, and then he sold the t-shirt to buy heroin.

Now clean and serene, and a solo artist in his own right, Hank is about to release Dead, his new LP, a 13-track swagger from a man who describes himself as an “intergalactic rock star”. The album’s title might just be ironic because, frankly, it’s a miracle that he isn’t. But seeing that Hank Von Hell continues to walk among us, Kerrang! caught up with him from his home on the outskirts of Oslo and asked him all about a life lived on the wild side.

Tell us about growing up in Norway, please.
“It was as humiliating and degrading as growing up in Liverpool in the '50s, growing up in Birmingham in the '60s, or London in the '70s. I think it was just the pure humiliation of growing up that was experienced by Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, and David Bowie. It’s practically the same. It was being without confidence, being pissed-off, and being insecure. But the positive side of that is that you’re able to create some kind of underworld youth culture somewhere in the shadow of the grownups and their mass psychoses.”

How did music enter your life?
“I’ll say I was seven-years old and in junior school. There was this substitute teacher who had refused to enter the military and so was being used as a teacher, and he was one of the first punks in all of Norway. He came into class with his Palestine scarf and his leather jacket and his weird hairdo, and he played the Sex Pistols for me and some of the other kids. Before that I’d just been listening to symphonic progressive rock, bands like Jethro Tull, Supertramp, and 10cc, so that was the first time I heard punk. I was too young to buy an album, and I didn’t own a turntable, but the music made a huge impression on me.

“Some years later I discovered Mötley Crüe and the glam-metal scene, where they had the Sex Pistols attitude combined with the glamour of the LA rock scene. That kind of prepared me for my first encounter with David Bowie. And then I realised that I will have to be an intergalactic rock star and pour all of these elements into some kind of dirty punk thing with luxury flamboyance. So I started merging sniffing glue with eating caviar.”

It seems so obvious when you it that becoming an intergalactic rock star was the clear career path. How did you find like-minded individuals?
“I have still yet to find like-minded individuals because I realised that being an intergalactic rock star, in my case, also meant becoming multi-dimensional. So it’s very hard to find rock stars with the multi-dimensional intergalactic viewpoint. Yeah. So I have found a lot of colleagues who are dear friends to me, and also very close to my foundation in the multi-verse, grounded in nothingness; but it became pretty obvious as I grew up that I’m alone. I’ll just have to align myself with close-minded people who are close but not quite there yet. But I take happiness and comfort from being alone.”

You were the singer with Turbonegro, who bucked the trend of punk rock that had lost its capacity for shock and awe. What were you hoping to achieve as a band?
“I think the reason that punk rock did lose its capacity for shock and awe was because it became a very marginalised scene in which the musicians developed the capacity to play rather than just shocking people, flipping the bird, and spitting at people. Also, the Norwegian black metal scene was emerging, where the shocks came on a more spiritual and a deeper level. So instead of looking and acting like brutal and outrageous simpletons, it became more refined and more aimed at the very core of existential pain.”

Speaking of Norwegian black metal, did you ever feel the urge to burn down a church?
“No, I would never do that, actually. I don’t think that the kids who did do that would do that today, either. The ideology there was not very thought through. It wasn’t a unified thing. It was just some kids who got it all wrong and started acting out and burning down cultural artefacts. What that does is eradicate history, which is very similar to extreme groups in the Middle East who want to destroy pre-Persian architectural findings. They think they’re doing the world a favour, but what they’re actually doing is eradicating history. As a history buff, I very much appreciate old shit that gives me an insight into our history without me feeling obligated to personally have a belief in any one thing.”

You sang for Turbonegro until 2010. What was the craziest show the band ever played?
“The craziest show we ever played was in the middle of France, right in the middle of nowhere. It was a festival in the middle of the French countryside, and it was just 4,000 friends who were punks, magic mushroom takers, and acidheads gathered together in a clearing in the woods about two hours from the nearest village. The infrastructure there was very scarce, and even the promoters were tripping on acid. Everybody was drinking from gallon bottles of cheap red wine and tripping on magic mushrooms that were growing wild in the forest. It was like a druid festival. And all the other acts were playing crossover world music and transcendental alternative music, and we were the only punk rockers.

“Funnily enough, it all came out wrong. I managed to assault [with music] these tripping, drunk, red wine drinking French hippies and they got it all wrong. They thought they were getting images of me being a very dangerous dragon or something. And they started throwing full wine bottles at us while we were playing. It was raining full red wine bottles thrown by these freaks. I think even a didgeridoo came flying up onstage. One of our guitar players was actually trying out some of the mushrooms, so he was tripping onstage also and thought this was a spectacular magical event where the universe suddenly made sense. Meanwhile our bass player got hit by a full wine bottle and passed out. But the bass player was very drunk, so he thought this was like some kind of Sex Pistols gig from 1977 where everyone was pogoing themselves crazy. So he started throwing the wine bottles back at the audience, which started a total war between the punk rockers onstage and the audience of hippies.

“So basically, we had to evacuate the compound in less than 20-minutes. After that, we went to some local guy’s farm, where we were hanging out in the field trying out the various different kinds of hallucinogens that he was offering, as well as some very good local cheese and home-made sausages and some very good country bed. So that was a very unusual happening in my punk rock career.”

When and why did you take heroin for the first time?
“It was 1992, and it was actually a consequence of the war in the Balkans. What happened was that the house party and rave scene was going on in Norway, so there was a lot of ecstasy and amphetamines around. And the punk scene was very into arranging illegal house parties and all that, which emerged from the anarchy thing. So it was kind of routine that every Sunday after raving and experimenting with new designer drugs, people would smoke themselves down with hashish. But because of the war in the Balkans, the need for cash for weapons by these different fighting groups demanded that the drug-smuggling days ended. So there was a drought of hashish in the market, out of nowhere. So all these people had no way to land. But then suddenly these Yugoslavian military groups were offering blocks of heroin at a quarter of the price. And more and more, that became the alternative to hashish for coming down after being awake for five days raving. You couldn’t smoke hashish, but you could smoke very cheap heroin. So there was this new generation of kids – many of whom were punks who already had this fuck-off attitude – who were suddenly turning into junkies because that was the only thing available. And that turned into big business for the various warring groups in the war in the former Yugoslavia.”

How bad did your problem become?
“Well for the last years, I was on a heroin substitute. In 2009 I went out of the methadone programme. But for a while I got very, very addicted, and then I turned onto the government’s methadone programme, and after that I left that on my own. My addiction to heroin became extremely complicated in ’93 and ‘94, and then for the rest of the '90s I was just getting more and more hooked. By ’96 and ’97 it had become a very complicated problem. And then in the beginning of 2002 I had my first bottle of methadone and I was on that for some years… and then I left that programme.”

And how did you get yourself straight?
“I used other recovery orientated methods. I used non-drug solutions.”

When you look back on your years as a user, do you recognise the person you used to be?
“I think that if I had been studying philosophy back then, I would say that looking back I had a different philosophy in the '90s. But at the same time I’m still the same personality. Experience and time kind of changes your way of handling and dealing with different challenges and different possibilities in our lives. But me as a heroin addict back then would not be very different from how I would be if I became a full-time heroin addict right now. That’s my personality, and it will react the same way to those circumstances. But I have to be aware that I have the kind of personality that can easily turn itself to easy, quick-fix solutions and that can very easily turn into addiction. I have an addictive personality. I always face the risk of ending up in some kind of behavioural pattern where I lose consciousness and control over my bad habits. It’s easy for me to find myself in addictive situations, and that is something that demands some awareness but also some acceptance.”

Presumably you're still addicted to rock'n'roll. Tell us about your new album. It's called Dead, which you are not.
“Well, the thing is that I realised that I have buried so many friends from overdoses and suicides and I realised from being at their funerals that they are missing out on so much love and grief from people who love them. But when they were alive they never realised that. And I always thought that it was too bad that they couldn’t see how loved they were. And then I thought, ‘Hang on, when I die I won’t be able to see how upset people are about losing me’. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I try to be dead while I’m still alive, so I can see how many people come to mourn me?’ So I’m just trying to be dead while I’m still alive so I can keep track of how loved I am, and also I can keep track of the people who don’t care so I can put them on my shit-list.”

Hank Von Hell's new album Dead will be released on June 19 – pre-order your copy now. He is livestreaming a full-production show from Ullevi Stadium on June 15 – tickets are available now.

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