Guerilla Toss Interview: “Like A Crisp Raw Carrot At Its Rawest Form”

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guerilla toss interview

New Album Eraser Stargazer  Out Now Via DFA Records.

New York’s Guerilla Toss are one of those rare bands where you can genuinely claim they sound like no one else except themselves. The quintet recently released their first album since 2013’s Gay Disco. Titled Eraser Stargazer, the eight track album is a witches brew of post-punk, funk, and experimental rhythmic noise.

Overblown’s Gabriel Ebulue recently spent some time chatting with GTOSS front-woman Kassie Carlson, delving into topics of playing live, nakedness, and making friends with Henry Rollins.

You are often described as an avant-garde band or an intellectual band. Do those kinds of labels (or any label) annoy you, or you do embrace and encourage them?

Sure! Sounds good to me! With a literal meaning of “before custody or imprisonment,” I approve.  Many people in the band have studied music their whole lives, and will study it for the rest of it too.

What do you think is the definite description of Guerilla Toss besides genre?

Astute and “in tune” in the sense of always trying to be perceptive, intuitive and insightful when it comes to being a musician. I enjoy playing with my band mates because everyone is always watching each other when we perform. They let it all hang out. However, it’s more than watching with the eyes, the anticipations and grooves forming from every jolt or breath are just as important.

To perform is intense and powerful but also unprocessed and ripe, like a crisp, fresh carrot at its rawest form. No boiled down, bottom-of-the-soupcan carrots here.

You bring the same chaotic energy to a record as you do the stage but what would you say is the best way to experience Guerilla Toss first; on record or at a live show?

The best way to experience GTOSS first, is at a live show. Musicality is a very big part of the band no doubt, and we work very hard on the specifics of the music itself, but it is also an experience.

When you play live, you are quite a sight to behold, from chaotic heaving crowds to band members getting naked, there is something quite freeing and hypnotic about seeing Guerilla Toss play. When you perform is there a solid idea of how you wish to present yourselves or is it a free-for-all?

We have never sat down and said “this is how we want to act.”  I think when one falls into this world of playing music all the time, it is partly due to the inability to be content going through the wide gate, or succumbing to the 9-5 or sheep/shepherd mentality. Instead we aspire for the purely realistic, unable to vainly promote appearance. It just is what it is and I hope that’s what people get out of it.

Your new album ‘Eraser Stargazer’ was recorded in New York, what inspired the move away from your home base in Boston? And did the new surroundings influence the lyrical content or sound in any way?

After going to college in Boston and living there for some time afterwards, it was time for a change. I really value all that Boston has done for us and the way its doors are always open welcoming us home.  On February 20th we played in Boston at Deep Thoughts Records, a record store Peter, the drummer of GTOSS, is co-owner of.  It was awesome to be back. People were flipping out and crowd surfing and stuff.

Eraser Stargazer was written in Upstate NY in a cabin in the little town of Livingston Manor. We all took off work and isolated ourselves for 3 weeks to write that album. It was very interesting; I had never done anything like that before. It was nice to take time to “smell the roses” I guess. The lyrics on the album are very observational and detailed on purpose.  Much emphasis was placed on the magnification of physical and emotional aspects of experience. There are many references to textures, smells and tastes, morphing between tangible and intangible things.

The lead single from ‘Eraser Stargazer’, ‘Diamond Girls’ is a chaotic yet controlled song that sounds like a tightly knitted jam session. What went into creating the songs on this album? Is there a preconceived structure? Or do you all get into a room and play until you hear the genesis of a song?

The process for writing music in this band is very intensive. It usually takes hours and hours and days to create one song. All possibilities of meter, tone, formal constraint and structure are shifted around and picked apart. The words are revised 1000 times until the situation feels right. My bandmates are unbelievable multi-instrument fluent geniuses and I feel really lucky to be a part of the madness.

Your last E.P, ‘Flood Dosed’ was received with some acclaim, and even got you an endorsement from legends such as Henry Rollins. Did you feel the weight of those expectations or any pressure at all? And did that have an impact on the making ‘Eraser Stargazer.’

There is always a weight of expectation of the self as well as our peers to create the finest possible outcome. It is important to be self-critical and hear that of others to expand ideas and try other methods. It is also essential to be on good terms with yourself.

Speaking with Henry Rollins was very nice. I sent him an email after the shout out on his radio station and he pretty much got back to me in minutes. When I asked for a reading selection he said Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, which is actually one of my favorite books.

Words such as ‘chaotic’, ‘unhinged’ and ‘destructive’ are words that are repeatedly tagged onto Guerilla Toss, and you have even written songs about getting over psychological issues. Do you think Guerilla Toss is a vessel for cathartic release for both you and your listeners?

Perhaps not destructive or even chaotic, but more so very realistic and unhinged. When performing it is absolutely a cathartic release and aids in the mending of my own pieced together psychological cloth.

What I want listeners to take from the music is a greater awareness of what is around you and the importance of looking at certain situations from all angles and under a microscope. The song/theory of “Polly’s Crystal” is meant to highlight exactly that idea, as well as the art and learned skill of putting yourself in other people’s shoes. To analyze and find the tiny fragments of beauty, darkness, or worth in even the slightest sliver of existence.

“Destructive” I dislike because I don’t want anyone feel alienated because aggressiveness of the audience messes with their head-space and/or ability to listen. Everyone involved needs to care for their surroundings, their neighbor and themselves of course, swinging to the weight of whatever. However if someone wants to claim it is destructive to despair, repetitive ruts, or fear; that’s something that could resonate positively with me.  

There is something quite primal, sexual and intense about the way Guerilla Toss sound and play. Was that an intentional move on your part? And if so what inspired it?

With all existential, emotive music, I think there is always an underlying intention to magnify the most basic primal elements of being alive. I have never intended for a performance to be sexual and I think even when people got naked it wasn’t to be so. All living organisms operate in a strategically sexless or sexual manner at one point or another, but this isn’t one of those times for me. Maybe it seems more sexual because I am an intense female person, but I wouldn’t want that to be the main tresse of hair someone grabs onto in the GTOSS braid. It’s way more than that. I think a lot of women in music probably feel uncomfortable because of that very concept… Does someone like the band because it speaks to them, or just because of there’s a perceived sexual female looking person in the front?

As far as Simon goes and his nakedness, I think, if anything, he was de-masculating and de-sexualizing himself running around with a flaccid penis, rather than some super bro rock star guy grabbing his crotch or something.  If anything, I saw him getting naked as an opposition to the female front woman and people coming to the show just because there’s some girl (me) yelling, sweating and making noises like she’s talking to a little puppy. I think often women are tokenized in the music industry due to them simply having a female body and that’s just silly.  There are so many women in music that just shred at music and it has nothing to do with sex or being sexual. Being sexual is cool too if that’s where you’re at, it was just never my personal intention.

What does the future hold for Guerilla Toss?

We have a big tour in the US coming up in March down to a festival called SXSW in Austin, TX. Our new full length album “Eraser Stargazer” is coming out too in March. Expect lots of tie dye t-shirts, crazy projections and unique set lists for every town this tour.

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