The true grit & glory of Guerilla Toss

Warm moments, fuzzy dogs, togetherness and Guerilla Toss; photographed by Vanessa Castro.

Warm moments, fuzzy dogs, togetherness and Guerilla Toss; photographed by Vanessa Castro.

Guerilla Toss might not be a household name yet in the global lexicon of the multiverses, but they darn well should be and will be. They are the notorious gravity defying band that people will write books about, make documentaries about (obvi) and hot shot Hollywood auteurs will make biopics about during summer blockbuster season. And yet despite all these floral-lexic superlatives, we are still a hundred feet off base. The origin narrative will read from the Guerilla Toss book of Genesis about a phenomenon that began during their formidable days of development at the reputable New England Conservatory of Music. Then everything flew off the rails. Radical dadaist pop provocations, an unprecedented level of heightened hedonism, performances that included full frontal male nudity, aliens, establishing themselves as the icons of the indies, excess, signing to DFA Records, more excess, shattering the confines of the mortality continuum, returning to NNA Tapes, rebirth, resurrection and constant cycles and courses of re-invention.

Our introduction here at Week in Pop to the artful dodgers was around the press cycle for their much lauded album Gay Disco back in 2013. It was a sensitive and sobering time in Boston, Mass as the city grappled with the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing incident. During this tense time it was Guerilla Toss that rose to the top of the Boston underground scene with a cathartic sound and inclusive style that contributed to the processes of healing by bringing creative oddball outsiders closer together. Having fostered a storied career worthy of being a voluminous VH1 mini-series; Kassie Carlson along with cohorts Peter Negroponte, Arian Shafiee, Samuel Lisabeth and Stephen Cooper have cultivated their own cult of continuous creative re-imagining. Yet through the group’s mind and spirit expanding highs, the GTOSS squad has experienced no shortage of challenges and tribulations. From struggles with poverty to substance abuse; Kassie’s life was saved after open heart surgery and complete medical rehabilitation after battling opiate addiction.

It was very intense. Had I not had Medicaid I would have been completely fucked. I’ve never had money ⁠— I grew up poor ⁠— with a single mother in sketchy neighborhoods living paycheck to paycheck ⁠— sometimes one never came. We lived in motels and run-down homes until we got kicked out, never staying in the same place for very long. My father died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was a teenager. As a child, I never had financial help and usually held down multiple jobs while still attending school. At the time of my surgery, my income was low enough that I qualified for full coverage of all medical expenses, including a six-week stay in the hospital. My muscles were gone and I had to re-learn how to walk. Even simple tasks made me exhausted, but I have since greatly recovered.

Kassie’s recovery saw a whole new energy of renewal amongst the GT team as they would create the album Twisted Crystal for DFA that paved the way for new inspirations that informed their new What Would the Odd Do? EP for DIY vanguard imprint NNA Tapes.

Only recently have I really begun to open up about everything that’s happened to me in the last few years. [The songs on What Would the Odd Do?] mean a lot to me; anyone in recovery knows that going through an opiate addiction and beating it is a big deal. I am living proof that it can happen to anyone. I’ve always written abstract lyrics that have alluded to my personal struggles, but this time I try to provide context to my metaphors and allegories. In this way, I hope to help other people who are struggling, and anything else that is a result of a corroded society that has left so many people in the dust — especially women. Drugs are such a dude-associated thing, which has made it even harder for me to talk about. I felt gross, other-ed, and alone. I didn’t think anyone would be able to understand or relate. Experiencing severe trauma as a child creates different parameters for normalcy, and inclusion. Statistically, women are more likely to hide addiction and keep feelings inside, making it potentially much more festering and toxic. Drugs affect people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, class or gender. Addiction hits us all, and it hits hard.

Reclaiming a life free from toxic dependencies, Kassie and the crew present an EP dedicated to the unconventional non-conformist sects of the world. What Would the Odd Do? edifies the misfit, taking the stigma away from the outcast by including them as part of a cool club society that celebrates the sweet souls that don't fit in with the cooler-than-thou loud crowd. The title track opener presents the grandest unified sound you have heard from GT yet, right before sweeping you into the greenhouse dance-party DIY disco of "Plants" (inspired by the books What A Plant Knows and The Hidden Life Of Trees). Riffing cheekily off the "Tomorrow Never Knows" psych standard, "Future Doesn't Know" is classic GTOSS reminding the audience about the forthcoming intrigue and inspirations that are as of yet unwritten. "Moth Like Me" explores our interaction and connection to the aura of light like the insect of the song's namesake in flutters of affirmation and exclamations of un-tethered excitement. The EP closes with "Land Where Money's Nightmare Lives" that transports the audience to a deeply enlightened dimension beyond the material and monetary-ruled realm. Existing somewhere on the astral plane that GT call home; Kassie and company throw every lysergic soaked element and ingredient into a fusion brew of funk, throwback boom-bap beats and delivery that ultimately sends the being of the experiencer outward to a new galaxy and state of existence. Even though we live in questionable and confusing times; we thankfully and gratefully have Guerilla Toss to guide us with their ways of the wise ⁠— yet delightfully weird and unabashedly odd.

Guerilla Toss’s brave and fearless leader Kassie Carlson took the time to share a variety of thoughts on matters personal, artistic and spirited.

From the whirlwind of escapades and episodes that have stretched from Boston to Brooklyn, Upstate New York and everywhere ⁠— what pearls of wisdom and enlightenment can you impart?

Never settle for one location. See as much as the world as you can, while spending as little money as possible. I like touring because I have been to places like Hot Springs Arkansas, Las Vegas and Columbus Ohio more times than I can count. I've been to Europe three times and I don’t think I’ve ever had more than $10,000 in my bank account. Before I was in a band, I hitchhiked all over and camped on abandoned islands with my friends. Your preferred journey might not be like everyone else’s, but remember that’s okay too.

Give us an ode to the Odd ones of the world and why the forgotten DIY fringe folks of the progressive artistic underground deserve to be heard, noticed and given a larger platform.

Playing off the traditional phrase What Would God/Jesus Do?, this album title reminds us that human connection is essential in the digital age. Checking in with friends, encouraging others to create and just general mutual support is essential to create a thriving artistic environment. When you think about it, weirdos kind of need to run the world. DIY, countercultural communities always tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to inclusivity, equality and thinking outside the box. Yet so often, we are cast aside as outsiders; aliens to the normative world.

In DIY, we constantly release deeply personal works, tour malnourished for not enough money to live until we are nothing but a thin string. The truth is, I think we can do better for those who perform. Not only do our artists deserve to be heard and noticed, but they also deserve respect in the workplace, a good meal, fair pay and human connection. So many performers suffer from addiction, mental health issues or both. It’s time to stop ignoring it because it’s awkward.

The legendary Dionysian denizens Guerilla Toss; photographed by Vanessa Castro.

The legendary Dionysian denizens Guerilla Toss; photographed by Vanessa Castro.

Describe the process of channeling so much energy and catharsis and purpose into the new release What Would the Odd Do? 

Going through open-heart surgery, opiate addiction and all the depression and anxiety that came with it, made me feel incredibly alone and isolated.  It wasn’t until I start talking to people that I realized I wasn’t on my own in those states. It took reaching out to the odd to realize that most people have experienced some sort of trauma, addiction, or existential dread. What Would the Odd Do? is a reflection on the communal nature of living things and the importance of friendship, especially when you are already existing far out of societal norms. Mental health is a huge issue in music and art communities and it is all too often overlooked. It’s time we stopped using the term junkie and really get to the root of the issues. Opiate addiction is rampant in every corner, every level of society. It’s time we started ignoring it and started listening.

From gaining a new lease on life and reflecting on the chaos, accomplishments, hardships, challenges, and triumphs; tell us about the life lessons and enlightenment that currently guide your path.

For so many years I have guilted myself for not being a social enough person. I tried very hard to stretch and push it out of me; to mold myself into how it should be. Growing up as a girl in a male-dominated world does that to people. You kind of doubt your own gut feelings. Lately, I have been trying to be more accepting of myself. I am weird, odd and at times and occasionally not very talkative. Certain days, anxiety and existential dread loom over me. Other days I am full of energy, excitement, enthusiasm and drive, but that doesn’t make me less valuable as a person…all of these, are pieces of technicolor me and realizing that kind of set me free.

Favorite anecdotes from the earliest days from the New England Conservatory to now that are of interest, humor and the like.

Rehearsing early Guerilla Toss in the practice rooms of NEC and hearing tubas and cellos in-between our own songs. I can’t really imagine how anyone else rehearsed in that building at the same time we were. I was working at a convenience store at the time so often after selling lottery tickets all day, I would come in and practice with Guerilla Toss all night. The convenience store was sort of great lyrical influence on early GTOSS. I love watching people and stealing their mannerisms and words, or reading magazines about totally random subjects.

Some of counterculture’s greatest icons ⁠— Guerilla Toss; photographed by Vanessa Castro.

Some of counterculture’s greatest icons ⁠— Guerilla Toss; photographed by Vanessa Castro.

Takeaways to share from what each release so far means to you now and then:

Jeffrey Johnson

Recorded in my old punk house basement called ‘Sealbeards’ after a manic SXSW tour. Tracks will forever open wounds inside my eardrums, pressed in by a damaged, skronky mood you can taste. “Chronophobia” is my favorite track on that album because it screams about fear of time.  This not only speaks of an actual existential crisis, but also the fact that it was an incredibly hard song to learn at first! Influences: James Chance and the Contortions, Fugazi, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Model Citizens, MARS, DNA, Arab on Radar Lydia Lunch.

Kicked Back Into The Crypt (Sediment Club split)

Stealing tricks on this album in admiration from Austin Sley Julian (Sediment Club) and his mother Cynthia Sley (Bush Tetras). It was an honor to do a split record with one of the most influential NYC bands at that time.

Gay Disco

Gay Disco was written at a time when I was experimenting with my own sexuality, wandering into alternate realities and teeter-tottering on the edge of madness, while lying in a bed of trash.

367 Equalizer

On the rarer side for GT availability, but great group of songs. Title track Equalizer is the only track we play off this album these days, sometimes you’ll get A Pig Who Feeds

Eraser Stargazer

Venturing on the plane of poetic psychedelia, but still waist-deep in anxious psychosis. I was reaching for what I wanted, and searching for meaning, but yet still unable to grasp. At the time of its conception, I was listening to a lot of Crass, Talking Heads, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Lydia Lunch, Suicide, Gang of Four, Pylon and The Slits. I really love Phil Racz reggae heavy bass on this album. 

==Essential tracks: “Multibeast” and “Diamond Girls”

GT Ultra

I am starting to speak clearer now, and there is more of a poetic element to my words. Around this time I was drawing a lot of lyrical influence from Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Italo Calvini, Eric Paul and Robert Hunter. This album is really important to me. I feel like we clicked as a group in a way we hadn’t before. 

==Favorite tracks: Betty Dreams of Green Men, Can I Get the Real Stuff?, Dog in a Mirror

Twisted Crystal

Originally set out to be a duo project between Peter and I, these songs were pretty odd in the beginning. Influenced heavily by German Krautrock, glam rock and bedroom synth-pop, these driving dance songs are now relentlessly excited for me to perform. The title of the album came from my time living in LA where crystal shops on every corner promise to heal every ailment you experience. I always thought this was odd because many gems and minerals often come from war-torn countries, mined by people beaten down by poverty with terrible working conditions.

Favorite Track: “Meteorological”

What Would the Odd Do?

Essential Track: “Future Doesn’t Know”

Thoughts on the evolution and states of the scenes from now and then what perceive as future hopes and hesitations?

People always ask why we change our sound so much and the truth is, making music is like being a painter. One day you may paint a picture of a house. Everyone loves the house! They love the doors, the windows and the roof. It is a magnificent house! So you paint the same exact house over and over for everyone who likes the house. Soon you grow tired of painting the same house. It just doesn’t give you the same feeling, or have the same soul, so you decide to paint a picture of a shoe. Next day, that’s not right either. So you rip up the painting of the shoe and glue the pieces to a plank of wood. Next, you affix a giant bronze replica of your late grandmother’s foot upon the wood. That’s art. My wish is that people will always pursue their future hopes without hesitation.

What our world needs more of right now?

The world needs more people using their power for good. What I mean by that is people with tremendous power, or even a little bit of power, need to do things to make the world a less fucked up place to be in. If you have any sort of voice or outlet, talk about Climate Change. Think about what you can do on a daily basis to curb your plastic use and carpool/ride a bike. Don’t wait for big corporations to change. What the future needs are immediate changes and that begins with the individual. Also most importantly vote in local elections…write to your senators and make a goddamn scene about the people profiting from not doing anything.

What our world(s) need less of right now.

Egos and greed.

Mantras and insights on what's next in the mystic GT playbook.

We wish to continue to make more records and wander further on the cosmic, sonic astral plane.

Parting benedictions and postludes.

Please check out our new song “Future Doesn’t Know” and check out our tour dates below. We love all of you very much and can’t wait to see you on the road!

Catch Guerilla Toss on the following live dates:

10/19 - Hi-Dive - Denver, CO.
10/22 - Diabolical Records - Salt Lake City, UT.
10/23 - Neurolux - Boise, ID.
10/24 - Polaris Hall - Portland, OR.
10/25 - Fortune Sound Club - Vancouver, BC.
10/26 - The Vera Project - Seattle, WA.
10/27 - Sam Bond's Garage - Eugene, OR.
10/29 - Outer Space Arcata - Arcata, CA.
10/30 - The Chapel - San Francisco, CA.
10/31 - The Starlet Room - Sacramento, CA.
11/1 - The Crepe Place - Santa Cruz, CA.
11/2 - Bootleg Theatre - Los Angeles, CA.
11/3 - Casbah - San Diego, CA.
11/5 - Rhythm Room - Phoenix, AZ.
11/6 - Wooden Tooth Records - Tuscon, AZ.
11/7 - Town Hall - ABQ - Albuquerque, NM.
11/9 - Levitation Fest - Austin,
11/10 - Rubber Gloves - Denton, TX
11/11 - Opolis - Norman, OK.


Guerilla Toss’s What Would the Odd Do? EP will be available October 18 via NNA Tapes.