“This is like our ‘plastic rock’ band. It’s sort of synthetic computer lockdown rock, which we’re now bringing to life with a full band on tour.”
It’s been a while since art punks Guerilla Toss were ripping up Boston’s house show and DIY venue circuit during the early 2010s. In the time since, the core trio of vocalist Kassie Carlson, guitarist Arian Shafiee, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Negroponte have brought keyboardist Sam Lisabeth, bassist Zach Lewellyn, and visual artist William Dantzler into the fold while moving their home base to New York City.
They’ve also released five studio albums along with a bunch of EPs and a live record, with their most recent LP, Famously Alive, being released on March 25 via the prestigious Sub Pop Records.
As part of their tour in support of the album, Guerilla Toss is taking part in Waking Windows happening all over Winooski, Vermont from May 13 to 15. Negroponte and I spoke ahead of the upcoming gig about the making of the new album while in COVID-19 quarantine, how the band got onto Sub Pop’s roster, growth and change over the past decade, and already thinking about writing music for the next record.
You, Kassie, and Arian fleshed out ideas for Famously Alive and wrote the album while up in the Catskills of New York in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic back in 2020. How would you describe those songwriting sessions and what did you ultimately want to capture with this album?
Basically, Arian and I work all day, every day on my computer. I got guitars, a bass, and I program a lot of drum beats and stuff. He’s got his computer and a bunch of weird sounds and stuff and we just experimented all day to come up with stuff. Then we would send it to Kassie via email while she was in another room, she would come up with vocal parts and send it back. It was a really long, drawn out process partially because we had so much time at the beginning of the pandemic. Kassie and I live in Upstate New York, Arian came up pretty early on and we were in lockdown together writing stuff.
That was sort of our process. In terms of vision, it never is what you expected it to be. This was over two years ago, which is when we started writing this record that is now finished. At the beginning, I didn’t know what we were going for. It’s very much an electronic music record, you know how David Bowie had his “plastic soul” band?
This is like our “plastic rock” band. It’s sort of synthetic computer lockdown rock, which we’re now bringing to life with a full band on tour. I guess in the beginning we just wanted to make a crazy sound design psychedelic rock record. I wanted it to sound really polished and it looks like we’re being accused of making a pop album, which I’m fine with because I’m really inspired by a lot of that music right now. At the same time, it sounds sort of pop oriented but I don’t think a lot of pop music sounds like what we do and I think that’s cool.
I don’t know what we were going for, we definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves because it was Sub Pop and we knew it had to be really good. We must of written hundreds of fuckin’ things before we picked a bunch of what we liked the most.
Was this also the first time you, Kassie, and Arian collectively produced an album together?
Yeah, we’ve been a band so long that the way we’ve written and recorded has changed so much but this record really was Kassie, Arian, and I making a lot of the calls together. There’s a few songs that Arian didn’t contribute to as much, like I wrote on my own and sent to Kassie, but I jokingly refer to him as the voice of reason. He’s just a reasonable dude who is really chill and when I’m unsure of something I go to him to see what he thinks of it and I really trust his opinion so there’s a lot that he contributes in that way. Half the songs we co-wrote together but it’s the first record that we really did this way. It was such a strange time, it still is too, so everyone is adapting to dealing with this shit and that’s how we did it. We first made the record and then we started learning the songs as a band, I’ll put it that way if that makes sense.
It does. You just mentioned how this is Guerilla Toss’ first release with Sub Pop Records, which is a legendary label out of Seattle and any alternative music fan knows who they are. Before that, you were part of DFA Records, which was co-founded by James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, for nearly seven years. How were you able to join up with Sub Pop and what made you want to join them after being part of DFA for so long?
The DFA thing was awesome and we’re super grateful for all of that, but we were with them for a while and we had a contract with them which we fulfilled after giving them three records. Then the Sub Pop thing came to be and we had to do it because they’re amazing. I love DFA and I love everything they did. The main guy, Jonathan Galkin, who initially signed us and was sort of running the label for the last decade recently stopped working with DFA. His relationship with them kind of fell apart around the same time we wanted to leave anyway so it was a really peaceful departure. I love Jonathan Galkin, I still speak to him a few times a week and I text with him a lot so we have a good relationship.
I like that guy a lot, he’s a good friend. He’s another person that I send music that we’re working on to so he can check it out and give me some advice. He’s great and he’s doing something called FourFour Records now which is really cool, I recommend anyone to go check that out. We were just with DFA for years, it ran its course and we were kind of blessed to get this opportunity with Sub Pop so we went for it because who wouldn’t?
This year marks 10 years of Guerilla Toss being a band, so what do you think has either changed or grown the most since you all started out in Boston to now being based in New York City and being an established act in independent music?
I’d say pretty much everything has changed across the whole spectrum. It’s funny, if you think back 10 years, I was a completely different person 10 years ago. I was a fuckin’ kid and I still am a kid but I’m a 10-year older kid. I’m just speaking for myself here, but the way I feel and the way we all feel is very different. The music I listened to 10 years ago holds a special place in my heart but I probably don’t listen to as much of the stuff I was really being inspired by back then anymore at this point. Basically, everything has changed in a good way.
There’s been ups and downs and we’re getting kind of older but everyone’s healthy and doing their thing. There’s no chaos, there’s still some soul searching going on like everyone does and I think that’s still reflected in the music but I think the chaotic, tumultuous attitude or shit we were going through back then has been resolved. Now we’re a little more grown up and thus the music has changed, the outlook has changed and we’re just rolling with it.
It’s natural growth, right? A lot of things have changed in 10 years, I was different 10 years ago.
It’s a long time, it really is.
Other than touring in support of the new album, does Guerilla Toss have anything else going on this year?
We’re going to be doing some touring and there’s a really cool thing we’re going to do in September, but I can’t tell you what that is. It’s not been announced yet and I don’t think I’m supposed to announce it but we’re doing a couple support slots for a really cool band and the world will see soon. It’s a really cool gig and it will by far be the biggest shows I’ve ever played and the band’s ever played. There’s a few of them and that’ll be in September but I can’t tell you who it is yet so that’s all on that front. We’re going to be playing Pickathon out in Oregon in August, which is outside of Portland and that’s gonna be pretty cool.
It’s like a camping kind of thing, it has some crunchy granola vibes but there’s some punk bands and stuff. I’m pretty excited for it, we’re still kind of working on some stuff for the fall. I don’t know if we’ll get to Europe this year but we should probably do another thing over there soon. The record just came out a little over a month ago and now we’re on tour so my mind starts to wander about writing music. I’d like to get back to writing some stuff in between these tours and start planning whatever the fuck we’re gonna do next in terms of making a record. It’s a ways down the road but I’m always thinking about that stuff.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.