Psych Punk

ARTIST PROFILE: Guerilla Toss

Laura Kerry

Revisiting Guerilla Toss’s body of work presents no easy task. First, there’s the problem of tracking everything down—the singles, EPs, LPs, live albums, and split albums; the different labels, including Digitalis Limited, Tzadik, Feeding Tube, NNA Tapes, and the latest, DFA Records, among others; and the CDs, vinyl releases, and tapes. Since their first release in 2010 (or 2012, depending on who you ask), the band in its various incarnations has put out a nearly untraceable amount of music, earning a name for themselves in native Boston’s DIY scene and beyond, in experimental/freak/punk arenas.

Then there’s the problem of spending an excessive amount of time immersed in their sound. In those many releases—particularly the earlier ones—Guerilla Toss is, well, abrasive. In Jeffrey Johnson (2012), GTOSS (2013), and Kicked Back Into the Crypt (2013), singer Kassie Carlson shouts her way through a cacophony of roaring guitars, unpredictable drums, and anxious synths, legible in no other realm of meaning than that of pure energy. Of course, all of that egregiously oversimplifies the complex layers that comprise Guerilla Toss’ hard-to-penetrate noise, but the point is this: Their music is feral and electrifying, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Guerilla Toss lets you in in their own way, though. With the savage-yet-virtuosic percussion of Peter Negroponte, Arian Shafiee’s screeching and rumbling guitar, and a surprisingly graspable and groovy bass played by an ever-changing list of bassists (currently in the adept hands of Greg Albert), the band plays music that, against your better judgment, gets you to move. Absurd tales of their live shows bear that out. In their early days, at Boston’s Gay Gardens and other DIY hubs (most now sadly defunct), they earned a reputation for their broken guitars, occasional nudity, and ability to incite a crowd to violent moshing with just the four numbers of a count off. Oberlin College once banned them from playing a show on campus. Since then, by their own account, they have settled down. The aggressive jostling has transformed into more civil form of bouncing and booty shaking or, as Negroponte calls it in a recent Impose Magazine interview, the “hippie mosh,” which involves bumping around as one collective audience unit.

That kind of punk-meets-hippie talk is surprisingly representative of a band that falls between many strange intersections. At the surface, their work strikes with the fuck-everything abandon of punk, but it explores with the all-embracing curiosity of jam band music, floating and meandering through trippy landscapes. Sometimes their lyrics match the fiery simplicity of punk politics (“Desire / Try it / Go on and buy it,” from “Multibeast TV” on 2016’s Eraser Stargazer), while others contain the wandering surrealism of the psychedelic genre (seemingly much of 2013’s Gay Disco, if the words were more decipherable). Guerilla Toss plays their instruments and screams like punks, but they talk like slacker hippies, citing old drug habits and occasional continued experimentation as factors in their music. But the band works way too hard, knows their instruments way too well, and creates songs that are way too weird and complicated for the titles “slackers” or “punks” to suffice; they also require the controlled experimentation implied by art rock or one of its many subcategories.

At the start, Guerilla Toss may have shied away from such a label. They treated their skills, along with the music-school training that developed them, as some kind of secret, masking them under noisy music and evasive interviews. But their latest album, Eraser Stargazer, marks the culmination of progress against that impulse. Less noisy and more rigid, it more clearly reveals its distinct parts—weaving synths, intricate beats that remain steady through shifting time signatures, and bass lines that bounce and pop with hooks. Carlson’s voice also comes further into the forefront, mastering a more nuanced spectrum of shouts that includes the prophetic chant of a cave-dwelling oracle on “Perfume,” Betty Boop in a rage on “Diamond Girls,” and your worst nightmare on “Big Brick.” The Guerilla Toss of 2016 remains harsh and a bit wicked (Boston sense of the word included), but with more space for the hardcore averse.

As they tell it, that musical development is a natural result of aging and maturing, a process that has also resulted in a move to New York, the shedding of band members who could not commit enough time, and the reduction of drug use to once-in-a-while experimental trips. The grown-up Guerilla Toss takes itself seriously, but without compromising the deranged humor that has characterized the band throughout their career. It’s just that now, as Carlson’s voice rises into a sharp, twisted “ha ha ha” in “Diamond Girls” and other places, more people will laugh, shake, and gently—lovingly—mosh along with her.

Catch Guerilla Toss at the Summer's End Music Festival in Brooklyn

REVIEW: Acid Dad - Let's Plan a Robbery

Laura Kerry

Acid Dad is the kind of band you can imagine drinking PBRs in a dingy basement, lighting something on fire, then waking up to go to a college calculus class the next morning. Still in school at NYU, Danny Gomez, Vaughn Hunt, and Kevin Walker found each other late at night in an East Williamsburg bar in 2014 and, with the recent addition of Sean Fahey, formed a band that straddles two genres: psych and punk, if they were played in a ramshackle garage.

The combination of their college enrollment, psych-punk, and garage rock might form the stereotypical “slacker” image in your mind, but Acid Dad is anything but that. Named by Oh My Rockness as New York’s third most hardworking band of 2015, they played 36 high-energy, head-banging shows last year and are slated to play about one show per day all around the country from now until the end of April, a task reserved for crazy hard workers or just plain crazies.

On their debut EP, Let’s Plan a Robbery, that kind of boundless energy manifests in Acid Dad’s songwriting. Though they embrace punk’s DIY ethic, the EP feels polished—at least in the sense that all the lo-fi fuzziness in it is perfectly balanced. And though most of their songs follow basic structures, the four tracks ebb in flow in subtler motion, a result of the painstaking process of breaking down songs to make sure each separate section, often very different, flowed. Not always recognizable, the verse-pre-chorus-chorus structure is often masked under another force more tangible throughout the EP: tension and release.

On the opener, “Don’t Get Taken,” a song that is equal parts fuzzy rock, jaunty guitar riffs, and punk rasp, the melody centers on one chord before letting loose at the end of each section, then building up into a pre-chorus refrain. The real release comes in a chorus that is just a more energetic extension of what preceded it; after repeating “Gotta get out,” singer Hunt yelps with urgency, “Get outta here now, my baby.” With the similarly uptempo and guitar hook–laden “Digger (Gotta Get That Money),” the chorus breaks up a driving, simple melody reminiscent of ‘70s punk, building to a suspended moment of quiet toward the end before heading in for the final release.

Elsewhere, it’s the chorus that’s in suspension. On the slower, dreamier “Shoot You Down,” the two-line chorus descends in three reverb-soaked chords, silencing the percussion to add quiet intensity to the final words, “I’m gonna have to shoot you down.” This, oddly enough for a softer song, is as aggressive as Acid Dad’s sentiments get in sentiment on the EP. Though audacious in tone and title—as you would expect from the punk side of their dual genre—the music has a playful edge. “Hey señorita / I don’t need ya / They gonna give me a raise,” they sing in “Digger.” And far from threatening, both “Don’t Get Taken” and “Fool’s Gold” are about getting out of bad situations (“Babe, don’t want to be in your game,” Hunt sings in the latter).

Despite its tame themes, their music still grabs you with force and shakes you, especially when played at a recommended high volume. With stubbornly catchy guitar hooks, deftly-crafted fuzzy songs, and an insane tour schedule, it seems that contrary to our imaginations, the only fires Acid Dad is lighting these days is in their own bellies (though I’m sure they’ll pick up a few PBRs along the way).

INTERVIEW: Acid Dad

Photo:  Daniel Topete

Gerard Marcus

A few weeks ago we had the honor of sitting down with the boys of Brooklyn-based Acid Dad at the ThrdCoast studio in Ridgewood, Queens. We had a chance to discuss how they got started, how they go about making their music, why they decided to become musicians in the first place, and perhaps most importantly, their upcoming 50-show tour which kicks off this Sunday, February 28 at JJ's Bohemia in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If you haven't checked out their latest EP, which is officially out February 26, take some time to listen to the full stream below—it's a truly excellent piece of psych-punk. And make sure to see them out on tour if you can.

ThrdCoast: So you’re the barber of the group?

Vaugh Hunt: Yeah, I’ve cut everybody's hair so far, weather they like it or not [all laugh]. Sean and I were super drunk at the studio and I was like, “I want to cut your hair,” so I cut Sean’s hair.

Sean Fahey: It’s getting long now [laughs].

TC: Well, anyway, welcome guys! Thanks for coming. Let’s start off with a little background. Who is Acid Dad? How did you guys meet? How did the group form?

VH: Well, Kevin and I were in a band about a year and a half ago, and we decided we wanted to start our own band after recently becoming friends with Danny Gomez who played guitar and was interested in the same type of music we were interested in. We all just started jamming together and one thing lead to another, we wrote a lot of songs, started playing a lot of shows. People were into it so we started playing even more shows...

Kevin Walker: A lot of house shows.

VH: Yeah, a lot of house shows. During that time we went through a lot of freaking bass players, too [all laugh].

KW: Six.

VH: But finally we finally found Sean Fahey, this sexy beast that shreds so hard and is super cool.

KW: When we first started, Vaughn and I just wanted to start a rock and roll band, and I think we found Danny through a mutual friend named Reed. Danny was working at this restaurant called Testo, and we walked in and he was blasting the Brian Jonestown Massacre in the restaurant to piss some people off or something, and Kevin and I were like, “Yeah dude! Lets fucking jam. We’re on the same page” [all laugh].

VH: Yeah, it all happened very organically.

Danny Gomez: Well, that’s usually how it works right?

TC: Definitely, you need that natural chemistry. How long were you guys jamming together before you decided to make it official?

KW: About three months.

DG: Yeah, it was about three and a half months before we did our first show under our first name of Twincest [laughs].

DG: And that show was when we met Sean, actually, because his band Larry and the Babes were putting on like a Halloween show with some of our other friends. I was actually looking through my phone the other day and someone asked me why my contact for Sean says, “Sean Fuck Your PA.” It goes back to that night that we met you and you kept saying, “Oh, this fucking PA just sucks!" [all laugh].

KW: You’re still Danny Gonads in my phone [laughs].

TC: So Sean, how did you hear about these guys? Was it just at that show?

SF: Well, I was at their first show and thought they were really good, and then went to a lot of their other shows.

VH: We actually played a lot of shows with you and your other band. That’s how we really got to know him.

SF: Yeah! And then they called me one day and said their bass player wasn’t very good, so I was like, “I’ll come through.” I didn’t really have a bass at the time.

TC: You’re a guitar player?

SF: Yeah.

DG: You know what’s funny, I remember Wilson. Wilson had been like, “Sean and I are kind of fighting, we heard you want another bassist,” and we were like “Oh dude, Sean! That’s who we want!" [All laugh].

KW: We brought a bass guitar from Richie. Shout out to Richie! He's this really sick guy who’s been around for, like, forty years and sells fixed-up old Fenders out of his living room. And back in the day he worked with everyone. Danny, who did he work with?

DG: Oh, he did stuff with The Strokes. I think Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith...

KW: Yeah, he’s a legend. There's no address for his shop, you have to just call him. You just roll into his apartment. Yeah, Richie’s the best.

TC: Did you play bass before this?

SF: I’ve “played” bass, but I mean, it’s like, two fewer strings [all laugh]. You don’t really have to play chords. Bass is actually more fun because it’s like one long guitar solo.

VH: That’s the best way to put it.

DG: Like a thirty-minute guitar solo every night.

TC: So were you in the group while they were writing all the new material for this EP?

KW: He joined us two weeks before CMJ in October, so yeah, he’s been here through it all.

TC: And once you guys got this final group and decided to record an EP, what did you decide to make it about?

VH: Well, we had these structures of these songs and we kind of tested them out live. The concepts of the songs were still pretty vague, so we wanted to solidify them. But during the final week and a half of cutting the vocals and writing the lyrics with everybody, we realized that all of the songs were about crimes and just doing bad things, so we decided to name the EP after this Three 6 Mafia song called “Let’s Plan A Robbery”—which is one of my favorite songs from high school—and let the lyrics revolve around that. One song is about getting kidnapped.

DG: I think it’s a combination of the things we’re seeing and taking in around us, and things we are and aren’t liking in life that we want to twist and kind of see were they go.

KW: With the EP it took two or three tries in the sense that we would record something, then play those songs live and realize a certain part shouldn’t be in there, or another part should be longer.

TC: Refining it.

KW: Yeah, we’ve definitely re-recorded a few of these things.

DG: Because it’s like, if we’re bored with this, what is the audience thinking? So we want to try all these things before finally getting down what feels right.

KW: The song “Grim” was initially going to be on the EP, and that was recorded in August. Now this EP is coming out in February so, yeah, it’s a very long process.

VH: I think it was also important for us to know which songs aged well in our minds. I don’t always know about the audience's perspective, but there have definitely been some songs we’ve played so much that I just end up saying, “I’m tired of this, we have to move on.” And that's something that also helped us edit down this EP. It’s really fresh to us, and it has a pretty raw concept. I really like how it came out. It’s half in-your-face and half pretty chilled-out and melodic.

TC: I like how you guys use live shows as a major part of your editing process. Is that something you think you'll keep doing in the future?

VH: I think it will change a little bit, because this year we’ve been focused on being kind of a buzzy local band playing as much as possible, a lot of parties and stuff. But now we're going on tour, so the dynamic will definitely change. We’ll be playing a lot more in different contexts, and it’ll change how we write because we won’t have as much time. We’re doing a two and a half-month tour with almost fifty shows, so we aren’t going to have the down time to like practice and write new music as much. Unless we do, like, “Kumbaya” in the car or something [all laugh].

DG: The next one will be a gospel record.

VH: [Laughs] Yeah, so I think this next year will definitely change the way that we work, but I think it will be for the better.

TC: Is this your first big tour?

All: Yep.

TC: Excited?

VH: Yeah, super excited.

KW: For sure.

DG: We’re all newbies. We’re fresh, so I think it'll be a good thing.

TC: You said fifty shows in two and a half months?

All: Yep.

TC: Man! That’s going to be a lot.

KW: Yeah, but we’ll get to escape a good chunk of the northeast winter. We’re going south.

TC: Are you guys driving?

KW: Yeah, I actually just got a van. Sold my old Subaru and brought a big-ass Ford.

VH: We haven’t figured out a good system for this car yet.

KW: Yeah, my last car was a little too small, but we figured out a way to pack it that made it work. Don’t know what we’re going to do with this one yet.

TC: Are you taking a full drum set with you?

KW: That’s a good question.

VH: I don’t know? I think we should.

KW: Yeah, probably. If a venue has a nice kit I’ll just go ahead and use that but a lot of these places are really DIY, so...

VH: Our biggest fear is getting broken into on tour. It just happened to another band from here.

TC: That's the worst.

KW: They’re the worst type of people!

SF: We have a really good car alarm.

VH: We do have a really good car alarm.

KW: Yeah, it has these blue lights that blink super bright.

VH: And it’s really fucking loud.

TC: Well, hopefully that'll be enough to drive any thieves away.

KW: Yeah, we hope so.

TC: So when did you guys record this new EP?

VH: We just finished it, like, two weeks ago.

DG: Yeah, and early December is when we started working on it.

VH: It was during Christmas, because I remember mixing it over Christmas.

TC: Did you mix it all?

VH: Yeah, I mixed it and we got it mastered by a wizard up on the Upper West Side.

TC: A wizard?

VH: Yeah, he’s a fucking wizard! Alan Silverman.

KW: He’s got, like, thirty Grammys up on his wall. He’s just amazing.

TC: Where did you guys do the recording?

KW: We have a studio. My grandpa lives upstate about an hour and a half up in Brewster, New York, and he has this weird cabin on the side of his house. His wife and daughter work there. His wife is an art dealer or something, and her daughter makes weird handbags. But they have this little attic part, and over the last year and a half Vaughn and I have amassed a lot of gear, so we decided to turn that space into our own studio.

TC: Do you guys engineer all your stuff too?

KW: Yeah! And it’s the perfect place to record. It’s gorgeous, beautiful, just the perfect place to do whatever and relax.

TC: Seems like a good setup.

KW: Definitely.

VH: It’s a really great spot. We’re actually heading back up there tomorrow. Sean and I spent all of last week writing.

SF: And cutting each other's hair...

VH: [Laughs] And cutting each other's hair. So we’re going to go back up next week to do the second round of writing, and try to finalize some stuff for newer music to come out later.

TC: Are you thinking of doing another EP, or are you going to do a full album?

VH: We're currently talking about exactly what we’re going to do next. We've got a lot of different ideas going around about what’s the right thing to do at this point with the level we’re at as a band.

SF: The stuff we’re working on is more just so we have new material to play on our fifty dates.

VH: Yeah, that’s the real goal. Which is great because we’ve come up with a lot of stuff, so on tour we’ll have a sold amount of songs to play.

KW: Something like twenty.

DG: It’s gonna get funky.

VH: It’s gonna get real funky [all laugh].

TC: All right, I think I only have one more question, which is kind of a corny one. Why did you guys decide to become musicians?

KW: Oh, man!

VH: That’s a real good question.

SF: My dad was a musician. And I just can’t get away from it, I guess?

TC: It’s just in your blood?

SF: I guess, yeah. I didn’t have many babysitters or things like that growing up. My dad would just, like, lock me in a room with a Fender twin reverb and a guitar even when I didn’t know how to play it. I didn’t know what to do so I would just turn the guitar all the way up and wait for it to feedback until it was just so fucking loud [laughs]. So, yeah, I would have to say my dad is always right there. He’s also super proud, so...

KW: I was listening to rock and roll when I was, like, three, but I don’t know why. My mom and dad both aren’t musicians and they wonder all the time why my brother and I got so into music, and really I have no explanation at all. Looking back it seems completely random.

VH: I thought part of it was your grandpa, though?

KW: He bought me a drum set! My grandpa, the same grandpa that has the studio, bought me a drum set, but by that point I was already really into Beastie Boys and The Offspring [all laugh].

VH: I fucking love The Offspring.

KW: I honestly don’t know why, but my parents were cool with letting me drift into any world I fell into, which was great.

TC: Did you ask for the drums?

KW: No, my grandpa woke me up and said, “You’re going to be a musician. What do you want to play?” And I remember saying drums because I didn’t want to be in the front of the stage.

TC: How about you, Danny?

DG: I don’t know, man, I just have to do it in order to stay sane and peaceful [laughs]. I listen to and think about music way too much.

TC: Like a form of meditation?

DG: Yeah! It’s always there in the back of my head. Even if I’m not thinking about it it’s pushing through, and sometimes it feels like if I don’t do it it’s going to haunt me or something.

TC: Are there musicians in your family?

DG: Actually yeah, a lot of string instruments. That’s how I picked up on it, an uncle of mine was a folk artist and he told me I should pick up the guitar. Then I just picked it up and taught myself a bit.

VH: At a really young age my mom was like, “You should try to take piano lessons.” And I was just like, “Okay, cool,” and we found this really cool piano teacher. She really loved working with me, so from a very young age I had a really tight relationship with my piano teacher. I wasn’t very good at all, but she liked me even more for it because she taught all these prodigy kids who play Carnegie Hall now, and I was the one kid who questioned the music, asking things like “Why can’t I do this here?” I was also one of the first to play my own compositions for her. So I guess it really all started there with her, and because she was so supportive I felt that I could just keep doing more music. I really enjoyed it.

KW: I also think for all of us, and also for a lot a musician friends I know, it’s an unwillingness to live any sort of prescribed lifestyle. It’s usually the kind of open-ended adventurous people who end up being musicians.

VH: Yeah, for sure.

TC: The type of person who doesn’t feel comfortable with settling.

KW: Yeah, and who are happy to not feel comfortable with settling. That's an important point.

***

Acid Dad 2016 tour dates:

02/28 — Chattanooga, TN @ JJ’s Bohemia *
02/29 — Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge *
03/02 — Greenville, SC @ Independent Public Alehouse *
03/03 — Raleigh, NC @ Neptunes *
03/04 — Winston-Salem, NC @ The Garage *
03/05 — Charlotte, NC @ Neighborhood Theatre *
03/07 — Columbia, SC @ The Art Bar *
03/09 — Atlanta, GA @ The Earl *
03/10 — Savannah, GA @ Savannah Stopover
03/13 — Denton, TX @ 35 Denton
03/15–20 — Austin, TX @ SXSW
03/21 — Colorado Springs, CO @ Flux Capacitor #
03/23 — Fort Collins, CO @ Downtown Artery
03/24 — Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge
03/25 — Salt Lake City, UT @ Diabolical Records
03/26 — Boise, ID @ Treefort Music Fest
03/30 — Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
04/01 — Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project
04/06 — San Francisco, CA @ The Rickshaw Stop
04/07 — San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
04/08 — Los Angeles, CA @ The Lost Room
04/12 — Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
04/14 — Austin, TX @ Mohawk
04/15 — San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
04/16 — Dallas, TX @ Three Links
04/18 — Springfield, MO @ The Outland Ballroom
04/19 — Columbia, MO @ Cafe Berlin
04/20 — St. Louis, MO @ The Demo
04/21 — Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle

* = w/ White Reaper
# = w/ Mothers, New Madrid, Holly Macve