Dispelling the misconceptions of art rock with Guerilla Toss

Scott Hunter

Guerilla Toss

The first time I listened to Guerilla Toss’s Gay Disco, I thought I was hearing a group of chimps performing an impressive, cracked out imitation of the Talking Heads. The second time, I was reminded of the ecstatic blabbering of a child learning to speak. The third time, I heard “dance music” in its most abstract form, shelled out, chopped up, and repacked with some foreign substance. Like a twice-baked potato filled with drugs and asbestos. As I’m a big fan of the twice-baked potato in all its forms, this album quickly became one of my favorite things I’ve heard recently, falling into a category with Ornette Coleman and the almighty Captain Beefheart— where once you hear and understand its internal logic (or its internal something- faintly-resembling-logic), what was once strange and sort of off-putting reveals itself to be more complex, more intentional, and more rewarding than it first seemed.

I had the opportunity to speak to drummer Peter Negroponte on the phone the other day. He said “Simon really wants to do the interview,” and I said “OK,” and we bid each other adieu. Sjimon Gompers covered the Guerilla Toss tune “Trash Bed” a couple weeks ago for this very publication, and I thought his name was pronounced “Simon” and he wanted to do the interview for continuity’s sake. So I closed up my computer and went on with my day, thinking I was off the hook.

Bassist Simon Hanes called me 10 minutes later, and chaos ensued. When the storm cleared and I figured out whom I was talking to, we discussed all things under the sun — Gay Disco, bloodletting, boredom, exercise, the New England Patriots, and two different kinds of wiener sculpting.

Let’s start at the beginning. Every band needs an origin myth, what’s the origin myth for Guerilla Toss?

Simon: Well, there’s a good quote that the drummer likes to use, which is that Guerilla Toss started as a music school joke, but then music school became a Guerilla Toss joke. Basically, in 2009 or 10, the drummer and I — we’re the only founding members of the band now—and then these two other guys, the saxophone player and the keyboard player, started this band because we were all in music school and we were sort of not interested in playing the kind of music that you play in music school, and we all wanted to investigate really gross, raw music that you don’t get into in music school a lot. I don’t know if that’s really a “myth”… but we formed to make the most un-music school music we could make, the most abrasive, nonsensical music we could think of at the time. The saxophone player was writing all the music, and that formation of the band existed for about a year or so, and then the sax player and the keyboard player left, and we replaced them with a guitar player (Arian Shaifee) and a keyboard player (Ian Kovac) and a singer (Kassie Carlson) and that’s when the band became really how it is now. The writing process changed a little bit, the way we work together definitely changed a lot, it became more concrete I guess.

So let’s say—as a mythical thought experiment— if Guerilla Toss began as the result of an act of sexual congress between two or more musicians in the distant past, which musicians would those have been? We can ignore the rules of biology.

It would have to be James Chance (from James Chance and the Contortions) and John Zorn are in the corner 69ing. And Kenny G is watching them, and pleasuring himself. And then, fuck… Who’s the reigning disco champion of music?

I don’t know, my disco game is lacking. My mind goes straight to the Bee Gees.

Yeah, the Bee Gees are filming it. And then, from my perspective… Yeah it’s that, and it’s all onstage and the entire Boston music community is watching from offstage.

Wow, this is elaborate.

Yeah, I can’t think of any girls necessarily. I wanna say some girl who screams a lot. Melt Banana?

I hear it. I hear a bit of, this is some free-associating here, but your vocalist’s style reminds me of one of my favorite LA bands from a couple years back, Mika Miko. Way different music, though.

Yeah, throw them in there too, into the mix.

Your live show is pretty notorious — Byron Coley says it creates, and I quote, a “disruption of all known truth-fields.” That sounds wild… Can you describe to me the strangest show in Guerilla Toss history?

Hm, yeah let me see… what kind of strange, you mean good strange or bad strange?

I’ll describe two, OK? The first one is indicative of sort of the hostile, uh, desperation that comes from Guerilla Toss. And that was one time we were on tour and we got offered to play, in Atlanta, and it was one of those shows where we were scheduled to play at midnight but the band before us played for like four hours, so we ended up playing at 4 AM. And everybody was like, not even drunk, just belligerently not even present in time anymore, they were just throwing themselves around and vomiting into cups and stuff. We were trying to play and there was nobody there anymore anyways really, and all of our stuff was breaking, and no one cared. And that was kind of the most desperate one… and then one of the ones that I liked, and this was a good one, we were playing with a bunch of bands we really liked and were feeling very inspired and it was a really good performance show, and I cut my chest open with a knife. Um.

[Silent Moment] Well, bloodletting, that’s some real voodoo shit.

Yeah, some voodoo shit. Byron Coley said, what’d he say, creates a disruption of truth?

Yeah, a “disruption of all known truth fields.”

Wow, that’s funny. Byron’s so weird. Well, I should say, from our perspective, kind of the Guerilla Toss thing is to present something really very primal to the audience. And this is all kind of me pontificating, my opinion on these things, but I really believe deeply that to connect with an audience, you have to connect with them on sort of a primal level. I feel like right now in most live music, the relationship between the audience and the band is very casual. And if you look at the history, all the people who were sort of revered for having a big effect on the audience were not casual. Think about like, Iggy Pop rolling around in glass, that kind of thing. The idea is to sort of try and force the audience into having a very primal experience, which engages them a lot more. It’s part of a big circle, like a snake eating its tail, kind of thing. That’s kind of the idea. There’s a goal there, and the goal is to try and shock every audience we play for into having a weird, scary experience.

So, Gay Disco is out December 10 on NNA Tapes. How long has this record been in the making?

We started writing a record because NNA approached us about making one. I think the initial seed was planted in January. Then we spent most of the summer working on that record, and it basically took us the summer to write and make the record. We did the original recording in one night, and then spent a week doing overdubs and screwing with shit and doing the vocals and stuff. It was kind of intensive. But that’s what Guerilla Toss does, is get really really intense about something, and really worried about it, like “fuck, we have to put this thing out,” and then it kind of comes out. Like a little baby.

So, the initial recordings were done in one night… What was that night like? If I was a fly on the wall…

You would have been so bored.

Bummer. So you’re saying NNA didn’t give you guys millions for fine catering and cocaine and strippers?

Yeah, nothing like that… There was one time, once, where last New Years we were all about to go on tour and a couple of us took acid and drank a bunch of champagne and were like “we’re gonna make a record right now!” and it was a complete disaster. So normally the recording process is like purely stable, we all sit down together and we figure out what order we’re gonna play the songs in and then we play them all, and we yell at each other a little bit.

So that’s how things get done. Your song “Trash Bed” has sort of been making the rounds on the internet, and I think a lot of people are probably wondering, as I am, if you guys have a group workout routine and what that might look like?

Oh, yeah. Group workout routine is actually really extensive, there’s a lot of glut work. As a band, we like to focus on our gluts.

So that’s the favorite muscle of Guerilla Toss, the glut.

Definitely. And we like to go on group runs, jog to sort of keep our heads in the game. And let me think about this. Yeah we go on group runs, and occasionally we all try to pick each other up, all at the same time. That’s a group exercise we do.

o your gluts are good, you said, but what muscle do you feel needs the most work, for Guerilla Toss?

For me it’s always going to be my dick muscle. And I think that goes for the rest of the band, too. We all try to work out our dick muscles out, our PC muscles, that’s what they’re called! We do a lot of PC exercises. That’s what that muscle is, right, the one you work out if you stop yourself from peeing?

Sure, that sounds right.

Cool.

Is there any particular way you can name that you think Guerilla Toss is evolving, moving forward?

Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely something I can address. I’d like to address that now.

Guerilla Toss is slowly but surely coming to terms with the influences that we have that are not that cool, necessarily. Like Gay Disco, for instance, is a disco concept record basically, and it’s taken us this long to sort of feel comfortable integrating aspects— no matter how abstract they are— integrating aspects of music like disco into our songs. It’s all part of the creative process, is each one of us… We’ve been writing songs collectively for three years now, and it’s coming to a point where it’s very fluid and we can now each start to show our own voices more. And, you know, not be afraid to explore, like, being funky, or something that’s not necessarily one of the things you’re supposed to do in an avant-garde noise band in 2013.

So there’s lots of history to your hometown, Boston… if you could write a soundtrack to a historical event that happened in Boston, to be played as said event unfolded, which event would you soundtrack?

Which historical event? Uh… I feel like there were lots of witch burnings around Boston. I would definitely want to write a soundtrack for witches and witch burnings. And yeah… that sounds so black metal.

I would recommend Matt Damon’s birth.

Yeah! That’s good, put that down. The birth of Matt Damon, the burning of witches. Some sports related thing, from a time when sports were good in Boston… Or maybe even when sports were really bad. When the Red Sox lost one time…

Speaking of Boston sports, Yahoo News informed me that the Patriots have once again been accused of cheating, this time by the Houston Texans. Cheating by spying on other teams at practice. As a New England representative, do you have a statement on this issue?

I do, I do. You know what? I’ve been acquainted with the Patriots for a long time. And I’ve known them to play below the belt sometimes. And I don’t… I just think it’s something that like, it’s a warning that when other teams play the Patriots, something they have to keep in mind is that they’re probably going to get cheated a little bit. Those guys, you know, they’re not good people, is kind of the thing, and they tend to take the easiest way out, when it comes to playing, so… Oh god, I’m gonna get in so much trouble for that.

Aside from, of course, Gay Disco, what’s your favorite release from ’13?

The band we’re touring with, Blanche Blanche Blanche, those guys are really phenomenal. They definitely released something this year and it was definitely really good but I don’t remember what it was called [Ed's Note: Wooden Ball]. The band Ski Mask put out something recently that was really good. This band called the New England Patriots, funnily enough, they also put out something that’s really good, I’ve been really enjoying them. There’s a lot of phenomenal bands in Boston and we’re blessed to be playing with them.

And what’s the future like for Guerilla Toss? What’s the plan for the next year or so?

There’s a plan where we’re all going to go to Europe and start doing sculptures of naked men. But I think we’re going to South By Southwest in March, base some stuff around that. But mainly, the deep plan behind it all is to move to somewhere in Europe and sculpt wieners.

The logical next step.

Yeah, it’s the only thing you can really do in this day and age… But yeah, we don’t have any records or anything planned, that I know of. We’re going to South By with this band called Cloud Becomes Your Hand, so shout out to them.

Those are my questions. I have to go visit my grandma now. Anything else you want to add?

Yeah, there’s something… I always feel like you wanna say something at the end, like “keep on rocking in the free world” or something. Maybe it should be “follow your heart.”

That’ll do.

Yeah. Don’t forget to follow your heart. Wait wait wait, I have a real thing to say. I’m trying to be as articulate as I can, on real things. If you’re in the kind of music community that we’re in, the underground music scene thing, it’s very important to stay like… to be ideological, to have a firm idea of what it is you’re doing and to follow it without any doubt about whether it’s worth following or not, whether it has any merit in the real world, because that’s not really important, at this point. And also, follow your heart.

Guerilla Toss' Gay Disco is out now on NNA Tapes.