Guerilla Toss is a Boston-based collective comprised of four ex-music school nerds and one former gospel-choir singer, each of whom took their respective musical educations and applied it in every way their mentors instructed them not to. The result? Demonic guitar riffs, revving synths, warped time-signatures, funkadelic drums and vocals that shift from whispers to screams in a single turn of phrase.
The band’s NNA Tapes debut, Gay Disco, is a plucky homage to the days of glitter and glam and that gut-churning desperation that arrives at dawn after a long night out on the town. A clamorous collection of no-wave acrobatics, Gay Disco at first feels like the chaotic result of musical opposites clashing. But give these weirdos a closer listen, and very particular, practiced compositions emerge. The quintet possesses an immense talent for carving out new sounds from un-sounds, beauty from the recesses of mucky punk, nirvana from the shrieks.
Paula Mejia chatted with the five music school nerds and discussed discos, Boston and poaching their vocalist from another band.
On music school:
Simon Hanes: Guerilla Toss was an adverse reaction to the tenants of the classic music school ideology. We used to get together and joke about how pretentious and annoying everyone was. So we tried to react to that.
Peter Negroponte: We started as a music school joke, then music school became a Guerilla Toss joke. Anyone that goes to art school at some point goes through a phase like, “Fuck art school, fuck school, it’s a scam.” Then you grow past that, because it’s immature. But let me clarify: you don’t ever have to have studied music to be in a band. Most of the cool bands did not study music.
On stealing their vocalist from another band:
Negroponte: I like to think the band really started when Kassie joined. We were all hanging out and jamming. We all met Kassie one night, who at the time was playing in a hardcore band named Western Syndrome. We kind of stole her at a show and she started singing with us.
Hanes: We all fell in love with her and never looked back. She quit that band ’cause we asked her to!
Kassie Carlson: Yeah, that was a crazy show. The water pipe broke there too!
On Boston’s music scene heroes:
Ian Kovac: Our friend Mark Fidi recorded us, reel-to-reel with this big mixing board in our practice space. He’s got an amazing sound. He’s really intelligent, well-versed in analog recording and used to be in a great band, Fat History Month. He gets what the Boston bands are doing. His recordings have a really live feel to them.
On the formation of DIY communities:
Carlson: We played a ton of basement shows when we were starting out, and still do. It’s magical — really supportive creatively, and a way to form really deep friendships with people.
Negroponte: People in Boston are really enthusiastic and accepting. The first year of us really playing shows of the 50 shows we played in Boston I think we played two actual venues. It was all houses, all basements and a warehouse here and there. People go crazy.
On evolving together as a band:
Carlson: It just feels more and more connected and comfortable. Spending time together, we get closer to finding a psychic groove.
Kovac: I feel like we get funkier. Before, [our music was mostly] all of these really contrasting parts, different time changes and each of our influences in one place or another.
Arian Shaifee: Our first LP was really dark and heavy, our middle period was like a prog record, and Gay Disco is our “pop masterpiece.”
Negroponte: The music we’re playing now is pop music…or at least the poppiest we’re going to get. To me it’s catchy, but to other people it’s still “weird rock.” But I feel like we’re getting funkier too.
On their album Gay Disco as make-up sex:
Kovac: Honestly, Gay Disco, in a way, was like make-up sex. There was some crazy band drama going on, we weren’t even sure if we would even get to record the album. We had a bunch of little pieces, but the two-week deadline we were working with made us think, “We have to do this.” We got together for hours on end. That’s how it always is, a marathon. We work in really intense bursts.
Negroponte: The disco is a conceptual thing for us. Every day we live in a disco, and it’s about keeping your eye on the disco ball. We were heavily influenced by the idea of excess and the club kid scene — that part of the partying aesthetic and the decadence of losing your mind to rock ‘n’ roll.