Exactly a year ago I caught a blistering set by Guerilla Toss at Bard College, whose humorous and often times visceral performances are more demented disco than your average basement rock gig. Things have changed a lot for the band since then, from a new line-up to the release of two awesome EP's: 367 Equilizer for the Feeding Tube Records and Smack The Brick on NNA Tapes. Having just seen their new incarnation live, the band hasn't lost a touch: if anything they are more groovy and sinister than ever before. Back in 2013, Guerilla Toss were hot off the heels of their first LP for NNA, Gay Disco and on a east coast tour with their friends Blanche Blanche Blanche. Around this time, I was able to catch up with Peter Negroponte about their live shows, meta-funky grooves, and Boston's music scene.
AdHoc: The shows I’ve seen have been extremely chaotic but at the same time you guys maintain this funk-party vibe. I was wondering how you keep that balance between chaos and fun?
Peter Negroponte: I think that finding that balance all depends on a lot of things: the show, the audience, it depends on our shitty gear not blowing out-- which happens a lot-- and its tricky. There have been shows that are far more chaotic than musical and I would say I lean towards liking things to sound good and for the songs to be there and for the music to be clear. But at the same time I’m stoked that people wig out to it. Find a way to dance to it. That makes me happy to. But balancing chaos is definitely a tricky thing.
AdHoc: What separates the live shows and the recorded output?
PN: With the recorded stuff, more recently with our newest record [Gay Disco], we really spent a lot of time working on the sound. We definitely pulled some studio magic, put some overdubs on it. It was a lot of fun. It was actually a crazy experience. Making that record I think we came in doing the initial trackings of guitar drums bass and synth in about two hours. And then Kassie did vocals separtely, and we sort of went to town on it. Some of the songs were unfinished and we finished them in the studio. And then performing live, the aspects of the record we can’t translate because of all the overdubs, I like to think the energy makes up for it.
AdHoc: Gay Disco definitely is accessible at moments. What was the motivation to expose that side of your music in the new material?
PN: I don’t think that was done completely intentionally. I think it turned out to be a quote-on-quote pop record in my mind. I think it comes from what we’ve always listened to versus what we listen to more these days. A song like “Trash Bed,”-- honestly in my mind what makes it a pop song is the keyboard part. Because we played more conventional chords. It’s sort of an ironic thing, a funny joke to us, but we’re pulling in harmonic aspects of pop music and putting it over these demented guitar parts and these funky grooves that are more interested in the pop realm than the more quote on quote experimental realm which is more where we’re all coming from originally. We’re all big nerds when it comes to avant-garde music and free jazz. And I really like that world and some of us used to play more music like that. But I guess I got jaded for lack of a better term. I wanted find a way to do that but make it more fun instead of playing to a room of three people and my mom. But I think unitentionally it went into a pop direction because of what we’re surrounded by and what we’re able to do and its not much deeper than that. A lot of those parts, when we first came up with them in rehearsal, we sort of laughed at them. Like “what? That’s silly. How do I fuck that up more? That’s pretty cheesy. Put some feedback on there or something.”
AdHoc: You mentioned that a lot of your songs start out as jokes.
PN: It's not that all our songs that start off as jokes. But some of those keyboard parts end up pretty silly and some of the drum parts I play are like, overly-meta-funky. Certain parts you listen to individually without really mixing it, you just sort of giggle at them, because they’re so ridiculous sounding. A synthesizer could either sound like a really experimental instrument or the most ridiculous 80’s new wave sound. It can be funny sometimes.
AdHoc: How did you guys link up with NNA?
PN: I've known Toby and Matt, since 2006. Ian and I, we went to University of Vermont at some point, and Coby went there too. We were all in the shitty music department. I guess after I left Burlington in 2009 we sort of lost contact with them. I was really into the label, I would buy some stuff from them. Whenever something would come out I would listen to it for a second and be "this sounds great, I'll get it." And then, with the whole record deal, I think Toby sent me an email being like, "want to send me the new record, wanna do a trade?" And then he was like, "yeah if you wanna do a tape lemme know," and I was like, "yeah, that would be awesome." And I wasn't expecting that because we were a little more rock n roll than what they like to release. And after that it was like, fuck it, let’s do a record.
AdHoc: You also run the Anonymous Dog label. What was your reason for starting that? And what are your goals for it going forward?
PN: Not many people ask about the label or know about the label. And honestly I'm a shitty label-dude. That started when I was living at Gay Gardens, a big community that was a really great show house. It was really fucked up and awesome. It was like a mental hospital combined with a show house. It was a bunch of people who were absolutely out of their minds and doing cool art projects. I like to think that I failed in a way. I started it there and it was just a lot of music by people who actually lived in the house that were sort of too weird and introverted to get it out there themselves. In the end of the day I liked doing the artwork, the artwork was collaborative. I like to think in thirty years people will find it and be like “this is some real outsider shit.” I did a lousy job promoting it. And that’s the label. What’s gonna keep happening with that? I got five or six noise tapes coming out.
AdHoc: Tell us about what it's like going to shows in Boston.
PN: Boston is really cool. I think it has a lot of potential. There are a lot of awesome bands that I really respect and are doing great things. It’s changed a lot since I started poking around, in that a lot of the old show spaces are shut down. They were mostly houses and basements. Things have been picking up recently, I think. Dan Shea is a great new promoter. He puts on good shows. The bands are really strong. Fat History Month, great band. Who else is cool? Rotten Apples is one of my favorite bands going on right now. Really friendly community. I think its hard to be a band in Boston. There used to be a really cool hardcore scene back in the day that I really don’t know much about now. My initial feeling going into it was that it's just a bunch of crazy people who had to make music or else they would be eating dead babies. No one’s trying to make it or anything. In New York, bands are trying to get exposure. My experience in Boston is people make music because they have to.
AdHoc: What does Guerilla Toss have planned for the future?
PN: At this very moment it's hard to say and top secret. But we’re gonna keep rocking. I’d like to approach writing new material from a different direction. That’s open to interpretation. I think we’re just gonna keep going and have fun. And it's interesting to see the way that the media portrays us. It opens up new things for us. It feels like there is a lot of pressure that I can’t describe. Part of it feels fake. There’s been a lot of Ponytail comparison, and I like that band, but its interesting. In Ponytail there’s a female vocalist, screaming nonsense. And Cassie, our singer, she’s singing words but they’re buried. Really good words actually.