What would the odd say: A conversation with Guerilla Toss’ Kassie Carlson

NYC dance-punk outfit’s singer talks influences, addiction and dogs

guerilla-toss

A backdrop of old VHS tapes and psychedelic visuals set the stage as wild synth patterns clash with violins. 

NYC band Guerilla Toss has covered everything from ear-splitting punk to ‘80s synthpop. Its gradual evolution has created a satisfying career arc, but one consistent appeal of the group is vocalist Kassie Carlson. Her singing ranges from high-pitched screams to melodic anthem cries, but she always remains the heart and soul of the band’s personality.

She also writes the band’s lyrics, which are frequently abstract like on “Jesus Rabbit” and “Betty Dreams of Green Men.” 

After the band’s Sugar City show on Sept. 13, we spoke with Carlson and discussed the band’s upcoming EP, dream collaborations and drug addiction.

Our interview, lightly edited for style and length, follows below:

The Spectrum: I noticed that the group has had a gradual evolution in sound, especially over the past few records. What inspired this change?

Kassie Carlson: I think trying to just change it up, getting inspired by the music we listen to, it kind of just moves along. We’ve been a band for a while now and we just want to make music that you can relate to and identify with, and that is always changing because your identity is constantly changing.

TS: Are there any artists who have specifically inspired you over the past couple of years?

C: It’s been all over the place, you know, there’s not really specific artists that come to mind. In the beginning we were inspired by no-wave artists and more aggressive-type music. More recently the things we’ve been inspired by have been more dancey. It just always changes. It’s not like I’m gonna go out and say, “I’m going to go out and make this kind of music today.” It’s more just what comes out emotionally.

TS: If there was one artist, singer, producer or anyone you could collaborate with, who that would be? 

C: That’s hard. I wish David Bowie was still alive. We could do something theatrical together. I really like Patti Smith a lot. That’s kind of a weird comparison for some people, but I really enjoy her poetic style. A lot of stuff is inspired by her. Bob Dylan, of course, for sure. We were listening to him on the way [to the concert], and just the way he uses rhyme and poetry and the way he just loves how some words sound is incredible. It’s more than just what rhymes with what, it’s how you say it. It would be inspiring.

TS: It’s been roughly two years since you had open heart surgery. How has that affected your life, the band and the direction your music has been going?

C: I thought I had the flu. I was at work and I felt sick, so I went to the hospital because I don’t have very good health insurance and they said, “Yeah, you have to have heart surgery.” I had an infection in my heart. I actually struggled with an opiate addiction and other addictions for a lot of my life and that happening was kind of the end of it. It was something that I struggled silently with for a long time.

TS: You’ve mentioned in recent interviews that the band’s new EP, “What Would the Odd Do” is going to be a bit more personal. What inspired this?

C: Well, I used to not feel safe talking about what was really going on in my head. I didn’t feel safe coming out about my addiction. I didn’t feel safe admitting it to really anyone: my family, my bandmates, my friends, etc. It felt like nobody else was going through that and I felt gross. It felt weird being a woman going through that and I just didn’t really feel comfortable saying specifically what I was going through and my true emotions. 

Now that I’m out of it and now that it’s been a few years, I feel like if I can’t be genuine, then why even exist? It’s like, other people are coming out about things that they’re going through and I just want to be real, because this was a really life-changing thing. It almost killed me, so might as well be real. 

I know many other people who are going through opiate addiction that don’t feel comfortable talking about it either. It’s very much intertwined in our culture, but it’s secretly intertwined. Maybe they were prescribed it young or something. [My first withdrawal] happened to me when I was sixteen. I just remember thinking, ‘Why do I feel so sick?’ I thought I had food poisoning. I mean, even when I had my open heart surgery, they gave me opioids without asking anything, not even, “have you had a problem with this before?” It’s not going to stop either, unless we say, “No, stop.” We have to figure out different compounds or something. 

I feel like people don’t understand how widespread it is. It’s not just affecting homeless people or anything like that and you really can’t just throw the term “junkie” around anymore. You can’t, it’s not fair. Like if we’re going to stop saying other words, we really should include junkie there. You just can’t throw words like that around anymore.

TS: Are there any other surprises we can expect on the new EP? 

C: It’s like painting, you know. Maybe one day you paint a picture of a barn, but then you know, you don’t paint a picture of the same barn again. You paint something else a little more abstract, and then maybe the next day you go even more abstract from there.

TS: Tell me a bit about this dog who’s been sitting next to us this whole time.

C: This is Wattley, he’s a rescue from Alabama. He was going to be a breeder dog. Now he just travels the world, does whatever he wants, and eats whatever he wants. He doesn’t have to breed  with anybody, which is cool, he’s really shy and awkward anyway.

Guerilla Toss’ new EP, “What Would the Odd Do?” releases on November 15th via NNA Tapes.

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.