Guerilla Toss in transition
Noise-pop outfit finds balance in the woods
A cabin in the woods is a strange home for Guerilla Toss. The Boston-based five-piece just wrapped up a month recording a new album in an isolated patch of upstate New York, practicing eight hours a day to produce around 28 minutes of music. At first, Guerilla Toss's music feels anything but natural. The squawking guitars, shifting song structures, and singer Kassie Carlson's shrill yelps form dense and alienating layers of noise. But the dance-punk vets have started focusing on what lies beneath: twisted pop sensibilities. "You can only play that music for so long before you say, 'What else can we do here?'" guitarist Arian Shafiee says.
On record, Guerilla Toss's brutal sounds can induce migraines after more than 20 minutes. Live, those same tunes rally passive bodies into a frenzy. Nudity, bloody noses, and mosh pits are part of Guerilla Toss shows. "Every time we play kids go crazy, and I'm down with people going crazy, but recently someone was punched in the face at one of our shows," Shafiee says. "They were totally stoked but it's not fun when people get hurt."
Guerilla Toss has spent years touring the house show circuits of Boston and beyond, transforming crowds into miniature riots.
Before the house shows began Shafiee, drummer Peter Negroponte, and keyboardist Sam Lisabeth were classmates at the New England Conservatory. The three bonded over a shared love for "weird noise music." The group's first incarnation was different: Lisabeth and bassist Phil Racz were added in the past year. Singer Carlson wasn't in the original lineup, but her acerbic vocals are tied to the band's sound. Shafiee says it was those early days of relentless touring that cemented the band's reputation. "You can practice as much as you want but you become a live band by playing a lot of shows," he says.
Given how loose and unpredictable the songs can be, it's strange to think of Guerilla Toss as a tight band. Songs such as the rage-inducing "Pink Elephant" from 2013's Gay Disco are self-indulgent blasts of chaos, but the group's love for dissonance is a distraction from its true strength: functioning like a well-oiled machine. Someone comes up with a riff, and the band meticulously picks it apart, sometimes only to realize it doesn't fit before moving on to the next.
This level of focus is surprising considering how much each song is a tug-of-war between no wave-inspired guitars and disco beats. Now, the layers of noise are losing that battle. "I don't want to play a loud raunchy riff because it sounds so sick when there's 100 kids raving to it live," Shafiee says. "We're being more thoughtful, more dynamic, and sensitive to the material we're developing."
The new album's title remains to be determined, but the Guerilla Toss that embraces secluded cabins as much as wild house parties is set for tour. For those who are enticed by the threat of bodily harm, triple digit decibels, and unwieldy mosh pits, don't fret. These things aren't going anywhere. "Stylistically we're trying to change our palette," Shafiee says. "It's different, but it's still Guerilla Toss."