Guerillas in the Mist

Talking open-heart surgery and plant cognition with New York’s Guerilla Toss

Guerilla Toss play music that could only come from the urban environs of New York City — over-stimulated and arty, crowded with ideas, and existing somewhere between electronic music, punk rock and the dance club.

Nevertheless, the New York band’s latest release, What Would the Odd Do, is inspired in part by something a lot more organic: plants. Specifically, the emerging evidence that your houseplant has a lot more soul than you might expect. 

Bandleader Kassie Carlson recently read two popular books on the subject, What A Plant Knows and The Hidden Life of Trees.

“It’s all about how plants communicate with each other, breaking down consciousness. What is seeing? What is knowing?” Carlson tells me over the phone from the tour van.

Guerilla Toss are on their way to Denver, where they’ll play the first show in support of the new EP, just out on NNA records. The band’s previous full-length, Twisted Crystal, came out last year on DFA Records, co-founded by James Murphy of New York electronic dance-punk revivalists LCD Soundsystem. 

For Carlson, broadening the definition of cognition while also redefining what it means to communicate makes sense. After struggling with an opiate addiction for years, she endured a near-death experience. Open-heart surgery and a six-week stay in a Brooklyn hospital saved her life.

This second lease on life changed her perspective, and Carlson has channeled the energy into the new EP, among her most personal work to date. 

“It felt really good to come out about my sickness,” she says. “I finally had the strength and the guts to talk about it. It’s almost like therapy, telling it into a mic. Everybody knows someone touched by some sort of opiate addiction. I wanted to put myself out there: If people are going through something, we can talk.”

More than anything, Carlson calls her band’s latest release “an ode to weirdness, being different, feeling isolated.”

Influenced by her older brother’s interest in thrash metal and hardcore, Carlson played in indie rock and punk bands before meeting the guys in Guerilla Toss. At that time, the band had no vocalist; the melodic duties were instead handled by a saxophone player.

“Both of our bands were playing the same show in a basement,” she remembers. “It was a crazy show.”

Carlson was playing in a more straight-ahead punk band at the time. “During our set there was a huge mosh pit. Somebody grabbed a pipe and pulled it down, water spewing everywhere,” she says.

Eventually Guerilla Toss lost their sax player and added Carlson on lead vocals. What the band bonded over was a shared love for New York-style electronic music, but also no wave artists like James Chance and the Contortions and Lydia Lunch.

From the very beginning, Carlson suffered from stage fright. To manage, she’s turned performance into a meditative experience.

“Just fall completely into the words and the sounds,” she explains. “Hearing and feeling how each word comes out of my mouth, how the air comes out of my mouth. It’s a whole state of being.” 

Guerilla Toss play with Candy Cigarettes 8:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 27, at Sam Bond’s Garage; $10 advance, $12 door; 21-plus.

Comments are closed.