What happens when you combine a pandemic-induced existential crisis with sheer musical prowess? Art rock band Guerilla Toss’s fifth album, Famously Alive, seems like an abundantly refreshing result.
New York trio Guerilla Toss has been creating psychedelic pop since 2012, but their first full-length Sub Pop debut sounds markedly different – brighter, more kaleidoscopic. The musical shift makes more sense when you start to understand the elements that went into making Famously Alive.
At its core, Famously Alive feels like a conscious choosing of optimism, life and putting in the work. A poem written by a friend who helped frontwoman Kassie Carlson through her addiction recovery inspired the title Famously Alive. Recorded at home during the pandemic, Guerilla Toss channeled their forced break from touring into pouring their all into the tracks. Blending unusual production, cavernous vocals and uplifting lyrics, the fearless album is one of the most exciting releases this year.
We spoke to Carlson about the thousands of hours that went into Famously Alive, its message of unabashed self-love and why she decided to take voice lessons in prep.
We’re almost halfway into 2022. How’s the year treating you so far?
It’s been pretty great! We released our album Famously Alive on Sub Pop Records.
You have been very musical since you were young, from being in the choir to playing the violin. Is there anything else that you wish you had learned at an early age?
Personally, I wish I had learned how fun it is to be in a rock band earlier. In high school, I went to a lot of band practices but never actually picked up an instrument.
Who were you listening to when you were younger and how has your taste in music evolved?
When I was younger, I was more into heavier music and lots of harsh fast punk. I don’t listen to that stuff as much now, but the energy is definitely still with me. There's literally nothing better than riding a bike as fast as possible while blasting Fugazi.
What’s the message you’d like to deliver with Famously Alive?
It's the golden age of being you, so don’t fear your weirdness or awkwardness. Embrace it.
How did the pandemic contribute to the making of the album?
The pandemic allowed us to slow down and reflect on the music we were making, and curate the album to contain only the best songs.
Was there a difference in your process of recording Famously Alive compared to your previous albums?
Definitely. We are a super prolific band and usually don't have half as many hours as we did with this one to create. Famously Alive took thousands of hours to write, let alone mix and record. We put everything into this album.
How does Auto-Tune help the album creatively?
Auto-Tune is great not only because it's super fun, but it makes the voice really embrace the pop aura. It's been a fun, eye-opening experience both in the studio and live.
Why did you decide to take up voice lessons for Famously Alive?
When I get really depressed, I like to hit the books. Learning how to use my voice in new ways distracted me from the existentialism of the world stopping and my music career being completely put on hold for the unforeseeable future.
Who or what were you inspired by while recording Famously Alive?
I was inspired by pop music and the use of Auto-Tune in the mainstream music world. Charli XCX had a big influence on all of us.
What was it like making the very rad “Famously Alive” music video?
My friends had a lot of over-the-top ideas, and I wasn't sure if we would be able to pull it all off. I was a little nervous when I landed in LA, but I trusted them to do a good job! The final product went way above my expectations – I am so happy with how it came out!
How was the journey of joining the Sub Pop family?
Sub Pop is such a fun label to be a part of. They are super supportive of whatever we do; we’re so happy to be involved with them.
If you were to pick one song that best represents Guerilla Toss, what would it be and why?
“Cannibal Capital”. It has all the ‘80s synth aesthetic, weird timing and is super dance-y.
What would you say is the biggest difference about Guerilla Toss now compared to 2012 when the band was conceived?
More melodic vocal and synthesiser lines. Less chaos.
Can we talk about your dog, who has become a prominent figure for Guerilla Toss? Has Watley ever been on any of your live shows?
Watley doesn't usually come to live shows because it would be too loud for him. His favourite part of the night is after the show, when he gets to run around the venue! He has heard us practice numerous times, however! He mostly just falls asleep during band practice.
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
We have a few weeks left of this East Coast tour and then we’re out west in July and August!
Cover Credit: Ebru Yildiz