When the pandemic brought touring to a halt, Guerilla Toss singer Kassie Carlson embarked upon a journey of discovering new music. The host of Rare Pear Radio, a weekly show on Radio Catskill, Carlson sought out some of rock’s more obscure bands.
“That weekly radio show filled my performance need,” she says via Zoom from New York, where the indie rock band was rehearsing for the tour that brings it to the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights on Thursday, April 21. “It’s a community radio station, and they let you do whatever you want as long as it’s unique. It was a self-imposed research project. I explored a lot of weird rock and psyche folk and electronic music. It was fun, and it was also cool because it felt like I was talking to people and like a wartime broadcast. In the Catskills, there aren’t that many people out there, so when you turn on the community radio, it’s really special. There’ve been awesome DJs come through the station too because a lot of artists live there.”
As the band wrote the tunes that would become its new album, Famously Alive, Carlson tried to draw upon those “new styles of music and new ways words were pronounced.”
She also took formal voice lessons for the very first time.
[Voice lessons] were awesome,” she says. “I did them via Zoom, and it helped me get the confidence I felt like I didn’t have before. It seems strange, but I had this imposter syndrome thing. It’s weird, I know, but you can always learn something new about your craft.”
The payoff can be heard on the album’s first song, “Cannibal Capital.” A frenetic number that commences with a blast of electronic beats, it settles into a Tom Tom Club-like groove that finds Carlson evocatively crooning.
“That was interestingly the last song we wrote,” says Carlson when asked about the track. “It came out last minute. We had one more song on the album that we were going to record, and it wasn’t hitting and didn’t fit and didn’t feel ready. [‘Cannibal Capital’] came out when we were jamming. It’s about a lot of different things. The Capitol riots were happening around this time, but it’s really about social capital and being an introvert in an extroverted space and the need to be a social climber. That music video was fun to make too. Lisa Schatz was the producer for that. She’s awesome and made my dreams come to life, which is really cool.”
Guerilla Toss has certainly benefited from the addition of Carlson in 2012. Prior to her arrival, the band had a saxophonist instead of a singer. Carlson replaced the sax player and brought real versatility to the group.
“I was in a punk band when I met these guys, but I grew up playing classical violin and singing songs in church with my family and the chorus,” Carlson says. “It’s the standard normal singing background. I always admired my brother’s style of singing. He was in a ’90s rock band that sounded like Soundgarden but harder. He’s been in a bunch of bands. He’s a lot older than me, but I always admired his style of singing and that type of power.”
That "type of power" will undoubtedly be on display when the band plays the Grog Shop. Carlson says the group has some new gear that’ll enable it to play the various samples that can be heard on the record.
“I think the live show will be pretty fun,” she says. “There’s always that circus-y element even though the subject matter isn’t always happy, and there are heavy subjects we touch on. I think that’s okay. The show is definitely going to be high-energy.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]