Godcaster and Tomato Flower Talk Screaming, Staring Into the Sun, and More!

The soon-to-be tourmates catch up.

Tomato Flower is a Baltimore-based experimental pop band, made up by Austyn Wohlers, Ruby Mars, Jamison Murphy, and Mike Alfieri; Judson Kolk, Von Kolk, and Bruce Ebersole are members of the Brooklyn-based experimental rock band Godcaster. Godcaster’s self-titled record is out next Friday, March 10, on Ramp Local, so to celebrate, the two bands caught up about it — along with their favorite screamers, staring into the sun, improvisation, and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Austyn Wohlers: I think we should chit chat.

Judson Kolk: OK, yeah. Where’s your questions?

Von Kolk: My questions are boring… 

Austyn: OK, I have a question: Tell me about the name Godcaster. Who is casting God, and how are they casting God? Or is that a misunderstanding?

Judson: I just like the imagery of making effigies, or little mini idols, from a casting process.

Austyn: Hm, I see.

Judson: It popped into my head when I was washing dishes once, years ago.

Ruby Mars: What kind of material do you think of being cast into? Is it metal or plaster or what? 

Judson: Plaster. 

Austyn: Cool.

Judson: Because I used to try to make a lot of plaster casts, or molds. I was trying to do mold making, and I think it’s a really cool, powerful process.

Von: What about the name Tomato Flower?

Austyn: That came from a piece of writing I was working on at the time. I think that we just were thinking of a band name and assessing all available documents, and so I went looking through everything that was possible and it stuck out. I actually ended up removing that passage from the writing, because it stuck out so much that it began to look like a shout out to the band, when it had been something else previously.

Bruce Ebersole: Was it a poem?

Austyn: It was a novel.

Bruce: Oh, wow, cool. 

Judson: What was it in the novel?

Austyn: It was sort of at a moment when knowledge is bursting forth onto the protagonist, and it was representative new ways of seeing the world.

Judson: Cool. So like a tomato flower as an image.

Austyn: Mhm. And I think it has a nice ring to it. It’s interesting that both of our names sort of refer to other art projects.

Jamison Murphy: I have a technical or a question for Godcaster. So, I first saw y’all play in summer 2019 in Athens, and at that point — I mean, a lot has changed, but one thing I’ve noticed is that on stage, it seems like things have democratized for y’all a lot more. There’s more shared lead vocal responsibilities and attention is kind of cast across the stage in a more diffuse way. Is how I’m perceiving it correct? And how do you all think about stage presentation in terms of who’s doing what and where where roles and attention go from the audience perspective?

Judson: Good question, bro. Do one of you guys want to take this?

Bruce: I think some of that is, we wrote some of the songs where [played live they’d be] fronted by other people, and then we realized we spread too thin and it should be more Jud-focused as the front person. Recently we were like, “Oh, we gotta reel it in a bit.” But we do think a lot about the presentation of the band visually, and how the live performance flows. On the record, though, there’s very few songs that other people sing. It’s normally just Jud. 

Judson: Yeah. I’ll say too, that whole scattered approach — scattered in a good way, or a neutral way — I think that sort of came out of the period of time. We were just experimenting with a lot of different things, and just trying trying like, “Hey, what if you did that? What if I did this?” Which I think we do quite a bit still, in different ways. Even as far as instruments and stuff, — now Von is a guitar player. 

Bruce: Some of it is finding function for people when we wanted to have less of their instrument but still wanted the person to be in the band. I feel like we kind of forced David [Mcfaul, keys] to sing, and it was completely out of his comfort zone.

Jamison: [Laughs.] I love David’s singing.

Bruce: And kind of with Von and guitar too, I feel like. But she’s really embraced it well. 

I was wondering about that with your records too, because it seems almost every other song is either Jamison or Austyn-fronted. Is that intentional?

Jud: Is it a John and Paul thing?

Jamison: That was intentional in terms of how we sequenced the record. I mean, I think there’s maybe one exception where one of us is back-to-back, but generally, yeah, just for the sake of balance. But it actually doesn’t always correspond to who wrote what — it would be a John-Paul thing from earlier. Yeah, it’s preferably a different person singing on each, though I think Austyn sings a few more leads on the next one that we have coming out.

Bruce: OK. Did you debate splitting the EPs by the separate person, or no? Like a Jamison-fronted EP and an Austyn…

Jamison: I don’t think that’s ever even occurred to us.

Austyn: That would have been cool. No, but in general, I do think we try to keep it pretty balanced. Even in terms of set lists, just because we like the sound of the two vocalist rock band.

Judson: That’s very cool. I like that both of you get your chance to do some bloodcurdling screams. I think I told Jamison this in Philly — I love the song “Destroyer.” That’s my favorite one of you guys. It’s so cool, and the screams are so unexpected and kind of Pixies-esque.

Austyn: Yeah, that’s definitely a hard touchstone for that song. 

Jamison: I think that band was like the second band I ever really loved. I have a question for you also, at the level of screaming: Who does your screaming derive from? Like, who are your favorite screaming vocalists?

Judson: [Laughs.] I don’t know if I have a favorite screaming vocalist, actually. It’s just kind of… I don’t know.

Jamison: It just happens.

Judson: Yeah. I’ve shrieked in the past, but I’ve never done, like, the real life scream until more recently. I’ve always had a very shriek-y shrill kind of thing, and then I was like, I should try to actually go for it. And I don’t know how to do it at all. You guys know how to scream without hurting your voice?

Austyn: A little bit. I think what you do is like vocal fry — you kind of make a mean face and you try not to actually scream, but look like you’re screaming and do vocal fry.

Jamison: That is not how I do it. I just try to sing notes out of my register as loud as possible.

Judson: [Laughs.] OK.

Ruby: If you know how to holler, it’s kind of like that.

Judson: What’s a holler?

Ruby: It’s like… you’re out there hollering.

Judson: Can you demonstrate a holler, Ruby?

Ruby: Like, [raises her voice,] “What are you doing in there?!” Or the classic holler: “Who goes there?!” 

Judson: [Laughs.] OK, yeah.

Jamison: I don’t think I really like a whole lot of screaming vocals, to be honest. I like singing, but for some reason, it felt right.

Bruce: I feel like Roger Daltrey, when he screams it’s pretty great.

Jamison: I can hear that influence. I can make that connection. 

Bruce: Do you have any good screamers? 

Judson: Frank Black.

Jamison: Oh, yeah, I was thinking about that because y’all mentioned the Pixies. It’s definitely for me from there.

Judson: That’s sick. What about you, Austyn?

Austyn: Oh, I really think of fucking Pylon, Vanessa Briscoe Hay. “Dub” is the song that is always in my head.

Judson: I’m not familiar.

Austyn: Georgia band.

Judson: Cool. OK, new question.

Von: I have a question: When you guys were writing the last EP, were you listening to anything in particular at the time? Or like, not related necessarily, but who are you listening to? 

Austyn: Well, it’s sort of a confused process, because the first and the second EPs were all written and recorded together. We had all of the songs from them and then sort of decided to split them up and release them separately. I think we were definitely listening to Os Mutantes.

Mike Alfieri: Lizzy Mercier Descloux.

Austyn: Yeah.

Jamison: And a lot of it for me also was pretty directly coming out of some Atlanta bands from 2016 through 2018. Just guitar music that was going on there, I think, was a very direct reference point for them.

Austyn: Yeah, definitely. Like bands like Red Sea and Hellier Ulysses that Jamison and I saw.

Judson: Cool. 

Austyn: One of my favorite [Godcaster] songs was “Pluto Shoots His Gaze into the Sun.” It sort of feels like this moment of sunshine in the storm of the rest of your set. I’d love to hear about sort of the conception of that song.

Judson: Yeah, that was a song that my niece started singing. I used to steal her songs a bunch — actually, a bunch of the stuff on Long Haired Locusts is little things that she would come up with, and then I would write chords to.

Austyn: Give her a songwriting credit!

Judson: Yeah, I did!

Austyn: Good, good. 

Judson: Yeah, she was living at my parents’ house when I was living there at the time, so I just kept hearing all the little things that she would do, and they were just genius. And she started singing that that melody — not quite the words. I made the words a little more…

Von: Hers was “Pluto shoots—”

Judson: “Pluto on a rocket to the sun.”

Von: Oh, yeah.

Judson: And then she said, “Pluto on a rocket to Japan.” [Laughs.]

Austyn: That’s apocalyptic.

Judson: Oh, yeah. Gosh, I never even thought of that. That’s kind of dark. [Laughs.] But she did that. And then it eventually ended up as “Pluto gazing into the sun.”

Ruby: Have you ever tried staring at the sun?

Judson: Yeah.

Ruby: [Laughs.] Do you have a method? Because there’s that Huxley book about how to do that.

Judson: Oh, yeah, that’s the thing now, right?

Ruby: Well, it’s been a thing for a long time. People say that there are a lot of benefits to it. How far have you gotten with that process?

Judson: I haven’t done it a lot. I just get the sunspots. But what, do you get vitamin D through your eyes or something? What’s the health benefits?

Ruby: I honestly don’t know. You have to read the book. I think it’s [The Art of Seeing] that Huxley wrote. But he dedicates a lot of it to teaching you how to build up your strength to stare into the sun.

Judson: That’s so cool. I saw recently a mini doc, or something, about this freaky dude who looked into the sun and he swore by it. He could just stare at the sun. I think the video was like — I forget what it was, but they were kind of making fun of him, because he’s crazy. He was all about staring into the sun, and he says you get all kinds of vitamins from it and stuff.

Ruby: Yeah. I mean, it’s the sun. I don’t see how it could be bad.

Judson: It’s so cool. And the fact that they just say that you just have to build up your strength, it’s so bizarre. I’s not a matter of burning your retinas or not, it’s just you gotta be stronger.

Ruby: Well, maybe it’s like if you burn your retinas with the sun permanently, then you have the power. You can light up any room you’re looking at, because you have the light. [Laughs.] 

Von: [Laughs.] OK, another question: Do you guys write all together, or do you come upon little ideas on your own and then you show them to each other?

Judson: Yeah, what’s the writing process like? 

Jamison: Usually someone will bring in at least one or two sections of a song, and then it’s sort of developed from there. But really, it varies a lot. Sometimes it’s a matter of conjoining completely different sections that different ones of us wrote. But I would very much say it’s usually one person, sometimes two people, demoing and then bringing it to the band for editorial and types of things. How about for y’all? 

Bruce: Probably Jud writing the bones.

Judson: I write the bones. And then, we’ve been demoing a lot more lately. We never used to demo, so that’s been helpful. I think that’s going to be a major thing going forward. But then we we all edit together for, like, years.

Von: Bruce usually writes the counter melodies or the little riffs on top, and then Sam [Pickard, drummer] comes up with his own thing.

Judson: Yeah, I’d say Bruce helps a lot with the arranging of it.

Bruce: Do you guys ever intentionally stop developing a song until you bring it to the other members, so you can get their influence early on? I feel like I’ve done that a few times, where I’ve stopped writing something because I wanted to not have this full fleshed-out idea, I wanted to have the other voices in. 

Austyn: I think that’s pretty inherent in our songwriting process in general, honestly. Because I think that everyone’s parts end up being… say, if I bring the first two sections of the song, everyone’s part is so unique and there’s so much respect and space for that — like if I hear certain drum thing, but Mike wants to do something else, we go with Mike’s drum thing because Mike has an idea that he’s developing, right? So that’s pretty much inherent in the process to us, I think. Which is really exciting.

One of the songs from the thing we just recorded, “Do It,” — I heard for the B section very tight quarter notes, and Mike is instead doing this thing with more triplets in it. And at first I was like, “Well, I’d heard this sort of tight thing in my head,” but it’s become so essential to the kind of groove and mystery of that moment.

Judson: So cool. I guess that’s the fun thing about being in a band, right? Because your expectations are always getting blown up, but in the best way.

Austyn: Yeah. It’s so valuable.

Jamison: I have a question, I guess kind of related: I’m thinking about times I’ve seen y’all live recently, and especially “Didactic Flashing Antidote,” it looks like there’s improvisation happening on stage. To what degree is that improvisatory? And then also, do y’all do much free playing as a band? Because that’s something we’ve been thinking about lately, playing free.

Judson: Yes, there’s improvisation.

Von: There’s just one section. Mostly everything gets repetitive, and then there is kind of a bridge, pre-chorus thing. 

Judson: Yeah, that part’s completely improvised. Except that the bass keeps going throughout on the same two notes.

Bruce: There are certain things that we hit that I feel like each of us will do every time. But it’s sort of like we feed off each other. Throughout the whole song, I’m pretty much just, like, BS-ing it. [Laughs.] I have some planned things, but the song’s so repetitive that you can just sort of riff off it, and commit to little parts and repeat them a bunch of times.

Judson: Yeah, we have a little bit of a roadmap.

Bruce: I feel like we used to do free stuff more often.

Judson: I was going to say, we used to blow up the song like every time. We’d go on tour and the idea was that you don’t play the song the same way twice, or something. [Laughs.] So every time, the song would be this disjointed jumble. But it was really fun.

Bruce: But Jamison, do you mean in practice? 

Jamison: Yeah, I mean that too. That answers a lot with that song too. But yeah, in practice, do y’all do much free playing?

Judson: Yes, we do. But it’s really goofy. [Laughs.] We get on these dumb little kicks of doing things sometimes. But I think now…

Bruce: We used to do it as a discipline more often, I think. And we haven’t in a while. We talk about the value of it, but we don’t do it.

Judson: Yeah. And at this point, we kind of skip that improvised section in practice now. Right? Or just kind of glaze through it. 

Bruce: Yeah. But have you guys always done that, or did you just kind of start doing that, the playing free together?

Jamison: Yeah, it’s not something we’ve done as a group. We kind of come from different backgrounds on that in certain ways. Like Mike very much — you have a lot of jazz. 

Mike: I would disagree a little bit. I think a lot of the songs on the new record, we were just jamming. Because we were all in separate places. Like when it wasn’t a Tomato Flower rehearsal — when we didn’t have something coming, when we weren’t all together or goal-oriented — when we just got into a room, Jamison and I were just throwing riffs back-and-forth, or just sitting and playing and kind of seeing where things went. 

So it was very free in just the ideas. I don’t think we played free, like, aesthetically, trying to make something challenging for the sake of being challenging, or ironic or virtuosic. We were just playing free. There was nothing attached to what we were doing, except just searching and trying to find new ideas. And that was a lot of fun. But I think once we have a show coming up, or like, “This is the thing we gotta get ready for,” we get really focused into those more structured playing environments.

But like Jamison was saying it, I love playing free. I would do it every day. I kind of do, but…

Judson: That’s cool.

Von: I have a question: Do you have song nicknames? 

Austyn: We have a joke that we have probably, like, five songs that at one point have been called “Reggae.” [Laughs.] IT really just depends on the time, which song the word “reggae” is referring to.

Judson: [Laughs.] That’s really good.

Austyn: No, but I think once we get a name, it’s got a name. There are songs that don’t get named until very late that are sort of have like, to-be-named names, but I wouldn’t say we have many nicknames. What about y’all? 

Von: Well, we have to-be-named names that just become the only thing that we call it. Like the real title is figured out much later, but we’ve already been calling it—

Judson: We always stick with the very first thing, even though the title is completely different. And so that’s how it’ll exist on the set list or something. 

Von: Yeah. Like we don’t know “Diamond’s Shining Face” as diamond — nobody calls it that. 

Austyn: What do you call it? 

Von: “Zeke.” [Laughs.] It’s completely unrelated at this point.

Judson: Completely unrelated, and we won’t get into it.

Bruce: I got a question for you guys: You recorded an album and you did it yourselves, and then you split it into two EPs. You recorded it at home, right?

Mike: We tracked it at home and mixed it in a studio.

Bruce: You recorded the drums at home?

Mike: Yeah, in Austyn’s top floor bedroom. A little bit in my basement, too. 

Bruce: That’s impressive. The drum sound great on the album. I mean, the whole thing sounds very — and I mean this in a good way — it doesn’t sound like a bedroom recording at all. I would assume that it was done in a studio.

Judson: Yeah, I would not have guessed that either. 

Mike: Great, that’s what we wanna hear. It’s just a couple of 57s and microphones that a friend of mine lent me.

Bruce: So you kind of engineered it?

Mike: I think I did a lot of it. 

Jamison: Yeah, Mike did the majority of the engineering. 

Mike: But we all share it. There was a lot of overdubs, and we always had a couple of interfaces in the room going around. We spent a lot of nights just tracking. 

Bruce: And you guys are doing the next one in a studio, right?

Austyn: That’s right.

Bruce: And you’ve started that process already?

Austyn: We’ve recorded it, in fact. There might be an overdub or two left, but right now we’re in the mixing process.

Bruce: Awesome. Is that kind of painful, going to the studio and not having all that time to just sink your teeth into it like you can at home?

Austyn: There’s definitely some pressure, I’d say. But it’s also really fun. And we already had this previous relationship from Jared [Paolini, of Tempo House Recording in Baltimore] since he’s the one who mixed our EPs. Really fun guy to work with and just shoot the shit with, and he came up with a lot of engineering ideas that kind of made us be like, “Oh, this is why you do it in a studio.”

Bruce: Cool.

Mike: I wanna know, since we’re doing these shows together, if you guys have any touring rituals. What do you guys like to do on tour, and how is your touring lifestyle?

Von: Jump rope… salad.

Bruce: Rice cooker.

Judson: Yeah, Von makes road meals sometimes.

Mike: Do you do it in the car? How do you get the rice cooker going?

Von: When we get to the venue. 

Mike: Yeah!

Von: Or Jamison’s house! You actually witnessed a tour meal.

Jamison: So inspiring.

Von: We do Spam, seaweed. And jump rope, push ups, sit ups.

Bruce: French press coffee — we’ll just get the hot water at gas stations, since the coffee machines have a hot water option.

Austyn: That’s really smart. We’re on that instant coffee shit, though.

Bruce: Yeah, we did that for a while, but we’ve been doing the French press recently.

Austyn: I don’t blame you.

Bruce: Did you get into a rhythm when you were on your big tour?

Austyn: Nothing went horribly wrong, but one thing that was sort of funny is — because we had to drive from Baltimore to San Francisco for the first show, because it ended up being cheaper than flying and shipping our stuff. So every night, we would go to Walmart and get a rotisserie chicken and make a salad, blah, blah, blah. And then it ended up being also, for some reason, what we requested on all of our riders. So it wasn’t until I got to the tour where we were like, “We really could have gotten better food for the riders…” [Laughs.] So much rotisserie chicken, and then also when we had an opportunity not to continue to eat rotisserie chicken…

Jamison: Yeah, all we ate was rotisserie chicken.

Von: It’s so cheap! And it’s cooked already.

Jamison: And you can eat it in the Walmart parking lot.

Austyn: Oh, yeah — with some trouble. 

Mike : Yeah, don’t get ranch dressing at a Walmart.

Von: You know what I do? So you don’t have to refrigerate it:, just get olive oil and balsamic

Ruby: Yeah. We had eaten some ranch dressing that was like… you know how at the Walmart, they have the hot bar, and then the part around the hot bar is kind of hot, too? So they had a bunch of ranch dressing that was just sitting next to the hot bar all day, and that’s the ranch dressing that we got. I got poisoned, and I couldn’t eat any more rotisserie chicken after that. 

Judson: Did you throw up, Ruby?

Ruby: No, but I just simply couldn’t consume any of it. Well, I did, and then I could not eat anymore food for a little while.

Judson: Gross.

Ruby: Yeah.

Jamison: I have a kind of heady question for Godcaster: I’m curious as to what Godcaster thinks of futurity. Does Godcaster see an apocalyptic and/or messianic future? And, I would just ask, where is it all going?

Judson: Woah.

Jamison: What is Godcaster’s conception of the future?

Von: Hm… Good.

Judson: Good.

Von: I think the future is good.

Judson: Just the book of Revelation, word for word.

Jamison: [Laughs.]

Bruce: I don’t think we have a band consensus on the future. 

Judson: One word: AI music.

Von: OK, I think we’ve only got three minutes left in this room.

Bruce: I can’t wait to see you guys on tour and play shows together.

Jamison: Yeah, guys, it’s going to be fun. 

Austyn: Hell yeah. 

Judson: Bye, Tomato Flower!

Austyn: Buh-bye!

(Photo Credit: left, Ryann Logaeis Ebersole; right, courtesy of the artist)

Godcaster is a Brooklyn-based experimental rock band. Their latest record, Godcaster, is out March 10, 2023 on Ramp Local.