Guerilla Toss and My Idea Have Been Hard at Work

The New York bands talk moving Upstate, writing new music, and much more.

My Idea is the new collaboration between Palberta’s Lily Konigsberg and Water From Your Eyes’ Nate Amos; Kassie Carlson is the vocalist of the NYC-via-Boston experimental art-punk band Guerilla Toss. They’re all based in different parts of New York — Lily and Kassie are Upstate while Nate is in Brooklyn — so celebrate the release of My Idea’s debut EP That’s My Idea (out now via Hardly Art) the three hopped on a Zoom call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Lily Konigsberg: How are you doing, Kassie? I heard you’re a real estate agent.

Kassie Carlson: Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah. [Laughs.] I’m helping my my landlord with some stuff, and I have also been working at this brewery and booking shows and plays and stuff like that. I’m hanging out with the dog doing lots of gardening.

Lily: Nate, you would love this dog. I’ve seen pictures on Instagram — I’ve never met your dog.

[Kassie gets down onto the floor.]

Nate Amos: Oh, yeah, beautiful dog. I know him well from the internet.

Lily: Isn’t he cute? What’s his name?

Kassie: Watley. We kind of just hang. [Watley gets up and walks away.] Oh.

Lily: It’s just because we’re here, you know? He’s like, “Who are these people?”

Kassie: “I am not a show dog, let me be.” He’s guarding now.

Nate: Yeah, he’s got a job to do.

Kassie: This is the studio where a lot of the music was written.

Lily: Oh, really? Cool. I really want to — right now, I’m living in my parent’s house, so there’s no potential for a studio.

Nate: We don’t use a studio anyway. 

Lily: Yeah, Nate has a drum kit, and then we just do DI stuff and then I sing and he sings. It’s very small.

Kassie: That’s what ours is too, it’s just literally a room. And I write my lyrics in my bedroom,

Lily: Basically same.

Kassie: I’m really excited about you being signed to Hardly Art. That’s awesome. 

Nate: It’s crazy.

Kassie: I’ve been following you forever, so that’s really cool. I actually play your music a lot on my radio show — I have a radio show in the Catskills, Fridays at 8 PM.

Lily: What’s the station?

Kassie: 90.5 FM WJFF Radio Catskill — Rare Pear Radio. I play a lot of punk and folk and experimental, mostly female artists and queer artists.

Lily: When I lived in Hudson mid-2018 through early 2020 — WGXC is the radio station here, and I had a radio show every Tuesday. I always was just like, Oh, my god, there’s so much to play. But like, I couldn’t think of anything and I would leave it to the last minute and I’d be like, Oh, no! I feel like now I would be able to do a better radio show. I was just not organized about it. But it was probably still good!

Kassie: I totally leave mine to the last minute, too. But doing the radio show kind of forced me to really look for new music and try to think outside of my box that I always listen to. I felt like it was kind of like research for writing this upcoming album, to try to just get influences from different places. 

But I really enjoyed the album. The first two songs are just so sick, “I Can’t Dance” and “Birthday.”

Lily: We were excited about that. 

Kassie: When was it written?

Lily: Nate, tell the story.

Nate: Well, we started making music together August of last year.

Lily: August 19, to be exact.

Nate: I think “Birthday” was one of the first things, I think. “I Can’t Dance” was more like November or something.

Lily: Yeah. We sort of just met in the pandemic. Well, we knew each other, but I wanted Nate to — I just came out with a single “Sweat Forever” a bit ago, but I went over to his house to be like, “Can you produce this for me? I know you’re really good at that kind of stuff.” And then we did that, and then the next day we were like, “Let’s try writing music together,” and then we just didn’t really stop for so long, and then we needed to take a break from it. 

But we’re writing again now. By the time we got signed to the label, we had an EP and an album and extra songs, so we didn’t have to, like, do any work. But now we have to!

Kassie: What was it like meeting Hardly Art? Like, did they send you a letter? Did they come to a show? How did it all go down? 

Nate: We just connected with our manager, Nick, early on, and I think it was just through him. He just let us know that he was talking to them at one point, and it just kind of happened like that. 

Kassie: And then you guys just hit it off. 

Lily: Yeah. It was crazy, because people know who Nate is and who I am, and so we put our forces together and then it all just kind of slipped into place. We had never played a show, we just gave [Hardly Art] the material, and after a little bit of back and forth, they were like, “Yeah, we’ll sign you.” And I was like, “OK!” We’re not an established band, we’ve never performed, so we were super lucky for that. 

How has the writing process been for [the new Guerilla Toss album]? I was talking to Peter [Negroponte], actually, on the phone a couple of months ago, we had a really long conversation.

Kassie: I know, he told me and I was jealous. I was like, “I hope you invited them up here!”

Lily: He did! You know, always things get in the way.

Kassie: Dooo it! Come on by.

Lily: Maybe when Nate’s coming the next — well, no, I’m going to be working. I work so much. But in the future…

Kassie: Where do you work? 

Lily: I work in a cafe in Hudson. I’m just stacking. 

Kassie: Cool. [Laughs.] Work sucks!

Lily: It does! But compared to most cafes, it’s pretty chill, and the pay’s better. So I really can’t complain.

Kassie: Yeah. I have, like, six thousand jobs. I also order products for a cafe that’s local here.

Lily: [Laughs.] How’d you get all this — how’d you do this?

Kassie: I’m a workaholic? It’s really weird, trying to navigate the world without touring. I feel like my mind operates on this hyper drive, so when there’s no traveling or planning any kinds of those things, I was like, Ah, shit. I was getting depressed. So I had to take on all these things to keep my mind going.

Lily: Yeah. I was very, very frugally living off of playing shows and selling merch, and that ended, so my money dwindled to basically nothing, which is why I have a job now. I was like, Alright, I just gotta go back to the barista life for a little bit

Kassie: Are you drinking coffee now? 

Lily: I’m drinking water out of a coffee cup.

Kassie: Yeah, I’m drinking seltzer.

Lily: We both drink a ton of seltzer. Nate and I started sobriety in mid-July, so seltzer is a big part of that. 

Kassie: Yeah, totally. It’s like the seltzer is like a cold beer. 

Lily: Yeah. And I never even liked beer, but I always liked seltzer, so it feels really good to have something to crack open at a show. 

Kassie: That’s awesome!

Lily: It is awesome, I think being sober is great. At first it’s really hard, and then it’s like, Oh, it’s OK. [Laughs.]

Kassie: Yeah. Way less anxiety and all that.

Lily: Yes! It’s insane. So that’s been a good thing for our band. I mean, how could it not be? 

Kassie: Yeah. [Laughs.]

Lily: How has it been working on the album with Peter?

Kassie: Oh, good! It was mostly a pandemic thing. Arian [Shafiee] came up, our guitar player, from the city, and he was basically living up here with us, which was awesome. Arian brought a lot of sampling and stuff like that that like he had never… I don’t know, I was just really impressed by the work he was doing! And Peter is like a wizard, too, e’s like a genius. And so it was really fun to just be with my two best friends up here, and the dog, and just kind of have this house. It’s just so much cheaper to live up here than it is in the city.

Lily: Oh, yeah.

Kassie: Instead of paying, like, $800 for a closet, I have $800 for a whole house and a yard, which is really cool. But yeah, I just felt like this whole experience was about like, I have a routine, and I’m taking care of myself and eating actual food. It’s a really beautiful place to live. 

Lily: How much more north than Hudson is it, would you say?

Kassie: It’s not north. It’s only, like, two hours away from the city.

Lily: Yeah, I’m like two and a half hours — I’m two hours and 16 minutes with no traffic, but that never happens. I always end up taking about three and a half hours when I’m rushing down for a practice, because Nate still lives in New York City, and our other band members still live in New York City, so if we have a show, I have to come down to practice. But I’m so happy living here. It’s nicer for me. I think Nate would like it better one day, too. 

Kassie: Yeah, you gotta try it! Even for a little while.

Nate: Well, I mean, I’m from, like, dirt road Vermont. So I know that’s my vibe more than the city. Every time I come back to Brooklyn, it’s like, Oh, god, this is where I live. Like, I love it, but I also like air and trees. 

Lily: It’s rough, though, because Nate and I are both in [NYC-based bands.] Nate’s in Water From Your Eyes, so it would be a lot harder for him to move up right now.

Nate: Yeah. We don’t really practice sometimes, though. I still don’t have an amp or anything. 

Kassie: Oh, no!

Nate: But that’s kind of the fun — it’s different every time. I need an amp more for this band.

Kassie: Yeah. There there was some suggestion of doing digital practices during COVID, and I was just like, “No, that’s insane.”

Nate: Yeah, that sounds tricky.

Lily: Yeah. I already get annoyed really easily in general, and I feel like that would just take me over the edge. 

Kassie: Oh, yeah, same.

Alright, I’m going to talk about the album a little bit more. I think my favorite song on the album was “I Can’t Dance,” because I felt like I have had similar feelings of having a crush — this is what I thought the song was about — having a crush and being awkward. And I’m not a good dancer, and I’m a heavily blushy person. And I felt like even the guitars in the song emulated kind of my jumpiness in social interaction, and the song feels like it’s literally alive. So I guess what I’m asking is, how does songwriting go usually? I know it’s probably different every time, and this is kind of a weird question, but who’s usually in the room? 

Nate: That song was really fast. I think it was early in the morning, and Lily was just like, “Make a track.” And I just did. And then Lily sang something over it in the other room.

I just remember I was really tired. But it’s funny, because I’m also a blushy non-dancer, so maybe that comes through in the music. Lily obviously picked up on that energy. Lily just sits down and comes up with lyrics, and I don’t know how.

Lily: Something I learned over quarantine was, Oh shit, I’m finally a really good lyricist. It took me a while, I felt like I was missing something. And I think that’s what I learned over quarantine, working with Nate, honing in on something I knew I was good at it, just getting a lot better. 

But in terms of how we write, we have three or four different scenarios in which we write songs. Nate will come in with a song or I will come in with the song, or we will write it sort of together going back and forth on it. So there’s never been one consistent technique that we have. 

Kassie: That’s what I figured.

Nate: Yeah, the most fun one is, sometimes Lily will just record a voice memo on a phone or something, and it’s a melody, and then I try and write music for it. And then I play it for you and Lily’s like, “Those chords don’t make any sense.” I’m just like, “Give it a second.”

Lily: I do give it a second. I trust the process.

Nate: We’ve learned to give each other seconds all the time, because we both have ideas that the other person’s immediate reaction is, “Eh.” But then it’s just like, “Give it a second,” and then it’s usually chill.

Kassie: Yeah, I feel like with me and Peter, it’s that way too. Like, I’ll listen to it and I’ll be like, “Man, this sounds like carnival music.” [Laughs.] Or, you know, “These chords, you can’t resolve, this is not a resolution, this is insane.” But then if I listen to it again and again and again, then I understand where the beat’s sitting.

I really I vibe with a lot of these conclusions y’all have made during the past couple months too. I’ve always felt like this kind of imposter — like I can’t write lyrics, it’s just stream of consciousness or whatever. And I also always felt kind of uncomfortable expressing my real feelings, I felt like it had to be kind of cryptic. But there’s something really special about just literally telling exactly what happened in an experience, like in “I Can’t Dance.” [I recently] had to go through all the other albums that we’ve ever written for the past 10 years, and a lot has happened — I was just like, Man, I know what I was feeling during this time, but I didn’t say it. And why didn’t I say it? What was holding me back? It’s just interesting looking at songs you’ve written in the past. 

Lily: Oh, definitely. I mean, I’m a pretty like, “Here’s how I feel, here’s some absurd shit.”

Kassie: I don’t think it was conscious. 

Lily: Yeah. For me, I was trying to make my lyrics sound more poetic than they had to be. I think when I was like, Hey, I’m really funny and I love being funny, and you can talk about something that’s serious to you and also — not make fun of yourself, but just like, be like, Hey, everyone can relate to this, and it’s almost funny for that reason.

Nate: Yeah, the self-aware thing.

Kassie: Oh, yeah, I like the humor, the deadpan humor. 

Lily: Yeah. For me, particularly with lyrics, when I get stuff down, I’ll look back and I’ll be like, Oh, that’s how I’m feeling! Like sometimes I don’t even know.

Kassie: It’s like journaling or something, and then you like, look back and you’re like, Oh!

Lily: Are you the sole lyricist?

Kassie: Yes, usually, but on this new album, my friend Johnny wrote the lyrics for one song — he helped me a lot when he hardly knew me in my early sobriety, and I just thought these lyrics were so powerful and beautiful about just kind of existing and thriving, you know, amongst all the trauma that you’ve experienced in your life, but making that decision to live. It’s just super powerful for me, because for so long I was existing in this kind of dark depression, and not really living.

Lily: Yeah, same, to both of us. [Laughs.]

Kassie: Yeah. I needed a good dose of nature, and I’m really glad I live here now with my beautiful dog. 

I felt some kind of Boards of Canada, Arthur Russell kind of vibes in these songs. Is that true?

Lily: I love Arthur Russell so much.

Kassie: I know that about you. But are there any Boards of Canada fans in the room?

Nate: I had one of their albums that I think I got off of Limewire when I was 14. 

Kassie: Oh, hell yeah. 

Nate: I can’t remember all that much about it though.

Kassie: I used Soulseek.

Nate: I used Soulseek too — the last time I used Soulseek, it was to download the live Slipknot DVD from 2001.

Kassie: Oh, shit, that’s pretty cool. [Laughs.] 

Nate: Yeah, classic. Boards of Canada — I haven’t listened to them in a long time, but I remember liking them.

Lily: I remember in early high school liking them too, but yeah, not a direct influence. I mean, I don’t really think that we had direct influences — except, what do people comparing us too? Oh, the Traveling Wilburys.

Kassie: Honestly, I kind of hate that question, but I had to ask it. [Laughs.] 

Lily: Don’t worry about it. Guerilla Toss just sounds like Guerilla Toss to me.

Nate: I have an ancient Guerrilla Toss question — was Jeffrey Johnson recorded totally live?

Kassie: It was recorded in my basement, of a house that I lived in Allston[, MA]. Yeah, I think it was it was pretty live.

Lily: Did you sing while everything was going on?

Kassie: I don’t remember, honestly. [Laughs.] But I do remember it was after our first tour. That whole thing was such a whirlwind. It was like, I met Peter at a show that my punk band was playing, and Guerilla Toss without me was playing with a saxophone. But both of our bands broke up because people were dating in the band, and people, like, switched partners and stuff like that, and people were mad. 

Lily: A Fleetwood Mac typa…

Kassie: Yeah, so we just kind of joined our bands. It was crazy, we went to SXSW really quickly, wrote these songs super quickly at New England Conservatory and then just went on tour. And then my voice was totally super tired, because I’d never done anything like that before — I usually don’t lose my voice, but it was the first time ever doing anything that crazy. And then I came back and we recorded Jeffrey Johnson. And Jeffrey Johnson is a real person.

Nate: Yeah, I figured!

Kassie: Yeah, he’s the artist for the album cover, and he was one part of the band Honey Bunnies.

Lily: Jeffrey Johnson, when I was in my freshman year of college, was my workout music. 

Kassie: Woah!

Lily: It works really well.

Kassie: Yeah, I get a lot of people telling me they work out to the music, which is cool.

Lily: It makes more sense for the music after Jeffrey Johnson. I just think it’s funny that Jeffrey Johnson was the one at the time.

Kassie: I had to relisten to all the albums this week, and I really like Jeffrey Johnson. I think it’s kind of interesting.

Nate: It’s sick.

Lily: It’s definitely one of my top favorite ones. I am in love with that one.

Kassie: It’s very heavy, I’m yelling very high.

Lily: Yeah, but it’s brutal probably because you didn’t know that you were going to fuck up your voice if you did that forever. [Laughs.] 

Kassie: Yeah, but I still do some of those songs, and it doesn’t really fuck up my voice.

Lily: You probably just learned how to sing in a healthy way.

Kassie: Yeah. I took voice lessons recently, for the first time, and the guy said I have a really high voice, which I didn’t know.

Lily: You didn’t know? 

Kassie: [Laughs.] No.

Lily: I do too. But I can’t sing the same way that you sing. But we probably have the same register, like singing melody, I would bet.

Kassie: Yeah, I feel very masculine a lot of the time, so the high voice thing — I was like, “Oh, I thought my voice was, like, way low.” It was very strange realization.

Lily: [We should] play a couple shows [together] — even though we’re like different genres, I feel like it would weirdly be a sick duo.

Kassie: Me too. I would love that. That would be really fun.

Nate: World Tour.

Lily: I would need jets, green rooms, pools… 

Kassie: A personal chef and masseuse.

Nate: A chiropractor.

Lily Konigsberg has been writing songs all her life. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she started playing solo sets around NYC clubs as a teenage, before linking up with Bard classmates Nina Ryser and Ani Ivry-Block to form Palberta. She also performs with Nate Amos as My Idea, and is releasing her latest full-length solo album Lily We Need To Talk Now via Wharf Cat October 2021.