Recently, I caught The Gotobeds at Great Scott in Boston. Great Scott is already an intimate venue with a capacity under 250 people, but frontman Eli Kasan really wanted to bring the crowd together. Spotting some unused stools in the bar area he made a quick dash and dragged at least ten of them to the front of the stage, stacking the last one atop another in case a giant was in attendance that night. It should be noted that The Gotobeds are decidedly not a sit-down band, their soaring guitars and infectious melodies don’t lend themselves to staying in one place. By the end of the show no one was sitting down.
The show itself was a whirlwind of activity. A local photographer shooting the show got swept up into their vortex and pulled on stage. The shots he got as the band preened and posed must’ve been incredible, but I fear he was swept away with the gear and is now living his version of Almost Famous with the rambunctious members of The Gotobeds. The band paused between sets to take shots, which may not have been necessary as Kasan revealed he threw up in a plastic bag after the show (a quintessential Boston experience). The set ended with the various members of the band standing on amps and laying on the ground.
I chatted with Kasan recently and we talked about the bands genuinely hectic performances, their increasing stature, the unlikely friendship they’ve formed with another set of Midwestern post-punks, and their love for their hometown of Pittsburgh.
OpenEars: Your shows are pretty chaotic, how do you guys keep up that energy every night?
Eli Kasan: It’s always genuine, it’s just how people are feeling. We’ve joked for a few years that the shows dovetail between two things at their best: either we’re a little more musical and funny or we’re just a big ol’ trainwreck. It’s not like one person steers that, it just really depends on what we’ve gotten into or what we’ve been drinking during the day. It’s never even clear to anyone in the band what kind of night it’s going to be.
OE: So you just let the natural energy of the group dictate how the night is going to go?
EK: Yeah, sometimes we’ll get in late and we’re busy and didn’t have time to fuck around and then it ends up being fairly normal. Or if somebody is hungover then you can tell they’re holding it together a little better.
OE: Do you ever worry about balancing the hectic nature of the show with making sure everyone can still hit their spots?
EK: Ah, no. I would love to be a great band every night but at the same time there’s just no way to steer it, it’s just going to do what it’s going to do I think.
OE: Are the wild performances a way to break up the monotony of the road?
EK: Definitely. It’s interesting for us and I think as a fan I would want a rowdy experience out of a rock band, I don’t want to go see them play the record perfectly. You want to see some energy or even errors, especially when they’re honest. It’s not like we’re up there saying “We don’t give a shit, we’re doing whatever we want”, we’re usually trying.
OE: So it’s a cognizant effort on your end that you want to give the audience an experience outside of just playing straight from the album?
EK: Yeah, it’s fun for us and keeps it interesting inside the band too, which is good. I remember one time we were playing “Red Alphabet” off the new record. It’s a slower build-up song and I started it more heartfelt when trying to sing it. The other guitar player, TFP [Tom Payne], put down his guitar and ran behind stage and then ran from backstage to the front like six times. I think he was trying to see how many laps he could get in before he needed to pick up the guitar and play it for his solo. Here I was trying to sing really fucking well and there’s a guy doing laps, it was just impossible for me to not laugh.
That show did end pretty well where we pulled a “coach”. We dumped a cooler full of bottles of beer, ice, and water all over the drummer and made a big fucking mess.
OE: How has the release of this album been different compared to the first one?
EK: Initially we would tour around with the first few singles or the first album and it would mostly be friends of ours that would come to see us. Now it’s getting to the point where there’s people we don’t know coming to shows and asking questions about us or the music, and that’s an exciting prospect.
OE: What was behind the decision to riff on The Red Hot Chili Peppers for the album title?
EK: Oh, I don’t remember, I think it was something said in the studio and we thought it was too fucking funny not to use. Then we got self-conscious and thought about it for a while but then couldn’t come up with anything better. We came up with another good title but I don’t want to say it because it might be the title for LP3. Stay tuned.
OE: Getting signed to Sub-Pop is a pretty big deal. Do you have any internal worries about getting bigger or do you still have the freedom you want?
EK: We still do whatever we want. I don’t know many other bands that are signed to Sub-Pop that are acting a fool the way we do sometimes, nothing has really changed. And they don’t meddle in the business at all so that’s pretty great for us. They were just really into what we were doing and they were really supportive.
OE: Where do you see the band going in the future, do you have any concrete plans?
EK: How big it gets is the least interesting point of it. The interesting thing for us is how can we make better records and keep the whole thing going. How can we keep doing this as long as we can while people internally and externally have the interest?
OE: On the new album you have some crazy guitar work with riffs and solos all over the place. How do you write and come up with those? Are you just tooling around or is there a process?
EK: It’s funny because I would consider myself a novice at the guitar, even when I write my own parts. TFP is a fucking wiz, he can really play. I think there comes a funny stubbornness between us when we play. He’s the only other guitar play I’ve ever played with in my entire life that I’m not trying to outdo him, but I’m trying to play along with him in my own way. Sometimes he gives me some guidance or has an idea for something that could work. But if I’m doing something that I like he doesn’t interfere too much.
OE: How did you guys end up becoming friends with Protomartyr?
EK: That’s been really exciting. We were big fans of them but didn’t know them at all. We went out to tour on the first album and the first night was in Detroit. We kept joking if Protomartyr would be there. When we got to the venue there was this guy walking around in a suit coat and we kept calling him Protomartyr. It was split down the middle, two of us we’re like “that’s him” and the other two going “that’s definitely not him”. At the end of the night this group of dudes comes up to us and says “You guys are fucking awesome, do you need a place to stay? You can stay with us, we took a cab here so we could have some drinks with you, we have a band too.” And we asked “What’s your band?” and they go “We’re in Protomartyr!”. But it wasn’t Joe [Casey] the singer, he was there in the back in a suit coat not talking to anybody, it was really fucking funny. It was just really funny that we were debating if it was them. So that’s what started the friendship and we found out they’re total fucking freaks and total Midwestern weirdos. They completely fit in with our sense of humor and we struck up a little friendship.
OE: Touching on that Midwestern connection, the band is proudly from Pittsburgh, what is it about the city that makes you want to wear it on your sleeves?
EK: It’s hard to say. I don’t think there’s another place on Earth like it. It was such a downtrodden city, for a while it was the least cool place. It was a decaying rust belt city and people moved away the first second they could. The people that stay have such a stubbornness, you have this underdog status. You’re just like “this place isn’t as bad as you think it is, I don’t need to leave”. It turns into this Stockholm Syndrome where we ended up loving our captor.
OE: How’d you guys celebrate when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup?
EK: We were actually driving back from a show in New York and we were using one of our phones as a hotspot with an iPad on the dash. We were driving home during the last game and we missed an exit because the driver was watching the game. We looked up and we were like 20 miles outside the road and someone said “Hey leave him alone he was watching TV!”
Interview by: Matt Ellis
Photos by: Jenny Thomas