Eli Kasan of The Gotobeds on Five Influential Punk Songs and More

Dr. West
photo by Shawn Brackbill

The Gotobeds are a band from Pittsburgh, PA whose third LP Debt Begins at 30 came out earlier this year via Sub Pop Records. Eli Kasan talks with KEXP’s Dr. West from Sonic Reducer about five punk tracks that influenced the recording of what he calls their “accidental rap album” featuring cameos from Gerald Cosloy of 12XU records (who put out their first record) members of Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Silkworm, and too many more to mention here. 

KEXP: You have a new record out. It's called Debt Begins at 30 and we're going to talk about how collaborative it was in a second, but one of the things I asked you to do was think about five bands or songs or records that you were listening to as you recorded this record, wrote this record, whatever. So, why don't you hit us with the first one. 

Eli Kasan: So, the first one is probably the biggest one that looms largest and it was The Wipers' Youth of America. So, love the Wipers – right? I always was slow to get super into that album. I felt like a little like... On the face of it, it's a little uneven. I think the title track is like 11-minutes. Something about it particularly didn't grab me in the same immediate way that the other records of theirs had. Like the way Over the Edge does or Is This Real. One cool thing is I do think it's really exciting when you finally find an inroad to a record like that and you start to realize that that's like part of its charm and its glory. Also, it's nice that it didn't just repeat its predecessors or its followers' same, similar formula. Also love how that whole record sounds like it could be like a mixtape. There's a couple quiet jams, there's a long ugly one, there's some short punk songs, there's horns on "Romeo." It was them at their most eclectic. That was really similar to what we're trying to fashion our new record like. 

So was that a record you were listening to? Is it a record that everyone in the studio was listening to? 

That's like an all-timer for all of us, really. We were all playing that one. Certainly me, in my mind – I think even out loud – I had kind of mentioned it to the boys that like, "Hey, I wanna make something like that where it's not all punk songs, not all long songs, not all pretty songs. I want it to be a little more varied."

Well, I think you guys nailed it on the record because all of the songs are very different. I just put on a random track from it and it's never what I expected – especially from your previous records. I would say if there's one thing about all your releases, they're very consistent. And not that this record isn't consistent, but exactly like you said – it's varied. It jumps all over. And if not anything, just because all of the collaborators. You have a collaborator on almost on every track. Is that correct? 

Yeah.  Every single one. You could say it's our accidental rap record [laughs]. 

So talk about how this happened. Did you decide you were going to have a guest on every song and and then go about curating folks?  Did it happen more organically or what?

Funny, it happened more organically, but in a kind of a stupid way, I would say. Which is pretty much the way we do everything... We always had a string of collaborators, like, my sister-in-law has sung on every record. My old roommate Evan has provided keys and some noise parts to every record. Those are kind of no-brainers. We started touring a lot with Protomartyr and at that point... We wrote a song on the last record and we were like, "We'll have Joe sing on it," with the idea that because we did three tours with them for a number of times with them, this'll be fun when we play live with them. You're able to hear that track, right? And so I think that we were coming up with the ideas for this new record and I mentioned, "well, yeah, we'll probably get Joe to sing on it." And I mentioned someone else... oh, Tim from Silkworm and Bottomless Pit. He's the who one suggested we record where we did and with. He lives in town. I'm sure he'll stop by and try to hang out in the studio. And then at one point, our drummer just said like, "Oh yeah, this feels very much like rap." He was like, "we should just make a rap mixtape and have a feature on every track." And we were drinking and like laughing at that idea. I took that as what the hell they want to do. So I just started making it happen and just like carving out space. Who would sing this, who could provide saxophone, and this kind of stuff. And it wasn't until post-production, whenever I was asking for money for somebody to record their vocals that they were like, for what? They seemed really confused by their own idea. They're like, "oh shit, are we actually doing that?" So yeah, it totally happened in an organic way. There was no starfucking. We were all already friends and had interacted with every single person. 

Your band and Protomartyr are such a great fit and that Joe Casey song from the last record is so good. I just barely realized that it was him on this and then the press started coming out for the record and I started seeing Joe Casey's on there. Gerald Cosloy, which I don't know if he plays guitar or if he just makes noise... 

We love those Protomartyr boys. They've been really great to us, like unfathomably kind to us. And so it's kind of a no-brainer to keep working with them, and lucky that they are always game for it. One thing that was tough for us making the last record was the fact that, on the first record, we used tons of illegal samples. We just feel like, fuck it. No one's going to hear this record. We want to sample the Beatles? Just fucking put them on the there. We'll chop it up and screw it, no one will notice, right? And by the time we got to Sub Pop, they were like, all samples need to be cleared, you gotta pay royalties, and I feel like we really look like, oh fuck we don't know how to. We don't know how to repeat the same kind of idea now that we can essentially afford it. So, this time around, that's where the thinking with getting somebody like Cosloy to provide like bunch of guitar tracks where previously I would just sample one noisy part from My Bloody Valentine, and so it didn't sound like them. This time, we were like, well fuck it, we'll have our friends create those textures. He sent me like a whole albums worth of him playing guitar, which is fucking awesome. And we just cut it up and put it on the track and I got to say I love it. You mean like 30 seconds of noise and he gave me like a 10 track album jam. It was awesome. 

That's amazing. And his 12XU label, of course, put out your first release, Poor People are Revolting. Gerald's been sending stuff to Sonic Reducer since... I remember getting his first releases and he's still sending us stuff and that's probably got to be one of my favorites on 12XU but we're very happy to see you on our very own local Sub Pop label as well. 

Light in the Attic has a record shop here in our Gathering Space and I just had Brad from there special order me The Wipers' Youth of America. I'd given up on getting an original copy so I had him just order me a reissue. Little maybe not so little  fact but anytime a DJ is playing that, it's usually because they're freaking out because something is broken. 

You mean the bathroom? 

Going to the bathroom, yeah. All right, well, what else do you got for us? Wipers is the first one. 

The next one is something that I was listening to. It's the band Poison Girls and the song is "Jump Mama Jump." 

Tell us about it. 

Even though I feel like a lot of these choices are going to be of a certain vintage, no one in the band believes that the best music is behind us, that everything today is shit. For whatever attitude or stance we have, we certainly don't believe that rock is dead and it's over. We're avid, active music fans. Cool thing is that we all listen to a lot of varied shit. We listen to a lot of rap. There's cool things that we all seem to agree on from the past and usually varies. But like it seems like we all really love Crass for some reason. I say "for some reason", I'm just surprised that everyone in the band is really into Crass. So like I got real hard on all the different Crass off-shoot bands and came late to the game for Poison Girls. I remember a few years ago, Water Wing Records reissued some of their records and and the song "Jump Mama Jump" really got me because the woman Vi, who's the lead singer, was in her 30s and a mother of two and had heard the punk movement happen and was like, fuck it, I want in, too. And that song's about the pressures of motherhood sung by a woman who was at the height of punk who was also not very much in a youth movement. I thought there was something super fucking cool about her spirit, her attitude. I feel like every time I listen to her, she sounds like my my grandma on my mom's side. My grandma was a fiercely independent woman and a painter and kind of a nut. So I don't know, Poison Girls just clicked with me as an, you know, older dude. 

I can't wait to listen. I can't think of what the song sounds like. I pulled up an image of what Poison Girls look like and I do remember that re-release from this year. I don't think I knew that they were a Crass offshoot. 

Yeah. They became real closely affiliated with Crass, touring with them. Kind of like a Protomartyr/Gotobeds thing — they were heavily tied to each other. Her kids all went on to be in bands, too. There's a old punk single called Fatal Microbes and that's her kids. 

Wow, excellent. Well let's jump right into the next one. 

OK. Let me look at my list here. Funny, the title of your show. Similar. I have Dead Boys' “All This and More”. I actually don't know how we arrived at this. However, I will say that like a lot of the shit that I loved when I formed the band was like very much Anglophile. It was very Wire, very Fall, very Swell Maps, that sort of stuff. And this one, I don't know. At one point I said, this is gonna be our American punk record. I have no idea what that means, if it even being anything, but it was at least something that was consciously stated when we were making this record. 

There's something to be said for a band like the Dead Boys who came from the middle of the country. They weren't from L.A. or New York or London or anything like. They're really one of those first middle of the country bands. You guys are sort of from the middle of the country, right? 

Totally. We're right next to Ohio. We share similar sensibilities. Up for debate. If people consider Pittsburgh the Midwest or not. I will say even though I particularly don't, I will say it does share that same... there's some Robert Pollard interview where he was talking about they're midwest attitude and talking about a humbleness and a self-deprecation, and like us self-lubricating or self-medicating, there's a lot of those same ideas. I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, that's pretty much our town." Don't take ourselves too seriously, self-deprecating, drinking, like that's all. It's all in there. And to your point it's all not very much not L.A., New York. 

Which you've sung about. I think you have a song called "New York's Alright" and then on the second record you have the song "L.A. is Alright." Is that right?


Well, I will say my wife's family is from Pittsburgh. She gets very fierce about whether or not Pittsburgh is in the Midwest. She's firmly on the side that it's part of the East Coast. My brother-in-law lives in a Pittsburgh and is pretty firmly on the side that is in the Midwest. So it's probably somewhere in the middle. 

I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. To me the East Coast is the East Coast. It's like calling San Diego the Midwest. 

We're going out to Pittsburgh in a couple of months to show our new baby. I know you've done some design for Mind Cure Records. I'm definitely gonna go check out their shop. What else is there? What are some great bands, some new, old bands, record shops, just things that are really inspiring to you in Pittsburgh right now? 

A bunch of cool shit is happening in Pittsburgh right now which is exciting because we're all older. When I say older here, I'm talking like, I started going to punk shows when I was 15, so I'm 36 now. A long time to be doing a singular thing essentially. Also without any interests like waning it over that time. Pittsburgh's got all kinds of cool shit going on right now. The most exciting is that they finally have some like weirder DIY spaces. There's a place called Babyland and there's a place called Collision, and the cool things about those is they're getting people that are like old, like potentially barflies, or bands that would only play bars, because they have a non-profit and they serve a limited amount of drinks or it's BYOB. They're getting tons of fucking kids to just come out and I feel like that was the missing piece for a lot of things not being vital for quite some time here. 

Yeah, it's hard. We have the Vera Project here in Seattle but if you're looking for spaces where old folks like kind of punk elders like ourselves and kids are gonna be all to get together it's basically unlicensed punk houses or, you know, kind of off-the-books DIY venues which we have one that's pretty longtime running but I think people always feel like it's just on the verge. It's one fire marshal's visit away from being closed. 

That's the story of pretty much every city in America. That's why it's confusing about Pittsburgh now, too. It's like, damn I feel like this should be going away not multiplying, but yeah. There's tons of cool record stores. Another thing I'd like to send you is... it's an homage to this whole like '80s art scene. Somebody made a punk film, this woman Stephanie Beroes, and it was called Debt Begins at 20. And it chronicled the kind of weirdo thing that was happening. And it's looking beautiful. They're showing it at the museum, it's shot on 8 millimeter film that's about 20 minutes long. And like the cool thing is, the band definitely isn't that arty or strange, much more akin to what was happening in Cleveland, like with Pere Ubu and Rocket from the Tombs. All the bands were more diverse and seemingly more worldly. Then the '90s came and we just became "punk town" cause [of being] blue collar. But we took that title from that movie because we really loved that. And also we're giving it a somewhat modern update because of being in our 30s. But one of my tracks that I'm going to send you is by a band who was referenced in the film. They're called Dress Up as Natives and they totally have like a Kleenex or maybe The Slits vibe, they sound like '70s Rough Trade stuff. It's just a fucking killer track. It's an impossible-to-find 7". It's like 300 bucks. We were going to cover it for this record. We did agree that it was perhaps a little too on the nose. 

Too similar to your style?

I feel like the one thing that TFP, who's our other guitar player, mentioned is he had a personal pet peeve that when you hear a new record and like my favorite song off of it is a cover or a single he's like, "Sometimes I'm like, 'Oh man this song is too good. If we put this on the album, it'll be our our most famous song and it's not even ours." I saw his point, however, I still would like to do it. 

But yeah there's tons of cool bands from that scene. We had a woman from BandCamp come to Pittsburgh to spend like a day with us. So I sent a list of things that I wanted to do and I made like a little like I was going out bloodstains over Pittsburgh and it was like Well weird like 80s mix of like some of those bands from that vintage. That is like pretty fucking great. 

I'm really excited to check out this Dress Up as Natives. So this is a Pittsburgh band? 

Yeah. I don't want to say "flash in the pan" but they didn't do shit, like they did one single, they all hand colored them. I think there's like 300 of them and it's long out of print. 

photo by Shawn Brackbill


So you talked a little bit about covers. You guys cover a great Victims song on one of your singles that's also on the Fucking in the Future release. You put out an entire E.P. of covers from Redd Kross. What other songs do you cover that maybe aren't on records?

Oh geez, what the fuck do we cover. Shit, we've done "Joy to the World" which is a pretty funny and ugly version. If something broke live, we usually just launched into this really awful cover of it that's pretty wrong. Usually sounds more like The Fall than that. We do a really great Agnostic Front cover. 

I really I know what you mean about about when bands put out a record and like there's this great song you're like oh my gosh that's the that's the song and then you find out it's a cover so you can you can do it the limits are doing nowadays and just put out and only put out records of covers. Lemonheads don't write any new songs, right?

I didn't make a joke that I wanted to do. There was an old song comp called Cleveland Confidential. It's like The Pagans and shit like that. And at one point I jumped up, "We should do Pittsburgh Confidential and cover all these old Pittsburgh punk bands that nobody knows." And like either reinterpret or just do a faithful version of the song. I can't tell if that was well received by my guys or not. So maybe we'll do it. 

Cover the whole album? 

Yeah, we were just like going to cover like multiple different bands Pittsburgh punk bands or indie bands from the '80s that no one knows. When I worked at Mind Cure, he was trying to reissue a lot of that stuff, and it was weird when he'd run into "no's" for like various reasons and for some reason it was like like the Carsickness stuff or The 5 or so Dress Up as Natives, that all got "no's" on and we always felt like that would be probably the most well received of that stuff. I don't know. 

"No's" from the band saying no they didn't want to reissue it or "no's" from his partners in the label? 

"No's" from the bands. 

Huh. Well I guess they've got their reasons maybe. 

Yeah. I could never figure that out. Sometimes you get the vibe that it's murky between members. They don't get along. Other times it was like people that were like, "We can't find the one person in the band, no idea how to contact them." Or like one of the bands was like, "No, we're kind of holding out on you. Are you offering money? We're hoping someone's going to offer something for it." 

So this is obviously not your first band. I mean, I don't know for sure which bands you were in before. Are there any bands like that that you can think of that if someone came to you like, "Hey, we want to reissue this stuff that you put out" that you would be like, "oh man, are you kidding? That's so long ago." 

That's an awesome question. It is a great question that I've never been asked before. But yeah, I got a strange answer of "yes." Some of us were previously in this band Kim Phuc who were also on that Seattle label Iron Lung Records. I think the singles and stuff are out of print. If someone wanted to reprint those or repress, have at it. No issue there. There is a band I was in right out of college that was very Q And Not U, Black Eyes, like post punk. And it was called Mary Celeste and we did two CDs. And that's something if somebody told me they want to reissue, I'd be like, "eh, you know." Don't waste your money. 

Yeah. So that's maybe how these guys feel. Well, Kim Phuc is one of our favorites from a long time ago. I don't know if I saw you guys in a basement in Seattle and Jensen from Iron Lung is a really good friend of the show. We actually have a vault here where we keep all of our swag and I know there are at least a couple Kim Phuc records that we keep around as things to give away for guests and things that I think Jensen gave to us. 

That's great to hear. I remember that basement. 

That basement is no longer having shows — a good example of the shows that get shut down. All right, I think we're at five. What's the last song you have for us?

Yeah. One funny thing is CFP who plays guitar and Gotobeds was the drummer in Kim Phuc. We got two of them in there. 

Yeah I think I kinda knew that. Yeah it's weird when you don't know people really well, it's hard to put the names to the faces. It's funny to think that that band turned into this band but I really enjoyed you guys. 

Yeah, well, you could also tell that we weren't the primary songwriters in that band either. We were — I don't want to say hired hands, but we were supporting someone else's vision. And when it seemed like the well had dried up and those dudes couldn't get along. We were like, well we got some songs. I feel like we can make a go of it. 

So yeah and kinda how Gotobeds came together, as I recall. I was reading the one sheet that Gerald put out with your first record the other day. It seemed like you guys had come to a sort of stopping point with other bands. You were like, hey, let's just get together and have some beer and put together some songs. 

Yeah, pretty much it. 

So last song. Last song I was gonna send is a song by The Fall called "Rose" and what I would say is I was particularly struck by the song. I'm a big Fall fan and always find something new and fun in their catalog. The cool thing about the track "Rose" is, it's totally fucking tender and sad in a way that they're usually not. It's obliquely written about Brix Smith, the guitar player, after she left the band and it's really tender and kind of a pretty song but also like Mark E. Smith can't sing for shit, so it's also ugly in a weird way. There's some weird sleight of hand with that song. It's got the same kind of perverse humor of when Nick Cave covers Neil Diamond or Elvis Presley. Most people can't pull off that, but maybe you have enough backstory or history or knowledge of the artist that you're like, this feels darker and more perverse even though it's not intending that. There's always some real fun about that. 

Excellent. Yeah. They have such a deep catalog, I feel like I've just barely scratched the surface. I feel like with The Fall, I find a few records at a time, very much like Nick Cave, and I'll latch onto those for a while and then take another bite later because if you try to ingest all of it you're just going to end up overwhelming yourself. 

Yeah, you're gonna throw up. You can't eat that much shit.


Debt Begins at 30 is out now on Sub Pop Records. The band are touring Europe through the fall.

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