The Gotobeds: Post-Punk Revivalists With Pittsburgh Pride

The Gotobeds: Post-Punk Revivalists With Pittsburgh Pride

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The Gotobeds singer-guitarist Eli Kasan (code name: Hazy Lazer) loves his hometown of Pittsburgh. When I bring up Philadelphia, the metropolis on the opposite end of Pennsylvania, he laughs over the phone. “Pittsburgh kills Philly, Philly sucks. You can print that if you want!” he says. “My biggest pet peeve [with Philly]: Sometimes if you walk down the street, it’s like someone emptied an entire trash can all over the street.”

Kasan has been kicking around the Pittsburgh punk scene for so long, he can’t even remember how many bands he’s been in. Pausing to think, he settles on six — one of them being the now-defunct hardcore outfit Kim Phuc. What Kasan knows for sure, though, is that he never really expected to find monetary success in the music industry. “When we started the Gotobeds, our whole plan was like, ‘Let’s just play the stuff that we loved growing up,’” says Kasan. “If I’m [going to use] the words ‘I made it,’ it’s because I’m excited that somebody gives a s**t.”

The 33-year-old frontman first met drummer and Gotobeds co-founder Cary Belback (code name: Open Cary) back when they were teenagers in the late ’90s working at a local record store. They admired post-punk greats (Gang of Four, the Fall) and angular revival acts of the mid-’00s (Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads), but neither had much experience as musicians. “I had played around with some other groups — just guitar and sung a little bit,” he recalls. “Cary had never played drums in his life. It was a nice little pairing.”

A lot’s changed since then. The Gotobeds — named for Wire percussionist Robert “Gotobed” Grey — signed to Seattle indie powerhouse Sub Pop in April, and they’re two weeks out from releasing their sophomore record, the Red Hot Chili Peppers-riffing Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic, out June 10. Kasan still doesn’t see his band — which also features bassist Gavin “Depressed Adult Male” Jensen and guitarist Tom “TFP” Payne — as exceptional, but he is quick to point out the group’s strengths. “We’re great live,” he says. “There’s plenty of times somebody can’t play or is too drunk. We can be a f**king train wreck is what I’m trying to say, politely. But I think we’re entertaining as s**t.”

He’s got a point. Even those not acquainted with the Gotobeds’ boisterous stage presence can envision what it looks like via their recorded material. Kasan sounds strained as he sing-shouts warring lyrics about “the music business sucking its own dick” on “New York’s Alright.” He side-eyes West Coast-dwelling “adult babies” on “Cold Gold (LA’s Alright).” He points out the absurdity of sexist internet trolls lobbing death at feminist music writer Jes Skolnik on “Crisis Time.”

Another part of the Gotobeds’ appeal is their convivial flippancy — a trait that shines on their new record’s title, which actually is not an affirming fist-pump to the California funk-rock bros in the Chili Peppers. “I hate to fault a band for their following, ’cause if a bunch of idiots liked my band, then I’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s not my fault,’” Kasan says, laughing. “But at the same time, there’s something different about singing ‘Suck My Kiss,’ and you’re, like, headbanging with a sock on your dick.”

Though they initially formed in 2009, the industry caught onto the Gotobeds’ rambunctious act two years ago when NPR’s Otis Hart saw them play in Brooklyn. After that, the media organization’s website published a flattering write-up of the band’s debut record, 2014’s whirligig Poor People Are Revolting. “It just worked out that NPR gave us some good press,” Kasan says. “That’s really when all the vultures smelling blood started circling.”

The band’s live presence has also catalyzed a fruitful friendship with Detroit post-punk outfit Protomartyr. Another night onstage, Kasan realized some of Proto’s members were in the audience, so, to get their attention, he made his performance extra-vigorous. “I remember asking the lighting and fog machine guys to make me have a seizure,” Kasan says. “And then afterwards, this really weird, tall, drunk guy with curly hair [who’s in Protomartyr] rushes the stage, and he’s with two of his buddies, this long haired dude and this glasses guy. And they’re like, ‘We f**king love you.’” 

Their meeting birthed a 2015 joint tour, a Gotobeds biography penned by Protomartyr lead vocalist Joe Casey, and Casey singing on new Gotobeds track “Why’d You.” Kasan sounds incredulous as he describes Protomartyr’s fervent support. “We have really dumb blind luck constantly,” he says. “I would love to chalk it up to artistic merit, or artistic vision. But I don’t think it has to do with any of that. I think there’s a lot of other way f**king more deserving and better bands. I won’t say we’re on borrowed time, but we’re f**king the luckiest idiots you’ll ever meet.”

No matter how far their perceived good fortune takes them or how many new cities they visit, Kasan remains committed to living in Pittsburgh. Not only is it where he grew up, but the Steel City fuels his creative outlook. “I think in post-industrial cities like Pittsburgh, punk and hardcore have always thrived,” he reasons. “There’s a certain edge to the music. And I think Detroit’s the same if you look at the Stooges, or the Gories, or Protomartyr — there’s always attitude.”

“Pittsburgh has had a really strange city pride,” he adds. “I never thought I’d leave, and I never did. Or I thought maybe someday I would, and here I am going on 33 years, and I own a house. I’m not about to go anywhere else.”

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