Like many Pittsburgh bands, The Gotobeds practice at ABC Rehearsal Rooms, a converted storage warehouse in Allentown. As drummer Cary "Parryman" Belback leads the way through the grim, fluorescent-lit halls, clashing instrument sounds pound out from various directions. Belback says he's heard the building described as "the band factory," but with its many stairways and long, door-lined corridors, it feels more like the stuff of Shining-esque nightmares.
The actual practice room feels safer — cozy, even. It's a small concrete box, with one lonely light socket that the band has outfitted with a red bulb. The space is crammed with two drum kits, amps, lamps and a Miller Lite-filled, sticker-covered mini-fridge. "The sixth band member," quips bassist Gavin "G$" Jensen, who is already inside when Belback arrives.
Belback begins discussing his apprehension over letting his mom watch the music video for their song "New York's Alright" — specifically the lyric "New York's all right if you can get your dick sucked." Meanwhile, the rest of the band arrives: singer and guitarist Eli "Hazy Lazer" Kasan, guitarist Tom "Cool U" Payne and honorary/temporary member Read Connolly. Connolly, a member of The Beagle Brothers (and The Gotobeds' "brother from a Beagle mother," according to Payne) will be filling in for Jensen during parts of the upcoming trip to Austin's South by Southwest music festival, which on this particular evening is still days away.
Practice tends to be heavy on the socializing: "A lot of times we'll play songs for an hour and then talk for an hour-and-a-half," Jensen says. But today, they have some work do to. On Friday, they'll play a show at Gooski's, kicking off their mini-tour and journey to SXSW.
The five of them gather around red painter lights ("like a True Detective cult," Kasan says) and begin ripping through their catalog, stopping occasionally to distribute another round of beers, which they are also ripping through. "We usually try to play under duress," Kasan says with a laugh. "We bop around in the dark, drinking beer, just like at a show." The chemistry between members is visible — no squabbling over missed cues, no subtle power struggles — and things click easily into place.
Musically, The Gotobeds fit under a kind of catch-all slacker indie-punk umbrella. Early Pavement is one of the most obvious comparisons — the bands share the same kind of defiant looseness — but the group also recalls the freneticism of The Gun Club, the slipshod orderliness of Gang of Four, the brattiness of The Buzzcocks and the punk minimalism of Wire. (The band's name, in fact, is borrowed from that band's drummer, Robert Gotobed.) In a later email conversation, Kasan mentions The Fall and Swell Maps, and nods to The Replacements as an influence on The Gotobeds' live shows. "We definitely rely heavily on antics 'cause we just aren't the tightest band," he explains. "We want the songs to roam free ... and sometimes that means deconstructing them in front of other peeps."
The Gotobeds were born around 2009, when Kasan — then a member of now-defunct punk band Kim Phuc — returned from SXSW with no job. ("How's that for full circle?" he asks.) Belback was similarly unoccupied, and the two old friends started playing a couple times a week with guitarist Kathy Horne, who Kasan and Belback joke was "too smart and talented" to stay in the band. Payne, another Kim Phuc alum, eventually took over on guitar, and Jensen offered his services as a bassist.
"We just wanted to find musicians who would goof around," Kasan says. "All of my close friends who didn't really know each other became good friends at once. It was pretty magical."
Band members claim that at first, no one liked The Gotobeds — not even their girlfriends. That is no longer the case. In the next few months, the group releases a record on 12XU, a label run by Matador Records co-owner Gerard Cosloy. Cosloy heard the band when it appeared on DJ Terre T's Cherry Blossom Clinic, one of the most popular shows on New Jersey-based independent radio station WFMU.
Terre T "said we were the nicest boys who have ever been on the show," Kasan recalls with a grin. ("Weren't we also the drunkest?" Payne asks "They made a beer run for us halfway through.") Cosloy called into the show to find out more.
There's no mistaking the Gotobeds' slacker aesthetic: "We know we're not going to crack the charts" is Kasan's attitude. But the key to their success might lie in asking for what they want, and knowing whom to ask.
"Asking gets you so far," Kasan says. "When Gerard said he liked our band, I said, ‘Will you put out our record?'" And when Cosloy asked what he could do for the band that they couldn't do for themselves, Kasan was straightforward. "I said, ‘You have money and influence. We don't.' He said, ‘Gotcha. I can help.' He wanted to make sure that we had realistic expectations."
For any band, there's a challenge in negotiating the space between being accessible and pandering, between playing it cool and being assholes, between taking things too seriously and not taking them seriously enough. The Gotobeds are a lot of fun to listen to, but its ability to walk those fine lines might be its greatest asset. Maybe it all comes down to getting into the rock game for the right reasons.
"We've already gone further than we dreamed of," Kasan says. "I've been in other bands that were not fun. I want this to be as fun as possible. We all have stressful jobs, stressful relationships. This should be the least of it."
Cosloy asked the band to play a showcase at SXSW, one of the many unofficial events that crop up alongside the official festival schedule. "We stupidly booked this one show for free in the middle of the day, and then reverse-engineered the trip around it," Kasan laughs.
But, again, asking came in handy. The band got in touch with an old Kim Phuc associate, booking agent Timmy Hefner, of the Chaos in Tejas festival. He put The Gotobeds on an official showcase with acts like Destruction Unit, Perfect Pussy and Back to Back. And while the members are grateful — "Some bands would kill to be part of the official thing," Payne says — they're not overly impressed with themselves.
"We're the only band going to SXSW who doesn't think they're going to make it big," Kasan jokes. "We're going to make it medium." Anyway, he adds, the official festival isn't that cool: "The unofficial thing has wilder parties and cooler times."
A couple days after their Allentown practice session, band members load their gear into Gooski's for their mini-tour sendoff show. In between carrying guitars and drum pieces, Kasan greets friends and well-wishers with the warmth of a rock 'n' roll mayor. The Beagle Brothers are the openers, and while the inclusion of the country band is mildly confusing to some, several people agree that it's nice to have only two bands on a show once in awhile. Belback notes that most bands play too long and that he can't even think of any band he'd like to see play for more than 45 minutes. The Gotobeds, naturally, plan to stick to a 20- or 25-minute set.
By the time they take the stage, the bar's back room is crowded, though not too packed to dance, or slam yourself into other people, or dodge other flailing bodies. On stage, The Gotobeds have the same goofy, brotherly chemistry they had at practice, and seem to implicitly count audience members as co-conspirators in their antics.
When someone buys the band shots, much of the audience spontaneously joins in on the toast. The band spends a lot of time grinning. So does the crowd. Kasan chugs beers between verses and plays guitar from all angles; all four band members climb around on their equipment. This is the kind of band that makes youngsters say, "That looks fun. I want to do that."
But any young would-be rockers would do well to take Kasan's words to heart: "We work really hard, but it's not work when it's fun."