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Premiere: Ismatic Guru Returns With Their Revved-Up Warp Tempos on "Mind Fever"

Ismatic Guru, the heady weirdo punk recording project between Buffalo, New York's multi-instrumentalists John Toohill (Science Man) and Brandon Schlia (Clump) are back today with the first single from their forthcoming third tape since coming together as a duo in 2021. The new single "Mind Fever" is a groovy freaked-out number that's littered with demented psychedelic flashes, biting vocals, and the type of guitar interplay that hits every adjective related to post-punk: angular, jagged, nervy, spastic, and clever. Alongside the premiere, we also caught up with the duo to discuss the origins of the recording project, how people who sunbath are sick in the head, and the excitement revolving this new tape and its follow-up.

Paperface Zine: What's life been like lately for you? What have you been listening to or spending a lot of time doing? John, I know you just wrapped up the Science Man tour late last month. How did that go?

John Toohill: On the Science Man tour, we listened to the entire recorded works of ABBA in chronological order. Man, that band had some fucking HITS. They always clocked two monster jams per album with another 1-2 solid B-sides. Then sorta phoned in the other 6-10. But they did that eight times in a row over nine years. That's like 30 great songs. Best deep cut discovery for me was "King Kong Song" off Waterloo, which was apparently originally titled "Mr. Sex"…. So yeah. Tour was awesome.

Brandon Schlia: These last few months have been dedicated to finishing a solo, double album under the name Helmsley. Every October, I try and find a way to get some of my own music out in between working with so many other artists by way of my label, Steak and Cake Records. To keep the inspiration level up, I've been listening to Makaya McCraven, Kenny Segal, Deerhoof, Luge, and Tundrastomper.

PZ: The first Ismatic Guru tape came out during the summer of '21. Take me through the origins of this recording project and how did you two decide you wanted to make music together? Brandon, did you record everything on that first tape then John just added in his "goblin-Elvis" vocals?

BS: I teach a music production class to high school aged students here in Buffalo. For the spring trimester, I bring in guest speakers to tell their story and way back when, I invited John in. At the time we knew each other, but only really by reputation. After class I said, "Hey, we should make something sometime!" That little nudge started it all. When it came to recording, we have an odd approach. Usually I write out a simple drum machine loop, then I'll play two or three basslines over it. I'll stretch them out so the loops equal 3-5 minutes. I'll chart about five or six of those session skeletons and that's when I bring John in. He rips guitars for about two hours and then heads home. That's when I get cookin' in my lab, chopping up his guitar parts, adding in the organ, real drums, finesse the bass and mess up the structures. I'll send it back over to John and he'll drop his vocals onto it and they're the perfect spice to finish off the dish.

PZ: Did you guys think two years later, you'd be releasing a third Ismatic Guru tape?

JT: I was so confused about what we had accomplished after I left Bran's house the first time. I didn't know if I'd ever even speak to him again. Now I'm excited to start part four.

BS: John and I are really similar in the sense that we won't leave something unfinished for long. After he left that first session, I said to myself, "hmm, I think we might have something good here." Now it's just a matter of finding time in both our schedules once a year to crank out more.

PZ: Following up the second Ismatic Guru tape last year that whipped through your usual lo-fi post-punk course with nervous energy and dancey beats, you're back with part three which will come out later this month. Talk to me about how and when this collection came together and what it was like putting it all together.

JT: I just remember Bran asking me when I came over to work on this tape what albums I had been excited about lately and I told him honestly that I was jamming a lot of really early Tito Puente, Machito, and all this other '50s mambo stuff. He put some of it on and I saw a flip switch in his head. Then we got to work.

BS: I forgot that John was really grooving on that stuff back then! I showed him some Perez Prada and we were just talking shop for a bit. Usually my goal for these sessions is to instill a vibe that's welcoming, nonjudgmental, and open to the process. I want John to feel comfortable noodling around without feeling pressure to come up with anything other than what happens in the moment. After three tapes, we've gotten a pretty good hang of it.

PZ: Alongside Tremendo Garaje, today we're premiering the video to the lead cut "Mind Fever." What was the idea behind this one and how did its accompanying video come together?

JT: So I don't really like going to the beach or like relaxing in general. Laying around. Meditation. That kind thing. Yuck. So lyrically, I was just kind of joking around, playing with the idea that all people who are into sunbathing are sick in the head. I don't really have these strong feelings about it though if I'm being honest. For real. Party on beach bums [laughs]. Maybe I just wanted to say the words, "night time is the right time" in a song? There's a little truth in every joke, right? Anyways. I don't know. I think we wanted to make a video about taking vitamins and got lost along the way. Bran?

BS: Oh jeeze I'm really not sure. John is the king of lyrics and the stuff he pulls out of thin air is always perfect for these tunes. I also carry a little bit of that "can't sit still for long" energy creatively so I think I get where he's coming from. When it came to developing a video, I remember there was some scientist talk and I had an idea about us accidentally blowing ourselves up? That's how I remember it. The rest we just made up on the day of the shoot.

PZ: Do you have any favorites from this new tape?

BS: It’s tough to say — it's like picking a favorite kid. In my opinion, the songs are at their best when strung together and you can sense the way each one fits alongside the others.

PZ: John, you've always had very unique cover art so what was the idea behind this one?

JT: I asked Bran for a quick image description of what came to his mind when he listened to the album. I believe he texted me back "it feels like a chase scene in a movie" or something along those lines. So this is a chase scene in a movie I'd make, if it was about trying to escape all the problems in life you've created for yourself. Maybe? I also had the idea of a "toe truck" and thought I really struck gold but then couldn't draw it. Voila!

PZ: What are you most excited about to get this new tape out?

BS: Is it bad to say I'm excited for this to come out so that we can start the next one? [Laughs]. I'm always more excited about the making than the finishing, but I can see how both parts are important.

PZ: Any plans for live shows soon or is this still strictly a home recording project?

JT: I think we're both too busy, but I'm still dreaming that we finish a fourth tape, press them all as an LP, and then do a short tour to support it. Early 2025. Gonna need some help though. 0% chance I can play guitar well and sing these songs at the same time.

BS: We have never once attempted to play these songs outside of the recording session so it would take a little figuring out! But I'm with John, anything’s possible. 2025 sounds good to me.

PZ: Looking back at all three tapes, what is your favorite Ismatic Guru track and why?

BS: Bran: They're all cool in my book but honestly, my favorite tracks are the ones still hanging out there in the ether waiting to be written.

PZ: What else is on the horizon for you both? What's been happening at both Swimming Faith and Steak and Cake headquarters? Anymore music videos coming?

JT: The Hamiltones In Space should be out in the early part of 2024 along with The Moon People 7" and cassette. I got a new Brute Spring release about to go to the plant. A new Night Slaves tape is ready once I finish the art. There is an Alpha Hopper LP and a Black & White Cat / Black & White Cake LP coming. Both are about 85% done. We're about to record new Science Man stuff soon. We're writing new Besta Quadrada jams. Lindz and I might be making a few videos for other bands too. It's all happening.

BS: Seems like the label is a bit jammed up on releases right now so the faucet's about to turn on full force. There's a new release from BUUNK, a sample heavy, Dilla-type thing. There's a shortie EP and music video coming from To You, which is an art-rock, Radiohead-ish collaboration with my good buddy Ben. There's some piano heavy freak-folk on the way from a project called Beekeeper and also an instrumental odyssey from the old-heads in Scary Planetary. Last but not least, I just started playing drums in a new, yet-to-be-named, garage rock thing that's probably debuting at the label's 13th Annie show in February 2024. It's the good kind of busy over here.

Ismatic Guru's III is out November 16th on Swimming Faith Records.


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