A couple of months back, me and my roommates put on the live streaming of the Coachella Music Festival on YouTube. Out came one of the most peculiarly modest looking bands you could ever picture. They were definite hipsters, the drummer wore an old school tennis player’s outfit, the frontman wore shades and a neon blue suit and the lead guitarist had on a floral shirt with a shaggy curly hair thing going on. They had drugs and indie rock written all over them.
Once they started playing, I sensed a lo-fi garage vibe coming off of them, but yet, the tempo was not really up there like your quintessential garage rock bands of the 2000s. Most of the indie rock out there today is highly influenced by electronic music and much of British indie is too, ambient electro-emo-pop. Raw but simple and rhythmic guitar music reminiscent of 60s bands like The Kinks is rare. As they started playing their set, I was enjoying their style of music and how laid back they seemed. My general mental practice when I’m listening to a new artist is to find musical similarities of the artist to other bands I might have listened to before, it helps me place the sound I’m listening to a musical sphere that exists in my head – I’m not talking about music genres but the musical atmosphere that the band manifests. But this band was hard for me to place. They weren’t emo, but they were dejected, coupled with their heartfelt lyricism and imperfect musicianship, they are the indie rock heroes we have all been waiting for. The band is Carseat Headrest from Leesburg, Virginia but currently based in the alt-rock capital of America, Seattle. Will Toledo’s loud, but shaky, honest and painfully aware vocals with Ethan Ives on bass and Andrew Katz ( the man in the tennis outfit) on drums create a range of moody and introspective pop-rock tunes that are melodic and also structurally ambitious. After releasing 11 albums on Bandcamp independently, they released their first album after being signed to Matador Records – Teens of Denial and one track from the record stood out for me and sparked something deep inside of me that few songs have before.
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales might sound like a vague track name but it says everything that the song Will has written, is about. It is a song which delves deep into the theme of Post party melancholia which is much of what quarter life crisis is about and this band embodies everything about this indistinct phenomenon every 20-something go through. Have you ever stepped into a drug and alcohol fuelled party all geared up to have a great time but only hours later you are too drunk and high that you realise everything is way too real and depressing and it’s time to leave? Parties are generally a blur and by the end of it, you’re left with your high thoughts, unable to physically move, but mentally you’d like to anywhere but where you are. So, you are left there contemplating your life. While this would be my rough description of the mood the song tries its listeners to get into, Will Toledo wrote this as an angst rock song which we won’t be embarrassed to pass it on to the later generations. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales is quite literally a song about alcoholism and depression, but the environment of the song is formed from several different perspectives at once. Toledo knew he wanted to write a song about that vague, listless, depressing feeling that settles in on the way home from the party, but he also wanted to reach beyond that, toward some kind of cosmic truth. He had just finished watching the documentary Blackfish and felt equally depressed about its depiction of captive killer whales, so he thought, “Why not conflate both forms of depression?”
Lyrics like “It comes and goes, in plateaus”, “fall asleep on the floor, forget what happened in the morning, there are notes in your handwriting, but you can’t make it out” and,“You share the same fate as the people you hate” perfectly capture the actualities of depression, love and millennial wisdom. Such seemingly juvenile, but passionate writing can be compared to a song like “There is a light that never goes out” by The Smiths which is not just an indie rock anthem, but also complex, with ideas, themes, and personae unfolding over the course of the song, contradicting each other, confronting the listeners’ preconceptions. You know Will is going through a tough time when he uninhibitedly says that he has become a negative person, but remains hopeful for himself and for everyone he has written this song for to live through and overcome their miseries –
But if we learn how to live like this
Maybe we can learn how to start again
Like a child who’s never done wrong
Who hasn’t taken that first step?
The song also creams into a rousing chorus when you least expect it and uplifts the mood of the track. While you keep swaying to his spoken word, he will have you shook as he cries out “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
We are not a proud race
It’s not a race at all
We’re just trying
I’m only trying to get home
Drunk drivers, drunk drivers
Will is a conscious musician aware of his place in the world, it’s nice to see he does not give two shits about being a rock star and is not willing to jump on that indie rock bandwagon to produce the same 3-minute nonsensical bangers. With his thick-rimmed glasses and sheepish demeanour, you might mistake him and his band to be just another geek rock copy of Beck and Weezer and a few Rock elitists have also called them Pavement – wannabes but Will Toledo and I both know, haters are gonna hate.
They have been a locally popular band for most of their young career in music, but of late, they have been invited to perform in many late night television shows after the success of their debut album. Here is an alternate live version of Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales that they performed on Jimmy Fallon.
Other notable songs by Carseat Headrest: Fill In The Blank and (Joe Gets Kicked out of School For Using) Drugs with Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem] from Teens of Denial(2016).