Scene: Summer 2010, the Montgomery County Fair in suburban Washington, D.C. I graduated from high school only a month or two ago, and my friend Dave just threw up a Wendy’s Triple Baconator on the swinging ship ride. I win a goldfish whom I name Waffles (sOoOoo random!!) and am carrying him around in a plastic bag when my other buddy Ian suggests that instead of buying more tickets to ride rides and play games, we pool our remaining money and score some shrooms from our former classmate Colin. We eat the shrooms and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey in my parents’ living room. I forget all about Waffles. By morning, he is dead.
Waffles has been on my mind lately, ever since six-piece NYC post-punk outfit TVOD dropped their single “Goldfish” late last year. The track opens with a dense bass riff before some ominous drums drop in and vocalist Tyler Wright recounts a tale of woe: “Ted killed my goldfish, fed her too many pills.” The tension builds as they send the goldfish to her porcelain grave, exploding into a punishing chorus that nods to traditional post-punk bands like the Pixies but also newer ones like Dry Cleaning. I love this 2020s-on-a-late-20th-century sound, same as I love a frock designed in the ’90s to make it look like it’s from the ’60s. It’s revitalized and fun.
TVOD have been steadily dropping singles since their 2021 full-length record Victory Garden, assembling a strong set list of weighty-sounding songs with often wryly humorous subject matter, though the June release “Poppies” b/w “Since You’ve Been Away” deals with some darker themes. More than anything else, their sound is engineered to make you move. They have enough for another album, they just need the capital to lay it down—I know some record label A&R folks must be reading this, so why are you snoozing on them?
Anyway, I’m really into this “Goldfish” track, which I think captures something universal: We’re all goldfish-killers. If you bring a goldfish into your home, you’re probably going to cause its demise. How does that make you feel?
I knew there was a tragic backstory to the track, so I hopped on the phone with Tyler. “It’s kind of a saga,” he warns me, before telling me he’d never told anyone this story before, so I guess you could say it’s a CREEM exclusive. Here’s what followed, edited for length and clarity:
I injured myself badly at our show in Philadelphia. I was jumping on a pogo stick during our set, and I broke my wrist. It was super embarrassing, and I was pretty much immobile. It was the end of our tour, and I had been away for, like, two weeks, and my friend Ted had been feeding my goldfish. When I got back, my goldfish, whose name was Phoebe, was still alive, but my life was, like, coming undone. I had broken my wrist, and my girlfriend was away on tour, so I was super sad. I also had the post-tour blues. It feels so weird going back to normal life.
So I’m in my normal life, and I can’t do my job because my wrist is broken. All the while I’m feeding my goldfish and trying to keep up with her, but she’s not at the forefront of my mind. And one day I get back from a night out of partying. She’s dead.
I’m so devastated. Like, this is the fucking icing on the cake. My goldfish is dead. My wrist is broken. My girlfriend’s gone. Everything is terrible. And my guitar player Jason [Wornoff] happened to be coming over that day, and I’m like, “Dude, I don’t know how to get the goldfish out of the tank, I forgot where my girlfriend said the little net was. I’m trying to use a spatula to pick her out of the tank, but I can’t do it with my broken wrist. Help!” So he comes over and we do a little goldfish funeral over the toilet bowl. I say a few words. She was a really good goldfish. She lived for two years. I got her at Petco for, like, 25 cents.
At the next band practice, I started to play this heavy bass riff, and I was trying to come up with some way to, like, get rid of my guilt, because I still hadn’t told my girlfriend that the fish had died. So in my head, I’m trying to make up a story, maybe that Ted, my friend who was originally taking care of her, he killed her, and I had nothing to do with it. I wrote this whole song of how my friend killed my goldfish and sent her to goldfish hell by feeding her too many pills. Just a whole crazy story. My friend had no idea the song was written about him until it came out, and we’re playing that song live for Rolling Stone, and he’s, like, commenting on it like, “People are going to forever think that I killed your goldfish!”
Maybe this is time to come clean. Like, I’m responsible for Phoebe’s death, it’s not Ted. And sorry, Ted, that I used you as a scapegoat for that long and wrote a song about it. I couldn’t accept my guilt.
What began as a 25-cent purchase at Petco became a Dostoyevskian crisis of conscience, a cautionary tale of what we already knew and Tyler summed up like so: “If you buy a goldfish, you’re pretty much signing up to become a goldfish murderer, because goldfish are bred for death.”