Punk rock and D.I.Y. was always intended to break down barriers between “rock stars” and fans, but few current bands seem to rep those ideals as strongly as Seattle’s Tacocat.
Comprised of four best friends—vocalist Emily Nokes, bassist Bree McKenna, drummer Lelah Maupin, and guitarist Eric Randall—the group specializes in a blend of surf and pop-punk topped with lyrics that explore everyday life and beg you to sing along. Visually, Tacocat’s bright and playful aesthetics incorporate lots of glitter, sparkles, and stickered instruments that add to their “everyone’s welcome” vibe.
On the heels of its 2014 breakout album, NVM, Tacocat’s latest LP, Lost Time, will be released April 1 via Hardly Art. Produced by Erik Blood (Shabazz Palaces), the album showcases Tacocat’s signature sass and feminist sensibilities with an ode to Dana Scully from The X-Files, a love song for their hometown, and party jams like “Night Swimming,” while also embracing some newfound darker musical textures with “Talk” and “Plan A, Plan B.”
She Shreds caught up with Tacocat rhythm section, McKenna and Maupin, to learn more about the Lost Time, the band’s favorite techniques to record practice sessions, and the changing climate of the Seattle music community.
The X-Files are dark and creepy and Tacocat is anything but. Tell me about your love for X-Files and how “Dana Katherine Scully” became the song to kick off your new record.
Bree McKenna: Lelah is making a face. Three out of four members of Tacocat are very excited for the reboot, but Lelah is not a very big TV fan and has not even watched one episode.
So is this a cause of inner band tension?
McKenna: I’ve talked to her about more shows. I have a plan to get her into X-Files.
Lelah Maupin: You do?
McKenna: Yeah. So, as you know there are monster episodes of The X-Files, and then there is a story arc. I want Lelah to watch the monster episodes first because I don’t think she’s going to to spend too much time getting into the plot. Scully is such a strong figure that it was only a matter of time before a pop/punk band would do a song about her.
Your music is fun but even when you’re singing about everyday things, it is stuff that a lot of women can relate to and some of that is pretty serious. As the rhythm section that provides that danceable beat, what does it mean to you to have these very topical subjects for your songs, and then make it something to have a party to?
McKenna: From the start we all liked to have house parties and stuff, but we always wrote songs about what our experiences were and what we talk about. We talk about our bodies and our periods, but we also talk X-Files and stuff, except for Lelah. It’s just sort of a fusion of our personalities. We take all of that stuff seriously but it is sort of a slice of our life. Writing about things that are actually not a joke, but Lelah is into pop-punk and plays Ramones-style drums. We all like upbeat music and that is what we want to make, but we have a couple of more moody songs on this record that were fun to make because they were a little different for us.
How did that came about? Was it part of being in a band for almost ten years and trying new things or was it something a little more deliberate with this album?
Bree: We start our songwriting with riffs and working them out and I remember that one of our songs which ended up being called “Talk” was first called “The Spooky Song.”
Well, there’s your X-Files.
McKenna: Yeah! We haven’t really written songs that moody.
Maupin: That song was originally slower. We recorded it and somehow when we were transferring the recordings through the computer, I don’t know, something happened and somehow it came out twice as fast.
McKenna: I was recording a demo, just to work on stuff, and I accidentally sped it up to double speed.
Maupin: Oh, you did that?
McKenna: It wasn’t a real recording. It was for making a demo. We were like, “This song sounds dope faster,” but it was originally intended to be our super deliberate, super slow song. Even though it is sad and spooky, it is still kind of poppy.
It is sad and spooky in context of Tacocat.
McKenna: I had recorded it on my phone on the external microphone and then I uploaded it to garageband and it came out faster and I couldn’t figure it out. I’m terrible with tech stuff.
So, you all write separately, and then record on your phone and bring it to practice?
McKenna: We record at practice. We usually write a series of demos and kind of change things up a bit. We’ll record a little riff together and have an idea and keep working on it. We’ve written so many riffs together we’ve forgotten some of them.
Maupin: Yeah, and then next time someone will bring it up and we’ll say, “Yeah, that was cool.”
What do you like to record on? What would you recommend for someone who might be intimidated by recording software? It’s not like back in the day when everyone just had their Tascam 4-track. There are so many options.
McKenna: Totally. I am a big fan of the Voice Memo on my phone. I think it sounds good. It usually blows up the drums out a little bit, but if you wrap it in a sweater or something it will kind of muffle it.
Maupin: We used to put it in the hallway.
Wrapped in a sweater? Has anyone ever tried to return it to you?
McKenna: Yeah, we used to be really paranoid someone would take off with our phone.
Maupin: As far as making real demos, like making multiple tracks. We just don’t do it.
McKenna: I feel like there is nothing intimidating about Voice Memo on iPhones, but that isn’t multitrack. I have another app on my phone too. I’ve used it a couple of times to work on things by myself, but meh. For the most part, I like doing things in person.
Maupin: We do real demos, too. Eric has a microphone and he went to a recording college.
McKenna: He recorded our first album and two or three of our EPs.
How did you end up working with Lindy West for your bio? Are you all friends from the Northwest?
McKenna: Lindy is our friend from Seattle acquaintanceships, but her husband [Ahamefule J. Oluo] actually played trumpet on our last record. So whenever we had a big show or something we’d say “Ahamefule, do you want to play trumpet with us on stage?” And he was so cool and he would always do it. So, we got to know her. We have a lot of mutual friends and stuff and shared values. A lot of our friends are involved in Shout Your Abortion and she is a big player in that and she is just a wonderful lady.
Maupin: I remember being at a block party five or six years ago and we were both hanging out in the VIP area for some reason. And we saw Lindy sitting fifteen feet away and we were like, “Oh my god, that’s Lindy. Do we say hi? I’m scared.”
McKenna: She was the big town celebrity. Then we kind of wandered over and said hi.
Seattle has a legacy of strong women musicians over the last 25 years. What is it like being a part of a city where that has been such a big part of the music culture, where even the biggest rock band, Nirvana, was very feminist-oriented? Has that carried into the current music climate in Seattle?
McKenna: I think right now it is the coolest it’s been since I’ve lived here. When Tacocat started here that was not the climate, to say the least. In fact, when we first started I found the climate to be rather sexist and it was very upsetting. It was very “bro-dominated” music, and we would get comments that were really inappropriate or lame or make us feel bad about playing music. Very sexist stuff. Then I feel that we just kept doing it. No one really liked Tacocat. We loved it and we were like, “Fuck that, we’re not going to stop!”
Was it the lyrics or because you were having so much fun doing it?
McKenna: People would say the lyrics were stupid because we were talking about the female body, which has really turned around in the last few years. One band said our lyrics were stupid because our lyrics were about cats. “If you’re female and you’re in a feminist band you can’t sing about cats.” Shut up! That mentality, either you’re a dude, beard-rock band in that beardy scene that was really hot here, or you were an underground political band that was really intense.
We have very strong political beliefs and we are feminists. I just think it is really lame to tell women what they should and shouldn’t do with their art. Whether they “should” do it because they’re women or not. I really feel like Tacocat has been hanging in here in Seattle, and every time we’re on tour we meet people who are like us, and we get them to play here and sometimes they move here, like Lisa Prank. And I think it’s fostered a really great feminist scene in Seattle that is taking over. I’m really proud we had a part in that because it was not always easy.
It is amazing how a climate changes, where a band could be the underdogs (even though you were singing about cats), and then turn that into something that is positive and growing. How have you have fostered that climate in Seattle or on tour? What are some things that musicians can do in their towns or when bands come through to bolster that positive environment?
McKenna: Making safe spaces.
Maupin: Just encouraging younger musicians and people who aren’t as experienced in making music.
McKenna: We always ask younger bands play with us or bands we’re excited about. Seattle is big enough to have a lot of different kinds of people and we all play together. Some of our friends are tattoo artists or visual artists or poets and we all try to incorporate each other’s ideas and try to incorporate each other’s ideas and try to make things really inclusive and cool.
Tacocat often mixes political themes in with all of these personal themes. Do you have any thoughts about putting out a record and touring in an election year when women’s’ rights are such a big focus in our political sphere right now?
McKenna: I personally haven’t given it a lot of thought, but I talked to my spiritual advisor and we are in a little bit of an agreement that 2016 has been a big, intense, crazy year already and she’s like, “It’s going to be huge! Crazy things are going to happen!” Personally, in relation to an election year, I think it is a great time to be touring. I think having a positive impact, even if it is on a small group of people will be amazing.
Maupin: I agree. Also, there are so many issues that are affecting women this year. It feels really good to be outspoken about our beliefs in the way we are, which is through our music. To me it is interesting that the two candidates that everyone is talking about are Angel/Devil. It’s totally black and white and it has never been like this before. I read this article about how Trump is destroying the GOP and it is just imploding.
McKenna: Personally, I like watching the soap opera unfold.