- by Tom Dumarey
Seattle’s Tacocat sure have come a long way since playing house shows, booking DIY tours on MySpace, and writing funny, deliriously catchy feminist pop-punk songs. Well, actually they still do that last thing. And they do it better than ever before on the recently released 'This Mess Is a Place', their firsth full-length album for Sub Pop and fourth overall. Like the albums before it, ‘This Mess Is A Place’ is all kinds of goodness wrapped up in one seriously sweet package. We caught up with vocalist Emily Nokes to find out a little bit more about the album, growing as a band and reality TV shows.
PRT: ‘This Mess Is A Place’ is your first album for Sub Pop after releasing the previous two on their imprint, Hardly Art. Does this feel like a promotion? Or how does that work exactly?
Emily: It does feel like a promotion! But yeah, Hardly Art is in the same family, in the same office even, and we know and love everyone on both sides—it just feels like sitting at the big-kid table now. Or maybe being offered to stay up late and play cards with your cool worldly cousins or something.
PRT: You worked with Erik Blood again for the new album. What is it about him that made you want to hit the studio with him again?
Emily: We loved working with him and getting to know him during Lost Time, and became friends outside of the studio as well, so making This Messwas even more comfortable and we were able to dig into it more. We also had more time, which was so crucial! He gets it, he makes us sound great, and we just really trust him. I’m chronically indecisive and I’ll write melodies or lyrics 5 different ways and he’ll immediately tell me which one is best.
PRT: When Trump got elected, people said that at the very least we would get some seriously pissed off albums out of it. But then Bob Mould goes and releases his sunniest album ever and here you are with your poppiest release to date. Is that a direct reaction to the world getting shittier and grimmer?
Emily: When Eric and Bree and Lelah started making the music and we started talking about song structures and all that, there was definitely no feeling like we wanted to make anything sounds angry or agro or overly sad. All those emotions and reactions are valid of course, but it’s just not us, so the music wasn’t getting set up to sounds that way. We love pop music and the world needed pop!
When it came to my parts though, I definitely felt like shit for over a year. Personally, politically, the whole community—everything just felt universally dismal, if it felt like anything at all. I struggled with like, what is there to even say right now? How can we even approach making art right now? But I knew I didn’t want to write lyrics that reflected that exactly, or at least reflected that in a dark way. I didn’t want the lyrics to be a grim snapshot of the time; I didn’t want to reflect yuck back into the yuck world. Eventually the haze started to lift a bit and the writing puzzle started to click and things started feeling un-stuck again! We’re at our best I think when we’re hopeful and positive, that’s just how we have always operated so it would make sense that we have to amp that up to match the opposing forces that have grown. Like superheroes getting new powers to match the evil forces growing? I’m tired I hope that makes sense haha
PRT: Is it a way of coping or rebelling to laugh in the face of those in power rather than rage against it?
Emily: Absolutely. We’ve always firmly believed in satire and humor as powerful weapons. Screaming and anger is what they expect, but a really sharp, smart parody is just so potent. I did realize on this album though, that because things are so extreme in the world right now, it’s harder to approach with any nuance because the other side is alreadysatirizing themselves. The caricature is the reality. That’s what “The Joke of Life” is about—the joke is that the joke is already a joke.
PRT: It seems like in today’s climate all of the ugliness that people used to kinda hide, has come out of the woodwork. Have there been people you know personally that surprised you in a negative way?
Emily: Not people I really know personally, thankfully, but it has been trippy to see that play out in a larger context. The “red pilling” of so many former feminists and allies especially is SO bizarre. Like we’re watching some bonkers/bleak sci-fi unfold.
PRT: When I listen to ‘This Mess Is A Place,’ it almost feels like a conversation between friends where you talk about serious things one second, then joke about stuff the next and end up making jokes about the serious stuff because what else can you do about it. Is that how you set it out to be?
Emily: I really love that. You nailed it.
PRT: Speaking of friends, when you started out you were friends who barely knew how to play your instruments. And then it’s twelve years later and you’ve played Coachella, toured all over the place and are ready to release album number four. Is it fair to say that you have exceeded your expectations when it comes to Tacocat?
Emily: Haha 100% YES. We first started with one goal in mind, and that was to play house shows and parties. A million parties later and I still have a really hard time believing we’ve made it this far! I texted my band mates this big emotional group message on release day with this exact sentiment.
PRT: Has the reason for being in a band together changed in those 12 years as well?
Emily: Not really. We all just wanted it to be fun, and we always said we’d stopped doing it when it stopped being fun. Obviously it’s become more of a focus than we ever imagined, and with a lot of hard work comes a lot of ups and downs, but we still love travelling together and
PRT: Artists these days often seem to come out of nowhere and turn into the hottest thing seemingly overnight. Your success has been more gradual, growing more organically. Would you have it any other way?
Emily: No way! We’re so glad it happened this way. I don’t think we would have made it this far if it was different. We’ve had time to grow as people and musicians, as well as pursue interests outside of music, which is a must for me. I cringe to think what 22-year-old me would have done with any real success haha
PRT: Do you ever try and kind of plan ahead? Set goals for the band?
Emily: Not really. I mean, we plan ahead in the broadest of terms like “we’re going to make another album and then we’re going to go on tour, and then another tour, wheee” but it’s sort of impossible to plan ahead more than that. Even if we wanted to, a lot of opportunities pop up unexpectedly, so really we’ve learned to just be flexible and ready for anything! As far as goals, we of course have a lot of short-term and even some long-term goals in place, but for me, I try to keep my expectations neutral and not expect too much or get bent out of shape when things don’t go as planned—I have a feeling that’s why people can get really bitter in the music industry.
PRT: Last but not least... if you could participate in any reality show that is out there (or yet to be invented), which one would it be and why?
Emily: Wow I was just talking to someone last night about The Monkees TV show from the ’60s and how fun it would be to do a version of that, but with Tacocat. It’d be a “reality” show but with a very campy, theatrical bent! Which is honestly just our real true lives (wink wink).