Backwards Forwards Square and Round:
Bobby Moore Goes Paws Up with Tacocat
Seattle-based band Tacocat overcame ramshackle beginnings and exceeded all party-punk expectations by developing into a well-oiled touring and recording machine.
After over a decade of balancing jokey material about UTIs and Dana Scully with such no-nonsense feminist anthems as “Hey Girl,” singer Emily Nokes, drummer Lelah Maupin, bassist Bree McKenna and guitarist Eric Randall got called up to the major leagues, going from Sub Pop subsidiary Hardly Art to the big kahuna.
The band’s Sub Pop debut, This Mess is a Place, heavily features political commentary by and for misunderstood millennials. “Rose-Colored Sky,” “Crystal Ball” and other tracks aren’t mere examples of Rock Against Bush sloganeering for the coming decade. Instead, the band breaks down the kinds of day-to-day fears and struggles that make it a less-than-ideal “time to barely be alive.”
It’s not all a harsh reminder of underemployment and smothering student loan debt. The band keeps its sense of humor intact on ode to pet ownership “Little Friend” (my cat is named Tacocat, BTW) and a theme song for the cheesiest spot to enjoy margarita night, “Meet Me at La Palma.”
Any chance of focusing on the band’s more serious material or the time they opened for Bernie Sanders went by the wayside fast when I called Maupin for a lengthy chat (on the other Tacocat’s eighth birthday). However, our side discussions about famous Instagram pets and country music share as much about the band’s humor and pop cultural interests as any song from its four studio albums.
For starters, this is your first album on Sub Pop. What was the process for going from Hardly Art to Sub Pop, if there’s any sort of process at all?
“You know, it was kind of weird. It is something we really wanted to do, but it’s not really something that is common.
“So, This Mess is a Place was ready to be out, and we were maybe going to go with a whole different label someplace else. But we wanted to stay home. We’d done a full contract with Hardly Art and it sort of felt like… If you work at a ‘real job’ and you work for so many years and you did good, you get promoted. So, we just kind of were like, ‘What if we were just on Sub Pop for this one?’ And they said, ‘Oh, sure.’ That’s kind of how it went. They said, ‘Normally, we don’t do stuff like that,’ but they said it felt right to them and it was alright to us.”
This might be corny, but is it like a dream to make music in Seattle and work your way up to Sub Pop?
“I grew up in a small town in Washington. I grew up closer to Portland, so I went to a lot of shows in Portland. I never thought in a million years: move to Seattle, be on Sub Pop Records. That was not in my reality. It’s not what I was shooting for, but it is kind of the dream. I did have this moment where I looked back on young me in small town Washington and was like, Wow. I can’t really overlook that. It’d be silly.”
The new album sounds more polished while still sounding like a Tacocat record should. Were you all trying to step up your game for Sub Pop?
“We made the album before we had the Sub Pop deal. Usually you go and get a record label, and a big part of what they do is they give you money so you can afford to make recordings and videos and physical records. We paid for the recordings ourselves. We were out of contract with Hardly Art, and we just wanted to make an album. We saved up just enough money to pull it off, so we sort of did it all backwards.
“So yeah, it was a finished product. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now, and we always try to make the next level for ourselves. We don’t ever want to make the same album twice, and we love all our older albums. We feel like it’s a little bit of a natural progression or a push on ourselves as creators and musicians.”
I guess when you guys got started, you would’ve gotten compared to garage-punk. I’m curious what you’ll be lumped in with this time, now that garage-punk is barely a thing.
“I know, right? One thing we got on the last cycle a lot, which is great, is The Go-Go’s. Which is fine. You can compare me to The Go-Go’s anytime, all the time. It’s great. But yeah, I don’t know what they’ll say this time.
“I read a couple of things today, and we got surf-rocked again. It’s really funny because we wrote one ever surfy song, which was ‘Crimson Wave’ so long ago. That term is just forever linked to us no matter what we’re doing [laughs].”
If you think about it, your humor and the colorful way you dress kind of fits the culture now of the “yee-haw” thing and memes.
“I feel like the world’s finally caught up to us. It’s great that whatever’s happening out there and what we’re doing is harmonious. I hope that will work well for our future. I’m not sure. Time will tell!”
Not to go off-topic, but I think I follow your dog on Instagram. Nanners?
“Yes, Nanners! Aw, thank you!”
“She’s just ridiculous, right? I just love her so much. I recently changed her handle to Nanners_the_genius because Butters had to go back to his daddy. Butters was a temporary dog-sit. I had to change it and wandered what I should change it to. I said, ‘Well, she is a little genius!’”
At one point, there were photos of her with other dogs at a birthday party, and they were wearing little party hats.
“That was my boyfriend’s idea. It was her first birthday. He was kind of joking about throwing her a party. He invited all her dog friends. Every dog she ever played with was invited to the party. Then my friends came, too, and everybody brought presents. It was ridiculous. They were wearing outfits and the hats, and we had three dog cakes made out of, like, dog food. I mean, it was amazing. My boyfriend is the sweetest. I would have never really gone that far to throw Sara Banana her first birthday, but I’m glad we did.”
Everyone in Tacocat seems to have other forms of expression, from Bree being in multiple bands to Emily’s work as a music journalist and editor. What are some of your other creative outlets?
“Eric and I have a side project where we cover country songs. Eric and I especially love country. We grew up in the same small town where country was a big deal.
“My boyfriend Danny is a country guitarist by trade. One day we were hanging out, and we just wanted to play cover songs. It was inspired by the TV show Nashville. We wanted to cover Nashville songs. We all love that show. Then we were like, why don’t we just cover our favorite songs? Eric’s girlfriend is an incredible singer, and she’s been wanting to get in front of a microphone. She doesn’t really have a project or anything. It just kind of came together. Danny wants to just play country music from the moment he wakes up until the moment he goes to sleep, so we have that. It’s called Whiskey Frog. We haven’t had a show yet. We’re still building our set.
“And I play with this amazing woman. She’s a Seattle fixture, Lady Krishna. I play drums in her project called Lady Krishna’s Cosmic Panties. She is amazing, and what a trip.
“I like to paint. I’ve had a couple of art shows over the years. It’s not my primary focus. I don’t really have time for it, but I do occasionally have a little show.”
I should probably ask more questions about the album…
“Oh, right [laughs]. So, This Mess is a Place is our fourth album. We’re very proud of it. We’re very excited about it. I think it’s the best work we’ve ever made.”
That should about do it. We’ve talked about the big three: pets, the album and country music. Anything else?
“I do know that this album is really important. Part of the reason we really wanted to get it out in a hurry is because the songs are very topical for the climate that we live in, which is absurd and heartbreaking. A lot of people had a hard time with the 2016 election. The world is upside down right now. Maybe it’s always upside down and we’re just now getting clued in, but it seems extra bonkers out there. This album is sort of a response to that. I think it’s important for it to come out at the time that it is.”
Photo by Helen Moga.