By Josh T. Landow
A few years ago at SXSW, Seattle’s Tacocat won my heart with their colorful personality, acerbic sense of humor, and thoroughly catchy tunes. They’ve done it again with their recently released fourth album (and first on Sub Pop Records), This Mess Is A Place, which I recently had the opportunity to chat about with band Emily Noakes, Lelah Maupin, Bree McKenna, and Eric Randall.
The last time we spoke was for a SubModern Session in October 2016 (listen here). Shortly after that, the world kind of changed, and I think that has a lot to do with what’s on the new record.
Emily Noakes: Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. [laughs]
So going back and writing a record after that, being the liberal-minded people that you are, how did it affect what you were writing about?
Emily: I don’t think we really set out to do anything. It was just sort of part of the landscape. When something like that happens, it’s sort of impossible to not have that get into your music, or any project, or just your whole life. So, yeah, that was a pretty shocking time for a lot of us in Seattle and in our community. It was pretty wild.
Emily: Everyone that’s on the side that we’re on.
What I take away from the album, is whereas I’ve heard plenty of music that’s been very dark and dour in this post-Trump world, you did it in different way where you’re using that to empower and to try to bring some positivity.
Emily: Yeah. I mean, we’re all pretty positive people and we knew we didn’t want to have an album that was just grim. I don’t want to reflect back, the snapshot of the time shouldn’t be what’s happening outside. It should be more positive so that it’s sort of an antidote to that, not just like “everything sucks… 2, 3, 4…”
I think listening to an album like this can really make you feel better.
Emily: Thank you, that’s very nice to say.
So, when I heard the first single, “Grains of Salt,” for the first time, I thought, “this is different, this is very different.” But it’s weird, because it doesn’t seem as different now, in the context of the record, as it did when I just heard it on its own. Does that make sense?
Emily: Yeah, that totally makes sense.
Eric Randall: Oh yeah, it’s the most different sounding song on the album. The other songs are the bridge to that sound, I guess.
Was it a later song in the process?
Eric: That was a later song. Just the actual riff took a long time in different forms. That song definitely came together later in the process. I think that originally whatever I was playing with that song sounded maybe more traditionally like us and then it just kind of clicked and… [laughs] I forgot where I was going with that.
And those keys or synths really change it up. Was that all you guys or did you have guest musicians?
Emily: I played the synth. That was kind of an afterthought. I was sort of drunk. [laughs] I had to do it in front of everyone. It was really scary cause I didn’t have anything planned and they were like, “You could put a synth part here,” and I was like, “Ooooh! I’ll try that.” So yeah. We didn’t have any guests. Just us.
Eric: But Erik Blood, who produced this album and the last album has a lot to do with the final sound. We came in with songs that were a lot more raw, and he really polished them up and had a lot of good ideas about back-ups and synthesizer, and things like that.
Emily: Totally! He’s a good wizard like that.
Well the last album was one of my favorites that year, and this will definitely be one of my favorites this year.
Emily: Aww, thank you!
Let’s talk about the video that just came out for “New World” because it’s really cool.
Emily: Yeah, it’s bonkers! Love it!
Bonkers isn’t a foreign concept to Tacocat for your videos.
Emily: Not at all! [laughs]
Well, if you want to tell me about the video and how it relates to what the song is about.
Emily: I mean, we just gave pretty much full control to Sean Downey, who is a bonkers man. And we knew that he was and just sort of let him write the thing for us. This is very much a product of his brain and his vision, so we really love it.
Lelah Maupin: I talked to Sean one on one about what his idea was, and we both agreed that it’s like a literal interpretation of the song. Like, here is a new world. It looks like this. Which I think works really well.
Eric: We had a nice time at the park [making the video], wearing giant head pieces while everyone gawked at us. It was pretty weird. One man at the very end, just kind of really got up in our… like “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?” It was pretty weird.
Lelah: It’s called art sir. Look it up.
It’s kind of a classic sci-fi concept of the alternate universe?
Emily: Yeah, but I guess you can’t have a utopia for real, cause your utopia is gonna be someone else’s not-utopia. Or that’s always when you read sci-fi, they’re like “we’re going to make everything different,” but it always ends up being oppressive. So this is just like, things are better. They’re not the best. It’s a new world, a new planet, we’re starting over. I was having writer’s block and I read a weird little cue that was like, “Try to think about the opposite of how you feel right now.” I was like, “I woke up today and everything was better!” Because that was not how it felt that morning when I had woken up. [laughs] It was the opposite!
You obviously have a sense of humor and always have on your albums. On this album, I hesitate to use the word ‘maturing’ because that makes it seem like its all serious, but there is a sense of growth and maturity, but without losing that. Just maybe, there aren’t as many overt jokes?
Emily: Yeah. I think that’s fair.
Bree McKenna: It’s like a natural progression. We always talk about all our albums as like, y’know… they change, but it’s all very natural. We don’t purposefully make a decision to do something a certain way. It’s just what comes out.
Emily: It was really hard to feel like there was any way to make really obvious jokes on this one because there wasn’t anything I wanted to make fun of. People are just living. Everything is hard. And the things I did want to make fun of were already so awful that there wasn’t a way to do good satire anymore, when it’s already self-satirizing. Which is what the song “The Joke of Life” is all about actually, that it’s like, “Geeeez, I can’t even make fun of this, it’s already so bad.”
Eric: We live in a post-ironic world now.
Emily: There used to be power in satire. Now it’s getting taken away from us, because they’re like, “Yeah, we’re awful. What are you gonna do about it?” [laughs] So that’s why I think it’s not as polemic seeming.