“Seattle is like the nerdiest city”
Taylor Swift, Seattle nerds, feminism and horses. Tacocat are a band of numerous influence.
Words: Jasleen Dhindsa.
Seattle surf-pop-punk foursome Tacocat are set to release third album ‘Lost Time’ this spring. It’s their best yet, in part due to the magical ears and fingers of producer Erik Blood, as drummer Lelah Maupin explains. “Recording with Erik was different, I wouldn’t say he was intimidating, but there’s this air about working with him. It was like he was a fifth member of our band with his influence and sound; the album wouldn’t be half as good without him. It almost makes me feel like a fraud,” she laughs, “I didn’t do anything extra good or special, this other person who is genius, polished what I did into something way better.”
‘Lost Time’ is clearly a record Tacocat are proud of, not just because of the work of Erik, but also in how the band have developed as musicians, nearly a decade in. Yet despite the change, they still manage to be incredibly modest about their success in self-development. “The songs we’ve written for ‘Lost Time’ are better musically. As far as we’ve come as artists, it’s our best work. Every time we make new songs, I feel like events progress in a way. All the songs were written by us, but Erik definitely had a huge impact, I feel eternally grateful that we got to work with him. I don’t think the album would be as special as it is without him.”
While studio life has been tweaked for Tacocat, the subject matter of their well-loved toe-tapping, hand-clapping, bubblegum punk has shifted too. “There’s a little bit of a darker tone. Our whole career has been light hearted, funny, and at times ridiculous, but I think this is the only album where there are more serious tones, which is great for us. We just want to grow and change with ourselves.”
Fear not – while doses of ‘serious’ may be found in the lyrics of ‘Lost Time’, the musical influences still happily span the various up-tempo genres of punk and pop alike. “I learned to play drums playing fast punk stuff, and then I tried to expand and become a more dynamic drummer. I was the drummer in this Taylor Swift cover band, it was really fun! Learning Taylor Swift songs taught me to play drums in a completely different way, and that comes through on the album for me.”
Lelah’s appreciation for all musical colours and creeds has been something that’s been with her from day one. “Before Tacocat I wasn’t in a band. I’ve been in bands since, but before that I was a really big wannabe. I’d go to all the shows, and a lot of my friends were musicians or would go on tour, and I’d be like ‘Oh my God! If I could only be like that’. It was like a dream of mine. That was my life. If I could go to Portland and see a cool emo punk show, that was the best thing in the world.” Her main inspirations are less surprising than the country-turned-pop star though. “My earliest memories of really giving a shit about music was Green Day, Nirvana and Hole. Later on when I was in high school I met Eric [Randall, guitar], and I didn’t really know anything until I met him. He would make me a burn CD every day, he was into emo like Saves The Day and Dashboard Confessional, and all of those bands, but also Devo and The Cars.”
The impact of those quintessential 90s bands have had lasting impacts on not just Leelah, but the other members of Tacocat too, with the band being aptly referred to as ‘90s revivalism’. “I was born in the 90s, and to me it was a really special time… before the internet, it was an innocent, special time, a really strange, angsty time. TLC were huge for me. I still listen to The Cranberries all the time, and I feel like they have a little influence on the album. Bree [McKenna, bass] was really into riot grrl stuff more than the rest of us, like Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear.”
Growing up in the 90s, but more importantly in the often cited grunge capital Seattle, is something very close to Lelah’s heart. “One time I accidentally went to a Macklemore show by myself a couple of years ago. He was doing two nights ago in the KeyArena and Sir-Mix-A-Lot was supporting. I was trying to meet my friends at a theatre in the Seattle Center, they were all going to see The Punk Singer and I got lost. It was winter so it was really cold, and everyone was going to this show, and I kept getting asked every five minutes if I wanted to buy a ticket. Too much time had gone and I had missed half the movie, and I was freezing cold, so I bought a ticket. The guy selling the tickets sold me a weed brownie too which was cool, so I was really high by myself at the Macklemore show. Macklemore is huge for Seattle, and is probably the biggest celebrity to come out of Seattle since Kurt Cobain in the music scene for our city. I was feeling the vibe and thinking, ‘Everyone here is a nerd!’ Seattle is like the nerdiest city: Macklemore’s a nerd, Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s a nerd, and I’m a nerd! That’s one of the things I love about Seattle, it’s just a city full of really smart nerds.”
But has the Seattle scene always been this way for Lelah? “Things have definitely changed, the music scene has changed since when we first started playing shows. There was a lot of bro energy, because we’ve always been at the punk shows with the punk bands. It’s always been really macho and heavy, and people smashing cans on their foreheads. We didn’t really know or care, it was like ‘Let’s all throw beer on each other!’ But now, that’s insane. The scene has shifted, more feminist and less aggro.”
While their home city may have changed since Tacocat first formed, the term still is ridiculed, often misinterpreted as misandry. “I sometimes forget. In my world it’s not, I live in this beautiful bubble where everyone is like ‘Feminism is the most important thing in our community today!’ We should all talk about it and educate each other, I forget that’s how a lot of people see it. There’s still so much education that needs to happen still. I feel like just being in Tacocat, talking about this stuff all the time, is how I got my feminist education. I wasn’t born this way, I’m from a small town in Washington where the word feminism is never used ever. The battle is about teaching people.”
Tacocat are often praised for their fun take on feminist issues. “I don’t see myself as a man hater, I would never yell at anyone, and I’m happy to be part of something I feel is a supporting the right point of view. I don’t ever want to be like ‘This is my opinion, and I’m right and you’re wrong’. When we started the band we were never like ‘Hey let’s do this’, it’s kind of what naturally came out of us. If we’re writing songs, what do we feel inspired by? As the years go on we feel like people expect this from us, like we have to write these songs, but that’s not what all of our songs are about. Theres a lot of people who like Tacocat who are straight identified cisgender males, and I wouldn’t want to alienate those people, and maybe those people are the most important fans of Tacocat.”
And Lelah’s right, tackling feminist issues isn’t just what Tacocat write songs about, and ‘Lost Time’ explores a wider range of issues that aren’t just about cat calling or ‘surfing the crimson wave’. There’s some light-hearted material on the record, a song about girls who love horses which fans can expect the band to play live when they hit UK shores this May: “We have a horse girl in the band [vocalist Emily Nokes], and she’d go muck stables for free so she could spend time with the horses for free. Everyone knows that girl, she read the horse books, and they usually had long hair and a pony tail and glasses. That song was spearheaded by Bree and she did not back down.”
Lelah’s favourite tracks on her band’s new record take a more serious tone than the canter beat of ‘Horse Grrls’. “We recorded ‘The Internet’ on our cell phones and I said to the guys, “This is the song we’re going to play on ‘The Late Night Show’ in the future.” I felt like it was really powerful and a hit. It’s important and topical, internet trolls are the worst people in the world. My other favourite is ‘You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit’. Every time that comes on, I can’t not sing along to it, and I think that’s really special. It’s the only song that has a nod to country music, and I grew up listening to country. I know what it’s about, and it all makes me feel good inside.”
Good vibes all around then? The serious tones Tacocat explore on their new album are not a sign they’re boring adults now. There’s room for silly tracks like ‘Horse Grrls’, which has been the case for all of their records – it’s just part of their fun loving, down to earth personalities. But that’s ever more the reason to be more conscious on these new songs. Tacocat have matured as songwriters in lyrics and music, and ‘Lost Time’ is filled with tunes that have never been more relatable for their audience.