Interview: Tacocat, the punk voice behind Powerpuff Girls

TacocatIn “Mime For A Change”, an early episode of Craig McCracken’s classic serial The Powerpuff Girls, a villainous clown drains all the colour from the titular heroines’ home of Townsville, turning it into a greyscale, lifeless dystopia. However, in a textbook move of campy 90s deus ex machina, the girls manage to foil the clown’s nefarious doings and bring colour back into the town by performing a gooey bubblegum pop number.

This is exactly how I see Seattle feminist punks Tacocat’s place in the modern indie scene. Their janky indie-punk sound and penchant for beaches, skateboards, and all things “pizza” inject so much color into a scene filled with tides of Morrissey-deifying white males and landfill indie. While on tour promoting their new album Lost Time, we grilled the band about junk food, performing at a Bernie Sanders rally, and writing the new Powerpuff Girls theme.

It’s easy to align the four-piece with the recent uprising of beach punk a la Wavves and Parquet Courts, however it’s Tacocat’s sense of humour that makes them stand out among the majority of overbearingly poe-faced indie bands. Their new record is pumped full of infectious pop singalongs with a biting, Jello Biafra-meets-Kristen Schaal sense of dorky punk satire, like “I Hate The Weekend”, which extends a gesture of solidarity to the minimum wage plight of retail and service workers.

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“I think humor is just how to relate to each other and the world, so it's not something we're trying to do necessarily—it's just what comes naturally. I don't think we could pull of stoicism if we tried!”

The band formed in 2007 through mutual friends, work and classmates. Vocalist Emily Nokes nurtured a never ending stream of creativity as a kid, with an affinity for theatre and art classes: “Calligraphy, watercolor, oil painting, collage—I loved all of it. I also took dance classes and piano lessons, though the dance classes seemed more fun than trying to read music at the time.”

Bree McKenna was into sewing, while Lelah Maupin dabbled in photography. Guitarist Eric Randall didn’t pursue anything creative until learning to play guitar at the age of 16: “I played sports… backyard-wrestling videos, mostly.” With the four bonding over their nostalgia over 90s culture and feminism, it all seems too fitting that Tacocat were invited to compose the new Powerpuff Girls theme song: We were approached by Cartoon Network and of course we said "YES" in like 45 seconds. We had to send them a few rough ideas and ended up pairing with a composer who flew to Seattle from LA for the recording process.”

The band’s penchant for 90s culture also naturally manifests with a strong association with their hometown of Seattle’s history of DIY music, as well as Olympia’s music scene, K Records, Riot Grrl, and other DIY institutions in what Nokes describes as “all those excellent weirdos making music and art happen with their friends.”

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In what seems like a joyously all-too-fitting affirmation of the band’s politics, the band were recently invited to perform at a rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “That was another surreal moment for sure. We got asked like 48 hours before it happened! The day of, we loaded into Safeco Field pretty early, got searched by some very handsome Secret Service agents, and then played a very strange stage setup that was sort of facing the wrong way. Bernie's speech was amazing and evoked a lot of feels. We were so honored to be a part of it! He said our band's name as "the Taco Catband" in that wonderful accent! Haha. Oh, John Popper played too. Have you ever heard the "Star Spangled Banner" shronked out on a harmonica?” The band join Jhene Aiko, Killer Mike and more among the artists who have performed and collaborated with the Sanders.

As writer and editor for The Stranger, Nokes is all too familiar with the music press’ trigger-happy tendencies towards labels, one of the most notorious being “female-fronted bands”. Many denounce this term and the male foundations of rock music that come with it, though whether or not this label is relevant in 2016, Nokes believes it is more a question of identity: “Some bands really want words like ‘queer’ or ‘all female’ in their description because it’s an important part of their identity. Other bands prefer to be recognized for their musical chops and nothing else. I know a few women who don’t want their gender or sexuality called out whatsoever, they just want their guitar playing, drumming, etc. to speak for itself. Personally, if I’m reading about a band, it’s kind of nice to know what they’re like because I do tend to gravitate toward bands with women in them! But when terms like ‘girl band’ are used by male writers they need to check that. I’m also critical of the way writers describe women in music. Like, switch the gender to male and see if you would say the same thing.”

Lost Time marks Tacocat’s most noticeable progression in sound, adding more depth and more streamlined songwriting, with the band fine-tuning their pop craft. “In terms of the sound, I would give a lot of credit to Erik Blood, who recorded and produced us. He really took it to a different level. As a band, our songwriting has become more streamlined and there’s more depth all around. In my mind, Shame Spiral is sunny yellow, NVM is neon pink, and Lost Time a glittery purple.” In the past two years since their last record, Nokes has felt a growth in confidence in calling out women’s and social issues. “In the early days we played a lot of shows in some pretty dudely scenes (punk jerks, heavy “rock n roll” folks, etc.) who didn’t, uh, get it… it could be pretty alienating to scream about UTIs to people who just weren’t on the same page. Now I feel like our words wield more power as more and more feminist issues become a regular part of society. People are actually listening!”

Lost Time is out now on Hardly Art. Find out more about Tacocat here.

 
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