"It’s time to sit at the big kids’ table.”
That’s how Emily Nokes describes signing to Sub Pop Records. Her band, Tacocat, has been supplying fans with surf rock excellence for years. But with their recent signing to Sub Pop for new album This Mess Is a Place, Tacocat no longer tantalize behind the tongue-in-cheek veil. Now, in clear and vibrant Technicolor, they take on a messy world without a sense of humor on their best record yet.
“I’ve always felt an intense power in satire,” Nokes says. “You [can] do pretty much any type of commentary with satire — it’s more of an impact than just yelling. But what changed in the U.S. was just seeing that they don’t care anymore. People are just like, ‘I’m straight-up racist or sexist. I’m not ashamed of that, and I’m not going to lose my job because there are more of me than you thought.’”
Nokes touches on a familiar sentiment: the slow creep of a hateful wave so many thought held less momentum. Coupled with an ever-changing social community dynamic in her home city of Seattle, Nokes and Tacocat faced a dangerous maelstrom of doubt ahead of them.
“We’d done, like, a whole grip of touring for [last album] Lost Time,” Nokes says. “It’s a very interesting grind to be going and going, and we’d sort of been touring right up until the election. You could just like see the landscape of the U.S. changing. Like, [we were thinking], ‘What if this doesn’t pan out the way we assumed it would?’ Coming home after all that touring, feeling alienated in your own city because every time you come home there’s a new condo. How can I feel better when nothing feels better?”
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Tacocat have long been a political band, taking the great Pacific Northwest Riot Grrrl tradition and making it their own in an explosion of color and ideas. But for a band who, not too long ago, sung pump-up anthems in the praises of “Dana Katherine Scully” and poked fun at tech bro malaise on “I Hate The Weekend,” Nokes’ gravitas feels weighty and unfitting. Tacocat faced a real challenge in bringing their bright, eclectic world of cartoonish wonder to a 2019 landscape.
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“It was just like, ‘How are we going to write a new album? What are we even going to say?’” Nokes says. “I was going through every feeling, like I had way too many things to say or nothing to say. My bandmates were writing musical parts and putting things together. But I just had to take a lot of time to dig myself out of that to decide what I could comment on. Our whole community was just in such shock. It took a year of just taking walks and talking to people.”
But if This Mess Is a Place shows anything, it’s that Tacocat are a band perfectly suited to make an impact on our present context. Inspiration and aspiration abound, while never feeling forced. In their own brilliant way, Tacocat have given us a bear hug of a record, with shredding guitars to boot.
“Collectively, we’ve always been very positive, in general and with each other,” Nokes says. “The reality of being in a band of this era — at this age and this level — we never thought we’d see this. It gets equal parts humbling and joyous and big and scary. When the clouds started lifting, we [knew] this is what it’s all about — finding your way to make your small part feel good again, [giving] up whatever pressure there is. I wrote these songs for my bandmates, for no one else.”