Interview: Tacocat Talk Touring, Birth Control, and Powerpuff Girls
Seattle quartet Tacocat have brought the raucousness of Riot Grrl back with a wickedly barbed sense of humor. The band, comprised of singer Emily Nokes, bassist Bree McKenna, drummer Lelah Maupin, and guitarist Eric Randall, rolls feel-good punk together with lyrics reflecting life for girls, whether that means periods, cat-calling, or childhood obsessions with horses.
The band records at a pretty steady rate. Their new album, Lost Time, was released on Subpop subsidiary Hardly Art in April, and it seems like the only interruption to recording is an extensive round of touring.
“We’re trying to figure out when we want to write some more songs before recording our next…anything,” says Lelah.
“You have to schedule the free time, too, so you’re not like, ‘Our next album is about what the back of the van looks like,’” says Emily.
Tacocat are as hilarious in conversation as they are on record. The three women have an energetic dynamic, often finishing thoughts and jokes for each other. Eric, meanwhile, chimes in occasionally, mostly quiet but clearly listening actively to fit in his own jibes. We sat down with them before their show at Huset back in May when, in addition to life on the road, they talked about ’90s TV reboots, emergency contraception, and why it can be okay to read YouTube comments.
You’ve been on tour for a month now?
Emily: This is actually our second. We had a US tour for a month, and then we were home for 24 hours just to take the flight to London. We’ve basically been on tour for two months.
Lelah: It’s becoming a little bit blurry. You guys were talking about Oslo this morning, and I was like, “Nope.” That was two days ago? I was like, I can’t remember two days ago. What was that?
But you give me the details and I’m like, “Oh yeah!” But you say “Oslo,” and I’m like, “No.”
What are some of the highlights?
Lelah: Every day there’s a highlight! Like Sweden was so incredible. We’ve been in Sweden twice on this tour. The people are wonderful to talk to and they treat you really well.
Emily: Shorndorf, Germany was really sweet as well, with food and nice people just being like, “what do you need! What do you need!”
Bree: It’s nice to be treated well when you’re traveling and so far from home.
Emily: The US is not like that.
Bree: The US doesn’t accommodate bands quite so well. It’s like, “here’s two drink tickets for bad beer.” Since we’re a little fragile from touring so much, it’s just nice to have. I think European culture is a little more respectful of art.
Lelah: We played in Geneva, Switzerland. We played this really big club that’s also a cultural center. Afterwards they were like, “Do you guys want to go upstairs? There’s a DJ.” There was a whole other club with a party happening. And I’m like, “Oh, a DJ. I know what to expect: Some dance music or electronic music.” Nope! We go to this club and the person DJing is 80 years old —
Bree: And he’s dancing like crazy to merengue.
Emily: They were merengue records from the 1920s.
Bree: It was exactly what you’d think of when you think of what an old man would want to party to. Everyone was dancing and having a great time.
Lelah: Yeah, it was amazing!
You write really hilarious, smart lyrics. For starters, “Dana Scully” —
Emily: She’s my favorite.
Have you seen the reboot?
Emily: I have! Wasn’t that good. There were a few that were really good, I thought. Or just well-done campiness. They tried to cram too much weird stuff into the last episode, it’s like a movie.
Eric: That stupid Lumineer’s song.
Emily: Yeah, that was the most ham-fisted music I ever heard in my life.
Eric: Also, longer than the song actually is! They must have looped it.
Do you think it’s Scully or Gillian Anderson that’s the feminist icon?
Emily: I think it’s Gillian by way of Scully. Actually, I think that she made her like that, probably. Because I know that she was supposed to be a sex symbol, and even the very first episode of The X-Files there’s a scene [where] she’s running in the rain and you can see through her blouse. She’s an FBI agent and it’s like, “Hmmm white bra.”
Then both the writers for the show and I think Gillian Anderson were like, “Just make her smarter.” And she’s the smartest person on the whole show.
Bree: This is something really interesting that Emily told me about: The spike in young girls’ interest in science and law enforcement.
Emily: Yeah, it’s called the Scully Effect.
Bree: Because how many role models do we have that are like, “We’re quirky or sexy” — she’s just so straight.
Emily: They went into the hard sciences, and there’s a direct correlation to her character.
My sister wanted to go into the FBI because of Silence of the Lambs
Emily: That’s a similar kind of character, too. I feel like that sort of severe woman — or not even severe, she’s just not hysterical, which is usually how they put men and women together. Mulder is hysterical, she’s not.
Bree: I think that’s what made their dynamic so interesting: I know women with more Sully vibes, they’re always clinical about their thinking, rational, logical. That’s very much not represented like that.
A lot of your songs address serious subjects with a great sense of humor. How do you make a song about birth control like “Plan A Plan B,” for example, funny?
Emily: I think that’s just how we talk. All of our conversations about this kind of stuff are like — we’re not very serious about it together, or in real life, so it’s how we write songs together.
Bree: I remember, we were in class one day, and we were like, “Isn’t it funny that it’s called Plan B? What was your Plan A? Haha.”
Emily: It’s true! “Some guy who looked nice? I don’t know! Classmate?”
Bree: Plan A is, “He’s cute. Let me ask him out.” Then it’s like, “Plan B.”
Emily: You’re like, “There’s no way it’s going to be more than dinner — Plan B.”
That could be a really excellent advertising campaign. But then they tell you that you should just have it in your house, because shit happens.
Lelah: I feel like the only time it was ever in my house was one of my roommates somehow acquired —
Emily: Planned Parenthood would give you like 10 —
Lelah: I think she was going to make a mobile out of them. You know, one of those things you put above a crib.
Bree: There was a while I was going to Planned Parenthood and they were like, “Let me send you home with some Plan B pills.”
Emily: But they do it for every female, they give you two so if you live in a house with more than one woman you have like a gift basket of it.
Bree: But there was a while I was like, “My partner is a female,” and they were like, “Oh I’m just going to give you these just in case.” I’m like, “okay.” I’ve got so many Plan B boxes, I’m like, “Who needs ‘em? I got ‘em!” I’ve had people hit me up, though. I think they get burned out. They’re like, “You still got those Plan B boxes?” — “Yeah, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to go anywhere, just down the block.”
How did you end up recording the theme for the new Powerpuff Girls?
Bree: Some writers on staff at Cartoon Network were Tacocat fans, and then a lawyer called us and said, “Hey, the writers want you to do it.” He was really funny. They do mood boards, and they were like, “We want the theme song to be like Tacocat vibes.” He was like, “I didn’t know what that was. I looked it up and I found a meme of ‘Tacocat spelled backwards is tacocat,’ so I guess they want it to be like this vibe. I don’t really get what they’re going to do.” They’re like, “No, it’s a band.”
Emily: So we have a theme song now. It’s really funny.
Bree: It’s funny because their composer flew up and gave us sheet music, and we were like, “We can’t read that.” So we compromised. It’s a funny process.
Lelah: It was so weird. It’s the most professional thing we’ve ever done.
Bree: We’re a punk band. We’re not used to working with people who have composers giving us sheet music.
Emily: But he wasn’t used to us, either. He was used to studio musicians, so he thought we were going to be like — click track drums! It has to be exactly 30 seconds long!
Lelah: It’s the only time I’ve ever recorded to a click.
Were you fans of the show?
Lelah: Oh yeah. It’s a great show. It really is. We were in LA on tour, and they were like, “Oh you’re in LA? Wanna pop by?” So we met everybody and they showed us an episode before it ever aired. I cried.
Emily: Yeah, it was so good. It’s really well written.
Bree: I love the new show. The reboot is amazing, and it’s awesome to be a part of it.
Emily: We got to go around and meet every single person who worked on the show, which was nuts. There was one woman whose only job was to draw hands. All the different hands in different action poses of them holding things is all her. There was one person who does all the backgrounds, so she was just doodling, making a couch and a face. I can’t imagine how much work goes into that.
It’s all very high-tech, but they still had a ton of people on deck. I think that they didn’t want to disappoint the old-school fans either. There’s a couple changes to the way their hair ties are, the way their dresses are, and people were like, [gasp!]. It looks exactly the same to me, but as for those nerdy super fans —
Lelah: The day they released just the theme song, it was a YouTube video of just the intro, and we were like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting!” and we shared it, and we were looking at the comments, like you do — you’re not supposed to, but we did — and 99% of them were these really intense fans being like, “What’s up with that bow? It’s different. I hate the new bow!”
“Well, they don’t hate the song. This is cool.”
Bree: I was really surprised about the bow thing. People were losing their minds about these details.
Similarly, the outcry about the Ghostbuster’s reboot from people saying it’s ruining their childhoods.
Emily: You can have both. There can be an old one and a new one. You can choose and you can not even pay attention to it. You can not watch it.
Eric: But there’s women in it!
Emily: Women just aren’t funny.
Eric: Women ruin everything.