Tacocat in the Hardly Art offices. L-R Eric, Lelah, Emily, Bree. All photos by Angela Boatwright.
I’m sitting with Seattle band Tacocat in the bar where Kurt Cobain was last seen alive. The day of Kurt's last sighting, the Nirvana singer slid into a booth at Linda’s Tavern, a dimly lit dive in Capitol Hill, and drank alone. Then he slipped off into the night and you know the rest.
“Sometimes you’ll get tourists coming in who have a bunch of questions and take a lot of pictures of the booth,” says Bree, one fourth of Tacocat and a sometime bartender at Linda’s. “Sub Pop opened this bar with Linda who still runs it. A lot of musicians work here because you can go on tour when and everyone’s cool with it. It definitely has some deep grunge history.”
Although the bands that emerged from the Pacific Northwest during the grunge era continue to exert influence well beyond the city limits (and I’m not just talking about the music or the attitude, but fashion too—from Urban Outfitters to Saint Laurent), when I traveled to the city for the first episode of Noisey’s new series, Made in America, I found the current crop of Seattle bands appreciative of the musical history, but not weighed down or overawed by it, because currently, there’s a lot of great shit going on in their city. Case in point: Tacocat. Signed to Sup Pop subsidiary Hardly Art, Emily, Bree, Lelah, and Eric named their current record NVM—a knowing nod to Nirvana’s sophomore effort—but their sound is far from referential. A fizzy concoction of hyped up, girl group harmonies with zippy beats, and punk-pop panache, Sub Pop receptionist and artist Derek Erdman describes their high-energy live show as “kind of like a buffet of candy: gummy snakes, nerds, pop rocks, explosions of that sort.”
Central to the quartet’s appeal are their sharply honed lyrics, which blend humor and a touch of surealism with real life grit. Periods are a (literal) pain (“Crimson Wave”), getting cat-called is a bummer (“Hey Girl”), public transport can be a bitch (“F.U.#8”), and you know what? Dropping acid to celebrate the big 1-5 seems like a pretty sweet way to spend a birthday (“Psychedelic Quinceañera”). When the band aren’t pulling from a shared love of The Ramones, Bikini Kill, Brat Mobile, and Beat Happening to create Tacocat tunes, they’re playing with other friends (Eric in The Trashies, Bree in Childbirth), or cover bands. When I talked to them, Rocky Erikson and Taylor Swift cover acts were in full swing, and they're currently masterminding a Blink-182 band entitled Twink-182. This sort of musical polygamy I found to be pretty typical of Seattle’s current scene. But more on that from the band themselves…
Noisey with Tacocat out the back at Linda's. Lols. Either that or one side of the table is super stinky.
I loved this notion that there are a lot of big characters in Seattle because it’s the last stop before the ocean and so people get stuck here as there’s nowhere else to go. Isn’t that what “Bridge to Hawaii” is about? (Download “Bridge to Hawaii” for free.)
Emily: I worked with someone once and we would talk about all the crazy people outside who were always screaming. It’s a different sort of crazy here, ours seem to be particularly nuts and we thought that maybe people were trying to make their way, hitchhiking or whatever, and they just end here. It’s not a great place to be homeless. It’s really rainy. So we thought it would be a good idea if we could build a bridge to Hawaii for people to walk on or hitchhike on, and it’s much better than dealing with the rain.
Bree: Also we would probably take that bridge!
But you guys love Seattle. What keeps you here?
Emily: Oh yeah I remember driving here for the first time and it was just so green! When we go on tour, there are different cities that are really cool, but nothing is as breathtaking.
Lelah: Eric and I grew up in the Northwest and totally took it for granted the whole time and when we leave and come back, we’re like, “Oh yeah! Remember how we live here!” But I guess what really keeps me here is my friends. There’s a really beautiful community of crazy talented, smart, fun people.
Do you feel like the music scene is in a healthy place now?
Bree: Definitely. I feel like all my friends who are making music and art are being really aggressive about going on tour and starting labels and doing anything to get their stuff out.
Lelah: And that goes for all different genres. It’s cool to play really mixed shows here. It’s just small enough where you know a bunch of the same people even if you don’t play the exact kind of music. That’s a part I really appreciate.
Emily: People are less snobbish. One of our best friend’s bands is called Don’t Talk to the Cops and they’re a hip-hop crew, which is part of crew called Mash Hall that has all different kinds of bands that spring from that. They have great taste and I’ve learned so much from them so we’ll go to those, and those people will like our band too, which is really awesome.
Bree: Yeah, like we’ll play with a bunch of punk bands who sound more like us like Chastity Belt and Pony Time, but then there’s a metal band called Paw that my friend who is waiting tables over there plays in. No one cares what they’re playing, it’s just like, “Oh they’re our friends and they’re so talented.”
Lelah: There aren’t too many genre snobs. Eric and I saw this awesome young rapper from Tacoma called Ugly Frank and he put on an amazing show at the Rendezvous where Eric does sound. That was so much fun!
Eric: And I saw a lot of people there that I see at our shows too.
Emily: The all ages scene has really cool DIY stuff going on all the time.
"Suck it": Lelah's thigh; Seattle's Space Needle.
What would you say the biggest change has been in the Seattle music scene over the past decade?
Emily: I feel it’s the best it’s ever been.
Bree: Eric was right about the beard rock thing—that was really dominant in Seattle for a while, really folk influenced.
Eric: Then there was a metal influx.
Bree: There’s a lot more women in the scene too.
Eric: I feel like rock bands of all men has gone as far as it can go. When we started this band, I remember thinking at the time that it was way different from any band I’d ever been in because I’d only played in bands with guys before that. This felt way more interesting and relevant. I felt like we were doing something new and I think there’s this transition right now where women have new things to bring to rock ‘n’ roll that people haven’t heard.
Emily: People are listening and being supportive in a way that they weren’t. Now I feel like women are being more understood. Yeah we talk about periods, what of it? We’re 50% of everybody, why wouldn’t we?
Bree: Women talking about that kind of subject matter get written off as a joke band a lot of the time. Actually it’s not a fucking joke, UTIs are serious. They’re painful!
That line from “UTI”—“I thought I had to pee but that was a lie”—is so good.
Bree: That was one of the first songs we wrote and it was like, yeah this is what I wanna write about because this is what I go through.
Emily: And just writing about every day life. In the beginning we weren’t trying to do this big feminist bent, it’s just that we are feminists and this is how it came out.
Bree: We’re not a feminist theme band, it’s just who we are.
Eric have you learned a lot about women from being in this band?
Eric: Oh yes so much. But then there are a lot of women in my family, so I know how to be around girls.
Lelah: Eric’s spirit animal is a 40-year-old woman.
Bree: Whenever I go to your house it’s your grandma, your mom, your aunt, and your cousin. They’re always there.
Eric: Yep, just me and my stepdad and a pack of females.
I bet you didn’t know that you could use a leotard as a chastity belt. Actually I’m not sure I knew you could do that until I heard “Leotard.” “Leotard’s gonna help you save face when you just don’t wanna go to second base.” Amazing.
Bree: That’s a true story that Emily’s friend told her!
Emily: My best friend in high school, Katie, was going to go on a date with Sean and he was older than her, so she felt like he would expect something. It was back when the leotard with baggy jeans, that Lauryn Hill look, was big, and my friend had this long-sleeve leotard so there wasn’t really a way in without it being awkward!
One of the things British bands always say is the reason why they produce such great music is because the weather is so grey and drab and it forces you to stay inside and be more introspective. Could the same thing be applied to the Seattle music scene?
Eric: I think so. There’s two seasons in Seattle: the summer and the grey season.
Emily: That’s when it feels fine to be in a subterranean practice space with no windows and without any concept of what’s going on outside. It’s like, “We’re here, let’s do this for a long time!”
And then when it’s summer does everyone take off all their clothes and get sunburned in parks?
Emily: Yes! We go to Lake Washington and there’s always someone in a thong! I don’t care how hot it is, Seattle will never be a thong town! People get so excited. Such pale cheeks!
So right now we’re sitting in Linda’s in Capitol Hill. What’s this area like?
Emily: It started out as a warehouse district and it got taken over by young music people. There were only two bars here and this was one of them. It’s very queer friendly and there were lots of creative types because it was so cheap to live.
Bree: Now it’s getting very popular with the tech industry. They knocked down a lot of cool buildings for condos, which happens and then everyone has to move on to another area.
Emily: Capitol Hill has the best gay bars. The Wild Rose is a great lesbian bar. R Place is three stories of gay party time. It’s so fun! Disco, darts, dancing.
You guys have been together for seven years. Why do you guys think your partnership works?
Eric: We’ve got three Libras and Gemini. Astrologically we’re sound.
Bree: Our band took a really long time to get off the ground because Libras are known for indecisiveness. What do you wanna do? I don’t know. Where do you wanna eat? I don’t care. I mean I care, but I’m not gonna say it!
Emily: These are the only people who I would like to live in a van with for any amount of time. We have really similar senses of humor.
Eric: We were all friends before the band started which helps. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to spend so much time with people that I didn’t love.
Bree: We’re definitely a best friend band.
One of the bands I’m also talking to for this Made In Seattle episode is La Luz, who are also signed to Hardly Art. What’s your relationship with them?
Emily: I met Shana [Cleveland] before La Luz. I really like her artwork and I have a couple of her pieces. She does really awesome watercolors and drawings of girls with guitars. I’d see her art shows and then I found out she’s in a band. We saw them at 20/20 Cycles, which is a bike shop in the Central District that also puts on shows. At that point they’d just released something on Burger Records and weren’t yet signed to Hardly Art.
What’s the deal with 20/20 Cycles?
Lelah: It’s not a venue they just have shows once in a while, like quarterly when they clear all the bikes out and everyone can crowd in. Sasha who works at Sub Pop and her husband runs it. It also shares a wall or a bathroom with Hollow Earth Radio.
Emily: They’re awesome. They do a lot for the all ages scene and they have a festival called Magma Festival, which goes on all of Marchm and they find the strangest, most awesome underrepresented music from all over the place. They’ll fly Jan Terri, a 50-year-old woman from Chicago who makes music videos that are strange. They had Stevie Moore too.
Do you find that playing for an all ages audience is the most gratifying? I know when I go to all ages shows they’re so fun because everyone is so amped to be there. Everyone’s high on fizzy drinks. It’s contagious.
Bree: The energy is great. We played a string of bar shows followed by a string of all ages show and they were so much better!
Eric: Kids aren’t sitting there trying to look cool. Adults are the worst!
Lelah: Some kids made us a zine of us! We saw it on Instagram. It was so cute!
Speaking of zines. Do you think there’s a bit of trend for zines and tapes in Seattle?
Lelah: I don’t think it ever really left. People will put out a tape before they’ll put out a CD.
Emily: Zines have always been big in the all ages and DIY and punk scenes.
Bree: Seattle has something called the Zine Archive and Publishing Project. I think they’ve been doing it for 10 years. It’s at the Seattle art museum now, but the collection has been moving around.
Does Seattle have the best coffee in America?
Eric: LA has better coffee. Seattle brought it to the forefront and then got lazy.
Emily weren’t you a barista for a while?
Emily: Oh yeah. For like 10 years! But then I got anti-snobby and would only drink gas station coffee because I got so irritated with doppios and split shots.
I don’t even understand what you just said to me.
Emily: It’s a stupid language.
But I do like this story that if a customer was an asshole to you in the morning you’d give them a decaf!
Emily: That was real. We almost wrote a song about it called “I’ll Give you Decaf.” I was there at like 5.30am opening so if you were gonna be that mean that early then you deserved to not have caffeine. I was a mean barista in my last year. I was just so sick of it. I used to make little designs in the foam.
And as the years went by it just became an angry face in the milk.
Bree: A frowny face in a decaf latte!
Eric: A middle finger!
Kim is Noisey's Style Editor and she's on Twitter - @theKTB