Smartists: Tacocat

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls

“Start a band with your best friends!” Tacocat drummer Lelah Maupin says, adjusting her I Bet You Love Me Cuz I’m Nuts teeshirt as a group of admiration-soaked preteens swarm her. She’s just performed the entirety of Tacocat’s newest album, Lost Time, for an all-ages release party complete with Choco-Tacocat ice cream, inflatable alien decor, and the chance to behead a unicorn piñata. As the venue prepares for the 21+ show, the band stands outside and chats with young fans about everything from Sub Pop Records to chicken tattoo on singer Emily Nokes’ arm.

In keeping with the relatability of their previous two albums, Lost Time, which was released April 1st, delivers pop punk about catcalls, internet bullies, the downsides of gentrification, and even X-Files protagonist Dana Scully, putting a voice to the trending hashtags on everyone’s tongue. And through the recording and production of Erik Blood, Tacocat is more confident and adept with their sound than ever.

“He added a lot of depth to the way everything sounds. He challenged my vocals a lot by telling me [to] just sing it all the way through. [He would say,] ‘if you can’t belt the whole thing out in a recording then we’re not going to do it.’ Whereas before, I could do the chorus separately and a million harmonies [to clip in]—like Beach Boys style,” said Nokes.

The growth of their sound goes hand in hand with their further exposure. Not only did this D.I.Y punk band find themselves playing the huge Seattle Bernie Sanders rally in March, but they were also asked to write the theme song to Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls reboot, which may as well be the cartoon equivalent to this fun, punch-packing band.

“We were just thinking about which Powerpuff Girls characters we are. Bree identifies with Professor Plutonium, I’m a Blossom, Lelah is Bubbles, and I guess that Eric would be Buttercup,” Nokes says chuckling. “It’s a really fun cartoon that represents girls being badasses. When Cartoon Network came to us and told us they were going to reboot it and it was going to be more feminist-leaning, we were really excited to do it. It’s really up our alley.”

Tacocat has always been an excuse for these best friends to hang out. Maupin and guitarist Eric Randall became best friends in high school while working together at a Safeway in Longview, WA. Maupin eventually moved to Seattle to attend the art institute, and there she met and befriended Nokes. Randall soon was in Seattle too, jamming with bassist Bree Mckenna.

“Lelah was like, you should come sing during a practice! And I was like, ‘I don’t know about that,’” Nokes says, “I don’t really know about singing. I mean, I was just a visual arts kid. I loved music but I wasn’t like, ‘I want to be in a band.’ It was just so fun and we all got along so well,” Nokes says.

The band released their first full-length album, Shame Spiral, in 2010, and their followup, NVM, in 2014. This April, we saw the drop of their third, Lost Time. By writing music and lyrics from their own unique interests, they stumbled upon something obsession-worthy: authentic songs about everyday life, from the perspective of young women. This perspective is usually Nokes’, who often writes the lyrics by riffing off the ideas her bandmates have offered up. Meanwhile, Mckenna, Maupin, and Randall get the instrumental ideas down and send it to each other via text message.

As Nokes said, “We get asked a lot, ‘What were you trying to do,’ but you know if I tried to do something I don’t think I could pull it off as well. You’re of course influenced by what you listen to and think about and what you’re reading and that is your own personal filter. We’ve never really aligned with the super pop punk bros or the super political, really militant punk—there are so many different scenes that we would be somewhat a part of or play a show at, but we were always just sort of our own people.”

Tacocat, Smart Girls writer Alexa Peters, and young fan Azalea outside release show.

Lost Time, with an underlying sci-fi lean, is also feminist in both in message and sound. One track, “Men Explain Things to Me,” comments snarkily on that cliché guy who is always in the woman’s way. It says, “Take up the whole sidewalk/this land is your land/the palm of you hand/I’ll walk around so you can stand.”

The band readily identifies as feminist, but also makes an effort to be inclusive. “I think that at this point it’s important to include everybody. Like, Feminism is just ‘normal.’ It’s not a genre or a splinter scene—this is half of everybody. It’s important for men to get on board too… That’s the only way we can move forward—by including everyone we can. We have a male member of our band, as did Bikini Kill. These really strong allies are really important—there’s only so much that half of any population can do,” Nokes said.

Gender inequality has been apparent to these women their whole lives, and they channel their frustration with it into their music. In the end, they capture the essence of life as a modern female in a increasingly regressive society. The magic here is that their young fans seem to suck on this social commentary as easily as a Jolly Rancher, suggesting that actual change could be coming.

But for now, Tacocat just wants to continue to have fun together as they tour with Lost Time in the next year. Nokes said, “Start a band with your best friends and do whatever you want! Be true to yourself, don’t worry what you think other people want to hear or what you think you should be doing and don’t ever underestimate the power of really good friends.”

For more information on Tacocat, visit their website. Check out the video for the new Powerpuff Girls theme song, below:

Pictures by Alexa Peters