Interview with Tacocat bassist Bree McKenna | By j poet | Photo by Helen Moga

“We started out playing simple two-chord punk songs at house parties,” Tacocat bassist Bree McKenna says. “We all learned to play by being onstage, but our goals have evolved over the past 11 years. You can hear every rung of the ladder that we’ve climbed if you listen to us from album to album.”

This Mess Is a Place, the Seattle band’s latest effort, came out on Sub Pop Records on May 3. It’s their fourth outing and features 10 new tunes inspired by the U.S.’s unsettling social climate. “The Trump era weighs heavily on the record and our collective mood,” McKenna continues. “We’re a very liberal, feminist band, so I don’t see how you can feel super joyful about what’s going on right now. [Lead vocalist] Emily [Nokes] writes most of the words, and her lyrics are super beautiful. They’re based on the things we talk about as a band in the van while we’re on tour. She has the ability to come up with an amalgamation of everyone’s thoughts and feelings, so the songs represent us all.”

“This album is a little more serious about things, but that’s our current disposition,” she adds. “We use a lot of satire to make sense of everything, so we’re a little more serious this time. Our sarcasm is subtler, but we’re passionate about the songwriting we do together. The general feeling of the album is a reflection on everything going on in the daily news cycle of the world we’re living in right now, but we still think it’s a fun record.”

Before they make an album, Tacocat usually test the tunes out on the road. This time, they wrote This Mess Is a Place on a break between tours, just before heading into the recording session. “We’ve been writing together for so long, there isn’t anything particularly exciting about the process,” McKenna says. “The songs are all woman-centric, particularly the love songs. A lot of the patter in male love songs has the same quality—how a man feels about falling in love. We present the female’s thoughts and feelings, which are a little different. They’re more nuanced and introspective than male love songs. Women are aware of the fact that there are two people in a relationship.”

“Composing is slow for us,” she notes. “We take our time deciding on how we’d like a song to sound, tweaking it constantly. We write one song at a time and get excited about trying new things and changing up what we do. This time, [guitarist] Eric [Randall] doesn’t take any solos. The bass and drums, [provided by drummer Lelah Maupin], are more in the forefront, so it sounds different.”

“Live, we all sing backup, but on this album, [producer] Erik [Blood] layered up Emily’s vocals to create all the harmonies,” McKenna explains. “We all used to sing together in our punk days. It was all house party music, so we’d contribute background yelps and shriek along with Emily. This time, all the vocals and harmonies are smooth.”

“This is the second album we’ve made with Erik, and he really helped us get a sound we liked,” she says. “The recordings of the songs we bring him before we start the session are always a bit of a tangled-up mess. He helps unravel them into something we all like. His work on Emily’s vocal parts was particularly amazing.”

Feminism seems to be on the rise, particularly after the 2018 midterm elections. Have the members of Tacocat seen this reflected in their audience? “Yes, our community has grown,” McKenna confirms. “We get a lot of women at our shows, for sure, but we have a wide variety of people and ages. There’s been a big rise in bands making amazing music, with members who are people of color, feminist, and queer. The presence of white men has been with us for so long, it’s refreshing to finally have other voices being heard.”

Purchase This Mess Is A Place here


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