AT TACOCAT'S hometown record release show at Seattle's Chop Suey, the band threw what must have been hundreds of pieces of candy out into the crowd. That's more or less a perfect analogy for what it's like to listen to Tacocat, who excel at super sweet, brightly colored, possibly very hard projectiles that fly at your face at full speed. No one was injured at that Valentine's Day show, of course (except the piñatas, which were handily destroyed), and no one is going to be wounded by the 13 delightful, fast, über-catchy tracks on NVM, the Seattle four-piece's first full-length for Hardly Art.
Well, no one except perhaps the butt-hurt sourpusses and creeps at whom Tacocat take careful, incisive aim. Catcalling lechers on the street are taken to task in "Hey Girl," while "Time Pirate" skewers a scenester dude who cannot shut the fuck up about his crummy band. Meanwhile, Seattle's unreliable #8 bus is, well, thrown under the bus in "FU #8." If these aren't exactly modern-day protest songs, they are, at the very least, a shitload of fun.
"They're all based on some real-life situation," says the band's singer, Emily Nokes. "It'll usually go down where Eric [Randall, guitar] will write a riff and send it over, or he'll go to the practice space with Lelah [Maupin, drums]. Sometimes Bree [McKenna, bass] will have a bass line, or she'll write a song on guitar and bring it. The music comes that way, and then I'll come up with the melody. As far as the lyrics, I keep little notebooks of ideas and usually write most songs, but we collaborate—like, 'It would be so funny to write a song about... blank.'
"For example, 'Psychedelic Quinceañera' is about Bree," Nokes says of a song on NVM about taking acid at a 15th birthday party. "It's a true story. Bree is Mexican and she didn't actually have her quinceañera, but her older sister did. Bree just took acid for hers. She got the idea for it, and for some of the lyrics, she was like, 'Include this, include this.' So yeah, it's a pretty collaborative process."
[At this point, I should point out a few things about Tacocat: (1) Yes. Their name is a palindrome. At one point they capitalized the "T" at the end to emphasize the word's perfect symmetry, but quickly stopped after a KEXP announcer called them "Tacoca Tee" on the air. (2) Yes. Nokes is the music editor at the Mercury's sister paper in Seattle, The Stranger, and her words have appeared in these pages as well. But I first saw and fell in love with Tacocat all the way back in 2009, years before Nokes ever joined our sinister ranks. I have a medium-sized Tacocat T-shirt to prove it, which I bought after that terrific show at Valentine's in a drunken fit of optimism—I haven't fit into a size medium since seventh grade. (3) No. Despite a popular and very hilarious article that she wrote for Vice, McKenna is not Dave Mustaine's daughter. That article—originally written as fanfic—was a joke that had some long and funny legs.]
NVM was recorded shockingly fast over two and a half days at Conrad Uno's Egg Studios. "We thought that maybe having someone else record us would mean that we would really just get it together and have everything completely ready to go," says Nokes. "But no—I was outside of Conrad's at the bus stop trying to find lyrics. I also had a really gnarly sinus infection, so Conrad kept bringing tea and letting me take these long cough breaks, and I had to use this hippie-dippy throat spray, Singer's Saving Grace."
Tacocat's festive sense of humor might be best exemplified in the already classic video for "Crimson Wave," a song that transforms that time of the month into an upbeat beach party, complete with dancing crabs. It's not the only song on NVM about Aunt Flo's monthly visits, either: "Pocket Full of Primrose" is an ode to the healing benefits of primrose tea.
NVM's other tracks tackle real-life characters and awkward situations with gracious slices of humor. Of album opener "You Never Came Back," Nokes says, "It's about this guy that went to Burning Man and it just, like, changed him. He was so normal, but he got pretty into dance music and went to Burning Man, and it scrambled him. When he came home, he was obsessed with tentacles. He bought these Archie McPhee little fingertip tentacles and would put them on all of his fingers and dance around.... We didn't want this person to know that it was about him, but now it's just more obvious that it's about him."
Meanwhile, "This Is Anarchy" is "about my anarchist roommates, who would have these really large anti-political ideas. They were really smart, actually, and could talk the talk," Nokes says. "But when you're living together, it's like, 'Oh, you still just gotta clean the kitchen sometimes. You have to do the dishes. And I know you don't want me to tell you to do that, but someone's gonna have to be the boss here.' We called them the manarchists, because it was sort of like, all the dudes in the house were being anarchists, and all the ladies are cleaning up after you? That sounds a little... not progressive. That's the truth-about-anarchy song.
"We also have a song called 'Stereogram' which is about those magic eye pieces of artwork from the '90s," Nokes adds. "There's a Seinfeld episode where Elaine and her boss are having this interaction where he can't see the magic eye, and she's like, 'You gotta unfocus your eyes. Unfocus!' They just have this really dumb argument and Elaine's voice is really funny. So there's this breakdown in the middle of 'Stereogram' where we thought it would be a good idea to do this skit. Which was so funny at the time, but later when we get the masters, we're just like, 'Why? Oh no. This is gonna get real old, so old.' So Eric actually ended up being able to snip it out. Our album cover was almost going to be a magic eye. I emailed the last man on earth that I could find—I just Googled, 'Who's still making magic eyes?' There was a guy in New Mexico who was going to do it, but it just didn't quite look right. It was really, really, really crappy. So we ended up going with bubblegum instead."
While it's easy to embrace all the fun that's on the surface of Tacocat's music, what's truly, legitimately wonderful about the band is how deftly they deal with substantial issues like feminism, sexism, and equality. They never get bogged down in the potential thorniness of their topics, and NVM never contains anything remotely close to a scolding quality. Rather, Tacocat give you the sensation of being at the greatest basement party of your life, with lots of beer, bowls of candy at the ready, and your best buds in every corner.
Perhaps the natural, unaffected camaraderie of the band carries over into their music. "We've been a band for a long time," Nokes says, "but it's just sort of what we'd be doing anyway, which is hanging out together. And because we hang out together anyway, it's like, well, we might as well play music or make something out of it."