Tacocat: Fighting Beard Rock and Gentrification in Seattle

Within the past couple of years, a burgeoning scene of queer and girl artists has emerged in Seattle; a scene that has been continually growing since Emily Nokes (vocals), Eric Randall (guitar), Bree McKenna (bass), and Lelah Maupin (drums) first started playing shows together as glitter-loving, pop punk, and surf rock quartet, Tacocat. The band tells me the scene is tight-knit and held together by strong artist friendships. Emily says, “it feels so supportive. Everyone likes to be involved with each other’s projects… I know that maybe other cities there may be a competitive nature? Seattle seems like ‘Sing on my album! Help me do my album art! Play my record release show!'”

This scene comes after a long, bleak reign of “male-centric” beard rock, Emily says. “When we were first coming up, the only other music happening at the time was beard rock and hardcore assholes who wouldn’t let us play their stupid-ass venues… There was the end of grunge, then the beginning of indie rock, which was fine. But it was very male-centric. And there were kind of the beard-y ones. Or the punk scene; there were a bunch of punk dudes who were really hardcore and pushy. But yeah, it’s really cool there now. There are a bunch of queer folk, women…”

We have, very literally, Tacocat to thank for the existence and strength of this scene in Seattle today. I asked if the scene preexisted Tacocat or if the scene formed as a result of Tacocat and friends. Bree responded, “I think it came from us and our friends, a hundred percent… I think we will take full credit,” after which Emily, Lelah, and Eric started giggling. But Bree went on to say, “Tacocat really had to force a scene that wasn’t… We had to make space for ourselves because there wasn’t a place for us. I think that’s a thing a lot of women don’t do: take credit for what they did. This was a real thing that happened. It was hard. We got a lot of terrible things said to us, and a lot of terrible things said about us. It was pretty hard and degrading, but we made this great scene.”

Seattle is an hour away from Olympia, WA, home of the 90s riot grrrrl movement; a movement that bore artists like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney and bolstered third-wave feminism. Tacocat feels like the rumbling power of Kathleen Hanna’s voice, but tackling everything from catcalling, mansplaining, and anonymous internet hate to horse girls and breaking up with someone before they break up with you. If you can get a room full of people at the Great Scott to sing along to a song about Horse Grrrls, more power to you.

Even with the growing music scene in Seattle, the dark grips of gentrification have been grabbing at the city for the past decade. Earlier this year, this was brought to our attention when we interviewed Seattle band Tangerine. Lelah tells me that there’s a new statistic that “if you make under $80,000 a year, you’re in the minority” in Seattle. The rapid state of gentrification is more or less a direct result of Seattle’s “Tech Boom.” Tacocat dedicates one of their songs on the new Lost Time album to disrespectful “work hard play hard business elite” Tech Bros that trash the city on the weekends, making life harder for those cleaning, bartending, and waitressing. As more and more people are being pushed out of Seattle, gentrification has occupied the minds of the bulk of artists in Seattle. Emily recently made a list of Seattle artists singing about gentrification for Bitch Media.

Lelah: I guess it’s going to happen in any city all the time, but it happened really, really fast in Seattle.

Emily: And Seattle’s just not big enough. Like in bigger cities, it’ll happen where neighborhoods roll over…

Bree: But Seattle, the whole city rolls over.

Emily: And there’s just not enough money stratification to handle itself very well? It’s just the wealthier, the wealthier, and the wealthier you are, the better it is there. There’s not really anywhere for the punks to go.

Read our full interview with Emily, Bree, Lelah, and Eric of Tacocat before their show at the Great Scott:

You guys are friends with Chastity Belt?

Bree: Yeah, we share a practice space with them.

And a lot of the other Seattle bands?

Lelah: A lot of them… yeah!

Eric: It’s not that big of a city. The music scene’s pretty small and…

Bree: Tight-knit.

Did you meet each other through the Seattle music scene or did you guys know each other before?

Emily: No… We kind of met and became friends first. Lelah and I met in art school. Lelah and Eric met in high school.

Bree: I’d say we met Eric through the music scene though?

Emily: Eric was in a band call the Trashies. We were all fans of music; we just didn’t play it ourselves.

Bree: We met Eric through a loose connection of music stuff. I was living with his band mate.

What made you guys decide to start playing music together?

Emily: We were just jamming around.

Bree: Seemed like a fun idea.

Eric: Bree and I started to become friends, and she asked if I wanted to go jam.

Lelah: Bree was like “Cool I got a practice space, I got a guitar player…” And she’s like, “Lelah, I heard you got a drum kit. Get in here!” (laughter)

Emily: I was just walking by….

Lelah: Yeah, Emily was walking by one day, and we were like “You look like you could sing!” (laughter)

When I think of Seattle right now, I think immediately of you guys. I think of Chastity Belt, Childbirth, Lisa Prank… And when people talk about this specific scene happening right now in Seattle, they talk about how female-centric it is—even though that word’s problematic… I feel like, the word is inherently problematic because it exists and we need to talk about “female-fronted” bands as being “female-fronted” and not just as “bands”. But for some bands it’s important to acknowledge a band as being female-fronted or “queer” or made up of people of color because it’s important to acknowledge that bands that identify with these terms and experience the music industry way differently than white cisgendered men… And sometimes, like PWR BTTM, write a lot of songs about their identities, so in talking about the band these labels are a part of who they are and the way they get talked about. Anyway back to the question, when I think of Seattle right now, it feels like a very tied scene.

Bree: Yeah I would definitely say it is.

Did this scene come from you and your friends or was it Seattle that just kind of produced this scene, and it’s been like this when you guys started Tacocat?

Bree: I think it came from us and our friends, a hundred percent.

Emily: When we were first coming up, the only other music happening at the time was “beard rock” and hardcore assholes who wouldn’t let us play their stupid-ass venues.

Lelah: Super bro scene.

Emily: It was terrible. Yeah, we were one of the first… Us and a few other people, kind of, stayed at it…

Bree: I think we will take full credit.

(Laughter)

Bree: It was so horrible, and now it’s like…

Lelah: We played with Chastity Belt when they were college…

Emily: We played their very first show in Seattle when they were trying to decide if they were going to move to Seattle.

Bree: We basically forced Lisa Prank to move here from Denver…

Emily: We were like, “We’ll give you a job! We’ll give you a house!”

Lelah: I was like, “You can stay in my bed until you find a house, ” which happened to be downstairs.

Emily: It feels so supportive. Everyone likes to be involved with each other’s projects, and it doesn’t seem… I know that maybe other cities there may be a competitive nature? Seattle seems like “Sing on my album! Help me do my album art! Play my record release show!” It may be a friendlier scene in Seattle, I guess.

I did not know that about the beard rock…

Eric: Seattle had a weird dark time, where uh…

Emily: There was the end of grunge, then the beginning of indie rock, which was fine. But it was very male-centric. And there was kind of the beard-y ones. Or the punk scene; there were a bunch of punk dudes who were really hardcore and pushy. But yeah, it’s really cool there now. There are a bunch of queer folk, women…

Lelah: It’s very special.

Bree: Tacocat really had to force a scene that wasn’t… We had to make space for ourselves because there wasn’t a place for us. I think that’s a thing a lot of women don’t do. Take credit for what they did. This was a real thing that happened. It was hard. We got a lot of terrible things said to us, and a lot of terrible things said about us. It was pretty hard and degrading, but we made this great scene.

Emily: Now all those dudes live in the suburbs, and they suck. They’re unhappy.

Bree: Fostering a cool scene. And there are so many good bands now.

You guys definitely set up a scene! No doubt. When I talk about Seattle to my friends, I talk about so many cool and talented women and queer folk, and it makes me so happy. I didn’t know about the bro scene, and it’s really impressive that you guys have this trademark Seattle scene now after all that.

Lelah: I guess since we are from there, and we are so in that bubble. I don’t know that doesn’t exist everywhere…

Bree: Tacocat’s been a band for 9 years. We’ve been doing this for a long time.

So, since Tacocat’s been around for so long. Another thing you guys talk a lot about is how Seattle is changing and being gentrified… especially by the Tech companies. Actually, do you guys know Tangerine?

Lelah: We do, yeah! We played a festival with them, back in April. Yeah, they were at that very first show we played up north. I don’t know them that well, but I do think they’re really cool and make good music.

They were also talking about how Seattle’s been gentrifying.

Emily: There are so many bands that have songs about it. I made a playlist for Bitch magazine about all the different bands and rappers that have songs about gentrification in Seattle.

Lelah: There’s a lot!

Emily: It’s very real. It’s something that happens pretty rapidly. And it’s still happening. It’s a pretty huge bummer.

Lelah: I guess it’s going to happen in any city all the time, but it happened really, really fast in Seattle.

Emily: And Seattle’s just not big enough. Like in bigger cities, it’ll happen where neighborhoods roll over…

Bree: But Seattle, the whole city rolls over.

Emily: And there’s just not enough money stratification to handle itself very well? It’s just the wealthier, the wealthier, and the wealthier you are, the better it is there. There’s not really anywhere for the punks to go.

Lelah: Eric gave us a statistic yesterday: if you make under $80,000 a year, you’re in the minority.

Whoa… Whoa.

Lelah: Suddenly! It didn’t used to be that way!

Are there ways artists have been fighting the gentrification?

Emily: There’s a queer artist in town named John Criscitello, who makes a lot of street art about it. Lots of different bands have made songs about it. People have made pop-up shops to combat that out of this place that’s used to be like an artificial linen company. They put in a temporary venue up there. I guess there’s not a lot you can do in terms of fighting it outright. It’s still just commentary.

Bree: We hear the same story all over the country in different cities. It just feels more extreme in Seattle.

Emily: Yeah.

Bree: The change in who can afford to live there is happening pretty fast.

I feel weird calling bands “political” bands, but I feel like it’s important for artists to talk about things that are affecting them. You guys have your songs about feminism, gentrification. Do you feel like there’s been a resurgence of artists talking about political issues? Oh yeah! And you guys played the Bernie Sanders rally! That’s so cool.

Emily: Oh yeah!

Lelah: That was special.

Emily: I don’t know about “resurgence.” But I guess we’ve always played with bands that have something to say. Or like, mostly right? I mean, one of our tours… Our early tours we were with just whoever we could play with at all… I’d say we’ve mostly played with people who’ve had a political nature.

Lelah: I just kind of feel like if you have a voice—if you literally have a microphone—, it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.

Everyone: Yeah.

Bree: What’s going on around you and making commentary on that. A lot of our songs come from a personal perspective, but there’s obviously a bigger picture.

You guys talk about being influenced by the Riot Grrrl movement. Do you think there’s a direct lineage, a palpable lineage to the Seattle scene right now?

Bree: We were definitely influenced when we were younger. Lelah and Eric were the only ones that saw Bratmobile.

Lelah: It was just Eric actually.

Emily: It’s a direct influence, but definitely not our only influence. I think Bee Happening and more simply DIY scenes when we were first starting were fascinating to us, I guess.

Bree: We cover a Crabs song on our last records. It’s like a K Records band from the late 90’s?

What about musical influences right now?

Bree: There’s so much good stuff right now.

Emily: Yeah, I know it’s hard. Every time we go on tour, we get into bands.

Bree: Loving Dude York, who we’re on tour with.

Emily: Yeah, Dude York is the band we’re on tour with right now and they’re so good.

Lelah: It’s funny that you bring this up because on the way to the venue, Eric was feeling a lot of influence for a specific artist. Who, Eric?

Eric: Kenny Lagos.

(Laughter)

Emily: We’ve been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, but not any of the era’s that anyone listens to.

Eric: Mirage.

Lelah: We listened to Mirage two times in a row on the drive last night.

Emily: So good. I’m also a Tango fan, but only half of that album is exemplary.

Eric: I think our influences are all over. At this point, super broad.

Bree: All over the place. We like pop music.

Lelah: Literally every genre of music. Except metal. I appreciate metal from afar, but I can’t ever be like “Fuck! I like this metal song.”

(Laughter)

Bree: We’ve played with so many different kinds of band too. Like, for a while we got booked with every possible band we could.

Lelah: For a while? For like the whole time! Like, “Here’s Tacocat! And they’re playing with…”

Eric: Generic Garage Band Number Six Hundred.

Emily: But in Seattle it was cool because we pick our own bands.

Lelah: We played a lot with this band that’s currently on a permanent hiatus, maybe? It was called “Don’t Talk To The Cops.”

Emily: Ugh! They’re so good…

Lelah: It was a hip-hop group.

Emily: They had a baby recently! The band just had a baby…

Lelah: Ugh! Cute!

Emily: You know that baby’s going to be the best dancer ever.

Do you guys see anything in the foreseeable future in terms of artists staying in or moving out of Seattle?

Emily: A lot of artists have just started to move, actually. Like the person that recorded and produced our album, Eric Blood, is moving tomorrow. Larry Mizell, Jr is also moving to L.A. It’s getting really hard there… The gentrification is so real that everybody’s getting priced out. I know it’ll “pop back,” but how much energy do you want to put into something where you’re constantly holding up a shield in one hand and doing your art with the other, kind of. I know a lot of people that sort of simultaneously live in Seattle and L.A. Or travel more to kind of get some projects in other parts of… Seattle’s awesome and the scene is so good, but as far as being able to sustain itself. I think it’s just in the under part of the cycle right now. It’ll come back up, but…

Lelah: I don’t know what will happen. A lot of people will have to move south.

Bree: It’s like a newer city. I feel like in the East Coast, everyone tries to protect older buildings that are hundreds of years old. But no one really fights to protect buildings from the 60s’. All these beautiful, older buildings are getting torn down and made into these hideous condos.

Emily: Seattle’s trying to become a big city, but it’s just in the worst stage right now.

Bree: The influx of how many people moved here is crazy…

Emily: Urban density versus transit is so out of whack right now… but it’ll fix itself eventually…

Lelah: I want to show this picture I took of this, uh… North Capitol Hill is where all the old, beautiful apartments are that are mostly untouched. But they will probably have to be torn down. But somebody shimmied a tiny, skinny, brand new, heinous condo between two of them. I saw it, it’s tall and skinny and orange and gray. And it’s in between these two old, historic, brick buildings.

One last question: would you guys rather smooch Mulder or Scully?

Bree: Ugh that’s an impossible question!

Emily: They’re both so babe-ly.

Bree: They’re both so beautiful!

Emily: Always… Scully. David Duchovny in the old era. But I can’t say which one in the 90’s…

Bree: That might be a draw. That’s just me, personally.

Emily: Or both, but without telling the other one.

(Laughter)

I like that.

Emily: Different cases. Different scenarios.

Bree: Emily, being bad.

Emily: What? I’m not being bad.

Lelah: Scully.

Emily: That lipstick! I’d get that all over my face!

(Laughter)

Same, oh my god.

scullyBree: Scully—I know more about her. Mulder’s kind of a wild card.

Emily: She’s got big lips. They both do.

(Laughter)

Lelah: Do they ever smooch on the show?

Bree and Emily: Yes!

Bree: Lelah’s the only one in Tacocat that’s grossly behind on any X-Files knowledge.

Lelah: It’s a shame. It’s the most shameful part of my life.

Bree: I don’t know how you can live—how you can deal with this?

Emily: Were you just going to say, how you can live with yourself?

(Laughter)

Lelah: Thanks Bree!

mulder

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