Talking Feminist Science Fiction and Remaking Surf-Rock: An Interview with Seattle’s Tacocat


NVM, the new album from Seattle’s Tacocat, abounds with blissed-out, catchy punk rock. At times it’s also slyly funny: consider the title, or the lyrics to “Crimson Wave,” a surf song like none that have come before it. As Devon Maloney noted in a review of NVM for Pitchfork, the group ably (and subtly) blends smart political critiques with massively catchy songs. I checked in with bassist Bree McKenna and vocalist Emily Nokes to learn more about the making of NVM, the group’s connections with other terrific Seattle-based groups, and more.

Looking at your website, you list “feminist sci-fi” under the things that the band collectively loves. Any writers or books in particular?

Emily Nokes: I’m not too picky – I love most decent sci-fi I can get my hands on. Off the top of my head, I found a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Songs of Distant Earth in a hostel once and it kind of blew my mind.

Bree McKenna: I am crazy about Science Fiction with a feministy slant! I think it’s one of the best, most creative vehicles for making points on gender politics (I was in a short-lived book club in Seattle called “Feminist Sci-Fi” and that’s where I got the image of the cat with antennae that we used to have on our site.) I love books by Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler and a bunch of other really weird stuff I have picked up over the years.

In “Stereogram,” you reference the year 1994; are you looking at that from a personal perspective, or nodding to that year in music?

Emily: We all really love that year, and it was a pretty epic year in music for sure. In 1994, I was a 10-year-old small-town kid, so I wasn’t really all that aware of the music happening at the moment, or the importance of that year, but I was aware of the Magic Eye poster I had on my wall haha – which is where that song title came from.

Do you know from the outset when you’re writing a song what form it’ll take? Or, to be more specific, when you were writing “Crimson Wave,” did you know from the outset that you were creating a subversive surf-rock song?

Emily: Since the music and lyrics are usually written fairly separately, it’s hard to say how the songs will actually come out–I have a notebook of lyrics, and everyone throws in a few songs ideas from time to time, so we might try several of those lyrical ideas out on a rough song idea until something sticks. “Crimson Wave” came together pretty magically because we’d wanted to write a song with that title (it’s actually a line from Clueless) forever–when I heard that killer surf riff, I knew it was time to put that together!

Bree: Yeah, usually me or Eric work out a song idea separately with Lelah drumming, and we all piece it together one part at a time. But sometimes a song does happen all fast though-I think we all wrote our parts and lyrics for “Crimson Wave” in one hour long practice.

Your lineup overlaps with that of Childbirth; I was curious about whether balancing both groups is at all difficult?

Emily: We all have some form of side project we work on when we have time–Eric is in a band called the Trashies that tours and records semi-regulalry; Bree has Childbirth, and we all have different cover bands on the side, but Tacocat takes priority for sure. Lately we have had very little time for anything else—even just getting ready to tour means we can barely practice in our main band, let alone any other musical endeavors haha.

Bree: Childbirth is comprised of 2 more ladies also in other bands that are their primary focus (Pony Time and Chastity Belt), so we are all in the same page with balancing our bands schedules. Childbirth wrote most of our stuff when we all had a lot of free time cooped up in winter, and I imagine that’s when we will be getting a lot more of our songs done in the future.

Where did the concept for “Psychedelic Quinceañera” come from?

Bree: My friend Toby in Venice Beach was trying to convince Tacocat to all to move to LA and was pitching us on how we would all be at the beach all day and how we would change our name to “Psychedelic Quinceañera.” I am half-Mexican and that concept was so funny to me- my sister and I never got a Quinceañera, so I wrote the song about this solo 15th birthday party going wild on acid. For my real 15th birthday, I think I was just at home, soberly sketching horses.

When did you realize that NVM was the ideal title for the album?

Emily: Eric came up with that one night. We group text each other a lot, and we’re always throwing ideas and album titles in there when we’re stoned or come up with something really funny, and I think he just threw that out there and it was like, “whooooa, yes!”

Bree: We also threw the title “Swass 2” out into the ring as a possibility, but NVM won out on that one.

Several of you were involved with The Stranger‘s “Men Who Rock” issue. I was curious about whether that issue, and the reception it received, has had any effect on the music you’ve made?

Emily: I’d say that maybe it was the other way around… Bree and I made that feature a year or two ago, whereas Tacocat has been around for about 7 years—I can say that I’ve been steady learning about and fine-tuning my personal style of feminism for all those years. Writing music, performing, and touring has definitely impacted my views on women in music!

Bree: Yeah, I was thinking that being in Tacocat is more of what shaped me and Emily wanting to write a parody about everything that makes us mad about “women in rock,” combining all the bonehead questions that our lady friends in bands and us have gotten before. The reception of the issue just made us feel way more validated on our opinions.

Tacocat play Death by Audio on March 29th, and Hunter College on March 31st.

Image: Kelly O.

Follow Vol. 1 Brooklyn on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, our Tumblr, and sign up for our mailing list.