It was a weird tour.
The 2016 presidential campaign, in all its rhetorical bombast, was in full swing. Seattle pop-punk favorites Tacocat had just put out their mansplainer-rejecting, weekend-warrior-assailing jewel “Lost Time” and hit the road on a U.S. tour, rolling through stretches of the Midwest and South where Donald Trump signs proliferated like rainbow flags on Capitol Hill.
For a band whose fun-loving yet politically tinged songs often espouse progressive values (among odes to Seattle and girls who dig horses), seeing the fast-food joints filled with MAGA hats and Fox News on the TVs left them with an ominous feeling — one punctuated by an incident at a South Carolina gas station where the band they were touring with was harassed because of their appearance.
“People are emboldened,” says singer Emily Nokes, “[like] it’s OK to be homophobic now. It’s wild and scary.”
The quartet returned to Seattle two days before the election and the results left them with a post-election hangover that couldn’t be cured with Tylenol or a bloody. While sorting through the political rubble, the band began working on their new album, “This Mess is a Place,” which would become Tacocat’s first on Sub Pop. After releasing their last two records on Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art, the band’s contract was up and pitching Sub Pop brass on putting out their next record felt like the next logical way for one of Seattle’s top rock acts of the last decade to “level up.”
“I think in the email it was like, ‘We wanna sit at the big-kid table,’ ” Nokes says laughing.
Unaware of any other Hardly Art act making the jump, Nokes was prepared for rejection, but Sub Pop brass agreed and the band’s fourth album arrives May 3, with the band playing a Sonic Boom Records in-store at 7:30 p.m. the night before. After the first leg of a spring/summer tour, Tacocat hits the Showbox for a proper release party June 8.
But before they had a record to release, the quartet — which has long tackled serious subject matter with Nokes’ signature wit and humor — had to figure out how to address the political elephant in the room. “Like what do you say? How do you say it?” Nokes recalls wondering. “Since we have traditionally had somewhat political songs, it felt really hard to go there. The song ‘The Joke of Life,’ I remember thinking it’s not even funny to make fun of [these] things anymore, because the satire is real.”
After a series of conversations “that were a little more inspiring and less ‘everything is [expletive]’ ” with bassist Bree McKenna at Linda’s Tavern one night, Nokes found the right balance of humor without flippancy; commiseration without submitting to the negativity. Surf-pop bopper “The Joke of Life” throws a dance party amid life’s surreality, seemingly taking out frustrations on the nearest beach ball and through doo-woppy harmonies. On “Crystal Ball,” Nokes refuses to let the numbness paralyze her, retaining her sly sarcasm and perfectly boiling down her feelings into nuggets like “What a time to be barely alive.”
The title itself, “This Mess is a Place” — an expression the band’s thrown around while hung over in the tour van — is a perfectly Tacocat way of assessing the state of the world. “It’s a little bit of grandma’s-house-refrigerator-magnet wisdom,” jokes guitarist Eric Randall.
While Randall assumed producer duties on some of the band’s earlier work, the new record is Tacocat’s second with go-to Seattle/L.A. producer Erik Blood, who also worked on “Lost Time.” Bolstered with layered harmonies, lead single “Grains of Salt” is an unabashed indie-pop jam that shimmies naturally into the pop-punks’ catalog while also stepping out on new terrain. Nokes credits fellow “harmony dork” Blood with ramping up the gleaming vocal harmonies that help make “This Mess is a Place” the band’s most polished record to date.
“There was a lot more trust going into this,” Randall says, noting that they didn’t know Blood as well when they started “Lost Time.” “The first time we went in [with Blood] I was a little more concerned about every decision. This time I was like I’m just going to do my thing. I trust Erik.”
And it paid off. Now seated at the “big-kid table” of Seattle’s most revered label, Tacocat will celebrate its fourth full-length by headlining one of the city’s most cherished venues in the Showbox — a club where the bandmates all once worked.
“We’d sit there and check coats and dream about playing on that stage when we were playing the Comet,” says bassist Bree McKenna. “Now look, here we are.”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2; Sonic Boom Records, 2209 N.W. Market St., Seattle; free, sonicboomrecords.com
9 p.m. Saturday, June 8; Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $17-$20, showboxpresents.com