Cartel

Cartel

Lead singer Will Pugh and drummer Kevin Sanders dive into the band’s self-titled record, what the “Band In a Bubble” experience was like and how it became misinterpreted, address major label issues, and explain how to deal with haters.

Ever since your headlining tour at the end of last year I haven’t heard too much about you guys. What have you been up to?

Kevin Sanders: Dude, zero [laughs]. I mean, we went home and were tired as shit, I would say.

Will Pugh: Yeah, we really haven’t been doing anything. We went to England and just got back last week. That’s about it. And this. Then we’re going to Japan and Australia right after this.

Are you working on a new tour coming up at all?

Will: Yeah, we’re probably going to be doing support slot type stuff over the summer, but we’re going to be doing college shows and headlining until then.

Now I’ve been a huge fan of you guys since The Ransom EP first came out. How did you first get attention and then were able to get signed by Militia?

Will: Uhh, luck. We just kind of played around in Atlanta. Obviously Rohan at Absolute Punk is a big fan, and he lived in Atlanta, so I’m sure that’s how the underground tremors started there. They just kind of caught wind of us, and there was that rumor on Absolute Punk that we were going to get signed by Militia Group.

Kevin: We kind of new the Copeland guys. They knew our old guitarist, and our old guitarist knew the head of the Militia Group. It was kind of like a luck thing. It just kind of worked out where we had a slight inside little thing, and the guy was like, “All right, do you think you can write a lot more songs like this?” And we were like, “I think so.”

You guys were one of the first bands to take off from the Atlanta scene. How cool is that to be a part of?

Will: I don’t even really know about the Atlanta scene anymore. We’ve been gone so much. I know Manchester Orchestra’s doing really well.

Yeah, and Holiday Parade’s pretty up-and-coming.

Will: Yeah, they need to get signed. They’ve been doing it a while and actually have had good success to not be signed. It’s kind of a volatile point in the industry right now, so I understand.

So the first time I saw you guys was when you were touring with Acceptance back at the Glass House. What was it like to experience Acceptance breaking up and then seeing Panic! get all huge? How kind of weird was it to see that dichotomy happen?

Will: It was kind of like a weird passing of the torch thing. I think they broke up like a tour after that. But yeah, it happens. We toured with the Rocket Summer, actually last time we played [Chain Reaction] was with the Rocket Summer, and he would tell us, “Every band I take on tour gets bigger than me. It sucks.”

Now we’ve experienced that. We didn’t take them on tour, but you know how it is. It’s cool for them, though. I mean, they’re whooping ass, which is awesome. Paramore’s doing really well, too, so we think there had to be like some kind of karma thing going on there. Acceptance goes away, and then Paramore and Panic! just go and blow the fuck up. It’s got to be something.

In the middle of Chroma’s release, you guys signed with Epic. What led to that decision?

Will: Militia Group had a distribution deal with RED Distribution, which is an arm of Sony basically. We had kind of garnered some interest from other labels, and because Sony had the first option on our band, it kind of threw that whole thing into motion. Epic and Columbia were pursuing, and we basically just chose between the two of them. Epic kind of made the first move, and we’ve always been very loyal to people who show an enthusiastic approach to our band. So we felt like they were the best ones, and then kind of shuffled in there like that.

Are you happy with how that whole Epic thing has worked out so far?

Will: Eh, I mean, it’s a major label. It has its huge upsides and has its huge downsides. I feel that we’ve always been progressing. Even now with the way things are going, it’s like you take a step forward, you take a step back to take two steps forward. There’s an ebb and flow to things, and I feel like that would happen with any major label, or any label in particular. But the fact that we’re still progressing is awesome. It works, you know? As long as we don’t quit touring, we’re fine.

The whole “Band In a Bubble” thing – there’s a bunch of controversy over that. What was the main reason you guys decided to accept it in the first place?

Will: Nobody had really done it before.

Kevin: It was something different. You can do the tour, tour, tour, tour – record – some time off – tour, tour, tour. That’s awesome, and fun and all, but we had the chance to do something a little different, and that was cool. Before leaving for New York I was excited, like going on a field trip. I was like, “All right, this will be fun.” Anytime you do something like that that no one else has done, you’re going to get flak. But that’s cool. Whatever.

Will: I still feel like a large majority of people just didn’t understand it. I still don’t fully understand it [laughs]. But I think that’s mainly what it was. I mean, some people thought it was the best thing ever. Some did not.

Now, in hindsight, are you happy with how that whole situation turned out?

Will: I mean, if we had to do it again, with no recollection of how it turned out, we would have done the exact same thing. Why not? I think that if we would have known what would have happened, not that anything bad happened, but if we would have known on this side of things what it was going to be like versus what they were telling us it was going to be like, it’s ridiculous to even think about that. So if we had to take it before we had any preconceived notions, then we definitely would do it again.

You had pretty much everything written beforehand, right?

Will: Yeah, I mean it’s ridiculous for people to think we actually went in there and went—

Kevin: [In Southern accent] “So you guys went in there and wrote 15, 16 songs and took 20 days to record all of them.” It’s like, “No.” Because no band does that. As soon as you’re done with one record, you start another. In a sense, you just keep writing more songs.

Will: We originally went under the notion that we would only record four or five songs but they would make it look like, not a record, but they were just going to focus on the four or five songs we actually did in there. And we did do that. We did more than that. We did seven songs actually in there. We had a bunch of ideas that we had pretty much worked out, but the way that it got promoted and the way it actually was were two different things. So, yeah, we did have most of it done.

It seems like a lot of people, especially on message boards and stuff, have been calling you guys sell-outs, and it seems that that always happens to any band that gets popular these days. Why do you think that is and what is your response to that?

Kevin: Some people love to hate [laughs]. They love to hate. Shit happens.

Will: It’s hard not to look at that sometimes and be like, “Ah, man.” But you can’t pay attention to it because some people are just going to be like that. As long as we don’t feel like we sold out. We feel like selling out would have been to go in there and be like, “We have this huge promotion. Let’s just write the most fucking sugary, pop shit that we can.”

It’s not what we wanted to do. If we would have wanted to do that, it would have come out naturally, but that’s just not what’s coming out, you know? We got to write the record we wanted to write, so as far as I’m concerned, we didn’t sell out. We didn’t do anything differently. We realize some people will even look at this record and be like, “Yeah, you guys sold out.” You just got to brush that shit off and move on. They’ll be other records.

What were the sales expectations for the self-titled album going in? Were you disappointed with that whole aspect?

Will: No. I mean, like I said we’ve been progressing with everything. Chroma did like 225, 230 [thousand] before we put out this record. This record’s gotten to the milestone that Chroma had a year and a half before it. We’re not expecting this record to be as big as Chroma, just because the radio presence isn’t there like Chroma had, but I feel like it’s done well with all things considered.

Was “Lose It” your choice for the single, or was that the label’s?

Will: That was the label’s. The label was looking for a single right out of the gate after the bubble and we were like, “That’s the most single-ish song we have.” So right up front that was an obvious choice. We didn’t get a radio push though, so it didn’t matter [laughs].

Yeah, they bumped your album back for no reason.

Will: Like I said, there’s huge ups and there’s huge downs.

Are you going to get another single off of it?

Will: Probably not. We’re going to continue to do what we do. We’re going to go make videos like we used to. The “Honestly” video didn’t cost shit. We basically paid for that ourselves. We can go and do that all day long. As long as we continue to promote our band, it doesn’t matter what our label does.

We feel like we have a direct connection with our fans. We never really lost that, between MySpace and everything else, so I feel this doesn’t matter. The radio stations will lose, but that’s not our job. Our job is to play music, play it live, and connect with our fans, and I feel like we’ve been doing that. They’ll be other videos. Maybe not other singles on the radio, but you didn’t hear this one on the radio [laughs].

Going along with the “Band In a Bubble” thing, it seemed like a lot of people never gave the self-titled album a chance and hated on it from the beginning. Even after it came out, it still was never well received.

Kevin: Because of the negativity that went into that, they hated the whole thing before it even happened. They were like, “Fuck the bubble!” before it even happened. I was always scared about that, and it ended up being true. I felt like no one was really giving it a chance because the bubble had a negative connotation around it, so it was like, wow. What a huge misfortune, you know? There’s nothing we can really do about that.

Will: I feel that once we put out another record, people will be a lot more inclined to be like, “Well, actually I never really listened to the record.” Somebody sent me a MySpace comment and was like, “Chroma was way better than this last record, but I haven’t really listened to this last record a whole lot since the bubble. I only heard two or three songs.” I’m like, “Really? You listened to the record, like maybe half of it? You can’t even make a judgment.” Like I said, that’s one of the things that had we known, we might have approached the bubble a little differently. Whatever, you know?

Even Yellowcard, they had that same reaction when they released Lights and Sounds, and then they released Paper Walls and everyone loved them again.

Will: Yeah. I mean, I think you have to get removed from it. Like I said, once the next record comes out I think people will be a lot more inclined to be like, OK, you’ve been forgiven. Now we’ll give it a chance. People who I feel like actually listen to it, some people aren’t going to like it but that’s with everything, but people who really listen to it go, “That’s great. That’s amazing. You guys tried to do different things. That’s cool.” I’m like, “Yeah, we’re trying to do something different.” Writing the same shit’s easy. We already know how to do that.

Have you been kicking around any ideas for some new songs at all?

Will: We got some embryos floating around waiting to be fertilized [laughs].

Is it like the older stuff, the newer stuff, or more in between?

Will: It’s learning from our own criticisms of each record. Our criticism of The Ransom EP turned out to be Chroma. We have the criticism of Chroma, which turned out to be the new record. With all those things coming out, the next record’s obviously going to be very important, a turning point in our career. “Turning point” [makes parenthesis with hands]. Whatever [laughs].

I feel like the next record will be an amalgamation of all those things we’ve learned. We’re not going to go trippy. You’re not going to hear 12 prog-rock songs, but you’re not going to hear “Honestly” 12 times, either. There’s going to be a lot more in between this last record and Chroma. If there would have been a record in between Chroma and the new record, that’s this.

Kevin: Nice, nice. We wrote our third record second. We were just throwing people for a loop.

Will: Exactly. We were just holding onto it. It’s like watching Memento. You already know what’s going to happen, you just have to get there.

So what’s your guys’ musical background?

Will: Punk rock, man.

Have you been doing this since you were little and stuff?

Will: I feel like all of us have been doing something. I played trumpet in fifth grade.

Kevin: I played trumpet in fifth grade.

Joseph Pepper [guitarist]: I told my teacher to suck it when she asked me to sign up for band [laughs].

Kevin: What’d you play in fifth grade?

Joseph: Nothing.

Kevin: You didn’t play anything?

Joseph: No, I told her to suck it [laughs].

Kevin: Nice.

Joseph: No, actually that’s not true. No, but I did play band [laughs].

Will: I sang in chorus. We all did the little things. I feel that your musical person starts early. You probably started playing guitar real early, though.

Joseph: I played guitar when I was 13. 12 or 13.

Will: That’s pretty early.

Kevin: Once we all got bad at Little League sports and weren’t going to be pro athletes, I was like, “I’m not going to be as good as that guy.” I had to try something else. So when I turned to music, I was like, “OK, let’s give this a try.”

You guys have been a band since 2002 or something, right?

Will: We’ve all been playing together since, like…

Kevin: Nic and I played 7th-8th grade together.

Will: Cartel’s been around since ’03. We played our first show in October of ’03.

Joseph: I still think we just started touring.

Kevin: I know. I thought we started touring, like, yesterday. All right, first tour! I’m stoked to be here.

So looking back on your career so far, what’s the one thing you’re most proud of?

Kevin: Touring with New Found Glory. I think that’s all I ever wanted to do. I was throwing darts in our garage the other day and looked over and saw the “Cartel on tour this fall with New Found Glory” poster. I was like, “Fuck yeah!” I was so proud of myself for doing that shit. We looked at them a lot as kids. They came from a scene that we came from. They were one of the first bands to kind of bridge the gap from playing garages and shit to being in this underground subculture. And that was cool.

We always looked up to them, went to all their shows, and kind of saw their career and the way it went. We were like, “That looks like a good idea.” We kind of wanted to model ours after that. So to tour with them, it was like, “This is weird.” You’re sitting there at the same level as them, trying to be like, “What’s up? I’m Kevin.” I was just stoked. We were like, “You know we love your band, right?” And they’re like, “Right on.”

Will: Yeah, we had to have that awkward “now that we’re on tour with you guys, you can’t kick us off” thing [laughs].

Then you even got to sing on “Iris.”

Will: Yeah, that was pretty nuts. I definitely didn’t see that coming. They just kind of asked. Chad was like, “Hey, we’re doing another one of those covers records. Do you want to sing on a song?” I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like to do that.” He was like, “Well, just pick one.” And I’m like, “What? Just pick one?” He’s got this list, so I was like, “‘Iris’ is cool.” He’s like, “All right.” I didn’t think it was going to happen, but while we were recording, they just showed up in the bubble to do it. I was like, “All right.”

Sweet. Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Will: We’re going to have new stuff coming out this year. Maybe not like putting it out on a label, but we will be working. The chemistry project has started. So I would say keep your eyes and ears peeled for that.

Like maybe an EP release or something?

Will: Maybe. Who knows?

Kevin: Good idea. Maybe.

Will: I think that since we’re not doing any hardcore touring except for the college stuff, I feel like we’re going to have a lot of progress in the next three or four months writing, and then we’ll see what happens for the rest of the year. But we’ll definitely be back. Basically, I would say from June on we’re just going to be on the road.

Originally appeared on Mammoth Press

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