PropertyOfZack Interview : : Cartel
PropertyOfZack had the chance to interview Will Pugh from Cartel not too long ago and it turned into one of the best interviews we’ve ever done for the site. Emily and Will discussed everything regarding the band’s new EP, the departure of Jeff Lett, what’s keeping the band going, the Chroma tour and vinyl release, the future, and so so much more. Read the whole thing, you don’t want to miss any of it!
For the record, could you state your name and role in Cartel?
My name is Will Pugh and I am the singer and songwriter.
Cartel has been pretty quiet for the better part of the year. Late last year while the band was on tour with Hey Monday you confirmed that you guys would be working on a new EP that would be out in early 2011. We know you’re working on it now, but can you catch us up on the delay and all that has been happening within the band since then?
That was our initial plan, to try and get it done early this year. With Jeff leaving we knew we were going to have to do a lot of work on the band to get 4 piece worked out. So instead of working on an EP we worked on getting that so we would be capable of playing shows and whatnot this year. So we decided to put the EP off until this summer. So with that, coming off the college shows and everything like that we knew we wanted to look into producing it ourselves, so we decided to go and do one song we’ve had for a while. It was actually a song that was supposed to be on Cycles. We went in and recorded drums with Matt Malpass here in Atlanta and then recorded the rest of the stuff at my house. It just got mixed and everything to make sure we could pull it off ourselves to that degree, and it came out great. We were just waiting to make sure that was the case before we went in and did a full tilt of tracking and everything. That being the case, we have a mastered song now that will be one song off the EP and the rest have been finished writing this week. So we’ll be practicing and rehearsing those for the next week and a half or so and start tracking two weeks from now.
Jeff Lett obviously also left the band during that in between period. All has been civil between him and the rest of the band, but was that a tough obstacle to overcome?
The biggest obstacle in overcoming that is like when Ryan left the band in ’06 like right before Jeff came in, he actually left 2 weeks before Warped Tour and we were about to play over 50 shows that summer and we thought about doing a 4 piece then and just not replacing Ryan but we weren’t ready to try to figure how to make that happen and I don’t think we could have pulled it off as well as we have now then. So being that Jeff is a good friend and knows how to play bass it was a pretty easy choice to bring him in. It was a little bit of an obstacle this time because we didn’t know if we would hire a guy, because after this long we didn’t want to bring somebody into the fold because we have been friends for so long that it would be impossible to happen, so we decided being a four piece is both more economical and at the same time I think it would help us get a lot more excitement going into this new phase of Cartel.
Was there ever a point when he was gearing up to leave Cartel that things seemed up in the air about continuing at all, or was that never even a thought?
I mean it’s kind of a continual thought, you know? I’m 27 and I’m the youngest guy in the band. So we’ve been looking at it for a while, not saying that Cartel is not worth it because we love doing it and we have fun and we have a good time with our fans and playing shows and all that, none of that’s ever been a question. It’s just like we’re getting older, I’m married, the guys have steady girlfriends, everybody has rent and everything like that to pay for, so it’s not easy to make money in the industry, not even enough to get by. For us it’s always just kind of like we have to figure out are we going to put it in the ground and start over again with me doing stuff or Joseph doing stuff, we decided that before we could really put Cartel down in any sort of sense ever we’d have to know that we gave it our best shot to do it ourselves. So just coming into looking at it we’re like alright we’re a 4 piece, we’ve got all these shows, we knew we had stuff going on, so it was like before we really get into this what’s the point in continuing? So we had a little band sit-down and just talked about it. Everybody was on board with trying to do this whole new phase. We decided if we’re going to continue we need to completely change the way we’ve been doing it. So it’s been a transition by the time the EP comes out, we’re trying to make it come out in September. Once it actually does come out everything will be in place and ready to go. It’s a very metamorphic time for Cartel. I’m never going to stop playing music. I’m going to do a solo project after this EP just to start the process. Me and Joe are also working on some stuff with some other guys. I’m never going to quit doing music. I’m either going to be doing production or my own thing. So, the guys knew that and Joseph was going to do the same thing so it was like I’m not quitting but if Cartel has to stop it’s going to stop, and no one wanted to do that so we continued on as the soldiers we are.
Was it tough to even entertain thoughts of calling it a day after eight years, even though you seem excited about pursuing other ventures in the music industry?
Yeah I mean Cartel has been an era, it’s an important part of my life. Probably by the time it’s over I will have spent my entire 20’s in Cartel full-time. It’s definitely something in the future to look back on and say, “God how did we ever do all that?” It’d be a really sad point in time even if I’m 55 or 60 still making music and if Cartel isn’t always around it will always have that special place in my heart. Even if we never made another recording again, the things I have learned from this besides music are invaluable. After such a long time, you look at bands like Jimmy Eat World and Blink 182 and Green Day, like a lot of those bands didn’t even get massive until they were close to their 10th year, so you know we’ve always kind of held that you don’t have to come out of the gate and sell a shit ton of records to make this thing last. New Found Glory and Less Than Jake are still doing it and they’re much older than us. We listened to them when we were kids. They give us motivation, we know most of the older bands and most of the bands we get lumped into with are contemporary. We’ve always been more of the old school in that regard. We used to go to hardcore shows where there were like 10 people and get x’s on our hands. So we come from a little bit different generation even though there’s only a few year gap between us and Boys Like Girls, We The Kings, and All Time Low’s. We were much into the DIY bands and that’s what we’re moving into now phase-wise.
Cycles was released in October of 2009. Close to two years later, has the band been happy with its reception and response, or would you have liked to see it make more of an impact?
When it comes to record sales and response it depends on what you are considering the response. If you’re talking about sheer record sales, I wish we had sold a lot more. I think the response has been good though. I really love our second record and I think it’s the best thing we’ll ever do just because we went into it with completely open hearts and minds and wrote the record we wanted to write. So to me, nothing will be as genuine as that was. Cycles is definitely a more conservative approach to try to gain back whatever we thought we had lost with Chroma. So Cycles, I love the record and I think it’s the best sounding record we’ve done. I think the response was just tailor-made for it. I think it was just too long in between records. The second record came out at the end of ’07 and Cycles came out at the end of ’09. And now we won’t have something come out until September of 2011 so that’s entirely too long in this nature of things. And unfortunately that has been pretty much predicated by being on labels and having to worry about everybody else’s time tables instead of our own. Being in a band, I want something to be coming out at all times. I know for a fact that bands are continually writing music because I do it and I talk to people who do it and that’s pretty much across the board how it’s done. So that to me has been the biggest clue as to where to go in the future. Make it much shorter, and by much shorter I mean a couple months between releases rather than a couple years. With that, I think Cycles has done pretty much everything we could expect.
It was the band’s first release on Wind-Up Records. How was it dealing with them throughout the process of releasing the first record?
The process was awesome they are great people. Definitely of all the labels we’ve been on, even Militia Group being our first one they were small so they really had no other business model to fulfill other than being a family-oriented kind of label. And then going to Epic and witnessing the corporate clusterfuck that is major labels, going to Wind-Up having major label power and money and financial backing they definitely completely blew the conception about labels being shitty out of water. They are one of the best ones I’ve ever heard of and especially being on them they’re great, it’s fantastic.
The music industry in the past three or so years has continued to shift in terms of platforms of how to market, sell, and support your music. Has it been difficult for the band to kind of get adjusted to the changes?
No way. If anything, we’ve been waiting for it to happen. When we first started bands in high school I had seriously low budget recording gear and we would just go and do it. We would say let’s do an EP or full length and we would sit and record it all, it would sound terrible, and we would put it out and print off the booklets ourselves, burn the CDs, and sell them at shows to make back the money on supplies. We started our fan base like that and if that never had happened we wouldn’t be sitting here today. With that being said I think the music industry just doesn’t get it. I mean I think they are finally starting to have to get it because I don’t think the consumer downloading things for free, I mean it’s stealing, but they took the issue way too far by suing so many people. That’s not the problem, it’s that they’ve been giving everybody crap music for so long. It’s not that there aren’t any good bands out there, it’s just what the labels put down the pipeline into mainstream radio and things like that, and it’s just total bullshit. It’s only being made to make a hit, and music shouldn’t be made to only make money. It should be made because that’s what your expression is and that’s what your passion is. To me, I feel like labels need to get back into development stuff. Early on in the 60’s and 70’s a label would develop a band for a while. They would buy a bus and put 4 of their bands on that bus and just send them out, and people went and heard live music and got it. Music is not meant to be sold it’s meant to be a live art form. I feel like they need to develop bands that are good live, that can play music, that can record it well, and go and do that because otherwise music has no hope.
In your statement in regards to Jeff’s departure you mentioned that it’s clearly more important than ever to interact with fans. Would you say that Cartel hasn’t been the best at doing that lately for any particular reason?
Oh yeah absolutely we’ve been terrible at it. The reason is because we started doing Myspace and everything like that when we first started the band. We were on that shit every night after the show answering everybody’s emails and stuff like that and we continued to do that until we signed to Epic. At that point in time they get your information so that they can post shows and all of that information and that was the tip of the iceberg. We’ve had no ability to just get online and post something on the website. I have to email someone, and then they forward the email to somebody who would get to it in a week. So basically it’s just been taken out of our hands for so long and not having the right people to motivate the information as well. All of that is done and if nothing else I’ve realized it by being probably the main person on Twitter and other forums we have. I would love to post updates every day. I think our main contribution to fans has been at shows. We’re never too shy to hang out or have that weird stand over there and we’ll talk to you one person at a time. Just come hang out and we’re just people that are lucky enough to get on that stage and play music. We’ve always kept that attitude with our fans.
The band has been tracking its new EP for a little while now. How many songs are we looking at?
There will be 5 total, we just finished writing 4 more that will go on there. Our plan is basically to get 4 EPs out in 2 years. We kind of want to do 4 EP sets if you will, not necessarily with certain concepts but sort of more in the vein of putting out 4 things that comprises this element of Cartel. So that way we aren’t putting out the same 5 songs every time we do it and it gives us more freedom. People spend 2 years writing records and getting them out. There’s so much anticipation that I think it kind of inhibits the release to be whatever it is. That’s why everybody’s first record is probably the most liked because nobody has any notion of what the band should be. So then beyond that they either have to conform to the notion or try to push it, which very few bands are successful for pushing it. So that way if we do 5 songs and people hate it, a couple of months later they are going to get something new and will hopefully fix that. No one really likes everything and if they do they aren’t being honest with themselves. I have a lot of favorite bands but I don’t like everything they do.
Has the writing process at all changed from Cycles to now?
Yeah it’s going to be much more of a combined group effort because I won’t have as much time to put into Cartel with me trying to produce and writing new music for other projects. We’ve been doing it for a long enough time that we should be able to knock things out efficiently. We’re all good enough musicians to do this quickly. So with that, yeah the process has changed because I’ll bring in a riff to practice and we’ll all just flush out the song together right there. So it’s coming out a little more streamlined in sense of the Cartel machine, but it’s all good things that are happening. It’s a different energy overall because we have to play them live as we are writing them. So parts are happening a lot quicker than they do because we can hear what we are all playing and combine rhythm and lead parts easier. It gives it a whole new energy and it’s great. Nothing has changed it’s still Cartel but it’s got this thing that you’re going to want to come to a show and see these songs played live, it’s fun.
How would you compare the sound to previous releases Cartel has put out?
I’ve always preferred a more raw sound and we always get a bunch of people that come up to us after shows and say we are better live and we all feel that way too. I think we are higher in a standard level live than in recordings. We decided to work it backwards so that we know what it sounds like live, and then record everything. The first song isn’t necessarily the first one that will come out before the EP, it’s not indicative of the songwriting but definitely of the style. This song is much more in the vein of “Honestly” and “Perfect Mistake” and songs like that, where the rest of them venture off into the other forms of Cartel. Sound-wise there is less stuff. A drum set sounds like a drum set, the two guitars sound like two guitars, they are loud, raw, and crunchy, and there is a bass and vocals. There are no extraordinary studio tricks done at all. We wanted to make that happen because those are the kind of records we like listening to. That’s probably the only new thing that fans can expect but hopefully they’ll give us that frame of reference that we aren’t trying to sound like insert common pop-punk band here. We’re trying to sound more like The Get Up Kids and Hot Water Music. Just simple. Recordings go way too far nowadays.
There were rumors that Matt Malpass would be producing the EP, but the band decided to self-produce it. What was the reasoning for that, and how has it been doing it?
He was never really supposed to produce other than help us record drums. We knew we wanted to try this first and if we sucked at it then we would obviously get somebody who could do more of the recording and stuff like that. Some people don’t ever do anything but engineer the record and then call that producing but we always feel like whoever is managing the arrangement and such of tracks is more of the producer. The person twisting the knobs and changing levels is the person making the record sound the way it does, but that’s not producing. So he engineered our drums, and we just wanted somebody who would record the music and not tell us how to change it at all. And just for a financial basis we didn’t record the other stuff with him. I have plenty of capability to do that myself, it’s really just the gear it takes to do drums that we could no way afford right now. Matt’s a great dude and I think his productions are great. It’s just that we’ve done so many records now I don’t think we need someone to tell us what to do.
Should we expect to hear a new track by the time the All Time Low dates kick-off?
Yeah you’ll definitely hear a track before then. I would say sometime late this month. It’s a manifesto. This EP is the flyer campaign for Cartel in the future. We want it to bring in people into the world of Cartel and let it be a jumping pad to bigger things musically.
Would you say now, more than ever, it’s important that this EP hits hard with the fans?
Oh yeah we’re definitely putting our all into making sure these songs are tailor-made for this fan base. We want to create this element of people coming to our shows and what it means to be a Cartel fan. I don’t want it just to be that you like our music. Like there are bands I don’t like anymore because I found out they are dicks. I want a band to be about something. We want the scene to get back to what it used to be.
Are you self-releasing this EP or will it be released on a label?
There will be no other labels involved for the time being. That might change in the future, but this one will be self-released.
The All Time Low tour will be a pretty massive one. How much are you looking forward to it?
It’s going to be great. I wish we had more shows on it. The fact that we’re playing shows with The Starting Line again is fantastic. Love those dudes, they’ve always been good friends of ours. The Cab is really good too. We have never played a show with them but we’ve been at shows with them and know them well. It will be fun to venture along on the ride of what is All Time Low for a few days. They’re fun dudes to hang out with and I think we have a grand old time.
Are there plans for anymore touring in the fall that has been worked out yet?
Nothing confirmed. We’re definitely trying to tour in the fall I just don’t know what it is right now. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce that along with the whole new regime in the very near future.
There were plenty of rumors that there was going to be a Chroma tour and that it would be released on vinyl as well. What’s the status on that?
That was potentially going to happen this year. We decided that’s a pretty big card for a band to pull and being that it’s our most popular record we wanted to make sure that when we do that we do it all out. Great production and make it an entire experience for people to come and witness. We knew we wouldn’t have time to properly do it this year, so once we get this EP stuff up and running we’ll be able to then really pull off the Chroma tour the way we want to. We’re going to do it on vinyl when we do it. I think it’s one of those records that was meant to be on vinyl. It’s going to be crazy when we do it, and we’re going to do it unless we don’t by the end of next year when the world ends. So when we do it, it will be insane.
*This interview was conducted by Emily Coch
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