Q&A with Will Pugh of Cartel

 

will pugh

Cartel have given pop-punkers the soundtracks for their youth, the theme tunes their adulthood, and now…a reason to get into the Christmas spirit? The band recently embarked on a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the classic 2005 album, Chroma. Following a string of sold-out shows in their hometown, Cartel recently announced that they will be performing a special acoustic show in Atlanta at Eddie’s Attic on December 23rd. 

 

Will Pugh sat down with Planet Stereo to talk about the show, the Chroma tour, and what he thinks the music community needs most!

Planet Stereo: How have you been?

Will Pugh: Pretty good thanks, just bouncing out some mixes right now. [I

m] never not working [laughs].

PS: I bet you’re exhausted!

WP: Uh…yeah, actually. I’ve been a little under the weather for the last three or four days [laughs]. But it’s my only time being sick this year, so I’ll take it!

PS: Fair enough! If you only get sick once, I think it works.

WP: I think I just burnt the candle down to the wick last week, and then, with the weather changing, I think that just got me.

 

PS: You’re doing an acoustic holiday show at Eddie’s Attic. What made you want to do an acoustic holiday show?

WP: Well we normally do some sort of holiday show in Atlanta, or, we have in the past. We didn’t do one last year, because we’d already played Atlanta for the Chroma tour with the full band. But Eddie’s Attic is doing some sort of special series, and we’ve never played there before, and it’s one of those legendary Atlanta venues that we just never got to play, because it’s acoustic platform. It’s just one of those things; they approached us and we just thought it was a really cool thing for us and for our fans.

 

PS: What can fans expect from the show?

WP: It’s not a Chroma show, which I have to stress, because doing that live on the tour, we had the full band, and we had to bring in some track elements, because of the nature of that record. There’s more to it than just the four of us. Even with five of us, we couldn’t pull it off, “Q&A” specifically. We can’t do that acoustic, so we’re not going to. But it will be a little mix of songs that we feel translate well acoustically, some covers, some of the Christmas songs, even one that I don’t think anyone really heard, that was on a Japanese release; we did “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon. So we’ll probably end up doing that; although the whole caveat to this thing is that Joseph is currently on tour with Third Eye Blind, um…and I live in Nashville, and he still lives in Atlanta. He comes back from tour like, two days before that show, so we’re going to rehearse the day before. So there might be some dust to knock off [laughs], and we’re going to have to figure out how and if we’re going to play some of these songs. Like, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” because acoustic guitars just don’t rock so “rocking around” might seem a little suspect, so we’ll have to figure that out [laughs].

PS: So, now knowing that the rehearsals are, quite literally, gripping by the edge of your fingertips sort of things, I have to ask, even though you’ve been doing this for a while, do you still get nervous before performing?

WP: No…Ah, I mean, the most nervous we could have been was on the Chroma Tour. The New York show was live-streamed on Yahoo!, and that’s the most nervous we could have been. It wasn’t really nerve-wracking, because that was the fifteenth time or so playing that set, and we’ve been doing this for a while [laughs]. In certain circumstances though, probably. Like, we might get a little nervous for this show, just because it’s a different element. When Joseph and I have done acoustic sets [in the past], it’s been radio or in-stores, for like, a thirty minute set; this is a full-set acoustically. So we’ve kind of got to play some songs that we haven’t played together for a while. I mean, I’ve been playing bass in the band for three or four years, so I haven’t played the guitar live, not in Cartel anyway, for a while. So that’s another thing to figure out. But I don’t think we’ll be too nervous. We certainly won’t get stage-fright! It’s just going to be, “Welp! I hope we don’t mess up!”

PS: I take it that you don’t forget lyrics on stage then either, because I know some frontmen (and women) who get a little nervous and space.

WP: Ahhh…well…[laughs] Yeah, I’ve forgotten lyrics on stage before.

PS: [laughs] So what do you do when that happens? Is that when you put the microphone out in the crowd, as a, like, “Okay, you do it!”

WP: There’s two different ways that goes down: One is, we’ve finished first verse and chorus, and we’re going into the second verse, and in my head, I’m like, usually if I can remember the first line, the rest of them come right behind them, like muscle memory. But when you get right to it, a couple of beats before you’re supposed to come in, and then it pops up, and you’re like, “Oh yeah!,” that’s one thing that happens more than you think, especially in special, one-off circumstances. When you’re on tour, playing the same set every night, by the third or fourth show, all those sorts of mistakes are gone. But I’ve either done that — freaked out, panicked, and managed to remember what the lyric is right before I have to sing it– or I do the coughing fit, acting like I’ve got a cough, so I can’t sing it, obviously [laughs].

PS: Oh my gosh.

WP: Oh, I’ve done that before! You know, I’ve been playing and instrument in the band, and not just singing, for a while, so I don’t normally have that moment to put the mic out to the crowd, because I’ve got to play this instrument. But that’s been my recourse; to cough or maybe walk over to the side. But when you’re trying to get the crowd to sing, you have to be singing, otherwise they get confused. But we’re all human! This show might be a bit more nerve-wracking for that reason; I won’t have time to do that, it’s a more intimate show, and there’s only two acoustic guitars and a vocal happening [laughs].

PS: Now, see, every show I go to, I’m going to be watching the lead singer closely, and the minute he or she turns away, I’m going to know they forgot their line!

WP: [laughs] Sorry!

PS: But that brings me to my next question, something I’ve always been curious about, and never bothered asking: when you see people in the crowd, singing along, can you tell who is actually singing versus who is miming something like, “rhubarb” or “pink elephant”?

WP: Oh yeah. Absolutely. We call it the Hungry Hungry Hippos. We’ve gotten a lot of that. You remember that old school game with the fish and you had the little magnet hooks? I’m old…

PS: [laughs] No, I remember that game! I loved it!

WP: That’s what they look like sometimes. But I get it. It’s a lot of lyrics. You know, if you know every lyric from a band, more power to you, but my band is the only band I know every lyric to [laughs].

PS: So we could catch you at a show one day resembling a Hungry Hungry Hippo?

WP: [laughs] Oh, when I go to a show, I only sing the parts that I know. I’m not going to be that guy. I’m normally in the back, taking it all in. I look at shows differently from the average show goer. I’m like, “Oh, they’ve got this production,” and, “Oh, that’s a cool mic.” I’m looking at that, more than participating. Call me lame, it’s probably true [laughs].

PS: [laughs] No, I get it. Going back to Chroma, you just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary. What was it like to see something you had a hand in creating, turning ten?

WP: Makes you feel old. Very old. Especially since our fans have grown up. You know, when that record came out in ‘05 and you were a senior in high school, now you’re probably at your job, maybe married with kids, and you don’t get to go to shows as often as you used to. So we’ve seen a change in our fans, and the people who we saw while we touring heavily on that record back in ‘07. We were going from 50 people a show to 1000 people a show, so we remembered a lot of the faces we saw, and then, as those crowds grew, the tours changed, and fast-forward ten years later, and you see these people again and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, we actually got a babysitter in for the night. This is our one night out this month.” Like, wow. This is real-life now. [ laughs] It was very different, but very fun, because that record meant a lot to us, our fans, and just a lot of people. It’s the most that we’ve had in probably, 7-8 years, just because that record garnered so much attention and invigorated the fan-base. I feel like a lot of people had nostalgia as a factor, and lots of singing, etc.

We’d actually been afraid, because a lot of our fans are old enough to be at the bar now, just chilling, so to see them up-front and participating, it was the most fun we’ve had in a long time.

PS: That’s so nice. Do you have a favorite song from Chroma to perform live?

WP: “Burn This City” got the biggest reaction the whole time, and that’s a song we’ve played in nearly every set since day one. So that’s probably the favorite to play live; it’s easy to play, there’s a big sing-along at the end, so, it’s a good one. I really like playing that one.

PS: What is it like to perform a full album ten years after its release? I’m sure it’s odd, and probably feels a bit like traveling back in time?

WP: Yeah, a little bit, because all the interviews and stuff we were doing were geared around that, and talking about things from the past, and it was like, “Man, I don’t know if I necessarily remember…” [laughs] So it’s a little bit of a blast from the past, but it was nice. It was fun to talk about the making of the record and all of the various facets of the band that were happening then.

PS: And you guys have been around as a band for a while, and just garnered so many fans, and so much knowledge. What’s a piece of advice that you could pass on to younger musicians just starting out?

WP: Oh my…So many things. I’m mostly producing, so I get that all the time, like, “Hey man, how do you ‘make it?’” or “What was this experience like?” What I’ve found is that it’s unique to every band. Situations go down differently for everyone, like how they got signed or what they did to get their fanbase up. The main important thing is that you have to love it. [T]here’s a difference between, “Yeah, I think I love it,” and actually loving it. I mean, when you’re on a 24-hour flight to Australia, and then when you land you have to play a show three hours later, and the last thing you wanna do is play a show, you hate it. But, you love it [laughs]. When you get on stage, everything changes. You know it’s something you’re lucky to do, and you wouldn’t have put yourself on that flight and through that hell unless you did love it. You see a lot of people go on tour, young bands on what might be their second or third tour, and they’re opening, and it’s rough, they’re not making a bunch of money, and people don’t buy merch, and stuff like that, they have to set up their own gear and do their own drives, because they’re not on a bus. You see it on their faces; they’re just dead, and hating it, and that’s the part, that if you can get through that, you can get through anything. It gets harder, but it also gets easier, like the physical tolls. You get more comforts as you get bigger, but you also get new things to keep you busy. You might not be driving the full nine hours to the show, but when you get there at 10 AM, and you’ve got three hours of press before you do soundcheck, and then you have to go and do an in-store signing, it’s grueling. It doesn’t get easier, but efficiency goes up. That’s my best advice: if you don’t absolutely love it, and love it through all the bad times, you’re not going to be able to do it. And that’s from so many different aspects, even the music. Be true to yourself, and when you love something that much, and it’s as much a part of yourself as your eye-color, then you can kind of pull it off, but it’s not for everybody. And that’s the sad part. [In that situation,] there’s nothing wrong with being a weekend, one-weekend a month gig at a bar in your hometown…

PS: It’s still a part of your life.

WP: Exactly. You know, but touring, as a career, full-time, is not for everyone [laughs].

PS: And you’re seeing that from both sides, as a musician and as a producer. Do you think that’s changed the way you look at it a little bit?

WP: Yeah. I mean, it’s given me greater perspective on what we did as a band and what I’ll continue to do as a career. It gives you a greater appreciation for what’s gone down, and definitely makes you smile, brings on a bit of nostalgia, like, “Yeah, those were good times, we didn’t know anything, we weren’t jaded!” [laughs] We’ve seen all of the bad parts, and you think back to, “Nah, man, the music industry rules!” That vigor and enthusiasm […] it’s like seeing a little kid when everything is golden when they don’t know what politics is, or that anything bad is going on, it’s like, “yeah! Birthdays, Santa Claus, and ice cream! It’s just awesome!” [laughs]

PS: [laughs] I’ve had that many times. And speaking of change, the music industry has changed so much over the years, especially in regards to marketing and social media. How have you adjusted to that huge transition?

WP: You know, I think Cartel’s career arch went a little differently. We kind of got caught right in between that transition. We had to ride that transition, really. Like, bands that we consider ourselves contemporaries of in the latter part, like NEw Found Glory, Saves The Day, Starting Line, all of these bands that we toured with, that we know, and even grew up listening to…I say “grew up,” I mean, like two years before we started touring, but still, grew up [laughs]. They kind of already had everything instilled. They were stallwarts of the industry before we even got started as Cartel. And then as we got going, we saw the transition from like Friendster to Myspace and PureVolume to Facebook, and then, Myspace going down, and iTunes going from something to manage your music to put on your old-school iPod to something you could actually buy music on, and the whole downloading/piracy thing, to streaming services. We had to sort of find our place in that world, and in social media. Some of these bands are getting started, and right off the bat, they know they need Twitter, Instagram, and all of this other stuff. That stuff didn’t even exist when we got started! It’s a huge platform for marketing your band and communicating with your fanbase, so we kind of felt stuck in between eras. Like, on one side, we’re the old fuddy-duds that you went and handed out fliers at another show, whereas now, you just tweet [laughs] and jump on bandwagon things with other bands, and it’s a totally different ways. In some ways, it’s like, “Man, I wish it would go back to the old-school ways,” because it felt so much more organic and grass-roots, and now it’s just like, “Oh, hey! Check this out! All you have to do is like this 100 times and we’ll release a new single that no one cares about!” These things are going on, and I wish it would just get back to the music sometimes. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes, because we were in that. Like, New Found Glory doesn’t have to do that.

PS: Because they’re New Found Glory [laughs].

WP: Exactly! [laughs] And bands like us, who came up to that period of time, it was like, “Oh…shit.” Someone at Buzzfeed, when we were on the Chroma tour, asked us, “What was it like, pretty much being responsible for the selfie?” We were like, “What are you talking about being responsible for the selfie?” Then they showed the “Honestly” video where everyone’s taking these polaroid pictures and putting them on their Myspace profiles, and I was like, “Oh! I didn’t even think about that!” Not that I’m taking credit for the selfie, because if I did, I’d go find a short rope and a long drop, but, yeah. It’s ridiculous to me, the whole culture of duck-face and stuff.

 

PS: Oh, don’t! The peace signs from ‘05 still haunt me!

WP: [laughs] Yeah! It was just like, “Oh yeah, Myspace was a thing.” And you look at the computers in that video, and they’re like, tanks, compared to what computers are now, and it was, “Wow. We really are old.” [laughs] But we were one of the bands that rode the precipice of all of this happening, but not necessarily like, pioneering anything in that realm. We just adjusted as the career went on. Before, it was, “Well, this is how you do it!” and you went out and worked really hard to get the word out. Now, it’s being tech-savvy and knowing the in-games. It wasn’t like that when we came out. It’s been an interesting ride, and I still can’t, to this day, synthesize all of that information to process and have a good answer for how to do it. “I don’t know” is the real answer.

 

PS: Speaking of the industry, we obviously had the tragedy in Paris last week, and it’s made us all kind of think, and seeing the music industry kind of rally together quickly, why do you think that music and the community within it are so important, especially in times of tragedy like this?

WP: I think a lot of people discount the power of music, and you know, everyone’s quick to throw up the Beatles or Lennon, and there’s obviously more than that. They’re quick to quote these bands and songs like “Imagine,” that’s been quoted an untold amount of times, but to actually put that thought and emotion into action, is a harder thing to do than just quote to it and throw it on Twitter. I feel like music has the power to soothe and it has the power to console and to vitalize people, and put them into action to do things, and to try to make a change in the world […] it’s a place that people go because it’s an escape; it’s reality but it’s also abstract at the same time, and it allows people to get into their own world, where your favorite bands aren’t going to judge you like somebody at school might. It’s just your own personal thing[…] I feel like the music community…we lost some of that. With the Paris tragedy, you go on Twitter and see a lot of bands like, “My heart goes out, prayers and love, and blah blah blah,” and I’m like, yeah, that’s everyone […] you see all that, and it just feels so contrived. When things happen like this, it’s terrible, and obviously, if you have a heart, it goes out to the people and the families, and that’s an assumed thing if you’re a good person, or have any empathy whatsoever. But where is that when these things aren’t happening? That’s my question. And where is the positivity and the push for love and the push for peace or a push for community that supports one another? That seems to only happen when bad things happen, and that’s tragic in and of itself. Music kind of needs to get back to the point where we actually used to do things. Like, Rage Against The Machine, did they change the world? No. But they gave teenagers or even young adults a way to process the information, and they were obviously angry, I mean, there’s a lot to be angry about, but they had a point. There’s no boarders with music, there’s no politics with music, necessarily. Obviously, I would say, if you took a poll, most musicians would be more left leaning than right, unless you’re counting country music, but, you know, no one’s sitting there writing a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders support song, or the other side of things. No one’s doing that. In politics, most people are just for the general benefit of humanity all together. That’s something that I think is universal, the good feelings that music brings, the positive energy that a group of people coming together to sing songs back to their favorite band; that’s a powerful thing. It’s a powerful thing when any group of people get together to do anything, good or bad. But I feel like there’s a lot more good in this world that can come from musicians actually having a backbone to say something. There’s times when it’s like, “Hey everyone, let’s celebrate the awesomeness of the world,” and there’s times when it’s like, “Hey! We need to do something. Something needs to change.” It’s one of those times now. Unfortunately, like I said, it only happens when bad things happen, and then people get together and it’s all, “Peace and love, peace and love!” but, you know, it needs to be that all the time, because otherwise, bad things are going to happen. Obviously, the music community at large isn’t going to change ISIS’s mind, that’s not what I’m saying, but the things, the atmosphere, or any of these other things that allowed these things to go down, come from inaction and from people being insecure and not having the backbone to say something, which is not necessarily their fault. And that’s not just for ISIS, but to confront racism or homophobia, or any of this other stuff, you have to call your friends out sometimes, like, “Hey, dude, you’re being an asshole.” It starts on a very micro level like that. Music should give people the way to do that. Even now, I listen to Rage Against The Machine and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ma gonna go protest!” I feel invigorated, and that still garners a reaction in me. A lot of music can do that, even pop music, if they’re willing.

PS: I find myself nodding everything you’re saying, and I hope everyone else feels the same way. It shouldn’t be just when tragedy happens. It should be all the time.

WP: And I applaud everyone for jumping on and saying something, and supporting the positive side. I applaud everyone for that but let’s not make it only when it’s convenient. I feel like sometimes, it’s promotion, like, “I’ll get more followers because I’ve said something positive in a tragic time.” It’s become too self-serving at that point, and, I don’t know, I wish that [this positivity] would be more spread throughout the years, rather than just when something like this happens.

PS: This is your last question, and I ask everyone, but the asterisk: this is no threat on your life or anything you hold near and dear, it is just a genuine question…

WP: [laughs] I’m very interested now!

PS: It might terrify you now, but it’s, as I say, the last question I ask everyone. If you knew that this was your last chance to say something, these were your last words, and you got to pick them, what would they be and why?

WP: Wow.

PS: No pressure [laughs].

WP: Yeah, no pressure [laughs]. I mean, I would say a lot of what I just said in that last answer. I have a baby on the way in February…

PS: Congratulations!

WP: Thank you, thank you. That’s definitely given me a lot of food for thought on how I would like to see the world change or see people treat each other differently than they do now, mainly for my future child’s benefit. I think that…well, I actually just had a little Twitter rant yesterday, and this also comes at a time that Star Wars is coming out in…30 days, and it’s true, it’s very very true: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side,” and not necessarily the Dark Side of the Force, but just the dark side, because that’s where most of this stuff comes from, is fear and hate, and at its root, you don’t just wake up and hate something. You’re not born hating anything. You start to hate it because you’re mad at it and you’re afraid of it. There’s no reason to be afraid of anything. Certainly to be cautious, like, I’m not going to say I go to a high-crime district in any city and am completely unafraid, but I’m not fearful of people in general. Humanity needs to get its act together. I mean, love really is the most powerful force on the planet, and there’s one story out of Beiroot, which, by the way, no one in the media seemed to care about.

PS: I know, I must admit, that’s troubled me.

WP: It’s ridiculous. It didn’t get the coverage, because “white people weren’t killed,” and that’s just real-talk. There’s a story from there, and a guy was taking his daughter to a cafe and he was walking out. He noticed one of these suicide bombers was coming around the corner with one of these vests, and he ran and jumped on him, and made the vest detonate away from a bunch of people. You know, that vest could have killed hundreds of people, and he went and did that. And I have to think that in that split second, he’s thinking, “My daughter might get blown up,” and he runs over, and he has everything in the world to live for, and he sacrifices it all because he’s protecting his daughter. That’s 100% out of love. Anyone else, if you’re out by yourself, and no one you love is around you, and you see that, you’re high-tailing it! You’re running! For the most part, I’d assume people would do that. I would do that; just being honest. I would run as fast as I can away from that situation. But the thing that motivated him was love and that, obviously, is way more powerful than any other human instinct that we have, and if we really utilised that and accept that as reality, and really try and practice at loving everybody, we’ll all be the better for it. My kid’s not even born, and I already love them more than anything I’ve ever loved in my entire life. And I’m sure it’s going to be way more than that when I actually lock eyes with them. But it’s one of those things that I feel people really need to…not just say it, not just Tweet it, not just think it or wear a t-shirt, like, actually do it. Love people. If we can figure out a way around that and all of our insecurities, and self-preservation tendencies, and really think that, you know, the world at large and people really have the capacity to do great things, and at the same time, the capacity to do bad things, and it’s teetering on the edge of whether or not you show kindness to somebody one day, that’s really the most I can say. Just, be kind, there’s already too much hate in the world to not be kind. I know shit sucks and sometimes, you’re not having a good day, like, I don’t really feel very good right now, and that could make me more prone to snap at somebody, because I just don’t feel good, but in the end, you’ve got to put it all in perspective and realize that you would want somebody to be kind to you. Everybody needs somebody to love them and if you’re that person that can show that to somebody, a stranger, you never know how you could change their life. Somebody could be teetering on the edge of suicide or feeling like the world’s out to get them, or they’re gonna go and hurt somebody because they don’t feel like they’re loved, and then you could open a door for them or let them go in front of you in line, anything, any small, random act of kindness, can change somebody’s life. So that’s what I would say. Be kind and love people. It’s hard to do…It’s really hard to do [laughs] but it’s the best thing anyone could do.

PS: Thank you so much for doing the interview! I appreciate it so much!

WP: Thank you! I appreciate the time you took.

 

You can get into the spirit this holiday season by seeing Cartel at Eddie’s Attic on December 23rd, 2015! In addition, Cartel’s gold label on gold vinyl (limited to 500 copies made) of the “Honestly” track and an acoustic version of the song is available now at FieldDayRecords.com.

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