Interview: Will Pugh of Cartel

photo credit: AnnaLee Barclay

photo credit: AnnaLee Barclay

By: AnnaLee Barclay
Will Pugh of Cartel
House of Blues San Diego
16 November, 2013

Hailing from Conyers, Georgia, Cartel is a pop punk band that’s been around since 2003, when they were studying at Georgia State University. They became very well known after their 2005 classic pop punk album Chroma, but their 3 full-length albums since then are just as solid, Collider (2012) being their most recent. I sat down with Will Pugh, the lead singer, after playing their set on the Glamour Kills tour with Stages & Stereos, Man Overboard, and Mayday Parade, to talk about touring, music taste, relationships, and Chroma‘s 10 year anniversary in 2015.


Q: This summer, you were on tour in Australia with Lydia and Wake the Giants, and just before this tour, you were in the UK for 3 weeks. How was being abroad?

Will: It’s awesome. I mean, to be this late in our career and still be able to travel abroad and play headlining shows and make new fans and do all that is really cool.


Q: What’s your favorite country?

W: Japan’s just crazy. I think it’s just because they don’t speak English, you just feel like it’s such more of an adventure. But Australia is still kinda crazy. I mean, England just feels easy, it feels more familiar. But I love Australia, that’s probably the place I would move, actually. It’s cool.


Q: So, are you happy to be back here after all the time abroad?

W: We’ve been touring a lot this year. We did about a month and a half May-June, then the Australia-Japan tour was three and a half weeks, the UK was just a 3 week tour, and the one we’re on is seven weeks. We’ve been on tour since September 24th, so we’re getting pretty deep. And we were only home for three weeks before that.


Q: How do you have all this energy?

W: Uh, I don’t. Completely faking it. A lot of coffee.


Q: How’s this tour going? How’s the chemistry with all the bands?

W: Everybody’s great, we all gel really nicely. It’s easy and everybody is good at what they do. Yeah, there’s no drama or anything.


Q: What happened with the trailer that broke down? I saw on Twitter something about that.

W: Our suspension, somewhere driving into Seattle the night before, it just broke. We didn’t notice it, so it was basically creating a very bad suspension scenario we had to get fixed. And when we got it fixed, the guy was like, “You guys are supposed to replace this part every 20,000 miles, when was the last time you replaced it?” “Uh, never.” “How long have you had it?” “We’ve probably gone about 90,000 miles with that trailer,” and he was like, “Holy shit!” And then he basically said we were really close to having a major accident, so it was good that it happened and we only missed one show versus completely wrecking the van or something.


Q: That was Vancouver, right? Was it just you guys that couldn’t play?

W: Yeah, everyone else was fine. It’s a hard place to make up too cause we live in Atlanta, so we have to be literally as far away from our home as we can be to even get to there. We’ll try to make it up soon, though.


Q: Besides that, has anything crazy happened on this tour, anything crazy in a good way or any adventures?

W: We all kinda went ghost hunting in Milwaukee at this venue. It was called “The Rave” and it was like an old Nazi underground meeting place back in the day and it had a pool and this private club too, had some sketchiness going on. Apparently a couple people died in the pool, so they shut it down. And there’s this boiler room underneath and around the pool, it was real creepy. So we did some ghost hunting with flash lights. That was fun but that’s about the craziest thing we’ve done.


A: Speaking of tours, the 10 year anniversary for Chroma is coming up and I saw in another interview you said there will be an anniversary tour. What made you decide to do that, cause a lot of bands tend to leave old stuff back in the past, so why did you guys feel like you should do an anniversary tour?

W: Well, playing the record front to back, we’ve never played a set where we’ve played every song from Chroma. It would be nice to actually be able to do all those songs and a lot of songs that we don’t normally play because they take extra production or it’s a song that’s part of a record, not really a live set. For some people, I could see that it’s not so much the album as it is a few songs off the album, so they’re like, ‘We don’t wanna just do 2 songs and nobody knows the other 8.” But I think with Chroma, it works so well for us as an album. It’s not a concept album, but it’s as close as you can get to that without it being one. And just the way the end and everything flows, I just think it would be a good experience. Plus, even when that was the only record we had, we never really played all the songs.


Q: So you would play it all the way through?

W: Yeah, we would play it the way it is on the record, front to back and just knock it out. And I think it would be fun for us to be able to do that too. It’s familiar and we know everybody will have a good time. And we’ll also come back out and play some more songs, just a small set. I mean, why not? It’s stupid not to.


Q: I’ve noticed throughout your albums, you’ve kept your sound but you can tell you’ve matured. How have you been able to keep that sound, like that classic Cartel sound, while still making fresh and new music?

W: We don’t listen to anything close to what our band sounds like but it’s something that we grew up listening to and playing and put our own style on. I think at this point, we all kind of work on different stuff, listen to different stuff, are fans of different stuff, so to come back to this element as a band, that’s what we’ve played for so long together–we just know what is a Cartel song and what is not. So when it’s time to write for Cartel, it’s like okay, let’s write a Cartel song. And it’s fun, so it’s kind of like our own project at this point. But we’re not listening to pop punk bands or bands that sound like this typically. I mean, we’re friends with people and we listen to their music and stuff, but we’re not active fans in that way like we would be in a New Found Glory or a Saves The Day scenario. It’s kind of a weird thing, the way things developed for us I think allowed us to cement what we believe is our style and we believe it’s pretty dynamic as far as where it can go. That freedom makes it a lot easier to jump a few different directions while still keeping the core the same, if that makes sense.


Q: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. What have you been listening to since you don’t really listen to this kind of music?

W: I’m very open minded, but narrow minded in the openness. I’m willing to listen and check out anything, however, I’m not gonna just give everything a chance, there’s certain things for me that kinda blow it on a record. I’m an audiophile, so I want it to sound good, or at least in whatever vibe that it’s trying to achieve, like a spacey record, make it sound as good as you can as a spacey record. Some people just don’t get it right, like it’s a spacey record but it sounds heavy, that’s not what it’s supposed to be at all. From that perspective, I don’t listen to a lot of stuff. I more so get into something, absorb it entirely, figure out what I’ve missed, and go back to check some other stuff out. I kinda dance around a lot. I mean, I always listen to Radiohead, always.


Q: Favorite album?

W: Hail To The Thief. I also listen to a lot of British music that apparently doesn’t exist anymore that I just kinda found and became a fan of, and I’m like, “Yeah! What’s this band?!” and people are like, “They broke up a long time ago,” and I’m like, “Shit! That sucks.” Recently, I’ve been into The 1975, their album sounds amazing and it’s just really well done, every part of it. Beyond the fact that they have good songs and I think they did it right, I think the production and everything they were trying to achieve was just nailed. That’s probably the most recent thing. And Young The Giant, I like them a lot. I’m also a producer, so things I work on I’m a fan of, I listen to that more than anything really. There’s a band called Team, I just produced three songs. They’re ridiculous. And we’re gonna do three more songs in January and those will be better ’cause we’ll actually have time to work on them. They’re awesome, they’re gonna be so good.


Q: Are they gonna blow up?

W: I think they are, cause it’s just really good song writing, the sound is current.


Q: What’s the sound?

W: It’s more indie, but don’t wanna say a pop version of indie, cause it doesn’t sound like pop music, but it’s a very easily digestible version of things, while still being very unique and cool. Some indie projects are really cool music, but the vocals kind of scratch a certain way, or some projects are cool but never quite get there yet, like maybe two records from now they’ll be awesome. But they just have it already and they’ve barely done anything. They’re actually going on tour with Third Eye Blind. You should check them out, but that’s pretty much how my listening taste goes.


Q: I noticed you have a wedding band, how do you maintain relationships? Throughout your music, a major theme is girls. How does that work when you’ve been on tour for such a long time? That has to be hard.

W: It’s something you just kinda get used to. And if you choose it, I don’t wanna say you kinda just live with it, I mean it sucks, but you realize it can’t be any different for both parties. So you just kinda accept it and go with it and it makes things different. Our touring schedule is lessening now, cause we don’t need to tour as much and we all got other stuff going on, so we can just come together when we want to or when we need to. So, it’s paid off cause we can go home and be home for a long time and it’s cool. Some people can’t deal with it, some people can, it’s just one of those things.


Q: So, this is your last show in California, how much longer is the tour?

W: Today’s the 15th? Two weeks, our last show is on the 30th.


Q: And then you go back home for a while?

W: Yeah, we’re home at least until March.


Q: Have you been working on anything new as far as Cartel stuff?

W: Right after we finished mixing Collider, we did an unplugged, live album that we also videotaped. It’s like a professionally edited video and it’s really cool; it’s 12 songs that we just picked from different records. It sounds really good and we’re gonna do that along with a mini documentary sort of thing, sometime around the first part of the year. We’re trying to get all that sorted out, so that will pretty much be what we do next year, while also playing whatever shows, maybe picking up a tour, who knows. But we’re pretty much just waiting until 2015 cause we’re doing a rerelease of Chroma, so working all that out will take months of preparation, getting the production and rehearsing it, we’re gonna blow it out.


Q: That’s awesome. What’s your favorite city to play in the U.S.?

W: That’s a really tough question. Every city is different for different reasons. Some cities are awesome like wherever the venue is or wherever you get to hang out at is really cool, and you like the city for that reason. Or it’s a dump and the kids go crazy, so you have a crazy good time, but nothing else about the day is that great. So there’s not really a shitty place to play unless it’s raining or it’s really cold, that’s really the only thing that sucks. But I’ve found that the more you tour, the more you get to know certain places, there’s a lot of stuff about it you love. It’s not really a favorite sort of thing, it’s whatever the last show is of each tour, that’s the favorite city. “Fuck yes, I’m going home!” Everybody sets it off a little bit harder the last night. It’s just like, it’s the last time, who cares if something happens, we don’t have to do this tomorrow!


Q: Which coast do you prefer? I feel like the dynamic with shows here on the West coast are very different from shows back on the East coast. 

W: Yeah, nothing against the West coast, it might be different for different bands, but in our experience, the East coast goes off way harder than the West coast. Not necessarily the South, but the Northeast. Philly and Jersey are by far the most energetic places. They go nuts, for no reason. They probably don’t even like the band, they’re just like, “Music’s playing? Fuck yeah,” and start moshing.


Q: Are you leaving San Diego tomorrow?

W: Tonight, we’re going to Vegas.


Q: Do you like Vegas?

W: Nope. I like visiting there, I don’t like playing shows there.


Q: Why?

W: It’s just a hassle. Being in Vegas when you don’t have to drive anywhere is badass. When you have to put a van and trailer through that mess, it sucks. And there’s never any parking. Unless you play the House of Blues there cause they have a huge loading dock where you can park, so that’s nice. But other than that, it sucks.


Q: Too bad you don’t get to enjoy sunny San Diego.

W: We hung out during the day, just kinda walked around and got coffee. We’ve hung out in San Diego a good bit.


If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Collider, but definitely keep an eye out for that unplugged album next year! And of course, you should probably start binging on Chroma so as to prepare yourself for the nostalgia that will overpower you within the first three seconds of hearing the first track, “Say Anything (Else)”.