The Road to Skate & Surf Interview Series: Cartel

nicole calascibetta kicks off the series…

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Cartel is widely known for their chart topping hits “Say Anything (Else)” and “Honestly” along with their experience on MTV’s Band in a Bubble sponsored by Dr. Pepper. After the release of Chroma (2006) came Cycles (2009) and In Stereo (2011). Now, Will Pugh, Joseph Pepper, Nic Hudson and Kevin Sanders are writing a new chapter in their music career. The pop-rock group has announced their fourth full-length album Collider is due to be released on March 26th.

Their new single “Uninspired” off of Collider recently debuted online. Cartel will be performing at the Outrage Festival in Texas on February 16th and Skate and Surf in Freehold, New Jersey on May 19th. As the band tries to main diversity and originality, they’re working harder than ever. I recently had the chance to catch up with Will Pugh of Cartel about their new music, their past experiences and what’s in store for their future.

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Pop-Break: What was the inspiration behind your new single “Uninspired?”

Will Pugh: That song was tough because it existed in “theory” with only the opening lyric having been written. That opening line really sets up the rest of the song to be revealing and poignant which is incredibly hard to just “do”. Haha. It took a while to wait for it to flush itself out but once it happened I was very glad that I waited for it to gestate. The inspiration for the song came from basically being at the bottom of the barrel creatively. At the time, I felt like I had used up whatever inspiration for writing Cartel songs that I had. It was “written” just after we had finished Cycles so I guess that it was an appropriate feeling. I think, ultimately, it took on a life of it’s own and became a song about trudging forward from a songwriting perspective and just remaining persistent. No one is going to hand you anything in this life so it’s best to just forge your own path and accept the results as those of your making. It’s a liberating experience.

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PB: How has having hits like “Honestly” and “Say Anything (else)” affected your expectations when releasing new material?

WP: It certainly raises the bar. haha. I feel that we’ve done a really great job avoiding the pitfalls of trying to “one-up” ourselves in the song category. Those songs came from a place of honesty and unbridled writing. So, we try to keep things as natural and free as possible. If you set expectations that every song we write from now on should be better than either of those two, then you automatically set yourself up for failure. No two songs are alike nor should they be. We make sure to treat each song and subsequent record as if it’s the first time we’ve ever done anything. That way, we accomplish our goal of making each song exactly what it should be and not try to force our writing into a mold of past songs that people enjoyed. I think it’s one of the hallmarks of Cartel.

PB: In what musical direction do you feel Cartel is headed?

WP: This record really got us back into feeling the vibe so to speak. We like having as much fun playing the material as people have listening to it. So, if you try to stay true to that, you end up writing a bunch of different types of songs. Diversity and originality is something we strive for and I think that those two criteria will guide our writing from here on out.

PB: What can listeners expect off of your new album Collider?

WP: We mainly wanted to present people with a listening experience. After completion of the In Stereo EP, we felt like making an album that was more than just a compilation of songs. We wanted to create something that people would feel obligated to listen to as a whole. It’s not a concept record by any means but we still wanted to take people on a journey. I think it exhibits all different forms of Cartel. We have poppy songs and we have heavy songs. Most of all, we wanted it to be fun to listen to. I think all fans of Cartel will enjoy this record a lot.

PB: What do you feel the band learned from the experience of the “Dr. Pepper Bubble” and would you ever do something like that again?

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WP: I think we came out of that experience more resolved as a band than ever. It was almost and “Us Against The World” mentality because so many people missed the music because they were paying attention to the spectacle. We could have gone in and made a super commercial, radio record but instead we chose to reinvent the way we wrote songs. I still go back to the mindset of writing during that period to try and ascertain that creativity and progression that we sought after then. I’m the most proud of that record because we stood our ground and wrote exactly the record we wanted – world be damned. I think a lot of people have come around to the record once the spectacle wore off and found it to be exemplary for a “pop punk” band. We’ve never considered ourselves “pop punk” but that record is “punk” in that we gave a finger to the requests for a super poppy record and stayed true to ourselves. For that, I will be forever proud.

We wouldn’t do that type of thing again. haha. Not to say it was a mistake at all. We just wouldn’t do it twice.

PB: How did you get involved with the Outrage Festival?

WP: They asked us to play and we agreed. (laughs).

PB: What are some of the biggest challenges Cartel has faced in the past few years?

WP: The biggest challenge was going independent of a label. A label has a lot of advantages like marketing, publicity, and distribution that a DIY band just doesn’t have. Having to adapt to be good at all of those things takes time and experimentation. We’ve managed to achieve those things and now we’re completely autonomous which is so nice. I think that mentality of DIY has been the motivating factor behind all of the songs we’ve written since then.

PB: What is your proudest moment as a band?

WP: I think our proudest moment is the day we complete each of our records. So much time and energy get put into each of them and to see it through is a very fulfilling moment. If it’s a singular moment you’re looking for, I’d have to say it was at Bamboozle 2007 when we played for about 20,000 people. It’s definitely the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for and I’m pretty sure I blacked out during the performance because it’s pretty much a blur. Definitely the biggest rush I’ve ever felt.

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PB: What are the band’s expectations for 2013?

WP: World domination. (laughs). No, but seriously, we want to try to reach every receptive ear possible with Collider. We’ve got so much conviction about the nature of this record that we think everyone who’s ever been a Cartel fan will be overjoyed to hear this thing front to back. Hopefully, they spread the word and we can get some good things going in Cartel Land. Otherwise, we expect to be on the road a lot working the hell out of this album.

PB: We just read that you guys will be performing at the Skate & Surf Festival in Freehold, New Jersey this summer. Can you talk about being included on what is shaping up to be NJ’s biggest festivals of the year. Also, can you talk about the experience of performing in a festival setting as opposed to a club?

WP: The NY/NJ scene is always something we enjoy. The Bamboozle shows in the area are so much fun and a reunion of sorts amongst the bands. So I’m proud to be back on a festival in that area and can’t wait to play that show. A festival crowd tends to be a bit livelier than a club just by the virtue that it’s a one time affair. A club show usually means that it’s a tour and a lot more people will see that same show but a festival allows the attendees to feel like they’re getting a truly unique setup and musical offering. For that reason, festivals tend to be the favorite shows of ours to play. That, and I think we set if off a little more just to rise to the occasion.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.