Michael Lavine

Tacocat Turn ‘90s Nostalgia Into Punk Rock Rebellion

The Seattle band behind the new Powerpuff Girls theme song finds release in perpetual teenhood

Outside Container Bar in downtown Austin, a bachelorette party stops to take selfies with all four members of Tacocat. The Seattle band has been asked for photos a few times since it wrapped its official daytime set, which started promptly at 4:20 p.m., but this is the first time it's been held up by a group of women wearing pink dildo antennae. Bassist Bree McKenna saw the party's “I Do” t-shirts and thought at first they were here to protest in support of marriage equality. Then she saw the plastic dicks bobbing in the Texas breeze and realized that someone had chosen SXSW as the occasion for one last pre-bridal hurrah.

Formed in 2007, Tacocat are McKenna, guitarist Eric Randall, drummer Lelah Maupin, and lead singer (and tambourine-wielder) Emily Nokes. Together, they’re the band behind the rebooted Powerpuff Girls theme song and the authors of one of the catchiest songs about menstruating you’re likely to hear, the surf-party anthem “Crimson Wave." They’re four perma-kids dotted with tattoos who play songs about childhood and the reluctant transition into the pains of being an adult.

This is hardly their first SXSW, and after nearly a decade Tacocat are more visible now than ever. When we speak, they’re on the cusp of releasing their third full-length record, Lost Time, which will drop just days before the new season of Powerpuff Girls does. That synchronicity feels like more than just a coincidence, because Lost Time is also very much about childhood and TV; its name is an X-Files reference, and its first track, “Dana Katherine Scully,” is an ode to the fictional FBI skeptic who became an implicitly feminist figure for kids reared in the ‘90s.

"I started rewatching The X-Files and I was like, whoa! She's such a badass character,” says Nokes, who notes that her love is reserved for the original run of The X-Files, not so much the reboot. "There's something called the 'Scully phenomenon.' During the time that The X-Files came out, more young girls were like, 'I want to be a doctor or an FBI agent!' This flood of women went into hard-science fields. I was just fascinated by her. She's elbow-deep in an alien autopsy and she's still like, 'There might be some other explanation.'"

Between their ties to X-Files and Powerpuff Girls, Tacocat aligns with a generational nostalgia that powers a healthy portion of contemporary culture. Kids are still growing up with Buttercup and Scully; they’re just accessing them through a historical lens that lends ‘90s franchises extra clout and authenticity. It’s easier than ever to get in touch with the media that meant a lot to you as a kid, and a new generation of artists has been using that nostalgia as ammunition. "All of our songs from the start have always been very in touch with our youth,” says Maupin. Nokes agrees: "We're children of the '90s. We just stuck with it. The Internet kept us there."

"We just kind of live in this perpetual teenage stage,” says McKenna, who wrote Lost Time's equine obsession anthem, “Horse Grrls." "We're adults in the ways that we have to be, but ..."

"Who can afford to live like that anymore?” says Nokes. "More women are like, 'I don't have to have a kid when I'm 21.' We're evolving socially.”

"I think more people are understanding that gender roles are ridiculous,” adds Maupin.

A fixation on the aesthetics of childhood doesn’t keep Tacocat from tackling heavier topics in their music, though. Nokes sings about environmental disaster and labor rights in her rounded alto, which makes her sound a little like a punk rock Neko Case. “I Love Seattle” preempts that deadly earthquake that’s primed to decimate the entire West Coast, while “I Hate the Weekend” rags on the white-collar jerks who make life hell for service workers every Friday. “This is for everyone who has to be at work here right now,” Nokes says when she introduces the single at Container Bar.

Lost Time features cleaner, deeper production than Tacocat’s past two albums, which helps bring out the contrasts in their subject matter more sharply. The Internet has kept us in the relics of our more innocent years, but so, maybe, has the sense of foreboding that dominates culture in 2016. The earth is burning, someone horrible will be president, and the middle class has all but fallen into the sea, so why not get matching tattoos with your best friends and smack a tambourine around while you can? Tacocat aren’t fatalists, but they understand the cathartic power of having fun in the face of everyone who might tell you that fun isn’t yours to have.