- December 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH WILDCAT! WILDCAT!
Hailing from Los Angeles, Wildcat! Wildcat! is the indie electro-pop project of Jesse Taylor, Michael Wilson and Jesse Carmichael. The guys played in various groups before officially forming Wildcat! Wildcat! in 2012. After issuing a trio of critically acclaimed 7" singles and an EP on Neon Gold Records, the band signed to Downtown Records and released their self-titled debut EP in September 2013. The group’s first full-length No Moon At All, dropped August 5, shortly after their appearance at Chicago’s own Lollapalooza. The album, which was recorded with co-producer Morgan Kibby of White Sea and M83, premiered via "Press Play" on the New York Times' website.
The guys sat down with Miranda and Kristen in the greenroom of Schubas before their November gig with Sun Club and opened up about their high school days, the festival scene and the tricky crossover territory of their genre (and why it doesn't matter).
The Show: Wildcat! Wildcat! with Sun Club at Schubas // Nov. 14, 2014
Drinks of Choice: Jesse Taylor; vocals, bass (Whiskey); Michael Wilson; vocals, keys (Zombie) and Jesse Carmichael; vocals, drums (Gin)
Kristen: So, a Zombie as a drink of choice. I’ve never heard of it. Is that something I should know?
Michael: Yeah, it's a classic. Don the Beachcomber, you know? It's a tiki bar drink. It's got six different rums in it and it's topped with absinthe. The bartender hands you the bill after two because they’re not legally allowed to serve you more than that …That’s my drink. What happened last time we all had them?
Jesse Carmichael: Skinny dipping in the ocean.
Jesse Taylor: Skinny dipping at Sunset Beach in California. Near L.A.
Kristen: Well, hopefully you don't go skinny dipping here because it's really fucking cold. Speaking of, last time you guys were in Chicago you played Lollapalooza. What was your favorite thing about the festival – other than playing? Did you do anything fun outside of the gig?
Michael: I think the energy was amazing. We've never played a festival as big as that. We came into town two or three days early because we had two shows before Lolla. When we got into town the festival was ramping up and you could just feel that everyone was stoked. I remember feeding off of that.
Jesse Taylor: Yeah, that was a good weekend to have at the beginning of the tour as opposed to the end. I mean ... touring with Interpol and Spoon and then Lollapalooza…It was just way over our heads.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, I also think the people that go to Lollapalooza are especially passionate music fans. And that's what I'd heard before we even played there. Bands get nervous about having an early set time at festivals, but everyone I talked to was like “No, people will be there.” And it was true. People that go to Lolla are true fans of music. You can really sense that.
Miranda: Do you think if you guys didn't play music you would be festival goers?
Jesse Taylor: Yeah, totally.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah.
Jesse Taylor: I wouldn’t go to very many festivals actually.
Jesse Carmichael: I love Coachella.
Michael: F Yeah Fest [FYF] was amazing.
Jesse Taylor: Yeah. That's like a perfect size. Bigger than that I'd get scared.
Kristen: Like claustrophobic scared?
Jesse Taylor: Yeah.
Michael: There are so many mid-sized really great festivals these days. They have really great headliners and it's only 50 bucks for two days.
Kristen: Yeah, that's a good deal. And more and more are popping up every year.
Jesse Carmichael: We played Fun Fun Fun and it was 99 degrees or something.
Jesse Taylor: Then there was the festival we played in Houston…
Jesse Carmichael: That we didn't really play. We heard the tornado warning like 20 seconds before we were about start.
Jesse Taylor: We were ready to roll. We were ready to play.
Kristen: What a letdown.
Miranda: Did you jump in a ditch or what did you guys do?
Michael: No, they had to evacuate the park.
Jesse Carmichael: They put us in s trailer though and said, “Wait here.”
Kristen: Safety first.
Jesse Carmichael: “You guys don't have to play.”
Jesse Taylor: “You don't get to play. You're not going to be rescheduled to play.”
Michael: “Because you're probably going to die in this trailer.”
Jesse Taylor: “And if you don't die, you still don't get to play.” But then we had a few days at the festival and we had to not be hurt over it. We went back and got to see a bunch of bands.
Jesse Carmichael: Once we discovered the golf cart scenario it was awesome. There’s always a back road golf cart situation at every festival.
Kristen: Yeah, but nowhere else do you get to ride in a golf cart right along Lake Shore Drive…
Jesse Carmichael: That was tight.
Jesse Taylor: I got embarrassed in the golf carts.
Jesse Taylor: Because it's like … You look like such a pretentious asshole. Like, “This is my golf cart and I’m just gonna sprawl out.” I just get embarrassed in my head.
Jesse Carmichael: Itwas pretty beautiful though, going on the golf cart along the lake and then playing.
Miranda: Fest express is the shit.
Kristen: Yep, it is. So, you’re originally from L.A. What’s your favorite thing about it?
Michael: Well, I live in Long Beach, so my favorite thing about Los Angeles is Long Beach.
Michael: But Long Beach is a bit different than L.A. It's a little bit more blue collar. It's a port town – and a really strange beach town. It's also pretty big and super diverse. I feel comfortable there. That's my favorite part about it. I feel like it's cool to be me.
Jesse Taylor: I think the best thing that we've got going in L.A. is the group of friends that we grew up with here. We have a pretty strong community with a lot of really cool people. It's a pretty big city and you can get lost in it if you’re just going out there to try and start something. There are obviously a lot of people that are there for entertainment or whatever, but to find a really good group of friends that you've grown up with ... I guess in any town it’s cool when you find that.
Jesse Carmichael: I would say the same thing. The people. But yeah, the music scene is awesome. There's amazing food. You can find the best of whatever you want. But the people … Yeah, to me that's where all my friends and family are. That's where our home is. And it makes all the crazy traffic and crazy cost of living and stuff worth it. It's why you put up with it.
Kristen: For sure. Did you guys go to high school together?
Jesse Carmichael: We did.
Kristen: Did you guys have a band in high school or were you just friends?
Jesse Carmichael: Not the three of us, no.
Kristen: What was your worst high school band name if you had one?
Jesse Carmichael: Two of uswere in a band called Takedown.
Kristen: What was it like punk metal?
Jesse Taylor: I got fired. He and the other guys kicked me out of the band because I smoked weed.
Jesse Carmichael: I didn’t kick you out.
Jesse Taylor: You were there man. He hung me out to dry. Now it's all coming back.
Kristen: I guess that's why it's called Takedown right? They took you down.
Jesse Carmichael: We kind of started to smoke weed and most of the band were pretty conservative and somehow they found out he was smoking and they were like, “I think we have to kick him out,” and I was like, “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.”
Kristen: That's good to know for future reference. Don't smoke weed if you want to stay in the band.
Michael: Exactly. You live and learn.
Kristen: I actually peaked in high school. High school was my time.
Jesse Taylor: It takes a lot to admit that. We were all pretty dorky.
Miranda: Were you guys the cool band kids?
Jesse Taylor: I don't know.
Jesse Carmichael: I feel like maybe all of us, but me in particular, went through a lot of phases very aggressively, so at one point I was walking around school barefoot with dreadlocks and carrying a djembe. The next day I was wearing all black with black eyeliner.
Miranda: You were finding yourself.
Jesse Taylor: Now he has gold chains and bleached jeans.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, now I still look like a jackass.
Kristen: I like the look.
Miranda: At least you're owning it now.
Jesse Carmichael: But we weren’t like the cool musician band guys. That wasn't really that cool back then to be a musician.
Kristen: What did you listen to growing up?
Jesse Carmichael: Pop-punk and ska.
Michael: No, no, no, like emo was pretty big.
Jesse Carmichael: I was just on the outside of that.
Michael: But the pop-punk thing was pretty big in California.
Jesse Carmichael: Pennywise, Lagwagon. We listened to all that stuff.
Jesse Taylor: Lot of other shit.
Jesse Carmichael: And then later on we kind of started to discover the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
Michael: I felt like we always worked backwards with the music we were into. The older we got, the more context we had.
Kristen: Speaking of music, let's talk about your record that came out August 5. The name of the album – No Moon At All – isn’t a track on the record. I'm curious to know where it came from.
Michael: It is ... Are you saying for the show tonight?
Michael: You might hear our intro track.
Jesse Taylor: It's an old jazz song. Michael and my sister were in a project together for a while and they covered it. It’s a very beautiful song the way that they do it. When I was working with the album artwork and we were trying to come up with names that one just popped up. I threw it in and sent it to everybody and they were like, “Wow, all right. That's the name.” It's a really great song.
Kristen: So, do you incorporate that song somehow in the set?
Michael: It’s just a walkout song.
Jesse Taylor: We started using it as our intro track.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, we just cut up and put a beat to it.
Jesse Taylor: It's just a special song.
Kristen: Was there any track on that record that was maybe either particularly challenging or a surprise for you – in either a good or bad way? If so, which one?
Jesse Taylor: Particularly surprising was “Circuit Breaker.” That was a song that we worked on in the studio and for about a month leading up to recording. The other ones have taken their own long turns in their journeys because all three of us write and we all work together. With the time limit and all that, it was surprisingly simple how that song came together.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, it is quite a bit different than the other tracks. We were going into some new territory pretty late in the process of the record. We didn’t know where the song was going to go, but it felt good to all of us.
Kristen: When you say new territory, what do you mean?
Jesse Carmichael: I think it's a little heavier and darker. A lot of our songs have a lot of dynamic –
Michael: – Starts and stops…
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, a lot of ups and downs. We were like, “What if we had a song that had a good groove that cruises through?”
Jesse Taylor: We do breakdown at the end, though … And we say it.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, I think it’s just darker and more electronic than some of the other songs on the record. A little tougher … I don’t know; it just came out really well.
Kristen: You mentioned that you all write. What’s that process like? Does it ever get hard with all of you?
Michael: Fuck yeah it gets hard, but then it’s super easy sometimes, too.
Jesse Carmichael: It gets hard and crazy
Jesse Taylor: Yeah, there’s just a whole gamut of emotions and expectations. Everybody's good at writing and working together, but opinions will clash at times. Then you figure out what works best. All three of us are working towards recording the best song we can.
Miranda: Is there a point – as a band or individually – that you thought to yourself, “Okay. This is it. I'm going to pursue music as a career full-time”? Or is it something you guys feel like happened over time?
Kristen: Well, after Takedown, obviously. That was the turning point.
Michael: Oh, that was it.
Jesse Carmichael: I always wanted to play music. In terms of deciding that it was going to be a valuable career…I was doing a recording and production program at this junior college, which I did for about a year-and-a-half, until I started gigging and playing drums with a bunch of other bands. I was learning so much more about music by actually playing. That kept me busy, and I started joining bands, and … it went from there.
Kristen: So it was a natural progression for you. How about you, Jesse?
Jesse Taylor: Yeah, I had to leave my job.
Miranda: So you had a moment?
Jesse Taylor: It was more of a tipping point with the band – in terms of how much time and energy was going into what we were doing and what I was working as.
Kristen: What were you doing at the time?
Jesse Taylor: I was working as an art conservator with some friends at a company in L.A. But there was no way I was going to not go forward with the band. It just took some time for me to figure that out.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah,I mean for us, we didn't start with the intent of being on the road. It was just something for us to do.
Michael: My turning point was when I dropped out of school and started doing music just for me – just because I loved to play it. And then projects started to happen. It was funny because I got a website and I was like, “I'm going to put all my projects and music up on this website.”
Kristen: You got the domain.
Michael: Totally. I got the domain. And the funny thing is … Wildcat! Wildcat! was one of the projects on that website and it was the first one that took off. It was the thing that made me not be able to afford a website in the first place.
Kristen: Yeah, that's a challenge. I mean, it’s expensive, like $9.99 a month. It’s like, “Okay, well I can have my domain, but I can’t have lunch on Tuesday.”
Michael: It's ironic. You get to a point where you’re like, “I'm going to fucking do music and put it out there.” And then you're part of a band that's not really that successful, but you’re successful enough to where you can’t work.
Kristen: And you need a website, but you can't afford one …
Michael: There's always stipulations where you're like…
Miranda: …You’ve got to look like you're making money, but you're not yet.
Kristen: I feel like it's like that with any creative thing. There's a really delicate balance.
Michael: Totally. A hundred percent.
Jesse Taylor: It's a rough balance.
Michael: And no one's got it figured out. And there's solidarity in that. It’s gratifying to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I'm making something out of nothing,” you know? There have been a lot of hardships in this process, and as a band, we’ve taken a lot of punches to the gut – unbeknownst to our fans. There have been some rough moments where you think, “Man, what are we doing this for?” But it's funny, because that feeling only lasts a day. Then we fucking get up and do what we’ve got to do for the band.
Kristen: What would be an example of one of those punches to the gut?
Michael: Our genre is so specific to crossover territory. We’ve been compared to bands that don’t haven't any cred, but they have a fucking hit on the radio. Then can travel around the world and totally buy a house off of one song. And it's hard because we’ve never wanted to be that band. We’ve never even wanted to be a crossover band or a pop band or an indie-pop band. Our music is the combination of us getting together and playing and that's it. It’s unfortunate when you get put into a very specific box. You don’t want to be put in the genre of having a fucking smash hit on the radio, but then it’s hard to ask indie radio to be into the music because they think you’re way too …
Miranda: … Mainstream?
Michael: Yeah, the industry is so much about politics. There’s all this bullshit that comes along with alternative radio versus fucking indie radio. And we don't fucking care. We're just making the music we're making. Listen to the album. Just let us play. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s hard when you get people trying to control what your music is and who you are as an artist. It gets tough. With our band, though, we can get up and be totally fine. Luckily we know who we are, but sometimes it gets difficult.
Jesse Taylor: And the fans that we have are amazing.
Michael: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Kristen: What is the least cool thing you've done in the past week?
Jesse Taylor: I ate at fucking McDonalds.
Kristen: What did you get?
Jesse Taylor: I got so much.
Michael: Taco Bell, man. That was intense.
Jesse Taylor: McDonalds is like a secret addiction and I haven't had it in years. This is so stupid, but I ate fucking McMuffins ‘til I passed out.
Kristen: I won’t judge you for McDonalds’ breakfast, but if you got Taco Bell breakfast I would definitely judge you.
Michael: It was really good. We got Taco Bell this morning. My normal day is not rock-‘n’-roll. I'm not a rock-n-roll dude.
Jesse Carmichael: I've been sick.
Kristen: Me too, man.
Jesse Carmichael: I just go to Whole Foods and buy a bunch of vitamins and zinc. Taking care of myself, you know.
Jesse Taylor: We take all of it.
Michael: We try.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, just trying to go to bed early and not drink too much.
Michael: I think that mine is drinking tea. When you show up at a venue and they're like, “Hey we have beer for you, we got a bottle of this ... a bottle of that.” And you're like, “Hey, where's the hot water?”
Miranda: “Do you have any honey?”
Michael: “Do you have any chamomile? I'll take mint; that's cool.” That's pretty un-rock star. They’ll give you shots of whatever, but you just want a bunch of hot water.
Kristen: And some lemon. I love it. What’s the best advice you've ever received?
Jesse Carmichael: One thing that keeps coming up with me recently is the idea of “don't let the best get in the way of the better.” There are certain situations where you could complain because it’s not your ideal scenario, but it’s still probably better than something else.
Jesse Taylor: It's about accepting change.
Jesse Carmichael: Yeah, and not holding out for certain ideals or ideal scenarios all the time because you're just going to live a life of disappointment. My dad told me that, by the way.
Michael: Thanks, Steve. Steve Carmichael.
Kristen: Ah, Steve. Such a dad name. Love it.
Michael: I took some art classes in college, and one of my teachers used to quote artists or inspirational figures from art history. She had this one Chuck Close quote – he’s this really great painter – that has basically hung on the wall of wherever I’ve worked since I was 19. He said, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work.” And that’s how I live my life. I don't really know what inspiration is; I just know who I am. And I know that whatever comes out is going to be me. I might as well just do that and work hard. My family members are some of the hardest working people I've ever met. It's just in my blood. I love working and having a task, so hearing that quote come from such an esteemed art creator was insane and awesome. When you think of things that way, the idea of, “Well, he has it and I don’t,” no longer applies. It’s about whoever shows up and gets to work. That’s who makes it. And that’s been overarching in my life.