Within the past two years, Cartel – an Atlanta-based powerpop/punk/rock band – has released two full-length albums, has received major radio and MTV airtime, and has gotten much critical acclaim from major publications. Without a doubt, this is a band on the rise.
Will Pugh, the 23-year-old lead singer of the band, was in Albuquerque, N.M., Aug. 29, taking a one-day break (more like “sitting on (their) asses doing nothing,” Pugh explained) from headlining a tour that began Aug. 21, the same day their sophomore, self-titled album was released.
Comprised of Will Pugh (vocals/guitar), Joseph Pepper (guitar), Nic Hudson (guitar), Jeff Lett (bass) and Kevin Sanders (drums), Cartel will play at the Rec Center as a closing to WOW Friday evening. The event, paid for by the week’s participants, will also feature opening act Test Your Reflexes.
Each year, the WOW board and ASI book a band – usually one currently working on an album, touring or on the rise – far enough in advance that when the concert comes around, the band will be more popular than when it was originally booked, said Madeline Arcellana, one of the seven members of this year’s executive board. They also opt for bands with wide appeal.
“Traditionally, (we) pick something not too extreme in one direction, so it will be a crowd-pleaser, and they will have a lot of energy,” Arcellana said. “We want something everyone will enjoy or want to go to.”
Enter Cartel, a band which meets all three of the board’s informal criteria.
The band recorded their second album, a follow-up to 2005’s debut album, “Chroma,” while sealed inside a transparent “bubble” constructed on Pier 54 in New York City during a 20-day session in late spring. Twenty-three video cameras followed the band around, and the footage was aired live on the Internet via MTV.
“Pretty nuts is the only way to describe it,” Pugh said with a southern drawl. “It was fun; we had a good time. If we had to do it again, we would change some things. But that’s the same with everything.”
“You get used to the cameras after a while. (We couldn’t talk to the cameramen), but we became friends with them and would mess around with them. They became like old friends coming to visit everyday.”
Because of the high-profile position the bubble afforded them, the album Pugh and the rest of the band created “couldn’t just be like any old album; we had to do things above par,” he said.
Which is one of the major reasons why the band asked Wyclef Jean to remix Pugh’s beloved “Wasted,” a song that has been a “labor of love” two years in the making for the lead singer and one that he never intended to be Cartel-worthy until it was completely finished.
The result of Wyclef’s remixing was a complete surprise to Pugh and the rest of the band; the reggae-influenced remake of the original turned out to be more “summer jam 2007” than hip-hop, the genre Cartel expected from the former Fugees member.
“I’m pretty sure we’re the only white band who has Wyclef rapping on their album,” Pugh chuckled. “Being from Atlanta, that adds a lot of credit to us.”
“Wyclef was really easy to work with – he likes to work with songs, splicing them and putting them back together. . You really don’t mess with Wyclef. I was like, ‘You’ve sold a million records, and I’ve sold (a couple hundred thousand). You win.’”
Pugh also credits the hip-hop artist with one of the best pieces of advice he’s received about the music industry: “He told me, ‘I didn’t get to where I am right now by listening to what other people have told me.’ And I was like, ‘That’s poignant.’ That (piece of advice) was a big deal for me,” Pugh said.
Now released, the second album is something Pugh said he and the band’s other members are very proud of.
“We feel like this record says more about our band and who we are more than the previous two,” he said. “With ‘Chroma’ we never realized our potential in the studio; we (were rushed) and didn’t have time to think about the songs like we did on this one. We didn’t even know what to think about.”
“(With this second one), we had a choice between going in there and writing catchy, hit-worthy songs or we could have done what we really wanted to do: write an album that we really like with good music on it,” he said.
Already on the road for a week and a half, Pugh said he and the others were looking forward to hitting venues (like Cal Poly) later in the tour. A slump due to touring after big-time tours such as the Warped Tour and school’s start has translated to lower-than-expected crowds so far.
Though the crowds haven’t been as full as they had hoped for, Pugh said the shows have still been good and that everyone is still in good spirits- and that they’re excited to soon get past what he calls the “purgatory time.”
“Something like that has been happening everywhere we’ve gone. We’re looking forward to (playing at venues) after we hit L.A.,” Pugh said. “It will be nice to put this back-to-school crap that’s been a downer behind us.”
“We put on a pretty good show, I think. We just like to get up there, have a good time, and hang out with people who like our music,” Pugh said. “Come with the idea that you are going to have a kick-ass time.”
For more information regarding Cartel and to hear songs from their newly released self-titled album, visit www.cartelrocks.com or www. myspace.com/cartel.