Pop-punk rockers Cartel has returned after nearly 10 years with a brand new single titled "17," igniting excitement among the band's longtime fans. The track is a fun, infectious tune you won't be able to stop singing for the rest of the summer. However, hidden beneath the power-pop-rock catchiness, is a message about growing up — really growing up — and taking stock of where you are and where you should be in your life. Recently, PopCulture.com had a chance to catch up with Cartel frontman Will Pugh to talk about the new track, their upcoming tour, and the chances that they'll be working on a new album.
Notably, one of the first things Pugh made clear is that the band didn't actually intend to wait almost a decade to release new music since "17" was supposed to be released pre-Covid-19 pandemic. "I mean, to be fair, this song was supposed to release a couple years ago. We were planning on [releasing it] between Chain Fest and Furnace Fest that we played in last year that was supposed to go down in 2020. We were going to release the song around then, and that didn't work out. He explained. "It all started to make more sense to do it around now. To be fair, we've been sitting on the song for a while, so it's not like it's really been nine years since we've done anything, but seven." Pugh then joked, "We're just arguing semantics at that point."
While "17" evolved over a period of time, the final version, Pugh says is Cartel proving to their fans and themselves that they could "still rip out a little pop punk banger." He added, "It's a cool song. It's taken on a couple different lives. When I first wrote it, it was kind of more of a tongue-in-cheek sort of, like probably one of the more pop-punk songs we've ever written, not like straight up like blast beat sort of pop punk, but for the more modern understanding of pop punk."
Lyrically, the new single is quite introspective and, in a manner of speaking, is very "choir preaching." That is to say, it poses a necessary point of view for us "elder emos" with lyrics such as: "Looking back will only cost you everything. It's such a shame for you, my dear. It's something that you should have seen. It's never gonna be the way it was... when we were 17."
Elaborating on the heart of "17," Pugh said, "The lyrics are talking about how you're holding onto something that isn't for the sake of the music itself. I think that's the kind of the nature of the song is, I mean, it's a little melancholy, I guess, in actuality, but it's like, okay." Noting the "resurgence" of pop-punk because of current artists such as Machine Gun Kelly and Olivia Rodrigo, Pugh added, "It's a totally different conversation between can you still enjoy pop punk music? Is it still relevant? Sure, anything is relevant if you enjoy it. Classical music, Bach is hundreds of years old and he's still relevant, so it doesn't matter like from an era standpoint, it's does it still mean something to you, right?"
The weight of what Cartel is posing to their listeners is not lost on Pugh, as he clarified, "Coming back with new music, there's a lot of history there with our fans or even people who are just now coming into the scene and know of our band, but never got to see us play or experience it or anything like that. Maybe they're hearing about us through the grapevine or some Spotify playlist and now they're coming in to hear this band that hasn't released music in a long time and we're balding and older and you know, so what do you got for us now?
"That I think is a very pointed thing to be able to say like, 'Okay, here's some new music,' but we're not coming in with like, 'me and my friend's going to go party,' and like, 'it's just us versus the world.' It's like, 'Uh-uh, no, you're going to look at yourself in the mirror and tell me what you feel.'" It's kind of a ballsy move, I guess. But I mean honestly, a lot of this stuff is talked about in hindsight after something is done and then we can try to put meaning or attach meaning and motive behind these things, when in reality, I think anybody who writes music would at least have to accept that there are plenty of times, and for me it's this case pretty much always, but you just sort of when you find that thing that's working and speaking to you, you just sort of ride a wave and it just comes out."
Ultimately, Pugh confessed that the message of "17," was not necessarily something Cartel set out to convey on purpose. "What really happened is just whatever was happening inside of my head or heart, however you want to describe that, that just happened fall out onto paper and we just turned it into something," he said. "We worked with what came out versus contriving it from the beginning. Turning around and talking about all this makes it seem like, 'Oh yeah, dude's a genius.' Or like, 'He's really intentioned in how they're doing things.' That's not the case. I mean it could have very easily just been a straight-up love song or pop punk best friend's anthem, just as easily as what it is now. Take all that with a grain of salt. No, just looking back at it I could say it two years ago, it's probably where my head was at."
Fans eager to catch the band in concert, and hear "17" performed live, will have a chance in August when they head out for some shows with Dashboard Confessional and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness on a handful of dates for the Hello Gone Days tour. "We're doing nine shows, I believe with them, eight or nine shows. Nine dates on that tour, so that'll be a lot of fun." Surprisingly, he also added, "There's two bands we never toured with."
So with a new song out, and a tour coming soon, Cartel fans will be wondering if a new album is on the way. Pugh confirmed that "it's not an album," but "there are more songs on the way." He added, "We're all pretty spread out. The last time we really made music together, we basically all lived together, so it's much harder to get things done... and do that for a month in order to make an album the right way. It's a bridge too far unless all of a sudden we have a 100 million plays on this song, which to my knowledge, isn't the case yet. We're not going to be in a position to be able to take time off to do that."
Pugh continued, "I mean I think the hope is basically just to set some groundwork into what the new, or I guess the latest iteration or incarnation of the band is going to be, and just kind of start seeing just kind of where everybody's at. Essentially, we're reconnecting with the scene and with our fans and just saying, 'Hey, it's been a long time. We haven't talked, but here's some new stuff and you can let us know how you feel about it, and we'll let you know if we feel like making more,' go from there.
Fans who have yet to hear "17" can do so at the YouTube link above. Additionally, Cartel's upcoming tour dates and concert tickets can be accessed at this link. Stay locked to PopCulture.com for more music news and exclusives!