Rock band Cartel takes a turn in MTV’s ‘Bubble’

The band wants to leave behind its image as a pop-punk act.



When you’re in a band that is on the rise, you get all kinds of offers coming at you from all directions.

Whether it’s concert tours, sponsorship opportunities or commercial offers, the business end of the music business can be busy and confusing. For rock act Cartel, the Georgia-based band received an offer it couldn’t refuse late last spring.

“The story goes, we got this e-mail about a bubble,” said singer-guitarist Will Pugh, calling from his Atlanta home. “It was long, took me 20 minutes to read it and then I was like, ‘Check it out dudes, we have this opportunity to go record in a bubble. They’re going to film it and do this other jazz.’

“The reaction was like, ‘That’s ridiculous. That’s pretty crazy.’”

The “they” in this equation is MTV, who was interested in documenting Cartel as it wrote material for its self-titled sophomore album, which was released last month, as part of the reality show “Band in a Bubble.” The show was pretty much self-explanatory, with the group writing, recording and producing an album in the 20 days. Oh yeah, the entire event was streamed over the Internet 24/7.

Change of direction

The decision for Cartel to take part in the “Band in a Bubble” show was conspicuous from the start, especially when considering the quintet was hoping to leave behind its Vans Warped-tour image, which is mostly based around its hit single “Honestly” from 2004 release “Chroma,” for more of a rock approach.

More so, this change of direction wasn’t readily being accepted by the band’s somewhat overzealous fan base.

“I think if anything, it turned us more inward and made us better focused,” Pugh said. “We were trapped for 20 days, and all you have to do is record. I think if anything, any of the negative — not press — but comments we were hearing as sellouts, that gave us a better rapport with the fans that didn’t turn on us. We realized it’s not about the fans you don’t have, it’s about the fans you do have.”

Decidedly more alt rock than pop- or punk-rock, “Cartel” features plenty of quintessential-sounding Cartel tracks such as “Wasted” and “Georgia.” However, it’s the album closer, the bluesy “If I Were to Write the Song,” that speaks more about the future of the band than anything else found on the disc.

“I think a lot of people got too used to the idea that we’re a pop-punk band when we were telling them the whole time we’re not a pop-punk band,” Pugh said. “So these are the types of songs we write when we’ve been on tour for four years, and we’re much more confident and aware of our musical abilities and inabilities. I think this album says it all, which is why we chose to self-title it as well.

“It felt more like a record that defines us as a band.”

The other change of pace for Cartel involves its live show. The five-piece pulls into Pittsburgh for a show Tuesday at Mr. Small’s Theatre and into Cleveland on Wednesday for a show at the House of Blues. 

“I think people should come to the show not expecting to break a sweat,” Pugh said. “I think they should more come to listen to music. That’s what we always wanted. We didn’t want to be a band doing back flips. That’s not what we’re about. Hopefully fans come expecting to hear good music for once.”

Hmm, that sounds like a shoe-gazing affair.

“Not quite that,” Pugh laughed. “There is still some energy and mosh pits will happen for sure, but it just won’t be a consistent knuckle-fest.”

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