Interview with Cartel: Bursting The Bubble

CartelYou may know them as the band that willingly locked themselves in a glass bubble in New York City for 20 days and submitted to MTV cameras to record the process of making their new self-titled record, but Cartel singer Will Pugh hopes you know his band for far more than that in the days to come. Pugh discusses the record, his experiences in the bubble and the band’s goals for the future.

So how stoked were you to get out of the bubble?

You have no idea! Right before we broke the glass to get out we were all just jumping up and down, bouncing off the walls, saying “We gotta get out of here!”

How much space did you actually have in there?

You know the cameras made it look much bigger than it really was. It really wasn’t that much space at all. Before we went in they made it sound huge. They were like, ‘It’s 2000 square feet,’ and I was thinking, ‘My house where I grew up was like 1,900 square feet so it should be fine.’ Oh they were lying through their teeth. We went in there and it was much smaller. It was really only like a 900-square foot place, which I guess for New York standards is pretty good.

Was there one day where it just hit all of you that you were stuck in this bubble together?

It was about day eight. We were all sitting around and we were done recording for the day and we were like, ‘Dudes, we have 12 more days of this! This is gonna suck!’ We did our best to keep our heads up. It wasn’t so much stuck as being held captive. I’m never taking my kids to the zoo or the aquarium ever. I’ll never go back. I know how those things feel now.

Were you self-conscious about having so many cameras on you?

You start thinking about things you normally don’t. You get up in the morning, you’re walking to the bathroom, you yawn, look in the mirror, make sure there’s nothing weird hanging off your face and then you realize ‘Oh wait a second, there’s a camera right behind this mirror!’ You just can’t be completely you. I think for the two or three days we were like, ‘You know America just heard that, right?’ But by the end of it, it was more like, “America can kiss my ass, I’m going to be crazy if I don’t just do my normal thing.’

Did MTV approach you to do this or was it your idea?

Oh no, we definitely wouldn’t have put ourselves through this. Some evil genius in Dallas, TX, thought of it, I think. Dr. Pepper had a list of bands they wanted to work with and our label, Epic, approached us about it. It was a good opportunity for us. We sold 200,000 records of our debut, which is awesome, and we never thought we’d do that. But our dreams came true on that record so it was like, ‘Well I guess we gotta get new dreams.’ Our new dream is get to the bigger level, the platinum records. With the industry as it is, if you aren’t already a power-player it’s hard to get to that level without some sort of moment that exposes you to the public. We felt like this was the sort of thing to get us that exposure.

Our last record was sort of pigeonholed as a pop- punk record. We aspire to be a band like Radiohead where you think, ‘What band are they this time?’ Always keep your fans on their toes and pushing the envelope with our musical potential. It’s always better to try and progress for yourself, but you don’t want to leave your fans in the dust. This seemed like a good way to show them the evolution of our band and our music while giving our old fans access to the world of us. It worked pretty well. Or I guess we’ll see if it did when the record comes out.

Is it fair to call it a publicity stunt?

Duh. We were in a bubble on a pier with Dr. Pepper and MTV! Of course it’s a publicity stunt! But it’s a stunt surrounding real artists, real music and real friends. We didn’t just decide to get together and play music for it. We’ve been friends forever. We really felt like it was foolproof.

We knew we were going to write a good record because that’s just what we do, and we have people representing us who do what’s best for us. People will be quick to say whatever they want to say and of course it’s a publicity stunt, but it’s all centered around a new record. For people who hadn’t heard of us for our music, they will once the record comes out. Obviously we weren’t beating ‘Lost,’ ratings-wise, but it gets us attention in the outlets that are hard to get attention in, like radio and tv. As long as we have our fair shot to have our music heard, most people will like it.

Did you start writing the songs before you went into the bubble?

Yeah they tried to make it seem like we were writing and recording an album in 20 days. Anyone will tell you that’s impossible. Recording, absolutely, and we definitely recorded that thing in 20 days. The way our band works is that nothing is finished until it’s mixed and mastered and we pulled things out in the last few days that changed things entirely. It would also be naïve to think we didn’t write anything in the last two years since our debut came out. That’s just stupid.

The best thing we had going in was the worst demo ever, nothing really concrete. We had some songs we were playing live on the last tour so obviously we weren’t going in blind. If we went in to write and record a whole album completely in 20 days we’d be the dumbest people alive. But it wasn’t a sham like people might make it out to be.

Were you at all concerned about the quality of the finished product?

There were definitely those concerns. That was one of the first things we addressed since it wasn’t a real studio, so no one had recorded there before. There was a lot of uncharted water there. The recording wasn’t compromised. Dr. Pepper had a lot of money and we made sure they went the extra mile to make sure the recording wouldn’t suffer from being in that sort of environment. In today’s modern recording standards it’s so easy to get a good-sounding record. All in all, we did what we do and our producers were the best around so they made sure nothing went wrong.

Why did you decide to self-title your second album?

We feel like this record represents our band much more fully than our last. It wouldn’t be the first time a band has self-titled a record later in their career. It’s not an unwritten law or anything. It just is us. We wanted to represent who Cartel is, and coming up with a name was too hard. If naming the record is the hardest part of your record, that’s dumb.

Is there anything specific you hope people take away from this record when they hear it?

It might sound a little bold, but we really feel like we want to be that band who doesn’t necessarily sell millions and millions of records, but when you look back in 20 years and people are playing records for their kids, this is the band you need to listen to. You’ve got those bands that define eras and we want to be one of those bands. And even if we don’t, we at least want to have tried. Even if we don’t get to the status of being the great, legendary band we’ve tried to be, at least we did ourselves the favor of making the most of our opportunities by trying to write classic songs.

Cartel will be in stores August 21. The band will be appearing at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, NJ, on July 18 and at Six Flags Great Adventure on July 19. For more dates and info visit

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels