Sugarcult are currently one of my favourite bands. I really can’t get enough of them. Every time I wrap my ears around their debut album ‘Start Static’ I find myself being sucked into something; a mood, a feeling, something that transforms my state of mind into a power-pop hungry frame, where vocalist Tim Pagnatta’s perfectly tuned voice excels, splicing through a crunchy coating of guitars and in turn leading me in like the pied piper to the Sugarcult. In fact, line him up against most of his modern-day punk contemporaries and he’ll quite comfortably put them all to shame.
Which is why, five years after they formed in 1998, their debut release has sold over 200,000 copies in the States and earned them a deal with punk powerhouse Epitaph, who’ll release their second album in the UK later this month. It’s a natural progression for the Santa Barbara-based foursome who’s single ‘Stuck In America’ is already beginning to make a name for them over here.
Taking their name from a group of 7 lesbians who lived across the hall from Tim’s apartment Sugarcult were formed by friends Airin (bass / vox), Ben (drums/vocals) and Tim with the intention of playing an upcoming show for college. Although they’d all played in previous bands Tim admits, “there was a certain thing, like right away that just felt good”. Punk veteran Marko 72 happened to be present at the show and, during a break from Nerf Herder, Bad Astronaut, Swingin’ Utters and The Lapdancers, joined the band soon after.
Though many in modern punk acts find it hard to associate with a hard upbringing or any real sense of alienation that was the instigating factor in the formation of the movement 25 years ago, Tim Pagnatta is a man that lends some genuine angst to Sugarcult’s music; attributed to an unsettled childhood moving areas regularly which led to the tribulation of attending nine different schools before graduation.
“I had a hard time at school and I’ve always been a bit confused as to what my role is, like with what type of person I am”, remembers Tim on a winding back staircase at London’s Astoria. “Am I fuckin’ lazy, am I… I mean it’s obvious that I’m a lesbian! But you know, its just stuff young people go through. Usually they lose it when they turn 23 but I’m 26 and I still ask myself what am I gonna do when I grow up, what am I gonna look like in 20 years?”
Are you comfortable with what you’re doing now?
“Yeah. I mean right now, playing music is great. It’s a great way to travel and I feel that if I’d been blessed with any kind of talent it’s to write music and to appreciate music and be a fan of music. I think that you’ll find types of people in the world where a favourite record does a lot for them, like they could be going through something really horrible in their day or in their life and something as simple as a record that cost $10 in a store can change their entire day. So I definitely have that – it’s kind of a gift of being able to feel passionate about music.”
Do you associate yourself with the punk rock community?
“Yeah I think so. I think a lot of bands do that kids don’t know as being ‘punk’ because maybe they’re not called punk. I think the punk rock ethic extends more than just a sound of music. I think we do have songs that kinda sound like pop punk but I think we also have songs that have jazz chords in them, some rock songs so where exactly we fit in has areas of grey. Which I kind of like because it gives you the flexibility of writing in different styles. It’s a lot harder for bands like The Offspring to turn into serious songwriters because as of now everything they’ve put out has been a very confined, small range of music.”
So could you see Sugarcult moving away from this particular style that you have now?
“Yeah sure. When I was 12 my favourite colour used to be blue – now it’s green. Change is good. If I’m 40 years old singing about things that piss me off with my parents when I was 18 I’m not grown up. I want to write songs that’re broad that relate to a lot of people, but you have to do a bit of growing up to do that.
“I’ll always be young at heart – you can’t avoid that – but I do think at some point you grow up; subject matter gets a bit more serious, you deal with people that die from drug overdoses in your life, you deal with maybe getting married and going through a divorce. The older you get the more intense, usually, life matter is that affects you to write songs about it.”
I guess you could compare that line of thought to how the Blink 182 guys have started up Box Car Racer, which allows them to write in a much more serious style.
“Y’see, I can appreciate both bands, but why can’t Blink 182 grow? Do they want it to be a toy that says ‘for kids between ages 2 and 12’? I don’t want to have that kind of warning on my toybox. I wanna grow up.”
So you wouldn’t consider forming a side-project to deal with that kind of music?
“If the musical style is totally different but I think that Box Car Racer sounds very similar to Blink 182. It sounds cool, like, with my analogy I’m not trying to knock ‘em but it sounds like Blink 182. If it was country music then yeah, call it something else; make a side project because it’s only gonna be confusing to fans.”
Speaking to Tim it becomes very clear what matters most when it comes to his band. Indeed, the absence of dollar signs glazing over his eyes is in adjunct to his grounded perspective and approachable demeanour when in his company. These are qualities that characterise Sugarcult, resulting from a work hard ethic applied through hard times growing up. Listening to the sun-soaked melodies that abound within their music these hard times are easy to by-pass, but when you consider drummer Ben had just finished a rehabilitation programme for alcoholism the music starts to gain a bit more clout.
“That was kind of a serious thing because for a while there we didn’t know if he was gonna die through drinking. We didn’t wanna lost a member of the band. He left right before Thanksgiving and we didn’t see him, so for a quarter of the year our drummer was gone and that was a bit difficult because we played with other people and when you introduce new people to the band it kinda turns into a different band, so that was a little wierd.”
What do you love and what do you hate about the punk scene?
“I dunno. I guess I don’t really know what the punk scene is anymore. The punk rock music means so many different things to so many different people that I think that… it’s a bit hard for me to understand the commercialisation of the music that people now call punk rock because punk rock to me shows a bit of sarcasm and anarchy and I think that there’s a lot of tame stuff out there, that we fall into, and people call us a punk band sometimes. And sometimes I disagree, like it’s sort of a big name to look up to. It’s like someone calling you a bad-ass like, ‘so what’s it like to be a bad-ass?’ I mean, I dunno.”
I guess there are bands that represent the punk rock style musically, but ideologically they’re very far removed.
“You know, American kids grow up thinking that punk rock is a tempo, then they come over here and realise to Europeans punk rock is a political attitude. You can be a punk if you’re not even playing music but you’re a political activist that disagrees with the government and y’know, a huge leftist. It means different things to different people.” And so as I leave Tim to pay some attention to his besotted new fans it becomes clear just what sets Sugarcult apart from the crowd. In amongst the multitude of radio-friendly pop-punk upstarts here emerges a band that actually makes sense, who possess an emotional complexity that piles weight on a musical style that has long been the home of plagiarists struggling to find things to complain about.
As for the future? Once Tim’s found a shrimp burrito at his favourite Mexican restaurant Pakito Moss the band are already planning to record another album, then it’s off to Japan before a return to the UK in time for the summer festivals. I for one cannot wait.