What would you call a year in which your band sold nearly a quarter-million copies of its debut album, scored heavy radio and MTV airplay (including appearances on "TRL" and the network's influential "Discover & Download" program), garnered critical acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone, USA Today and Alternative Press, launched your first-ever headlining tour and saw fans bum-rush your MySpace site to the tune of 20 million streams?
"I'd call that a pretty damn good year," laughs vocalist/guitarist Will Pugh, whose band CARTEL hit it big in 2006 with debut album CHROMA and hit lead single, "Honestly." For the average artist, such achievements can mark the summation of an entire career-if they're lucky. This Atlanta-based quintet, however, is just getting started.
Their highly anticipated sophomore album, self-titled CARTEL, is an exhilarating blend of sumptuous pop hooks and raw rock thrills with a depth and emotional range that broadens with each listen.
Crackling with the absorbed influences of the Beatles, Radiohead, Beach Boys, and Zeppelin, the album opens with intoxicating leadoff track "The Best," a beautifully spare and compelling song which Pugh says, "Sets the tone for the record. It lets you know right from the beginning that you're not going to get whatever people probably would've expected. We're trying to do something ambitious."
The Cartel quintet all grew up in Conyers, Georgia, about 20 miles east of Atlanta, where they live now. "We've known each other forever, but we've been playing together since 2000," Pugh says. After years of making demos and playing any hole-in-the-wall that would have them, the band self-released the Ransom EP in March 2004. A deal with the Militia Group followed and full-length debut CHROMA was issued in 2005. The buzz surrounding the album led to a contract with Epic, who re-released CHROMA last summer.
Pugh is philosophical about Cartel's past, present and future. "It's the same feeling parents have when their kid grows up and graduates," he says. "It's like wow, this idea that we put down a few years ago has finally come to fruition. We couldn't be more proud of what we've accomplished while at the same time looking toward the future."
So what do you do when your dreams come true? "Easy," muses Pugh, "You invent new ones. For us, this is just the beginning."