In late 2003 at Georgia State University, a group of five boys Joined together in a band that would soon be a popular face in the world of pop punk: Cartel. The members, Will Pugh, Ryan Roberts (former), Andy Lee (former), Joseph Pepper, and Kevin Sanders, all graduated from Heritage High School in Conyers, Georgia. In college, they had all been in their own separate bands but could tell they were going nowhere. So, they decided to create “a super group that comes together to make awesome music” (Cavarretta), thus the name Cartel.
Pugh, the lyricist, collaborates with the thers in order to write lyrics based on everyone’s personal experiences. In 2004 Andy Lee was replaced with Nic Hudson. The band released their first full-length album, Chroma, in September, 2005. After producing their fourth album, Collider, the band described their Journey together as “Juxtaposed forces collid[ing] in the arena of physics, [mandating] destruction, creation, and metamorphosis… ” (Pugh). Their growth both as a group and as individuals is shown clearly in the changing themes of their songs and albums.
Chroma’s release in 2005 via Militia Group landed them in Alternative Press’ list of “Bands You Need to Know in 2005”. In the article, they are described as “the underdogs’ underdogs… how relevant they are today”. Their first release was “Runaway”. The song is about regret and the consequences of one’s actions. Figurative language used includes imagery (“spill your guts”(34), “face down… ‘ buried covered and alliteration (“get what you get/ you get” (12-13)). The rhyme in this song is found in the chorus as approximate rhyme and in the verses with “you must have a secret… down where you can keep it” (18/20). This song maintains an up-beat rhythm consisting of two stressed words t the beginning of the line followed by the remainder of unstressed words. In the first lines of the song, “this is where it leads you/ too far… ‘ you’ll find peace/ in the earth aground” (1-4) the speaker is addressing someone who has taken something too far, and feels like the only peace they will have is in death. Until they find a “reason to move on” (8), they will run away and hide from the consequences, but the speaker knows they will “get what [they] deserve” (13).
The secret is “out in the open” (1 5), so the person should “spill [their] guts”(21) and own up to their mistakes. As the song concludes, the last line is slowed down and drawn out, indicating that the person experiencing regret has received the consequences. When asked how they dealt with creating meaningful music and staying on their fan-base’s good side, Pugh states “We Just did it our own way and didn’t really care if we fell flat on our faces… we had an idea on how we wanted to present ourselves to the world, so we did it” (Cavarretta).
Cartel’s second album, self-titled Cartel, was released in 2007 by Epic Records. The album was recorded in 20 days as part of the MTV show “Band in a Bubble” (Starpulse. com). The theme of their single “Wasted” is the redundancy of life, and how people end up wasting their lives on mundane things. Alliteration is used to prove this point (“we’re wasted, no, no, no”(16)), as well as images of each situation (“his breath gets short and his chest gets tight” (4), and “his son sits alone as the those in the chorus.
To show important ideas, the last word of every line and the first two words of the chorus are drawn out. Lines fourteen through sixteen state “we’re on the run… /we’re wasted”, showing that people are moving too quickly through life nd arent using it to its fullest. The seventh stanza, “with everything he is based on principle/ he never had a truly happy moment… ” (29-30), tells listeners that following what society says to do won’t always make someone happy, and people have to take responsibility for their lives. In stanzas ten and eleven, the song switches to first person.
According to Pugh, “this verse  in particular is completely about where I was when I wrote this song” (Pfleider). Pugh did not know where his life was going, and had doubts about if what he was doing was right. The song is up-beat until the nd, where it slows and mellows out to indicate the ending of a wasted life. This powerful new song showed Cartel as “minstrels of their day, offering songs about life and love that [capture] the human soul” (Common). After being picked up by Wind- up Records, Cartel released Cycles in 2009. Conventional Friend” is about a lack of sincerity, a friend who was a waste of time. Figurative language in the song consists of imagery (“l was blind… “(l), “taken the best and thrown it away”(9)), and metaphors (“you’re Just a curse”(4), “you’re Just a ruse”(13)). At least two lines in each stanza hyme and lines five and fourteen contain in-line rhymes. The first syllable of each word is short while the second is longer, and every other line is drawn out. The song maintains Cartel’s up-beat sound but is mellower than “Runaway” and “Wasted”.
Line seven, “You only see me inside of this skin” shows that the friend only sees them how they want to see them. The speaker addresses the friend, saying “you’ve taken the best/… and thrown it away”(8-9), indicating the friend didn’t care for the best they could give. The friend is “another waste of [their] time”(5), showing that this has appened before. The ending line is drawn out, suggesting the end of the friendship. The song is relatable to people everywhere, “the kind of music that allows fans to give a song a personal meaning that can adapt with every situation” (Interview).
The band’s fourth album, Collider, was released March 2013. Pugh described their self- released album as “Cartel in all forms”. Their single “Uninspired”, unlike their others, takes on a darker tone about the rise of suicide and feelings of worthlessness in people. It uses metaphors (“I’m nothing more than currents/ riding on top of the aves”(7-8)), imagery, (“’til I’m blue in the face”(12)), and alliteration (“you want it, you got it, you might”(41)) to emphasize particular points. In stanzas one, two, and four, four lines rhyme, and in stanzas five and seven each line rhymes with at least one other.
The rhythm focuses on the last word of every other line, except in stanzas five and seven where every line is stressed. The song begins with “but what is there left to do/ with someone so young and admired”(3-4), showing the speaker was praised too much as a young person and feels like there’s nothing left for them. In lines hirteen through sixteen, “And what’s the point of it all/ to come apart at the seams/ if I’m never gonna be around/ to witness the dawn of my dreams”, the speaker sees no point in stressing out if they won’t be able to succeed.
Later on, society passes the blame for these feelings of uselessness because they can’t afford the blame, by “selling us a way out/ a bitter pill/ we can’t afford the blood we spilled”(27-29). By line forty-five “You want it, you got it, goodbye”, a young person commits suicide. The last people end up wasting someone’s life. The music remains the same up until stanza our when it intensifies. At the last line the music completely cuts out, letting listeners know it is important. This is done on purpose, as Pugh “[tries] to be an agent of the universe in the way that everything [he] writes comes naturally” (Pfleider).
Over time, Cartel has progressed in lyrics and themes while staying true to their original sound. When asked how their songwriting has changed over the years, Pugh answered, “The biggest impact upon the songwriting has been growing older. Tastes and preferences tend to change or become clearer as I continue to progress as an individual” (Pfleider). In their first single “Runaway”, the band encouraged hiding from problems until they were found out. In “Wasted”, they suggested people tackle their problems as to not live a “wasted” life.