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Trashcan Sinatras

Interviewed at Aron’s Records, Hollywood

Oct 10, 2004 Trashcan Sinatras Photography by Celeste Wells Bookmark and Share

“Once we made the record…I was as surprised as anybody that it’s done as well. I think if you look at the path that we followed – three albums, diminishing sales, record company dropping you, bankruptcy, it’s the sort of path that leads to a really, really awful fourth album. I don’t know why we pulled it off. But, I am kind of surprised when I think back that we made such a good record.”

- Frank Reader

In typical rock fashion for an atypical group, Trashcan Sinatras ran 45 minutes late for their photo shoot and Under the Radar interview. The scheduled in-store performance was to begin in a short 15 minutes from their arrival. As a result, the assertive tour manager directed all of us to multi-task. As the photographer vied for their attention toward the camera, the manager instructed me to begin interviewing the 5 men, as their heads turned from camera and back to me on the sideline. After a flash of awkwardness during a preliminary question (as a new interviewer, Lesson #1 was quickly learned – don’t ever question a band if music is really their top priority, even if the album did take 8 years to come out), the rushed photo shoot distraction seemed welcome, even if slightly chaotic, as all of us gathered - and some posed - in the back parking lot corner of Aron’s Records, Los Angeles.

Having witnessed a lovely afternoon in-store performance the day before (followed by quality Brit-poppers, Supergrass), held just outside Virgin Records in sunny West Hollywood, followed in the evening by a standing ovation performance at the sold-out Troubadour, I was reminded well before the interview that these Scottish lads are collectively a true gem. Together since 1987, the band was eager to share their most recent album, Weightlifting, with its pretty layered soundscapes and typically clever lyrics.

Skirting past the initial group interview scramble, John, Frank and David took their individual time between the photo shoot and memorable performance to answer some questions, and for that I thank them.

The band:

John Douglas (Guitar)

Frank Reader (Vocals)

David Hughes (Bass Guitar)

Paul Livingston (Lead Guitar)

Stephen Douglas (Drums, Vocals)

Under the Radar Interviewer:

Jane Rockwood

The Interview:

Jane Rockwood: So, can we dive in to your past right now?

Frank Reader: Sure

Jane: You have a very unique situation – you’ve been away for a while…Why the lengthy amount of time between records (8 years)?

Frank: We don’t really know where the time went, really. We were just trying to write some songs, and we hadn’t collected songs that we weren’t very happy with and we just kind of, there wasn’t any sort of kind of big major thing going on really. We did lose our studio and record deal, but we were just trying to write & recover our confidence. We lost a wee bit of confidence and were trying to get that back. Frightened. We went to Hartford in the year 2000 to try and record an album. But we weren’t quite ready. I think we pushed it a little too early. And just scrapped that album. So we had an album ready then but we were just you know, since the last album, it just seems to have taken us longer. I don’t know where the time’s went, really.

Jane: Did you save any of those songs from that scrapped album for the new album?

Frank: Yea, “Weightlifting” was, in another form, was there. So was “Leave me Alone.” The rest were sort of more recent. Oh, and “Trouble Sleeping” was from there, too. Sorry –it’s a bit silly [implying rushed simultaneous photo shoot/interview, with constant interruptions].

Jane: As an outsider, it kind of seems like maybe making music wasn’t a top priority, is that something you could say is the case?

(OUCH - Bad Response, evil looks…)

Paul: What??

Jane: Oooh – was that offensive – I am new at this, I apologize. [Interrupted by photo taking] I like the reaction, though – that tells me the answer and I appreciate that I hope it wasn’t offensive.

[Starting to walk to new photo location around the corner.]

Jane: It’s a very unique situation, so I just wondered, it’s very - life happens, where sometimes other things do take priority.

John: Yea, yea, you know.

Jane: I mean, by the sounds of the album, it certainly doesn’t sound like it wasn’t a priority so that’s a very good thing.

John: Yea, we were living our own lives, but we were always – the central thing to our lives is writing songs. We just weren’t putting records out – we weren’t interested in getting involved with the business side of it. Just wanted to live life and get back to the stage we were at before we were signed, just being friends and writing songs for fun.

Jane: Did you play out live here and there as well?

John: Yea, we did gigs, like maybe every 6 or 7 months we’d do a live show, just to lift our spirits and get out of the house.

Jane: Do you prefer taking awhile – is that how you think you would do it moving forward?

John: No, it just happened that way. Like times in the past where we would work really well under pressure. Say we were short of a song for a B-side for a single and we had a night to write a song, some of our best stuff would come out of that situation. So, we just try to get ourself back into the place where we can be busy and concentrate on writing songs. It was just hard for those 8 or 9 years cause we had no money.

Jane: I read that you were partially funded by the government?

John: Yea, the Arts Council. They gave us some money.

Jane: How does that happen? Is that usual for a band?

John: It wasn’t maybe five years ago, but it’s quite basic now. The Arts Council – they realized that a lot of Scottish musicians are not traditional musicians anymore. They realized that they write contemporary stuff. The Arts Council had to start changing their mind and are beginning to fund people like that so it’s pretty healthy. Scotland’s turning out to be quite a nice place to be an artist. 10 years ago it used to be the worst place in the world, but now it’s not so bad.

Jane: Do you think that has to do with the other Scottish bands that have been coming out in the last few years, too?

John: No, not too much. There’s always been Scottish bands, it’s just the spotlight is not always on them.

Jane: I wonder why it is now…

John: Who knows. We’ve had a few bands over the past few years that have got success – Belle & Sebastian, Travis.

Jane: How did all of you meet originally?

Dave: Just out – it wasn’t a very big town. We all grew up in the same town. Some of us went to school together. But mainly through pubs – there’s lots of people in to music, play in bands, and experiment with that.

Jane: Is there a current band that you would like to cover your songs - what is the ideal current band that you think would be great to cover your songs?

Various band members pipe in the following names:






[Hopefully they were joking!]

Jane: What is your favorite band to cover?

Frank: I like The Beatles. We’ve done quite a lot of them, Led Zeppelin, Tom Waits, Abba.

Jane: Did you actually start as a cover band – I read that, is it true?

Frank: Yea. How. Just to start getting gigs … [interruption - still photographing] … Frank Sinatra, Elvis, etc.

Jane: Did you find that one of those covers were better received than others? Who would people most want to hear?

Frank: At the time, The Velvet Underground stuff was going down pretty well. Everybody was all black clad and they were quite receptive to that. They weren’t really receptive to it, but more so than anything else. But yea that’s where we started and well, you know, you get really bored with that really quickly – an urge to do your own thing comes out and so we started writing our own songs.

Jane: What is your primary role in the band?

Frank: I am the driving force (he chuckles). No, I’m just the singer, I write music and I write words, and I write melody - the same as what John does and the same as what Paul does. We’re the principle three at the moment. But the way we work is a kind of – we are all aware of this trough of ideas that we have that we put all the ideas we’ve had for the past 20 years in. It can be like a cuplet, it can be a whole instrumental song that needs words, it can be lyrics, just things that have never been done, but we’re always aware of them, the three of us as individuals and we’re free at any time to dip into it and pull it out in our own time. And then phone the others up and say hey I had an idea for that thing from 1999 and then we’ll maybe get together and finish it that way. That’s the way we tend to work. We just sort of dip our snouts in the trough every now and again. We all do lyrics and music and we all do everything. I think it’s quite important to the way we sound. I think we’re quite idiosyncratic. We’re almost a normal band, but work just with the amount of people that contribute and the lyrics and the music – we tend to be a bit off kilter, so it’s important and we’re proud of it as well.

Jane: Are the lyrics, from your perspective, are they more personal, third person, more specific relating to incidences in your life, or more storytelling?

Frank: I don’t really like – I’m not really into storytelling. They are definitely more personal-based. John likes a bit more of that. He likes a bit of third party, although he does personal stuff well, too. But, I tend to stick to the personal. It’s what I know, really. I try to keep it quite simple. And, I’m a bit of a wordplay geek, so the other two lay into me if I get too crazy. They go ‘No no no you can’t do that. It’s a pun too far.’ We all have little sort of quirks that we do.

[Band goes inside for acoustic in-store performance at Aron’s Records, except David, bass player, who goes outside with me to continue interview.]

David (with a thick Scottish accent)

Jane: What was your recording process – Frank mentioned that you were in Connecticut in 2000, recorded an album and pretty much scratched it. So, from then, did you go back to Scotland?

Dave: Yes.

Jane: And when you record there is it typically at a studio?

Dave: Just to redo it, some of the stuff we did. And then try and put some money together to get in a studio in Glasgow and with a couple of newer songs as well, with slightly different arrangements and things.

Jane: What songs did you keep from that recording in Connecticut for this new album?

Dave: Songs like “Weightlifting” are there. I mean, there’s quite a few. But just sticking in new sounds and things.

Jane: Did you change producers?

Dave: No, we did it in Glasgow, just with an engineer, but you know they helped us in Connecticut. Then, it was mixed in New York with Andy Chase who did a really good job and he was kind of guiding us. He had a good feel for the songs and the sound. I mean, all the album was kind of done ourselves, right up to the artwork and things. And, then we were just looking for licensing and things. He was through SpinArt, which seems to be working out okay at the moment.

Jane: The photograph on the album is absolutely beautiful. How did that come about?

Dave: There is a photographer we knew who was doing some band photographs for us. I actually don’t remember how it came about, but he’s Scottish and is based in Glasgow and he does a lot of landscape type stuff and he seems to have a good eye for that kind of thing. And that was just one of his that he had in his portfolio.

Jane: Where was it taken?

Dave: I think it was up north. In Scotland. An island somewhere.

Jane: So the process of choosing that particular cover, are you all involved in that, generally?

Dave: Yea, everyone has input, if someone doesn’t like it they can say.

(UTR Photographer Celeste comes over to say thank you and goodbye)

Jane: So what do you like to do in your spare time?

Dave: Me, I’m married with children, so that’s my spare time, which is good. So, I just do that. There’s not time for going out anymore.

Jane: What did you think of Happy Pocket?

Dave: Well, it was a record we did at the time. We did most of it at our own studio, which we had at that time. Happy Pocket was more acoustic-based. Some of it. Um, it was more of a mash-mash in terms of production. We produced it ourselves. But we used one main person to do some mixes, which was good. Some of which we didn’t use on the record, in retrospect, we probably should have. But, those are choices you make at the time.

Jane: What kind of advantage do you think you have over other bands, just by having that long break?

Dave: I think everyone doesn’t feel jaded, you know – we’re older and wiser, more relaxed.

Jane: Were you pretty excited to tour this time, or is it all part of the job – how do you view that?

Dave: Yea, I think we were all looking forward to it, cause we hadn’t done a big tour for a while and we all felt together as a band. Just through being more relaxed. You know we’ve felt a renewed confidence in ourselves and I think it shows when we play live.

Jane: It is an absolutely beautiful album. Is everyone collectively 100% happy with the results?

Dave: Yea, pretty much, yea. I don’t know if you ever get 100%, but yea, I’d say so.

Jane: Some artists are very hard on themselves and think I should have, could have, would have…

Dave: We used to be a bit like that, there was a lot of that – arguments with record company about songs…

Jane: SpinArt?

Dave: No, Polygram - what to use, there was about arguments…it was really just us then.

Jane: What is the future of the band? Do you plan to record another album?

Dave: I suppose – I mean there are songs there. At the moment, it’s just more about enjoying this one. We’re doing Japan and Europe.

Jane: So as soon as you return from the tour, you’re not going to jump right back in the studio right away.

Dave: No, we’ve got some dates back in the UK, and Japan in the immediate kind of future and then maybe back here. But, who knows. The music business, it’s like the weather.

Jane: How did you choose SpinArt Records?

Dave: I think they chose us, which is good. If a label shows strong interest, it helps. The terms were favorable to both parties. It’s kind of a nice relationship. They seem alright. They do their bit of promotional things.

Jane: Are you online at all, checking message boards, etc.

Dave: I do sometimes, yea. It’s great. The message boards are for fans and sometimes [I read] what they say. This is quite strange. We’re appreciative of our fans, but you know. Sometimes you can - I never followed a band to such an extent obsessive. Sometimes I find it a bit strange.

Jane: When I was doing some research on you, I found some in depth information that seemed so extraneous – wow – it’s out there for sure. As far as your band’s name, yesterday I was at the Virgin in-store, standing outside the plaza and we were watching and I think you had just finished, getting ready to sign things and the DJ announced “Trashcan Sinatras are inside signing, if you want to get things autographed.” And these two gentlemen standing next to us, who clearly worked in the building – had maintenance workers with nametags and said “Did he just say Trashcan Sinatras.” We laughed and he said oh, my goodness what a name! Somebody who doesn’t know the band, it was interesting to see his perspective because I don’t really think anything of it.

Dave: That’s good because sometimes a name will get mention and sometimes like it, sometimes don’t?

Jane: How did you come up with it?

Dave: The very first performance we’d done under the name, it was just kind of a silly thing. There were no instruments.

Jane: There were no instruments when you played?

Dave: Yea, we just sort of were hitting things and one of the things that was being hit was a trashcan.

Jane: Was this in a pub or something?

Dave: No, it was in a community center and the name fell about kind of like that.

Jane: How about Sinatra?

Dave: Just the singing.

Jane: Singing and trashcans.

Dave: Plus there’s the element of rubbish singing. But the name’s quite - some people kind of hear it and expect something of a punk band.

Interview with Frank (Post in-store, still at Aron’s)

Frank: I saw your review in the thing – that was nice, thanks.

Jane: Absolutely. I loved it, good. Yea, it’s kind of a coincidence that I’m doing a review and the article.

Frank: So, you’ve been at this long?

Jane: No, I’m new at interviewing, honestly.

Frank: No, I noticed you just kept saying that you haven’t done this before.

Jane: I’ve done a few phone interviews and I’ve been on a few in person. Marcus was supposed to come with us (the more experienced writer) but something came up but he wasn’t able to make it. So, I was kind of scrambling, knowing I was on my own.

Frank: I bet it’s nervewracking, just in general. I wouldn’t like to just sort of phone people up and talk to strangers.

Jane: It is - I mean, I really enjoy it – I want to do it and think it’s fascinating and interesting and I love to meet talented artists.

Frank: Well, you may one day. But, you’ve got - I feel writing is at least it’s something you’re enthusiastic about.

Jane: Exactly - I really prefer writing more factual things.

Frank: For instance? What’s factual?

Jane: Well, I am interviewing you, you are telling me facts and I will take them and write about them.

Frank: Well – I wouldn’t … [I could be lying to you].

Jane: Well, you could be telling me lies, but at least it’s your word and I’m going on that.

Frank: Reporting.

Jane: Exactly - as opposed to giving my personal unsolicited opinion.

Frank: Did you do a journalism course?

Jane: I did. I studied English and Art History in college and now work in the music industry.

Frank: Where did you go to college?

Jane: KSU

Frank: I’ve heard of that alright, obviously.

Jane: You have – you know your history.

Frank: Long way from here, no?

Jane: Did you get to Ohio for this tour?

Frank: No.

Jane: That’s the problem – most bands, especially of your caliber skip over Ohio so that’s why I’m in LA.

Frank: We did on the last tour play Omaha.

Jane: Detroit – a lot of people would go there – did you play there?

Frank: Yea.

Jane: Yea, it was 3 hours away and I would drive there to see bands.

Frank: We did Detroit, Toronto, Chicago and Minneapolis…

Jane: Well – I don’t want to take up too much of your time. … The Scottish Arts Council grant that you received – what would have happened had you not gotten this? Did you depend on it greatly for financing this album?

Frank: Not really. It’s funny we were talking about writing because I did the grant application for that.

Jane: Is it pretty intense?

Frank: Well, I’ve not done formal writing, like an application. It took me ages – like about a week to write a paragraph. I was trying to form the application where it was full proof where I would definitely get the grant. I never really considered that we wouldn’t get it – it was more a case of how much because I knew we fulfilled all the criteria, we would definitely sell records – we just needed a little up front help and that was what we were there for. I think if it hadn’t come about, we would have found some other way. In fact, I think we thought about bank loans and all that stuff, but we tried that first. And, actually they didn’t give us as much as we wanted so I went back and started complaining.

Jane: Did that help you?

Frank: No, but they were very nice. The head – I was surprised – the head of the Arts Council phoned me at home. It was a person whose name I had seen attached to articles in the paper, so I was surprised that I got a phone call from him because he’d heard that I had moaned about the award and he just explained it really nicely to me. Saying this is what we have to do, this is the amount of applications we have and these are the choices we have to make. So I was – we’re really grateful to them. And, they gave us another grant to go to South by Southwest in Austin. They gave a lot of grants out for that as well.

Jane: To other bands as well?

Frank: Yea, I think 17 bands went to Austin from Scotland. Something like that. I don’t think the Arts Council needed to fund all them, because I think Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand, bands like that, could afford to make their own way. But, they’re very supportive of things like that.

Jane: Have they always been?

Frank: I don’t know, actually, my first contact with them was just for the grant. I knew of their existence.

Jane: How did you even think to apply?

Frank: I spoke to someone who had suggested it. As you do when you talk to people and they say try them.

Jane: What is the future of the band? You’re not really focusing on the future, is that right? This tour is not like a last hoorah? Is it?

Frank: No, it’s not like that really. When we got together to make another record after we tried to make that one in 2000 in Hartford, we did sort of say to each other that it might be the last hoorah, so let’s take that attitude then. I think it sort of worked, but that’s more in reference to recording the album. Once we made the record and realized, I was as surprised as anybody that it’s done as well. I think if you look at the path that we followed – three albums, diminishing sales, record company dropping you, bankruptcy, it’s the sort of path that leads to a really really awful fourth album. I don’t know why we pulled it off. But, I am kind of surprised when I think back that we made such a good record. And, that feeds you. If you write songs, that just makes you feel strong as a person. When you’re not writing songs, and you’re not putting records out, and you don’t feel in your own heart that you’re achieving what you want to do, you know, writing well. It’s hard because you know you’ve always got your aunties and your cousins that are always saying “How’s it all going?” and in your heart it’s not going really well, but you don’t want to moan to them all the time. And, then you notice when you start to get a good song and another good song your confidence starts to build. You’ve got something in your pocket that you feel really good about. It just gives you a good bit of validation. And, touring this record, it’s more a result of finishing a record, being really happy with it and really proud of it. We couldn’t do this tour without a good album. We couldn’t have done it, we would have killed each other. It would have been horrible you know. Because just the kind of people we are, we just wouldn’t have done that sort of rest on your laurels tour. It’s hard to get Paul to play any old songs. He’s very like ‘I don’t care about the past.’ I’m not so much, I like those songs, they’re like old friends. No, it’s not been a last hoorah tour.

Jane: Did you say he doesn’t care about the past songs?

Frank: He doesn’t care to play them. He’s just one of these guys who’s a forward-looking guy, wants to move on. Kind of Bob Dylan, sort of – that’s what he tells me anyway.

Jane: How about the tour and the people who come to your shows now? Are they new listeners? Is it generally people that were with you 10 yrs ago?

Frank: Obviously we’re trying – we’re happy to recruit new listeners. And, for the old fans to like it, too.

Jane: Does the political climate affect your songwriting?

Frank: The nature of things is that you tend to write songs over 8 years. So the climate we’re talking about, if I get your gist, was apparent. Our songs were already written. I don’t think anybody is apolitical or unaffected by politics. We are not an overtly political band at all – I think anyone can see that. But as far as personal politics go, I think you can tell from our music where we come from, if you were thinking of putting a party political label on it. I think you can kind of tell we’re sort of union men.

Jane: Your comments last night – at the early show – that was great.

Frank: Well, it’s just where we come from, it’s just endemic. We can’t shake it.

Jane: What did you say again? Wasn’t the idea that you were trying to get Roddy to play harder?

Frank: Work harder. It was just a joke.

Jane: Yea, but there’s a little bit of truth to that. What are your thoughts on that?

Frank: Well, my dad’s a welder, or was a welder. My mom was a cleaner. I don’t like to see people not paid well, you know. I always leave my hotel room quite tidy. It’s just the way people are. I’m sure you’re like that yourself. I’m sure people that were brought up properly and brought up to be polite no matter what kind of money background. But in Scotland, that is quite a left wing country. It’s almost like you didn’t need to vote. It was probably like being a Texan Republican, you knew who you were voting for anyway, so what’s the point in going. It’s just part of the culture. Mining, steelworking, all that stuff.

Jane: Is it small, your town?

Frank: No, I’m from Glasgow originally. I’m from the biggest town in Scotland. I moved to the coast, a small town, about 50,000 people. That’s where I met all the boys.

Jane: So, when you were around what age [did you move]?

Frank: 10

Jane: How about your family situation? I guess the fact that you are Eddi Reader’s brother – has that affected your career? Do you feel it was affected positively or negatively or not at all?

Frank: It’s affected it a little bit, yea. When she – she got quite a lot of success quite early on, before I was doing music, or when we were just starting out, she had this number 1 single in the UK, [with her band] Fairground Attraction and a big album, too. It just made that - when I was not getting a job and saying to my mum and dad, I want to do music, they were a bit more, well, “Edna can do it, you can do it, I suppose.” She took the flak for it all – sort of the front line, sort of soldier for it. She would have to argue with my mom and dad about living a life as a busker on her way to France. She is an adventurous person, much more so than me. But when it came time for me – when I was wanting to do music and to give up my job, and my mom and dad were quite happy to let me have a shot at it because my sister earned a gold record on the wall. But the problem was they expected me to have a gold record like straight away, just like her and I didn’t. I think that’s about the only way it’s affected me. John lives with Edna now. John and Edna are partners. They have been living together for a few years. Yes, we’re never going to see the end of each other.

Jane: If you could have one thing written about you, what would it be?

Frank: I think try and be natural. I know that – and we’ve done it ourselves, we go on stage or when you meet people as a musician sometimes it’s tempting to sort of put on something, just as a defense, but it just leads to a lot of stress, to a lot of – that pretense just wears you down. I just mean in the sort of superficial situation and I’d like to think that we’ve managed now to marry the kind of musical – the thing we’ve always tried to do in music, which is be honest and natural, and then do it with ourselves, the way we treat people, the way we behave onstage. Just try and interact with each other – make it a normal place.

Jane: Do you find that quite different from your career 10 yrs ago – do you think you had a completely different attitude at that time?

Frank: Oh, yea, I think we were much, much, much more nervous and felt a lot more out of place. Just a lot more pressure. Not now.


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