The Trashcan Sinatras Interview (9/1/04)
By Sean Koepenick

Right: The Trashcan Sinatras [Photo courtesy of Colin Dunsmuir/]

The Trashcan Sinatras burst onto the music scene in 1990 with a record (Cake) that featured so many catchy tunes it was almost ridiculous. Chief among them was “Only Tongue Can Tell” which even managed to gain significant college radio airplay here in the US. From there it was only straight up for the group. Although comparisons to other bands such as Aztec Camera and Orange Juice sometimes cropped up in the press, the Trashcans really have a distinctive sound all there own.

The band in the studio has not been afraid to use any instrument at their disposal in order to complete a song-from string sections to keyboards to further complement their already full sound. This is a significant achievement since all the band members: Francis Reader (vocals), Paul Livingston (lead guitar), Davy Hughes (bass), Stephen Douglas (drums, vocals) and John Douglas (rhythm guitar, vocals) write songs for the group. Live the 5 piece has always been able to pull off rousing sets that fans are always appreciative of time and time again.

The Trashcans followed up their debut with another solid effort-I’ve Seen Everything and continued to tour the world. But record company problems plagued the release of A Happy Pocket, which was not even released in the US. This resulted in some rather hard times for the band, which included the selling of their home studio and some downtime in the late 1990’s.

Undeterred by adversity, the Trashcans soldiered on, putting out two records on their own before hooking up with SpinART records. This fantastic return to form is documented on Weightlifting-a record that may rival Cake in its near perfection. The band is touring extensively (including the US) right now so catch them live if you can. In the meantime I was able to catch up with rhythm guitarist John Douglas to discuss the band’s past and plans for the future.

E.C.: How did the band first come together?

John Douglas: We met in the bars of the ancient Scottish west coast town of Irvine… down at the crossroads of High St. and Bank St. lies the Kings Arms. This bar was frequented over the years by Robert Burns, Napoleon the Third and, strangely, Liberace. It was in this surreal ale house that we first shook hands and made plans.

E.C.: Had you been in any bands previously?

John Douglas: Some of us learned our chops in various local bands. Some of us were virgins to the scene.

E.C.: Do you have any shows that have been truly memorable for you?

John Douglas: Our early shows were unforgettable, raucous, messy affairs. Inebriated audiences would continually ignore the racket we made and we were left alone onstage to forge our identity. We left a trail of indifference behind and, from day one, we followed no-one and, initially, no-one followed us. Our songwriting bore fruit soon enough and we began to attract attention for it. The rest is still on going.

E.C.: Are there any shows that you would like to forget?

John Douglas: No, but there are some shows that I would love to remember.

E.C.: What recording session for an album was the most enjoyable for you?

John Douglas: Every day in our beloved Shabby Road Studios, Glencairn Square, and Kilmarnock was a joy. We recorded most of our first 3 records there. We lived and breathed song-aiming for the stars. Chords and words and melody became our currency. We had no neighbours so music ruled every hour on the clock. The most enjoyable sessions were the inspired ones. The first time a song appeared vividly enough to be taped and played back; the first time is always hard to beat.

E.C.: After A Happy Pocket, the band’s output slowed considerably. What were the reasons behind that?

John Douglas: The reasons for our feet coming off the gas were many. Let’s just say we had a bad day that was left to fester in the corner and before we knew it we had a bad year. At first it was surprising but then became familiar and soon grew into a lovely little family of bad years. As someone said many moons ago, “Choke them bad days... get ‘em before they grow.”

E.C.: Explain how the songwriting process works for you with the band?

John Douglas: Impossible to explain. We all seem to capture songs or snatches of songs and we get together and see what happens. It’s all very alchemic.

E.C.: What are some highlights for you from the Weightlifting CD?

John Douglas: Highlights are many. There’s a missing snare beat in the choruses of ‘Usually’ that really floats my boat. Paul’s solo on ‘Welcome Back’ could strip the paint from the Forth Railway Bridge. The ghostly female at the end of ‘Trouble Sleeping’. I could go on for miles.

E.C.: If you could write a song with any active artist/songwriter today, who would it be?

John Douglas: I would love us to write with Morrissey, he is a wonderful singer; so much love in his voice. He is a dab hand with the old pencil-a rare combination.

E.C.: When did you first start playing guitar?

John Douglas: In the early eighties; the good part of that particular decade.

E.C.: What bands/artists were you influenced by growing up?

John Douglas: The Clash were the main inspiration for me to try and do something other than what was expected.

E.C.: Are there any new bands that you’re currently impressed by?

John Douglas: Rufus Wainwright… Declan O Rourke… Super Furry Animals.. The Flaming Lips…

E.C.: What is the largest gig Trashcan Sinatras has ever played?

John Douglas: We played a show recently in Glasgows Botanic Gardens…we were invited to play by the good folks of Belle and Sebastian. A crowd of many thousand gathered and in the late afternoon we turned our faces to the sun and counted the first song in. The guitar strings were instantly complaining about the heat. I spent the next half hour trying to talk them round-to no avail. The gathered throng took no notice and the general verdict was ‘We got away with it.’

E.C.: What expectations do you have for the new CD in the U.S.?

John Douglas: Dickensian ones.

E.C.: Are there plans for a quick follow-up to this record?

John Douglas: There are no concrete plans. Though we do have another bunch of songs and this upcoming period of activity will, I’m sure, lead to others being written.

E.C.: What band would you like to go out on a killer double-bill with on tour?

John Douglas: Each of us would have a different opinion on this so either…Scott Walker, Richard Harris, Dusty Springfield, Tom Waits, Dave Lee Roth, Queen-any of these would make an interesting night. I’m sure Mr. Harris would be fun at the after show.

The Trashcan Sinatras Selected Discography-

Cake - Go! Discs/London-1990
I’ve Seen Everything - Go! Discs/London-1993
The Main Attraction - (EP)-UK Go! Discs-1996
A Happy Pocket - UK Go! Discs-1996
Twisted and Bent - (EP)-UK Go! Discs-1996
How Can I Apply? - (EP)-UK Go! Discs-1996
To Sir With Love - (EP)-UK Go! Discs-1996
Snow - (EP)-SMEJ/AICT Records-1999
Zebra Of The Family - (self-released)-2003
On A B-Road - (self released)-2003
Weightlifting - SpinART Records-2004