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An Interview with the Trash Can Sinatras about Their Current Tour

At least once a week I get an email from a music publicist hoping I will write something about one of the bands they represent. I usually delete these about as fast as the emails promising to augment the size of my breasts, which I figure is about as helpful – or on target – as the emails female friends get offering to increase their penis size. But I digress.

Every few months the email instead regards a band I actually know or respect. Such is the case here.

Hearing the name “Trash Can Sinatras” also sometimes just called Trashcan Sinatras” brought me back to my college days. It was then, around 1991, when their biggest album happened and they had a hit signal with Opportunity Knocks” which you can hear here via YouTube and the album Cake.

I confess I did not know the band was still around, but my curiousity got the best of me and I decided to find out what they were up to these days.

One thing they are up to, and the reason for the email, is an acoustic live tour which is playing in Austin, Saturday, March 3, at the Cactus Cafe. I suggested an email interview and this is the result.

The interview is with Paul Livingston (Lead Guitarist) & Stephen Douglas (Drums, Vocals).

When starting this band did you ever think you’d still be around in 20 years?

Paul: Y’know, it might sound strange but I kinda think we did!

Stephen: It’s wasn’t something you really thought about, although you’d have hazy thoughts of making great music for huge audiences and earning a good bit of dough when thinking of the “future.” We still have great fun playing together and I think it’s partly to do with being together so long.

What have been the high and low points for the band and for you during that time?

Paul: The recording of I’ve Seen Everything was a magical time. We had confidence and money, we were happy, the songs were there, Ray Schulman and Larry Primrose were a great team, Shabby Road was in tip top running order. Yeah, that was good!

Lowpoints? Hmm…so many to choose from! Haha! Well, carrying on from my “highpoint”, the recording of A Happy Pocket was pretty dismal. Probably the exact opposite experience from the previous album.

Stephen: The highs: first visits to USA and Japan, good gig…making music…The lows: bad gigs, bad luck with record companies, general friction.

Why did you decide to do an acoustic tour?

Paul: It can be easier and less stressful with the smaller lineup of us four original band members. Thought we’d take it easy this time.

Stephen: Playing acoustically means we can do a wider selection of songs than our bass player and keyboard player are familiar with. Also, it’s loose and far less hassle…as Joe Strummer would say, we have “punk mobility.”

 Can you tell me more about this idea of having fans create set lists? How did you come up with that idea and how do you think it’ll play out? It reminds me of Elvis Costello’s gimmick, which I heard he’s reviving, where fans will go on stage and spin something that will then decide what song will be played next.

Paul: It’s just a nice way to do something special for the fans. We know so many songs that we hardly ever play so it’s good to know that someone wants to hear this song tonight.

Stephen: The fans don’t create the set list, they vote for which songs they would most like to hear and we choose from the top suggestions. We tried it on our last tour and it was good fun, although it does depend on how well we remember them or how tricky they are. No wheel of fortune, I’m afraid.

I also hear you’re asking for people who play horns to show up at your shows. How did that idea develop and how is that going to work out?

Paul: We have had guest horn players on I’ve Seen Everything before (most notably Chas Smash!). Um…it’s going to work out great!!

Stephen: We just thought it would be great communal fun and it’s always nice to have some other instruments in the mix. People will play the horn parts on a specific song that should sound great live as long as they don’t drown us out! We haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure it’s going to work, a treat.

 I think you’re best known in the U.S. – or at least to me – for your first album, Cake. That’s the one that I think got the most radio play. How have you guys changed as a band since that time? How has your sound changed over time?

Paul: We’ve learned that it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Seems so obvious now. Guitars sound better plugged into an amp. 

Stephen: We have got looser and more confident in our abilities. And sound wise we’ve got more instinctive whereas before we could sometimes kill the vibe of a song with too much studio tinkering.

What should people expect at your show?

Paul: Great songs, played with heart.

Stephen: Lots of great songs played with love. Come on down!

 What’s the biggest misconception about your band? I know early on – and heck even in this recent piece about your tour– you sometimes get compared to The Smiths. Are you tired or honored by that comparison?

Paul: The Smiths are up there. Only one of the best bands ever, right? So I consider it an honour.

Stephen: I must admit to being unaware of any misconceptions about us.  We all like The Smiths but we’ve always done our own thing.

 I’ll be seeing your show in Austin. Do you have good memories of Austin since you were last here in 2004 for SXSW.

Paul: All of my touring memories are a bit of a haze – some more than others!

Stephen: We had a great time In Austin at SXSW. We played a bunch of gigs in a hectic couple of days.  My favourite was one were we played in the dark in a strange theatre type place that had a keg party attached outside. Very American and lots of fun! The Austin folk we met were really cool too.

 Can you say more about this (text from Wikipedia): “This will be followed by the 2011 release of “Earlies…” a 4 album box set marking the 20th anniversary of the release of Cake, comprising the 3 Go!Discs albums and Weightlifting, digitally remastered with additional tracks and packaging including mementos reflecting the band’s distinguished career.” Is that true? If so, it sounds quite cool.

Paul: I don’t know if that’s true. But you’re right, it does sound cool!

Stephen: This will happen, just not sure of dates yet. Watch this space!


About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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