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Friday, June 3, 2016

Scottish Indie Band Trashcan Sinatras on Creating an Album That "We Were Born to Make"

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 9:40 AM

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If there's one band you should follow on social media, it's Scottish indie band Trashcan Sinatras. There's no fluff there — no food porn, no belfies, no attention-seeking arguments — it's just all about the music. You'll see photos of the band backstage, snaps of handwritten set lists, and short video clips from shows dotting the United States. It's all charmingly normal, like postcards from a friend, detailing the day-to-day travels of a working band and giving you a taste of what might happen when they hit your town.

I reach Trashcan Sinatras singer and guitarist Frank Reader by phone while the band is traveling along the East Coast for their Wild Pendulum tour — their first U.S. jaunt in several years — which kicked off the night before in Boston. Prior to the start of this run of club dates, the band played a show in Baltimore that was more like a rehearsal, Reader says, along with a handful of house parties, which have been documented on Instagram and Facebook.

Trashcan Sinatras first came to international attention in 1990 with their debut album, Cake. It was the end of the now-classic alternative radio era and theirs was music made for young people who were hardcore about bands like The Smiths, The Cure, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Songs like "Obscurity Knocks," "Circling the Circumference," and "Only Tongue Can Tell" were filled with shimmering guitars and sharp, witty lyrics.

Success for the band, though, was fleeting. By the time their sophomore album, I've Seen Everything, was released, tastes had changed. It was a beautiful album, but it was sadly overshadowed by the hard-rock thud of the Seattle grunge explosion. Trashcan Sinatras struggled in the ensuing years — you'd be hard-pressed to find their third album, A Happy Pocket, in a U.S. record store.  But the band caught its second wind in 2004 with the release of Weightlifting, and, since then, have released two more studio albums. Wild Pendulum, which came out in May, was made with the help of fans who pitched in via a Pledge Music campaign.

For Wild Pendulum, Trashcan Sinatras, whose members are now split between Scotland and the U.S., convened at the Nebraska studio of Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis.

Reader refers to the making of the album as a "strange process," adding that they spent more time in pre-production than what is typical for the band. In the initial songwriting process, Reader and bandmates Paul Livingston and John Douglas worked fruitlessly. "We were just not really feeling that energized," Reader says. At the same time, Reader was also working on a side project with longtime friend-of-the-band Simon Dine, who produced Weightlifting.

Ultimately, they decided to merge collaborations, and Reader, Livingston, and Douglas continued sketching out songs in GarageBand and sharing them with each other via email.  By the time they hit the studio, they had some good ideas — "We just wanted to make a big sounding record," Reader says — that they fleshed out with the help of producer Mogis. 

While the harmonies and infectious songwriting that have long marked the band's work are still there, Wild Pendulum is in many ways a departure for them. There's a lot going on in the album; it's the kind of beautifully dense album where you can to listen to it repeatedly and still hear something inside the production that sounds new to you. Stylistically, it's more eclectic than the band's previous works. Opening cut, "Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out)," is reminiscent of the 1960s group Love, with psychedelic flourishes and a touch of horns. "I Want to Capture Your Heart" is a string-filled, old fashioned crooner, while "I'm Not the Fella," with its lilting piano melody and plot-driven lyrics could fit in a Broadway musical.

Multiple influences inspired the band during the making of Wild Pendulum, Reader says, including baroque pop, early Bee-Gees, and especially the late David Bowie.

"We were really interested in some of David Bowie's songs," he says. "When you listen to them, they're really simple, especially in the late 1970's Berlin trilogy [Low, Heroes and Lodger]. There's a brevity to them and we wanted to keep everything short and sharp."

Now that the album is out and the band is touring, Reader has had some time to reflect upon the work.

"After you make it, you start to understand it a wee bit more," he says. "It feels like this is the record that we should have made, that we were born to make."


Trashcan Sinatras play at 8 p.m., on Tuesday, June 7, at Slim's. $23-$26; more info here
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Liz Ohanesian

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