THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TRASHCAN SINATRAS.
The Life and Times Of The Trashcan Sinatras.
Nowadays, very few bands get to celebrate their tenth anniversary, never mind their twentieth or thirtieth. Especially bands formed in the eighties. Many were short-lived affairs, who released a couple of albums, before calling it a day. Some crashed and burned amidst rancour and anger. Often, money was at the heart of the problems. Others bands retired, after lifestyle problems intervened. However, there was another problem with eighties bands.
During the eighties, many bands became reliant upon a ‘sound.’ At the heart of it, were drum machines and synths. This sound, didn’t have the longevity that guitar bands would enjoy. Many of them, are still going strong, including Scotland’s very own Trashcan Sinatras who were formed in 1986. However, during these thirty-three years the Trashcan Sinatras have had more than a few ups and downs.
That was when in Irvine, in Ayrshire The Trash Can Sinatras were born. The original lineup featured a rhythm section of drummer Paul Forde, bassist Frank Reader and guitarist George McDaid. Completing the lineup was guitarist and vocalist Davy Hughes. With the lineup in place, the band started thinking of a name for the nascent band. It was then the band’s thoughts turned to memories of a music class at school.
Memories came flooding back of the students improvising on a myriad of makeshift instruments. This included some trash cans. It was then that someone mentioned Frank Sinatra. Suddenly, The Trash Can Sinatras were born. The newly named band then began to hone their sound. However, by late 1986, early 1987 a few changed in The Trash Can Sinatras’ lineup.
Among the newcomers were lead guitarist Paul Livingston and rhythm guitarist John Douglas. They were joined by drummer Stephen Douglas. That wasn’t the of the changes. Davy Hughes switched to bass and Frank Reader switched to acoustic guitar and became The Trash Can Sinatras’ vocalist. This would the lineup of the band until 1998. However, with a settled lineup in place, The Trash Can Sinatras began playing live.
Initially, The Trash Can Sinatras were a covers band, who played on the Ayrshire pub and club circuit. This was where The Trash Can Sinatras honed and tightened their sound. It was akin to a musical apprenticeship, and one that stood them in good stead. Especially one night in Kilmarnock, where the Trash Can Sinatras’ lives were changed forever.
For The Trash Can Sinatras, the gig in Kilmarnock started off as just another booking. Little did they realise that Simon Dine was in the audience. He watched with interest, as The Trash Can Sinatras worked their way through their set. By then, The Trash Can Sinatras were regarded as a band with potential, who were destined for greater things. Soon, A&R executives would be catching the shuttle from London. So Simon Dine decided to steal a march on the competition.
Before long, The Trash Can Sinatras s were signing with Go! Discs. After signing on the dotted line, The Trash Can Sinatras decided to invest their advance wisely. They bought their own recording studio in Kilmarnock, which they called Shabby Road. This made sense, and would pay off in the long run.
Especially since The Trash Can Sinatras were about to head into the studio to begin recording their debut single and album. This would take time, but eventually, was worth it.
The benefit of owning their own recording studio, meant that The Trash Can Sinatras weren’t watching the clock, and knowing that every hour was costing the band money. Instead, the Trash Can Sinatras could spend as long as they wanted working on the ten songs that they had written for their debut album, Cake.
At Shabby Road studios, The Trash Can Sinatras were joined by several session musicians. They augmented the Trash Can Sinatras, adding strings, keyboards, piano and percussion. The two other people who joined The Trash Can Sinatras, were producers Roger Bechirian and John Leckie.
Roger Bechirian produced Obscurity Knocks, Thrupenny Tears, The Best Man’s Fall and Funny. John Leckie who mixed Cake produced Even The Odd and Circling The Circumference. The Trash Can Sinatras produced Maybe I Should Drive, Only Tongue Can Tell, You Made Me Feel and January’s Little Joke. Once the ten tracks were completed, Cake was released in 1990.
It had taken the best part of three years to complete Cake. However, it was well worth it. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Cake. The Trash Can Sinatras’ lyrics were cerebral and witty; while their tight, Byrdsian harmonies were the perfect foil for Frank Reader’s vocals. The result was pop perfection from Irvine’s soon to be famous five. A great future was forecast for The Trash Can Sinatras, who were regarded as Scottish music’s next big thing.
When Cake was released on June 25th 1990, the album reached seventy-four in the UK, and 131 in the US Billboard 200. This was helped by the success of the lead single Obscurity Knock. It reached number eighty-six in the UK, and number twelve in the US Modern Rock charts. The followup Only Tongue Can Tell reached number seventy-seven in UK, and number eight in the US Modern Rock charts. Later, in 1990, the only disappointment came when Circling The Circumference failed to chart. However, Cake had been a successful debut album for The Trash Can Sinatras.
After the release of Cake, The Trash Can Sinatras embarked upon their first tour of the UK and North America. With Cake spending three months on the US Billboard 200, The Trash Can Sinatras’ spent much of their time touring America. It was a far cry from playing cover versions in a Kilmarnock pub. However, the story was only beginning.
I’ve Seen Everything.
Three years passed before The Trash Can Sinatras returned in 1993, with their sophomore album I’ve Seen Everything. By then, bassist George McDaid had left, and was replaced by Davy Hughes. He and the rest of The Trash Can Sinatras penned the fourteen songs new songs that became I’ve Seen Everything. They were recorded at the band’s Shabby Road studio, in Kilmarnock.
Joining The Trash Can Sinatras at Shabby Road, was a new producer, Ray Shulman. He seemed an unlikely choice to produce The Trash Can Sinatras. Ray Shulman was the former bassist of pioneering progressive rockers Gentle Giant. Their music was very different to The Trash Can Sinatras. Despite this, it proved a successful partnership.
When I’ve Seen Everything was released in 1993, plaudits and praise accompanied the release of this masterclass in perfect pop. The Trash Can Sinatras had matured as a band since their 1990 debut album Cake. Their witty wordplay and harmonies were still trademarks of the band’s sound on what was an eclectic album, I’ve Seen Everything. It was released in 1993.
I’ve Seen Everything reached number fifty, but failed to chart in America. This was disappointing for The Trash Can Sinatras. However, Hayfever reached number eleven in the US Modern Rock charts and sixty-one in the UK. The followup single was I’ve Seen Everything. Despite its undoubtable quality, it failed to chart. For The Trash Can Sinatras this was another disappointment. However, headed out on tour, determined to win fiends and influence people.
A Happy Pocket.
After another three years, The Trash Can Sinatras returned with their third album, A Happy Pocket in 1996. It featured another fourteen songs from the pen of The Trash Can Sinatras. They had recorded and produced the album at Shabby Road, where they were joined by some of their musical friends. This included former Love and Money keyboardist Paul McGeechan and violinist David Crichton. However, one difference was that this time round, several mixers were used on A Happy Pocket.
Rather than employ one person to mix A Happy Pocket, different mixers were used. This included Larry Primrose who mixed six song and engineered two. Hugh Jones and Helen Woodward mixed four of songs; while Vincenzo Townsend engineered and mixed I Must Fly and Steve Whitfield mixed Make Yourself At Home. Using so many different mixers was something that critics commented on.
While A Happy Pocket was well received by critics, they felt that it didn’t quite match the quality of their first two albums. They were now regarded as cult pop classics. Part of the problem was the overuse of overdubbing and the mandolin. The other problem was using so many different mixers. This some critics felt, resulted in A Happy Pocket sounding like a compilation, rather than an album. Some critics felt some of the tracks had an unfinished sound, and were almost like demos.
However, A Happy Pocket featured several tracks that featured The Trash Can Sinatras at their very best. Especially, The Safecracker, Twisted and Bent, How Can I Apply…? and The Therapist. These tracks featured musical masterclasses from The Trash Can Sinatras, and featured hooks aplenty. It was against this backdrop that A Happy Pocket released.
When A Happy Pocket was released in 1996, the album failed to chart. Neither did any of the singles. The lead single was The Main Attraction, which was followed up by Twisted And Bent and How Can I Apply…? To Sir, With Love was the final single released from A Happy Pocket, and not only did it fail to chart. This was just the start of a period where nothing seemed to go right for The Trash Can Sinatras.
After the release of A Happy Pocket, The Trash Can Sinatras decided not to tour North America. Instead, they toured the UK and Japan, where they were a popular band. However, on their return, The Trash Can Sinatras were in for a surprise, and not a pleasant one.
In 1996, Go! Discs was acquired by Universal Music. One of the first things that happens after the takeover, is a record company’s roster is examined with a fine tooth comb. There are always casualties. Sadly, one of the casualties were The Trash Can Sinatras. They were dropped by Universal. This was a huge blow for the band.
So was the loss of bassist Davy Hughes. He departed in 1996, and returned in 2001. Before that, things would get a lot worse for The Trash Can Sinatras.
Especially when The Trash Can Sinatras realised that they would have to sell their beloved Shabby Road studios. Now they had lost the studio where they had recorded their first three albums. This could prove expensive in the long run. However, worse was to follow.
So perilous was The Trash Can Sinatras’ finances, that they had no option but to declare bankruptcy. It was a huge blow, and one that many bands wouldn’t recover from. However, The Trash Can Sinatras weren’t most bands.
For the next three years, The Trash Can Sinatras decided to keep a relatively low profile. They didn’t play live until 1999, when they toured the UK and Ireland. The Trash Can Sinatras then released their first live album, Chewing A Brick. Later in 1999, The Trash Can Sinatras embarked upon a tour of Japan. During that tour, they released a cover of Randy Newman’s Snow on Sony Japan. Not long after this, a new era began for The Trash Can Sinatras.
After all that had happened during the last few years, The Trash Can Sinatras decided to head to Hartford, Connecticut where they would record their fourth album, and then play a series of live dates. The recording sessions took place between March and June 2000. During that period, around twelve songs were recorded. This was more than enough for an album. However, when The Trash Can Sinatras returned home and listened to the ‘album’, the band realised that it was much too dark and subdued an album. This wasn’t what they wanted. So a decision was made to scrap the album, and start again.
2001 was when The Trash Can Sinatras began work on what became Weightlifting. During that year, they wrote new songs and recorded demos at Riverside Studios, in Glasgow. This was a new experience. Previously, The Trash Can Sinatras had recorded at their Shabby Road studio. Now the meter was running as The Trash Can Sinatras recorded their demos. Over the next year, twelve songs were recorded. This was the start of the comeback.
In 2003, The Trash Can Sinatras decided to return to the live circuit in earnest. They started playing concerts and festivals across Scotland. By then, The Trash Can Sinatras’ fourth album was well on its way to completion.
What became Weightlifting, featured twelve songs which were written by the band. These songs were produced by The Trash Can Sinatras and Simon Dine. Once the album was recorded, it was ready to mix,
Andy Chase of The Ivy, who was also a respected producer, was hired to mix Weightlifting. When he had finished mixing Weightlifting, the album was scheduled for release in August 2004.
Before that, The Trash Can Sinatras headed out on tour. They played in Spain, London and then headed to America in March 2004. The Trash Can Sinatras played a sellout show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and then headed to Austin, Texas to play at the South By Southwest festival. Again, The Trash Can Sinatras played a barnstorming set, and the comeback continued. However, there was a surprise in store.
When critics received copies of Weightlifting, they realised that the band had changed their name. Weightlifting was the first album from the newly renamed Trashcan Sinatras. It was also a carefully crafted album of joyous jangle pop. Fittingly Welcome Back opened the album, and set the tone for what was a return to form from the Trashcan Sinatras. They stuck to what they knew, and refrained from gimmicks in their latest pursuit of hook-laden perfect pop. Among the highlights, were string drenched, soulful ballads like Got Carried Away, What Woman Do To Men and A Coda.There’s brief excursions into heavy metal, stoner and a pastor sound. Mostly, it’s the Trashcan Sinatras doing what they do so well, jangle pop. With critical acclaim accompanying Weightlifting, things were looking good for the Trashcan Sinatras.
After a summer spent touring and promoting their fourth album Weightlifting, the Trashcan Sinatras were almost ready to release their first album in eight years. When Weightlifting was released on 31st August 2004, the album failed to chart in the UK and America. To add the Trashcan Sinatras’ woes, neither of the singles, All The Dark Horses nor Wild Mountainside charted. It was a disappointing result for an album that oozed quality. However, weren’t beaten. Not by a long shot.
In The Music.
Following the release of Weightlifting, there were a couple of changes in the Trashcan Sinatras’ lineup. Bassists Davy Hughes had left the band in 2005. His replacement was Grant Wilson joined in 2006, but departed in 2008. Replacing Grant Hughes on bass was Frank DiVanna. However, with a settled lineup, the Trashcan Sinatras returned in 2009, with their long-awaited fifth album In The Music.
The Trashcan Sinatras had written ten new songs for In The Music. They had been recorded with producer Andy Chase, who had mixed Weightlifting .Recording of In The Music took place at Stratosphere Sound, New York between November 2007 and February 2008. Further sessions took place in Martha’s Vineyard in July 2008. That was when Carly Simon added backing vocals to Should I Pray? Once the album was complete, the release was scheduled for 2009.
Before that, critics had their say on In The Music. It was well received by even the hardest nosed critics. They were won over by the album’s much more understated, grownup sound. The songs were carefully crafted and the music was lush, polished and soulful. Some critics regarded the album as almost flawless, and a mature and magnificent album of pop perfection. Surely this would get the Trashcan Sinatras back onto the charts?
The Trashcan Sinatras were taking no chances, and embarked upon a tour that began in July 2009 and lasted four months. By November 2009, the tour was over and In The Music had been released on 14th September 2009. Lightning struck twice, and In The Music failed to chart. For the Trashcan Sinatras, it was another in a long line of disappointments. As a result, seven years passed before the Trashcan Sinatras returned with Wild Pendulum,
In October 2014, The Trashcan Sinatras announced that they were about to begin recording their sixth album. Wild Pendulum would be a thoroughly modern album, which the band announced, fans could pre-order via PledgeMusic. Fans could buy various packages, and would received updates of the project. It was written and recorded during 2015.
As usual, the twelve songs that became Wild Pendulum, were written by the Trashcan Sinatras. The album was then recorded at ARC Studios, in Omaha, Nebraska. That was where the Trashcan Sinatras got to work.
The rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Stephen Douglas, bassist Frank DiVanna and rhythm guitarist John Douglas. Paul Livingston played lead and acoustic guitar, Stevie Mulhearn added keyboards and Francis Reader took charge of vocals. Augmenting the Trashcan Sinatras’ core band were Nathaniel Walcott on piano, organ and clarinet and guitarist Simon Dine who also adds “sonic scenery. Producer Mike Mogis played guitars, pedal steel and percussion. However, there were still pieces of the jigsaw missing.
So series of guest artists were drafted in. Pianist Ben Brodin played on All Night; harmonica player Dustin Arbuckle plays on Ain’t That Something and vocalist Susan Sanchez who features on I’m Not The Fella and What’s In The Box? Just like previous Trashcan Sinatras albums, strings play an important part. So a string section were brought onboard. Wild Pendulum was nearly complete. Christopher Thorn then took care of some addition recording at Fireside Sound in L.A. Now Mike Mogis could mix the album and Howie Weinberg mastered Wild Pendulum in Laurel Canyon. Once this was complete, the Trashcan Sinatras could make an important announcement.
The Trashcan Sinatras announced that Wild Pendulum was complete, and ready for release in January 2016. That was the plan.
Unfortunately, the release of Wild Pendulum was delayed until March 2016. However, the Trashcan Sinatras were out of luck. There was yet another delay, and the release was put back again. For the Trashcan Sinatras it was a frustrating time. Especially, as they were about to embark upon some sonic experimentation on their long-awaited, and much-anticipated sixth album, Wild Pendulum.
When Wild Pendulum was released, it was quite unlike previous Trashcan Sinatras’ albums. Their last couple of albums were a reminder that the Trashcan Sinatras were one of the finest indie pop bands of their generation. Their unique and enchanting brand of jangle pop had flitted in and out of their fan’s lives for the past thirty years. During that period, The Trashcan Sinatras had steadfastly refused to change direction. Why should they? They were, without doubt, one of the finest purveyors of jangle pop. Despite this, the Trashcan Sinatras’ last three albums hadn’t matched the commercial success of their first two alums. So they decided to change direction.
For Wild Pendulum, Simon Dine of Adventures In Stereo, a longtime confidant of the group was drafted in to add some ‘sonic scenery.’ This was a stylistic departure from the Trashcan Sinatras. So was Simon Dine’s use of samples, loops, found sounds and horns. Combined with Mike Mogis’ much richer and fuller arrangements, Wild Pendulum was step into the unknown for the Trashcan Sinatras. It may have been one short step for mankind, but a giant leap for the Trashcan Sinatras.
Some things hadn’t changed though. Still the Trashcan Sinatras were capable of carefully crafting hook-laden, perfect pop. Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out) which opened Wild Pendulum, was a statement of intent. The Trashcan Sinatras old and new sounds combined. From there, Best Days On Earth is a beautiful and joyous anthem. The hooks haven’t been spared on Ain’t That Something, which features Trashcan Sinatras’ trademark harmonies play. This results in a melodic and memorable anthem. Equally memorable is Autumn, a musical epic, where swathes of the lushest strings sweep above Francis Reader’s vocal. Variety it seems is the spice of life for the Trashcan Sinatras.
All Night finds the Trashcan Sinatras heading for the dance-floor. This is a first. Who would’ve ever believed The Trashcan Sinatras would ever make a dance track? They have; but do it their way. Normal service is resumed on Family Way wheres pizzicato strings accompany Francis, as he combines clever wordplay, hooks and harmonies. It’s a potent combination, and is a reminder of everything that’s good about the Trashcan Sinatras. After this, it’s all change.
The tempo drops on I’m Not The Fella. It’s reminiscent of Prefab Sprout in their prime, as the Trashcan Sinatras roll back the years. Cinematic describes Waves (Sweep Away My Melancholy), where Francis Reader paints pictures with the lyrics against a much fuller arrangement. All too soon, Wild Pendulum is almost over. I See The Moon has a much more understated sound and this allows Francis Reader tender, thoughtful vocal to take centre-stage as he reflects, and delivers a needy, hopeful vocal on this pensive ballad. The Trashcan Sinatras have kept one of the best until last, on what’s their best album since Cake in 1990.
Despite Wild Pendulum being the best album the Trashcan Sinatras have released in twenty-six years, it passed record buyer by. On both sides of the Atlantic, Wild Pendulum failed to chart. This was the Trashcan Sinatras’ fourth consecutive album to fail to chart. Twenty-three years had passed since the Trashcan Sinatras’ 1993 sophomore album I’ve Seen Everything charted. Given the quality of Wild Pendulum, this must have been a massive disappointment for the Trashcan Sinatras.
Especially since tweaked their sound, and given it a moderne makeover. To some extent, the Trashcan Sinatras had reinvented themselves on Wild Pendulum. Sonic scenery, samples, loops, horns and found sounds have been combined on Wild Pendulum. There’s even a dance-track on Wild Pendulum. That was a first. It sits side-by-side with anthems, beautiful ballads and perfect pop. Still, the Trashcan Sinatras were one of the finest purveyors of perfect pop extraordinaire. This thee Trashcan Sinatras have been doing since 1986.
As the Trashcan Sinatras celebrated their thirtieth anniversary, sadly, the wider record buying public have yet to discover the delights of the Trashcan Sinatras. They’re still one of music’s best kept secrets. That’s a great shame, as the Trashcan Sinatras are one of the most talented Scottish bands of the last thirty years.
They seemed destined for greatness, but sadly, their career has taken a few twists and turns. The Trashcan Sinatras were dropped by their record company; had to sell their recording studio; were declared bankrupt; had to change their name and even abandoned an album. That’s not forgetting several changes in lineup. Still though, the Trashcan Sinatras come back for more, and recently, have come back stronger.
What better way for the Trashcan Sinatras to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary, than with a new album like Wild Pendulum. It featured Irvine’s finest purveyors of jangle pop at their pioneering best, as they reinvent themselves. To do that, the Trashcan Sinatras combined hooks and harmonies with samples and sonic scenery. One thing that hadn’t changed, was the Trashcan Sinatras’ use of clever wordplay. It’s been a trademark of the Trashcan Sinatras’ music for thirty years. Hopefully that will continue to be the case in the future, as the Trashcan Sinatras continue to do what they do best, make music.
That’s what the Trashcan Sinatras have been doing for the past thirty-three years, and during that period, Irvine’s most famous sons, the Trashcan Sinatras, have been one of the finest purveyors of flawless jangle pop. Long may that continue to be the case.
The Life and Times Of The Trashcan Sinatras.