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Trashcan Sinatras

by Jav Rivera

I was in high school when I first heard Trashcan Sinatras on the radio. I was in my room, up late as usual, reorganizing my furniture when “Hayfever,” the single from their 1993 album I’ve Seen Everything, came on.  Sadly, it was the only time I heard them on the radio.  I did see them on MTV months later when they were featured in a Beavis and Butthead episode.  But with their combination of acoustic and clean electric guitars, they couldn’t compete in the US with the verging Seattle scene of what would soon become grunge music.

Davy Hughes, John Douglas, Francis "Frank" Reader, Paul Livingston, Stephen Douglas
Scottish band Trashcan Sinatras formed in the late 1980s and after some line-up changes, they released their debut album Cake in 1990.  They’re described as an indie-pop band but alternative rock influences and even retro 60's pop can be heard throughout their albums.

Although they’ve had various band members, the line-up that has recorded the majority of the their music includes Frank Reader (vocals), John Douglas (guitar), Paul Livingston (guitar), Stephen Douglas (drums), and Davy Hughes (bass).

Cake has a very acoustic-pop sound and some of this style echoes into their next few recordings.   The album successfully distinguished them from other music at this time and helped create a strong fan base.  “Obscurity Knocks” and “Even the Odd” stand out among their best compositions on Cake.  "You Made Me Feel" is my absolute favorite from this album and has a calm pace to it.  The ending sounds a bit like Burt Bacharach.  Cake is a strong album with a lot of fan favorites but it also feels like it's been written by a band with their best work just around the corner.

CAKE (1990)
Their follow-up, I’ve Seen Everything, had a more solid production and much better song craft.  It also sounds like a band experimenting with their own unique blend of pop rock.  The guitars strayed into rock with "Bloodrush" and the bluesy "One At A Time."  The album still stayed in the realm of acoustic pop but their sound was incredibly enhanced by the use of orchestration.  Overall, their style became more innovative. Suggested tracks: “The Hairy Years,” “Earlies,” “I'm Immortal” and "I've Seen Everything."  “Easy Read” got most of my attention because of its use of somber lyrics and inspirational music.  It begins like a folk song with just an acoustic guitar and Frank's voice.  An electric guitar, along with the full band, takes over with a new riff.  On the second chorus, the string orchestra simulates the main guitar riff and adds a level of sophistication.  The entire album is a work of art and has inspired me many times over.  The album sounds like the mentality of a small indie band harnessing the aesthetics of a well-established composer.

A Happy Pocket was released in 1996 and though it was less experimental, it was by far more innovative and even romantic.  They slowed down Lulu’s hit song, “To Sir, With Love” and created something extremely touching.

Other suggested tracks: "Make Yourself At Home," "How Can I Apply?," "Twisted and Bent," "Unfortunate Age" and one of their most beloved tunes, "The Therapist."

A Happy Pocket would be the last studio album they release for nearly a decade.  And those of us in the United States had to order this album as an import since it was never released here.  For us, Trashcan Sinatras practically disappeared from the public’s eye.  They rarely did concerts (most, if not all, performances were outside of the US) and despite releasing live albums, covers and b-sides, they hadn't produced anything new.  It was later revealed that they had been writing new music and several new songs had been recorded by 2000.  They weren't happy with the music's dark, dismal sound so they scrapped these recordings and started from scratch.

It wasn’t until 2004, that they finally put out the follow-up album, Weightlifting, which mostly showcased them as a delicate band.  As my friend said, “These guys age like fine wine.”  The album kicks off with full on rock song, “Welcome Back.”  The rest of the album comes down a bit and tunes like, “Country Air,” “Got Carried Away,” “What Women Do To Men” and “Usually" all have well-crafted music and alluring vocals.  Never has Frank Reader sounded so warm and reminded me much of his voice on “To Sir, With Love.”

The album also marked Trashcan Sinatras' first US tour in nearly a decade.  One stop (their first to my knowledge), was at Chicago's Double Door.  I was in the front row with my video camera having been hired to help videotape the concert along with two other gentlemen.  Unfortunately, the concert never made it to DVD.  But it was an honor to videotape them that night. And it was an honor to meet most of the band and even shake hands with Stephen Douglas despite my nervousness as I fumbled to introduce myself.

And as you might guess, I was honored a couple years later when I was hired to author a concert DVD for them.  I was so happy when I got an email from Frank Reader thanking me for my help (I'm still amazed by that).  The DVD, entitled Midnight at the Troubadour, was released in 2006 and includes two other performances. It's available on their website which is listed at the end of this article.

In The Music, their latest album which was released in 2009 (2010 for the US), is a much more mellow album than any of their previous releases.  I must admit that when they released their single “Apples and Oranges” several months before the album came out, I was concerned of how slow it was.  But in the context of the album, it makes sense and fits perfectly.  Other suggested tracks: "I Hung My Harp Upon The Willow," "Easy On The Eye," "The Engine," "Should I Pray?" and "I Wish You'd Met Her."
IN THE MUSIC (2009/2010)
In the Music may not have as much edge as its predecessors but it’s a solid release with amazing songs.  It's especially commendable because they’re not trying to recreate previous albums and at the same time not trying to reinvent themselves.  They come across as a band willing to grow while keeping their knack for producing extraordinary albums.

So as I think about that late night when I first heard "Hayfever," I think about how much Trashcan Sinatras have affected my life and how much of their music brings back fond memories.  And I think about how much more they will affect me.  I can only hope this article inspires people to discover one of my favorite bands.  It truly is an honor to write this article.

For more information on Trashcan Sinatras, visit their official website here: www.trashcansinatras.com. And to check out their music, visit iTunes.

TRIVIA: The episode where they appear on "Beavis and Butt-head" is entitled "True Crime" and can be found on Season 3, Episode 13 (www.imdb.com/title/tt0859221).