The Red Paintings, Los Angeles by the way of Geelong and Brisbane, are gearing up to embark on an Australian tour. Killyourstereo.com sits down with frontman Trash McSweeney to discuss the shows, the band’s long awaited album and all things visual arts.
Thanks for taking the time to do the interview today Trash.
That’s ok, no worries at all.
The shows for the upcoming Australian tour we are presenting are selling pretty well. It must be a good feeling coming back to home soil and knowing you have a good run of shows coming up?
It’s good. We don’t tour Australia as much as we used to, I live in Los Angeles now, so we do most of our touring in America. It’s good to back – we have a very supporting fan base here [in Australia]. It is probably different to most bands fan base, which is a good thing for us. The big thing is, the fans in Australia finally get to hold this album, which they’ve been waiting out for way too long. It’s exciting.
When you were saying before you don’t get to tour Australia as much as you used to, when you do come back does it feel like a homecoming or do you feel more like visitors now?
That’s a good question. I don’t really know to be honest. I guess it’s a bit of both. I know fans get really excited when we come back. There’s something about what we do that people really connect to and get inspired by – that’s a really important word. I guess sometimes, especially in Brisbane I must say, going home to meet your family, you haven’t seen them in a long time, and [then] you walk on stage, and you recognise all these faces, and they’ve been there through so many times with you…You get to connect and see each other again.
I believe you grew up in Geelong.
I did. Good old Geelong.
I was going to ask about some of your experiences growing up there. I’ve lived down there a bit myself and am down there quite often. Just wondering what your experiences were like?
It’s a dead end music scene that’s for sure (laughs). I did compile most of my ideas [though] and the band did start in Geelong. I’m glad I grew up there. My family is from there. There’s a cool music store called Music Workshop, which we were sponsored by as young teenagers playing music. I ended up meeting one of the managers there and he took care of me, it was really nice.
It is a place I can visit, but I could never move there again. I always felt Geelong had a black cloud above it – it’s intimidating (laughs). Even though I started the band there and it inspired me to do what I did, the only reason was because I was screaming as a kid, “I want to get out of this place!” That has no reflection on Geelong, it’s just it’s a small city. If you want to be in a band and do the things like we do in The Red Paintings you’ve got to travel as much as you can and be inspired.
I guess down in Geelong unless you’re part of the football club there’s not as much to keep you inspired.
Oh man, football. When I was a kid growing up it was abnormal not to kick a football and abnormal not to join a football club. I don’t follow football anymore, but my dad does, and that’s the topic of conversation with my father.
You’ve just finished shows with Mindless Self Indulgence. Can you tell us how that tour was?
It was incredible. To walk out on stage every night to 1500 people screaming at you as a support band, there’s nothing like it. We really take to their fan base extremely well. We did their Australian tour and it was huge for us. We sell a lot of merch when we play shows with them, and their fans are very social friendly. If you look at our Facebook it is extremely active. After the tour, they offered us their UK/Europe tour, which is 22 dates in November. They are basically taking us around the world (laughs) and opening us up to a huge fan base. It’s awesome.
On the topic of touring, when you tour with a band like that – who draw on themes and imagery too, but obviously have their own take on things – how much knowledge do you try and gather from touring with them?
The biggest thing with MSI for example is they are really anti-music industry. So they’ve created all their success from boycotting the entire industry and just touring, and working their ass off. And, being really blunt about everything [too]. Jimmy Urine, he is a scary dude (laughs). He’ll just get on stage and tell everyone to go fuck themselves. He’ll start pinpointing people in the audience – “you’re not sing my song, get the fuck out!” It was exactly what he was doing. I don’t do that, I’m a little bit more friendly to people (laughs). But, funnily enough, he has created this unique style and there are a huge percentage of people that love that and they come because they know there’s no other Jimmy Urine on the planet. When you’ve got a band, you’ve got to have that one little thing. If you want to get big and you want to breakthrough, you’ve got to find that one element that makes you you and no one else is like that thing. With The Red Paintings I got lucky with the human canvassing and painting thing. A lot of people really appreciate being able to come to a show and see a real theatrical crowd collaborating show. It works really well for us. I’m a visual arts student, I went to uni to do visual arts and this band came about because I see music as colour, and I started creating music from paintings, and before you knew it, it eventuated into my friends painting on stage and listening to the songs, and creating the structures in artwork. And, the general public was into and it was just what we do. It was never preconceived; it was a natural progression to the band. I think people feel that with us.
Another thing you talked about before – the new album. Tell us how exciting it is to have it all locked in and ready to come out?
Funnily enough, I just arrived in Australia and I was able to hold the album in my hands – the artwork, the book, everything. It’s everything I dreamed it to be. The production on this, I believe is quite amazing. To spend five years on an album and remix it eight times in world-class studios all around the world, all analogue, down to one-inch tape, it really does have this sound about it. You have to sacrifice and be very relentless (laughs) to create an album like this. I think most people don’t realise what goes into the production to make really good, fucking albums. Not necessarily the songs, but making really good sounding albums. For me, when I paint, if I do a painting it takes a long time to do a great, epic painting, where I have to do a landscape there’s so much shadowing and then stepping back from it and coming back to make it look almost 3-D, it pops out and looks real like a photograph – that takes time. A lot of people have been pretty negative during the process of this, saying, “you’ve committed artistic suicide.” “You’re not really doing this.” “How good can it sound?” “This is really dumb, why should it take so long to do it?” But, what I’m finding is people are talking to me after listening to it, especially in the press, and are saying, “Oh, my God! We totally get it. When we listen to it, we can understand why it took so long.” (laughs). It’s extremely satisfying as an artist when the general public actually gets what you are doing, because worst case scenario for me was people were going to go, “man, I heard your album, it sounds like shit, it’s crap, I don’t get it. You’ve wasted people’s money. Go screw yourself.” (laughs). I haven’t got that yet (laughs).
That’s good to hear the initial reactions have been positive. I know another thing you’ve had experience with is funding albums. Something that has really exploded recently has been the crowd funding and having fans fund the production of an album. What are your thoughts on this?
I prefer not to do it. I don’t really want to take my fans money. I prefer for them to pay for a product after they hear it’s good or it’s sitting in front of them. But, we do have a music industry that is dissolving and it doesn’t hand out cash advances to bands like it used to. If an artist is to survive, it needs the support of the community. I totally get it; it’s a great thing that obviously works for a lot of people. My situation was one, we got off a world tour with the Dresden Dolls and I was broke. I had nothing and I was negative a lot. The band was in a situation where it needed to create an album and there was no Kickstarter or any of those programs were in place. I just went, you know what, I’m just going to write to fans like I always do and say, “I really wish that I could create this concept album I have, it’s going to be epic to create, but I really need $40,000 to start it.” I did exactly that and the fans were awesome and did exactly that. We raised the $40,000 and then it wasn’t enough. Then I raised $160,000 and in the end I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of money dude. I spent $230,000. That’s way too much money to spend on an album in the 21st century. Not even Tool would spend that money (laughs).
Since the band started has it gotten easier or harder. As you said, you are not getting the advances like you used to.
It gets harder financially because the bigger you get, the more money you need to sustain it and pay bigger companies that want more money to make you bigger. If you’re not moving forward as in you’re not getting bigger ticket sales and your CD sales aren’t going up then how does one capitalise on moving forward to pay those bigger companies to take you where you need to go? Because they have the resources, they have the phonebook of people to call to get you there. That’s why you see so many great bands get to a point and then you’re like, “What happened to them?” What happened was, there management or label put in all the money they said they’d do, gave them a six-month or year run and then there wasn’t enough money to keep it going. I promise you, it happens in every case. I’ve seen it happen a million times. It has happened to me.
My situation is a little bit different in the sense that I have been lucky that I took no money from the industry. To be honest, the music industry never helped me. That’s why I went and did what I did because I thought, what am I going to do? Cry and sulk and go work in a supermarket? No, fuck that. I’ve got reasons to write this music, I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, there’s substance to it. So, I moved to Los Angeles and I planted myself there, and I didn’t have to pay rent because people put me up, and I started re-figuring my band. I made a new line-up and I started touring and building the name, and the donations started coming in and the merch sales went up. I just made decisions that allowed me to keep going down the road even if it was me playing acoustic for a tour, or me in a string section just to keep the name branding and going forward. That’s how I do it. It has become harder in some ways, but easier in others.
The cool thing is, the more you go along and do stuff like I’m doing, you start to see ways to cut corners to get to places quicker. Not so much in the art side, but more in the business side or the decisions you make that aren’t going to slow you down. You see them before you make the decision then you go, “I’m not even going to worry about that, let’s just move around here and go with this guy because we are going to get here quicker.” One thing I’ll tell is you can’t buy experience. You have to experience all the bad things in life and when you’ve experienced all the bad stuff you know not to do it again, and then you start getting to places much quicker than you ever thought you could. Things started moving forward. My life is doing pretty good right now. I’m signed to labels all around the world, I have incredible agencies that are booking me huge tours now that are about to be rolled out. I spent 10 years trying to get that. For seven years, no one would event book a gig for me, I had to do it all myself and now, not enough people can work with me. It’s incredible. It takes a lot of time to get there. It’s like an energy in your soul. When you meet people they know that you know what you want, why you want it, where you’ve been, why you are at where you’re at today. They can just feel you.
Were there any final words you wanted to pass on before we let you go?
The big thing is we are looking for human canvasses and people to paint at our shows so people can be involved. The can go to our Facebook page.
[*To join them on stage painting to the music or offer your body to be painted, email: email@example.com or check out www.facebook.com/TRPartistpage for more info and to see artworks created on tour around the world.*]
Really appreciate you taking the time to chat today.
That’s ok, thanks Kane.
Killyourstereo.com presents The Red Paintings on their ‘You’re Not One of Them’ Australian tour. Dates and details here.