The T-Shirt in the merch booth says it all: “Trash Can Sinatras: Legendary Scottish Band.” That moniker is of course delivered with with tongue firmly in cheek as there is no such thing as a “legendary” Scottish band. However, there is Trashcan Sinatras, perhaps the greatest pop band to ever exist without being The Beatles.
Regardless of location.
And like the Fab Four, the band, which formed in 1986, features four distinctive songwriters: John Douglas, Francis “Frank” Reader, Paul Livingston and Stephen Douglas. Their 1990 debut CD, “Cake,” earned them the accolades of critics and even garnered comparisons to The Smiths. But unlike The Smiths, who lasted a mere five years, Trash Can Sinatras are still at decades later.
See for yourself when Trashcan Sinatras’ acoustic tour pops by Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia, Wednesday. Lead singer Mr. Reader spoke prior to the tour about the band’s musical journey.
Question: Do you still in Scotland?
Answer: No, I’ve lived in Pasadena, California, for nine years now. My wife is from this part of the world, [but] we met and got together in Scotland. She’s a schoolteacher, so it just made sense for me to come here.
It’s been a bit more difficult than I thought it would be. There is an old country song that says, “You can’t meet new old friends.” That’s been the hardest. All of my friends, I’ve know them all for 30 years. Even if I didn’t see them every day, I was happy that they were near me.
Q: When you record, are you getting together in person or sharing files?
A: The latter. This is the first record we’ve made this way. It was really a tortuously long process. (Laughs)
We really miss just kind of sitting in a room having a jam with songs evolving. This album is so different for many reasons. The disconnection between us is a massive factor. It changed the sound. The inspiration that was coming to us as we were exchanging demos didn’t really [excite us]. We were struggling a bit.
That is a big reason why we ended up working with [producer] Simon Dine, an old friend of mine. I was making records with him and I’ve watched him build these sonic palaces. I’ve actually recorded a few songs with him on his albums. I was planning to do that again, and honestly was more excited about that than these demos we were doing, as much as I liked the songs.
I turned to John and Paul for help. They said, “This is brilliant. Can we work on these?”
Q: So the new Trashcan Sinatras CD started out as a solo album?
A: It was very tentative. We weren’t sure. Simon said, “Do you fancy on making a whole album?” We had done three or four songs together. So tentatively, that was the start. We sent Simon all of our songs, and he just sort of transformed them. We were psyched about almost everything he did to our songs.
Q: Is it true that you guys started out in 1986 as a cover band?
A: I don’t know if the term cover band means the same thing over here. We weren’t just playing covers, it was a barroom thing. We just had a few wee songs of our own and padded out the set with covers.
Q: What made you want to take things seriously?
A: When you’re that young, you think everything you do is brilliant. (Laughs) You think, “This is the most brilliant song ever written by anyone anywhere.” You’re driven to make a record. There was still a lot of glamor attached. We wanted to get in the studio and see what it was all like. It was rubbish. (Laughs)
Q:How did the early comparisons to The Smiths sit with you?
A: I didn’t accept that, even though we love The Smiths. The way some people’s hearts bleed for us, they also bleed for The Smiths. The Smiths were together, what, five years? We’ve been together like six times longer.
Q: How has the band stayed together for 30 years?
A: Four people doing the work. I don’t think any band can sustain themselves with just one songwriter. A solo artist or songwriter can do that because he can go around and do his thing with different people. But an actual band with just one songwriter? Maybe The Who is the exception.
Nowadays everybody has help from outside forces. Like Radiohead.
Q: How are you able to tell each other if a song doesn’t work?
A: It’s a lot easier nowadays. That’s the one advantage of being apart. Any of the nasty work that needs to be done we just do over email. Before we would just sit around mealy-mouthed for days until the one person that sort of liked the song decided they didn’t like it anymore. No we just type, “Gosh, I don’t like that song,” close your eyes, and hit the send key.
Q: Have you had any strange encounters with fans?
A: My signature is just an “F.” There was this guy from the band Blue October, and he was being interviewed and was asked, “Have you ever met your heroes?” He told the story about how when he was growing up, he loved this band Trashcan Sinatras. He said after a gig, he nervously approached me with our debut album. He said he just gushed about his love of the band.
I don’t remember this. He said the lead singer, me, never said a word. He said I just took the album and wrote “F*** OFF!” on it. (Laughs)
People asked, “Did you really do that?” No. I wrote “F,” and it looked like that. I guess that story is good because it keeps everyone from approaching me. (Laughs)
Trashcan Sinatras play at Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia, Wednesday.