Monday, December 5, 2011

Trash McSweeney (The Red Paintings) interview: 2011


Red Paintings singer/composer, Trash McSweeney - every bit as self-effacing as his adopted name – was never a musically gifted child, nor a particularly learned one, but rather his ability for intricate song crafting was one that foisted itself upon him late in his adolescence following a seizure resulting in the ability to visualize complete compositions in full technicolour. The condition Trash developed, known as synesthesia, landed the Geelong-born/L.A.-based artist among a mere handful of songwriters currently living with the neurological disorder world-wide. From this unplanned event, Trash and his Red Paintings cohorts have been guided by an ongoing struggle to make the music match up with the visual patterns McSweeney alone sees, often creating seismic tensions and frustrations alien to all who do not share his ‘insight’. It’s no wonder then, that after twelve years as a band, The Red Paintings are at long last set to release their debut studio album. Titled, The Revolution Is Never Coming, this marks the third year since the album was initially set for release, and in regards to its delay, McSweeney, as a synesthesia sufferer, is afforded free reign of the often cringe-worthy explanation; “the people I was working with just didn’t understand my vision.”
“This album was mixed eight different times in eight different studios around the world, and I went to some of the biggest and best studios available but what I kept finding was, people had their own shitty vision for my music.” He begins. During the album’s endless recording sessions, The Red Paintings as a collective came and went depending on either their availability or willingness to follow Trash to yet another studio and join him in sleepless, song-tweaking. “The rest of the band quite reasonably walked out and let me do what I needed to do.” He says, “We spent a lot of time writing down everybody’s parts and getting those right, but in the end it wasn’t financially possible for them to live as I was. We were all broke by that stage; I mean my string section were busking on the streets of Brisbane to make $50 a night while I was in Canada sleeping on studio floors.” Trash’s motivation to create a worthwhile album regardless of personal health or wealth seems largely down to a desire to not disappoint his fans as much as himself. “I didn’t want to put effort into something that my fanbase were going to put on and say, ‘oh the songs are okay, but the production’s pretty shit’, you know?” He confirms. “If I say I’m going to put out something – an album or whatever – then its going to be done to the best of my ability. I didn’t sleep properly for over year because I was consumed by just making these songs work.”

Fellow synesthesiac, Bjork, is a reference for Trash. “I listen to her music in a kind of ecstasy. It’s like what she creates is mathematically thought out, and that’s kind of how I approached making this record.” Trash boasts that there were an average of around 180 tracks to mix per song to get the desired result. “I guess I was trying to create a Da Vinci artwork as a musical composition.” He laughs. It’s not Renaissance painters however that inform The Revolution Is Never Coming, but rather literary giant Lewis Carroll. First single, The Streets Fell Into My Window (which was actually recorded in 2005) is punctuated by quotes from the novel, Alice In Wonderland, which Trash defines as a metaphor for passing from life into death. “I wondered if the trip down the rabbit hole Alice takes in the story was in fact the moment of death when the soul leaves the body.” He muses, “When the Tim Burton film came out, I was surprised he had played it so safe and not delved into the possibility of Wonderland being the afterlife, so when it came time to making the video for that song, I worked with this fantastic young director called Clint Lewis, and we were all about ‘what didn’t Tim Burton do but maybe should have’.” The Red Paintings live shows, which are as much renowned for their dramatic aspects as their musical intensity, reflect the Lewis Carroll theme in their current state.

“The live shows incorporate every kind of art-form; music, poetry, theatre, film, painting and narrative to make one whole performance piece which reflects what our music is about. On the last tour, I came out as the caterpillar, our cellist was the white rabbit, our violinist; the queen of hearts and so on - and that connection is obvious, right - but a while ago we did some Dr Seuss themed shows where each song became a different Dr Seuss book.” Trash describes, “The most bizarre thing had occurred to me, I realised that the themes in all of Dr Seuss’s writing were exactly what I was trying say in my songs.” Further explaining his theory Trash reasons, “Seuss could be taken one of two ways; fun, catchy books for kids, or the work of a highly analytical and complex mind.” Much like his literary idols, Trash McSweeney is an example of what happens when an artist loses all interest in convention and allows himself to push away certainty and comfort. Lead wholly by his synesthesia, Trash’s unusually heightened subconscious calls the shots and his trust in it is unwavering.

“It (synesthesia)’s never been a hindrance to me. The Red Paintings have been shaped by it and I’ve never had to worry about writer’s block. The reason the album has taken so long isn’t because I wasn’t able to write, it’s because the mixing never seemed to be the right colour and shape as I saw it in my head. I basically had to articulate what I was seeing jumping out of the mixing desk again and again in the studio, which sounds fucking ridiculous, I know, and when you’re paying an hourly rate it gets even more absurd, but I won’t stop until I get it right.” So The Revolution Is Never Coming’s long delay means fans will be getting an accurate picture of the sound inside Trash’s head, then? “Definitely. I mean I’m not doing this for any other reason than to give people the music best I can. I’m not creating something to sell records so I can buy a big comfy house, I’m making art here.” He deadpans, “I’ll never own a fucking house anyway. The amount of debt I generated for myself making this album saw to that!”