published: 15 /
Dave Goodwin speaks to Trash McSweeney, the front man with Australian art rockers the Red Paintings, about his band's breathtakingly original debut album 'The Revolution is Never Coming', which took five years to record, and thier visionary stage shows
Based in Australia and Los Angeles, visionary performer Trash McSweeney now sees colour in his music after suffering a near-fatal seizure, and by taking to his guitar, piano and notebook, the Red Paintings were officially born upon the dawn of the new millennium. The Red Paintings are a five-piece group (guitar, bass, drums, cello & violin), and they incorporate additional orchestral, choral and performance art features wherever possible.
Trust me, you will not see another act like this. They are a true and unique art experience. After five years in the making and making use of over eight recording studios along the way, the album ‘The Revolution is Never Coming’’ saw the light of day, and the first leg of a European tour, in which they played support to Mindless Self Indulgence, ensued last November. Their live show, which I caught at the KOKO in London at a gig, featured some amazing unique projections along with human body and canvas painters, who joined the band on stage collaborating to create artworks that reflected the band’s music and energy. The artists for their gigs are sourced from the local areas with the aim of finding struggling but talented painters, and providing them with a new platform to showcase their work.
The Red Paintings will be returning to Europe for some headline dates in February. We pinned Trash McSweeney the day before the KOKO show for a half an hour question and answer session.
PB: ‘The Revolution is Never Coming’ is a huge piece of work. How on earth do you think you are going to follow this?
TM: Well, the Australians are used to me, so they're just waiting for me to follow it on. Maybe I'll do it. Who knows? But the European people I am talking to seem to be saying, “I don't think you can out do this.”
It has been a pretty epic project. Look, I don’t know, man! I am the sort of person that lives in real time, and if my head wants to do one thing I'll do it. If I can outdo it on the next album, then that is great. I don’t know to be honest with you. I'm not really worried about it. I am the sort of person that if I have got this one great piece of artwork that people appreciate and that's all I do in my life then that's it from my perspective. But, to be honest, I have already got the second album sorted with the demos and stuff.
PB: Have you really?
TM: Yeah, well I was doing it while I was finishing off this album. ‘The Revolution is Never Coming’ took five years to do, and I wasn't just sitting twiddling my thumbs in the meantime and thinking what am I going to do next after the five years. I was doing things for the second album while we were recording for the first album.
PB: Why did it take as long as five years to get the album finished?
TM: It took so long because when you listen to it has got a forty-five piece orchestra, you've got French horns, you've got lots of guitars going on and guitar overdubs, so you've got music that is literally like a Da Vinci artwork. It is a real story and has lots of colours. In this day and age when you don’t have a lot of money, and - I must admit that we don't - you can't go and get a big name producer, who knows how to cut corners to produce music properly or how to use compressors or how to use outboard gear or SSL Desk or stuff like that.
When I made this record, I was quite naive in the sense that I didn't really know the equipment that I was using, and I was working with people that had never created an album like this. So, I kept working with people that knew the end product, and I knew how I wanted it to sound, and they would go, “Oh, too bad man”, and I'd go, “Well, I'll have to go to another studio and re-do the whole fucking album,” and that took me nine times to do it over five years. Nine different studios! Two hundred and thirty thousand dollars! And then, while I was on the last mix, I got on a plane to Los Angeles, and I listened to it and it sounded right. It was the album that I had set out to achieve, so I could release it.
The engineer Bryan Carlstrom had a stroke, a month after we mastered it, and sadly passed away. He was pretty well known. He did the Billy Idol records and he did the Offspring and Alice in Chains too.
PB: What was it like working with Bryan?
TM: It was hard work. He had great stories like Billy Idol being all sexual in the studio, He was really good when it came to stories about the 70s and 80s, but the best thing about Bryan was that he knew his gear really well. If I said to him, 'Hey, I need to have this cutting through the forty-five piece orchestra,” or, “I need this and that,” and he would go, “Oh I know how to that,” and he would go on and tune it in for me, whereas all the other people didn't understand visually what I was trying to create.
He did, but having said that though there were many times I wasn't happy with the direction he was going in and we'd fight and tell each other to go fuck ourselves. We both stormed out the room a couple of times, and then had to come back in and shake hands. There are not many men on the planet that have that mentality to understand when the pressure is on and that if you can get past that pressure cooker that is when you can create the best art that you can, but Bryan was like that.
PB: I am coming to your gig at the KOKO tomorrow night. How would you describe one of your live shows to someone like me who hasn’t seen one of your gigs before?
TM: I don’t know. I am not really sure that I could put it into words, but I have created a band that I want to see. I was running around in Australia going to gigs and shows, and I was bored out of my brain. You'd got the same bands doing the same thing with the same guitars and the same drum beats and the same leather jackets, and I wanted to see something different, but no-one was bringing it to me.
I went and created it, and now I am inside the project that I created and have always wanted to do. I had to inspire myself to live in a planet that is really hard to live in at times, and I have now created a band that's influencing loads of kids, and getting them into animal rights issues, and to be a better person in the planet they live in and are lucky enough to be alive in. It has really become an educational experience itself, not just for me, but for the band members and those that like what we do.
PB: So, after all the years of making the album it must give you a real buzz to see people enjoying it when you roll it out on the live stage?
TM: I don’t know if buzz is the right word. It is exhausting in itself. We are a newish band, and we are trying to get people to like us, and we've been really lucky in the sense that people have been turning round and really loving us. People were shouting at us the other night saying, ”'Hey, you are better than Mindless Self Indulgence. I was saying, “Don't say that! That's poor and you can't really say that!” But at the same time that gives me a buzz because I was expecting to hear things like, “Ahhh, you guys can go and get fucked. We are here for MSI.” But it has been completely the opposite, so that's good. It’s really cool.
In my mind what I see is this massive long road, and we've only just got on it, and it has only just begun, so there's a lot of pressure on us not only to perform but to keep performing and keep touring and find money in an industry where no-one wants to give a band a buck. And when it comes to marketing you're fighting against a million other bands trying to get the spot in a magazine or a radio station, and so who gets it and why it all comes down to money and who you know and what powerful people are in your corner.
That's the bullshit thing about the industry, and what makes it so hard. You know what? I have started to realise that since this album’s come out over the last few months that it is not a music industry anymore, It is a business industry. Those that are better with their business will go on to make better music and musical projects, which means that you don’t need to be good at making music. You can be a shit band and have a crappy vocalist, but if your business links are awesome and you have the right people behind you and the money to pay them you'll be bigger than Radiohead. You can get there. A lot of them have their heads up their arses and think they are amazing.
The reality is that we all have our little gifts but I think that with the gifts that we have in music – it’s a form of communications then – we are obligated to educate and kind of wake people's consciousness. That's why I am doing it. I am writing music as much as anything else to try to change the way people think, and that's why I put so much pressure on myself. Why should I be doing it? Does anyone give a fuck? Probably no, but at least I tried, right?.
PB: In the booklet that comes with the album there are references to Uncle Mosh.
TM: Yeah, he is my uncle. He is like the only person in my family that ever related to me. He took care of me. I have had seizures in my life. And I have been to pretty bad places off and on, and he is the only one in the family that took me under his wing and protected me from the evil people of the world. So, I dedicated the album to him.
PB: It also said on the sleevenotes that you reached some of the highest and lowest times in your life making it. What would you class as the highs?
TM: Recording with the orchestra was pretty amazing. It is not often an artist of calibre can have a full piece orchestra and be able to conduct them. It is phenomenal. Using professional Damaran players was cool. Another thing that was really cool was that I was going into top studios in Nashville, and mixing with the most incredible mixing desks to have ever been created. To feel and hear your art coming through the warmth of an analogue desk and getting mixed, well, there's nothing like it. It was a good experience for sure.
PB: And the body painting that goes on stage? Do you have an input into that?
TM: From day one it was my mission to create a band that not only appealed to the music world, but also appealed to the art world as well. I went to college and did visual arts and really struggled with my arts, meaning that nobody really cared about my art because I am a certain kind of artist. I mean who really knows what's good and what's bad? And what I found was when I started playing in a band instead of painting on a canvas that all of a sudden people liked me, and it was with this idiom that I could connect to people and the human race instantly. Within a year I could be playing in a festival to two thousand people. When I painted a picture, I'd be lucky if ten people saw it.
PB: Why do you think that was?
TM: Oh god, well a few reasons. Art and being a painter doesn't connect to humans as quickly as music does. You just can't get in front of the masses so quickly. Hence it will take a painter thirty to forty years to fine tune his art to be number one and create some sort of uniqueness instead of being the norm like every other painter. Then on top of you've got try and follow your own movement as an artist or a painter, so that people catch on and start talking about you around the world. You also have to find an agent that can use the exhibits, and then you start exhibiting with bigger exhibitors, and then eventually you blow them away because your artwork has something about it that nobody else does and captures the fragment of time that you can really relate to. Music is like that in a way too, but it has more of an instant connection. That was the difference, and it was something that I saw pretty much immediately.
PB: Thank you.
802 Posted By: Nichole Jewell, Ohio, USA on 12 May 2016
Trash McSweeney of The Red Paintings has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by Time! Ransom money is being collected on a PledgeMusic campaign and will be put towards producing a new album! Do we have enough time? pledgemusic.com/theredpaintings
679 Posted By: Katie Van Berlo, Nottingham on 31 Jan 2014
Awesome article! Many, many thanks for putting me onto The Red Paintings Dave!! They are one of a kind that's for sure <3 brilliant! xx Katie xx