Trash McSweeney Interview: The Devastatingly Brilliant Mind Behind The Red Paintings: Can a Guy Named Trash Be Rock's Savior?
Image attributed to The Red Paintings
After suffering a near-fatal seizure, visionary performer Trash McSweeney sees color in music and has set out to share with the world the ideas he has seen and felt. He is the lead vocalist and songwriter of the five-piece (guitar, bass, drums, cello and violin) group The Red Paintings which are based both in Australia and Los Angeles.
Known for their visionary stage shows incorporating live art, human canvases and theatrics, The Red Paintings are a multi-faceted genre-spanning act incorporating everything rock from alternative to punk to industrial. The band receives submissions from artists constantly to curate live onstage art shows to be included in their onstage shows.
“This was an album that I wanted to get right. The first time I decided I was going to make this album and everything that it was going to contain from the instrumentation to the studio, the list goes on, I told the fanbase I wanted to create this epic album. I didn’t want it to be like music industry. It had to be the true vision of my heart and my mind. I couldn’t find anyone to finance it, so we had to ask the fanbase. They were really enthusiastic, and before we knew it we had raised $40,000, and in the end had raised $160,000.”
The orchestral art rock group has released their new single, “Wasps,” from their upcoming debut full-length studio album titled The Revolution is Never Coming. The highly anticipated record will be out October 1, 2013. Five years in the making, this epic album was recorded and mixed with the late Bryan Carlstrom (Alice in Chains, Rob Zombie) in world-class studios around the globe. The album includes a 35-piece orchestra, a 22-piece choir, harp players, French horns, Theremin and more. The band raised donations from fans all over the world to create their vision.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Trash, are you in Los Angeles today?
Trash McSweeney: I’m actually in Australia right now, so I’m calling you from Oz.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you divide your time between both places?
Trash McSweeney: I do live in both places, but I spend most of my time in Los Angeles, living in West LA. The reason I came to Australia is we do our stage shows here in Brisbane, and we make much of our music video content which we’re doing both now as we speak.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): First, tell me how you got from Jamie Barrett to Trash McSweeney.
Trash McSweeney: Jamie Barrett! Who’s that? I don’t know who that chap is (laughs). I can’t believe you’re the first reporter of my whole career who just started an interview with that question! I tell you what; I don’t even know how to answer it. That’s hilarious! Let me tell you this, Jamie Barrett doesn’t exist. I can tell you that I have a crazy Hungarian mother, and she named me Trash McSweeney. My siblings have even weirder names.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hungarian? McSweeney sounds like an Irish name.
Trash McSweeney: You’d think so. I’m a mixture of everything, a strange mixture.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, tell me about this condition you have called synesthesia and the seizure that started it all.
Trash McSweeney: Oh, God. How much time do you have?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As much time as you’d like (laughs).
Trash McSweeney: I’ll put it into a short story (laughs). It has honestly been a natural progression to the things that we (The Red Paintings) do musically, creatively and theatrically. It really did start with that seizure. The situation was that I had not eaten for three days, and I had a seizure in a supermarket.
I woke up out of the seizure and lost my complete identity, like I had amnesia, so to speak. It all started coming back to me in the hospital, and I honestly remember, to this day, hearing music in the hospital and seeing colors for the first time. The best way to describe this would be if someone had a paintbrush, and they were painting the front of my brain, and I could see the different shades and different colors being painted as I listened to music.
At the time, I didn’t really think much of it. I was just like, “Oh yeah. I must be tripping out from this very serious seizure.” When my mother brought me back home, I turned the radio on in my room, closed the door and just sat there seeing a spectrum of color. The artist that really broke my mind, I guess, was Bjork. Bjork’s music, for some reason, just made me see things I couldn’t see in any other musical compositions, so I started listening religiously to orchestral music and that in turn put me into what we call The Red Paintings. That’s why we have strings and art in the band.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very interesting. How old were you when the episode happened?
Trash McSweeney: About twenty, so ten years ago and that led directly into the band we know today. Really from the first show it made sense to me to have an artist on stage painting the experiences of the music, and I have six or seven hundred canvases in my home that I get to look at.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Before all of this happened, as a younger child were you interested in music or art?
Trash McSweeney: I can tell you I was a bit of a lost soul. I had a very big love for animals, animal rights, and I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian. So that was something I guess I wanted to do, but I had no real direction musically. There was no real reason for me to do it. There was no substance to it, so when this happened, it really blew things up and set me on a course. I remember feeling like I was at a crossroads. It was at a time when I chose between buying a certain guitar I wanted or get a Visual Arts degree or be a vet. But I chose to buy the guitar.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m a fan, just wanted to tell you that.
Trash McSweeney: Oh, thank you. That’s great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me why the title, The Revolution is Never Coming.
Trash McSweeney: The Revolution is Never Coming is a contradiction because I wanted people to question me (I love that) and just think of what that might mean for them. The interpretation of that for me is that I’m saying to people, “Hey, is someone going to bring the revolution to you so you can change the way you live?”
For example, we do have problems with our natural resources running out. We do treat animals on this planet in a seriously terrible way that I think ultimately it’s going to be negative on the human race, and I want people to wake up, get off their arses and make the changes in their lives. That is what that album is saying. The songs stand beneath the title for all their own reasons.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You took several years to complete the album?
Trash McSweeney: That is correct. There was no other way to do it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why?
Trash McSweeney: Let me start with, I’ve never created an album before. I’ve created EPs, extended plays with four or five songs. Each time I created one of those EPs over the band’s career, I only had $3,000 to $5,000 to work with, and I had three to five days to create those songs. I really like to produce my music so the shading and colors and paintbrush play out on the canvas. So it has been a real struggle for me in my mind and my heart whenever I’m rushed.
This was an album that I wanted to get right. The first time I decided I was going to make this album and everything that it was going to contain from the instrumentation to the studio, the list goes on, I told the fanbase I wanted to create this epic album. I didn’t want it to be like music industry. It had to be the true vision of my heart and my mind. I couldn’t find anyone to finance it, so we had to ask the fanbase. They were really enthusiastic, and before we knew it we had raised $40,000, and in the end had raised $160,000.
The industry people told me how to create this album, and they were wrong. It sounded like a demo, and you couldn’t hear intricate parts in the album and the special paintbrush strokes that I really wanted the people to feel. So I had to close shop, find more money and then find a producer who understood the vision. Long story short, it took me nine studios, eight different engineers, five years in the making, re-tracking, re-editing, re-mixing until I kind of had the situation where I looked at all the mixes and thought, “Wow. There are so many good parts in so many of these mixes, but there’s not one whole mix.” So I went back and listened, and it just didn’t make sense.
It was like a puzzle that wasn’t put together. I went through so much turmoil inside because I just couldn’t get it right. So I analyzed, analyzed and analyzed and took the best parts of all the mixes and went right back at the start and re-mixed the whole thing again. It nearly killed me. I was in the hospital after two seizures and went through the worst depression I ever had.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some of these songs were previously recorded?
Trash McSweeney: There are some songs back on the EP that were re-produced for sure, four or five. Except for two of them, the rest sound completely different than what they were on the EPs.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On the Feed the Wolf EP, you recorded “The Mercy Seat.” I loved your version.
Trash McSweeney: Oh, cool. The song is about a guy in an electric chair. I think he’s in remorse. That’s my understanding of what the song is about. I have to be honest with you; I’m not a huge Nick Cave fan. His music never really got me. His instrumentation and the way he portrays his music have never taken me by storm. But I love his lyrics. I think lyrically that guy is a genius, and the things he comes up with we don’t even know that we feel what we feel which is really obviously amazing.
My girl, at the time, said that her dad was a big Nick Cave fan, and he said to me, “I think, Trash, you need to reinvent.” So I listened to the song all the time, and I jumped on the piano and portrayed my version of the feeling.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know that Tim Burton is one of your inspirations. What did you think of his film version of Alice in Wonderland?
Trash McSweeney: I didn’t like it at all. Just take the CGI and effects away and do everything for real. In the videos today, everything is set up like a Star Wars set from the 80s or something. I think we’re missing a vision. There’s a substance and realness we’re missing in movies nowadays, and I think that in Alice and Wonderland, he should have delved into the possibility of Wonderland being the afterlife.
I don’t think Johnny Depp should’ve gotten the role. I think Depp’s time in Hollywood is gone, to be honest, because I think we need to make way for some new and talented artists.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever been approached to write film scores, or is that something you’d be interested in doing?
Trash McSweeney: Definitely interested. Have not had anything come my way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you like to act in films?
Trash McSweeney: I was offered a small role in a play, oddly enough to be a heroin addict. It was an intense role (laughs). But I had commitments to The Red Paintings and whatnot. I would’ve loved that role and probably would’ve played it well. I’m the sort of person that if I feel something and it makes sense to me, and I can focus everything inside it, then I will take it on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are your other interests?
Trash McSweeney: I spend a good amount of time with animal rights in the community and trying to help people be decent when it comes to that. I have a chicken sanctuary where we actually save chickens from factories, McDonalds, deathbeds, so to speak. I love little art galleries, and I find the most amazing artists. Painting on stage is very important to me. I lead a pretty busy life, I guess.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is social media important to you? I saw your Twitter page and it said, “hate mixing albums and actually hate music.”
Trash McSweeney: (laughs) Let me add, I’m also a smartass (laughs). I love talking to you. You’re an interesting personality. I’m not a Twitter fan. My music companies say to me, “You have to be really active.” I go, “Where’s the fun in that? You know what I hate about the music industry and Hollywood and all that stuff? It’s almost like you’ve got to live your life out in the open, in social media and text. Where’s the magic? It’s like all the magic’s been ripped out of people wondering what a person’s like or who they really are or you have to share so that others can feel your personality.
So it’s not something I get totally excited about, but I do a lot of Facebooking, and I tell the people about me personally to a certain degree, but more about the artistic person. But, yes, I do think social media is important, and I like the fact that our fans can meet all in one area. We allow the fans many times to be involved in helping us build our stage shows. We definitely love to do it and don’t shy away from things like that.
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