The Red Paintings are due to release their debut album, “The Revolution is Never Coming” in Australia on 7th June (rest of the world release TBA). The simple story is that it took five or six years, eight different producers, and far more money than was expected. It’s also a great progressive/art rock album. The full story is, of course, far more interesting and is as much about the fans as the band. We sent Gilbert Potts to speak to the creator, composer and singer/guitarist of The Red Paintings, Trash McSweeney. He also spoke with a couple of fans.
Because it’s a long story we are publishing it in two parts. We will also be asking fans to send us their stories about Trash and The Red Paintings, which we will publish in a third installment. There’s also a prize up for grabs, so read on.
Trash McSweeney is the sort of guy who doesn’t shy away from saying what he thinks, and he fully expects to suffer for his art. He’s got strong opinions on things and his mouth gets him into trouble now and then. But he’s a learner and he listens to advice, although not always without putting up a fight.
He wants peaceful, radical political change and is critical of political parties, of multinationals and of the music industry. He seeks a world where we don’t eat meat because we value all life equally. He wants young people to express themselves artistically, to learn about the choices they have, be free to make the right choices, and most importantly wants more to be done about suicide prevention.
But let’s start with the music. You may be surprised to find that he doesn’t think of himself as “a musician”. Having always been obsessed with art rather than music, he’s more interested in hanging out in a small gallery than a record store and Trash sees the record more as a collection of paintings than a collection of songs. The most beautiful sound he has ever heard is the whoosh of a basketball dropping through a net “without touching the planet”. Why not an instrument or a song?
“I don’t live really in a musical world as such, like I don’t dictate all my creations on just music – I’m not just a musician whereas a lot of people just do that one thing. Red Paintings is like an onion where are so many different layers and not just a band. It’s very much like the Dada movement where it was about poetry, theatre, music, arts, political underground messages, fighting against government, fighting against politics, fighting against wars. It was all part of this one movement and that’s what I did with The Red Paintings and that’s how I live my life and that’s why The Red Paintings exists as such a broad spectrum of ideas.”
So is music how he paints?
“One hundred per cent. That’s exactly how I see it and I wanted to be an artist and I went to university to do art. When I got this thing called synaesthesia I started realising I could see music as colour, and I picked up a guitar or violin and I could see the colours coming out of it and I’m thinking ‘Woah this is my paintbrush and my palette is going to be the compositions that I choose to work with’, so after that point I stopped painting and I hardly ever paint any more”.
While being clear not to compare his actual art with Leonardo da Vinci, Trash does see familiarity in the frustration the great master experienced in getting ideas “from your brain to your heart to your fingers to the canvas”, via the body, or ‘cage’ as Trash calls it. There is just so much lost in the interface and he desperately wishes he was able to remove his mind and plonk it on the canvas:
“I felt the same frustration with this album and it killed me. I mean there were serious thoughts of suicide and I was going through seizures in the early days from not eating because it was all I could think about, it was just like “fuck!” so I didn’t enjoy it. There was hardly any enjoyable time making this record.”
Now as someone who can’t so much as draw a square I did wonder; “Well I can’t paint either Trash and I’ve remained calm”, but that’s because I’m not driven by an uncontrollable urge to do so. Remembering that Trash is creating his art through music, he has an extra barrier in getting his ideas on the canvas so to speak – other people. Trash had big ideas for Revolution and knew what he wanted it to sound like. Or should I say look like. The problem was finding someone who could do what he wanted rather than try to shape things with their own taste.
“My vision was really much bigger than any studio in this country (Australia) could cater for and more importantly I don’t think I could have found a musical mind in this country, and that’s nothing against any body here, it’s just that it seems like, or I didn’t find the right people that could handle the vision I was trying to create.
I did try several people in this country, and some of them were big guns and even when they had their attempt at the mix and sent it back it was disgusting, and when I would speak to them about it they would go; ’There’s nothing wrong with my mix, it’s awesome’. There was one guy who put phasers all over ‘Dead Children’ so the whole song had two phasers going on the guitar and vocals the whole time and he said to me; ‘Well you are trying to make an art rock record, this is what makes it more arty’. I said; ‘Come on dude, we’re not trying to make an ‘80s psychedelic ‘I’m on LSD this is cool’ album’.”
At one point Trash had flown to Canada to do a mix, knew no one and when he got to the studio found the producer wasn’t there. Instead the house engineer said that he would be setting up the tracks for him, but when he looked and saw how big it all was said that he had never mixed anything so big before:
“So the guy says ‘Don’t get angry with me if I can’t mix it’ and I said ‘Hang on, I’m not trying to be an arsehole buddy but I haven’t come here to mix a demo, this is a big worldwide album. I can’t screw around mate, I don’t have the money, I’m frustrated enough as it is.’”
So what was the vision for the album that no one could get right?
“What I was trying to do with Revolution was that I was trying to say all the things that have ever been said since the first war of humanity right up until now and maybe the future, and say to people, ‘Why is the revolution never coming? Well the revolution is never coming because the revolution you feel you need to be a part of is violent and it’s deceitful and it’s like this holocaust vision that is a broken record. So you need to create a new revolution. You need to look outside everything you’ve ever thought about and dig deeper than you ever have before and then start a real revolution and change the way things are. Stop eating animals, stop being violent to each other, start seeing each other as the same, get rid of McDonalds, get rid of capitalism for the right reasons, understand what communism and socialism were really about when they first existed. Just start to come to a fucking understanding for once, look in the fucking mirror and see the world for what it is.’
We are so fucking significant and I’m so sick and tired of this human race thinking it’s more important than it really is. Now I understand we are children of the universe and I can look in people’s eyes and see a nebula and that’s great, but we are no more important than that ant that walks across our feet or a snake that slithers across the jungle.
I don’t think we’re any more important and that’s where humanity went wrong and that’s why this record is important for me.”
For all the negatives in making the album, there were positives. For example he happened to meet a woman in Canada straight after his argument with the producer and she took him into her house for a week and fed him and showed him around the place. They are now good friends.
“More important than anything was the friends that I made so the journey the album took me on opened this world of all these individuals and souls around the planet that have become incredible friends and supportive of me outside of the band and I guess without that I would not have survived. Thank you album for taking me there…The positives were always the people I was meeting outside the turmoil of studios and producers and what-not.”
There is no doubt that when you talk to Trash he’s someone filled with passion, drive and vision. Real change takes huge numbers of people working together to make it happen. They also need individuals who inspire and lead, and that’s where he comes in. It’s a relationship that works both ways, because he’s like every other artist who give so much pleasure to others with what they create, but at the same time he needs his fans to support him, not only financially and with friendship and provisions, but to tell him when to pull his head in. He’d be fucked without his fans, and he knows it. He may have had to make his own bricks to build his “own yellow brick road”, but his friends, his fans, are the mortar.
“At the end of the day the album was made for them, the band exists for them and I keep going for them”
I spoke with a couple of his fans, and this is what Mickus had to say:
My experience with The Red Paintings began in 2005 when I worked in a store near a Gold Coast train station. I had two regular customers, who always came in after seeing shows in Brisbane. When I asked who they had seen that night, they said, our friends, The Red Paintings. I had seen the name on posters etc and asked, “What sort of music do they play?” Ironically, as they struggled to find the words to describe it, “Walls” came on the radio, and they said, “THIS IS THE BAND WE JUST SAW!!!!” Instantly, I was hooked.
I have seen TRP play at least 9 times, and I have been involved as a Human Canvas twice, and assisted with collections at the Sea Shepherd Benefit, no two shows have ever been the same. Themed shows, strange venues, they are the most exciting band I’ve ever seen.
The Revolution Is Never Coming is possibly the best title the debut album could ever have. The first time I was a Human Canvas, was for their performance at the 2008 Sounds Of Spring festival, where we were painted to announce the release of the album some months later. It’s hard to describe how it has felt, waiting for an album that was finished, then not, then finished again. While I never lost faith in Trash McSweeney’s vision for an album, I did start to believe that, The Revolution was indeed, Never Coming.
Through social media, TRP have remained transparent to their fans, always being honest and direct about delays, asking for input on shows, inviting fans to be part of the experience. I feel like Trash truly loves his fans, not in a way like “hey you guys get me paid” but truly LOVES them. The band makes time for fans, often staying after shows and having photos etc. For those of us who have had the opportunity to help them, either Human Canvas, Painter or “Street Team” it feels kind of like a big family.
Now you may be wondering what this “human canvas” business is. Well it’s one of those layers of the onion Trash was talking about earlier. When The Red Paintings perform it’s more than just music. It’s also about costumes, painting on paper/canvas, and painting on people. Before a tour the call goes out for artists and human canvasses to be a part of the broad performance that is The Red Paintings.
The painters are then carefully selected through a process of public opinion and a discussion with Trash, again highlighting the depth of thinking in everything he does. It’s not just a vote or choosing the picture he likes best – there has to be more to it, such as drive, ambition and a total dedication to art.
It wasn’t always that way – before they had a fan base it was generally people off the street. Trash would walk around and ask people at random if they would like to be involved in the show, regardless of whether they could paint or not, inviting them to come up on stage and express themselves. This again is the onion Trash was telling me about – this is why The Red Paintingsis not just a band.
“The Red Paintings isn’t about The Red Paintings, it’s about everybody else around us. I didn’t put the band together and go – oh I want to start a band to buy a house – that was never what it was about. My mission for The Red Paintings was I want to create a band and I want to create an experience for people for them number one to realise they have choices in life, and number two they can have an experience they’ve never had before they can be a part of it and collaborate in real time a fragment of time that suits the moment. I guess that’s what we do.”
Next week in part two we hear from another fan, Chloe. Trash tells me more about the broader The Red Paintings community, crowd funding, and some of the issues close to his heart, including suicide. Yeah it gets a bit heavy, but please join us. I also ask him “If you were an animal, what would you like to be?” What do you think he said? Tell us in the comments section below then find out next week if you’ve worked him out.
Then in part three we’d like to hand it over to the rest of the fans. Send us your Trash or The Red Paintings story to share with the rest of the world– keep it to around 150 words please – and we’ll publish as many as we can in part three. Please include the name you want us to use and what part of the world you live in. Send it to TRPstory(at)gmail(dot)com by June 13th at the latest. There will be a special prize for one lucky fan chosen at random by TINAS (please be aware that the prize will be sent out closer to the date of the international tour in August). We’ll let you know what the prize is next week.