Last week we published part one of our interview with Trash McSweeney from The Red Paintings. We talk about the way he views music, what The Red Paintings really is, and his love/hate relationship with his debut record. If you haven’t already, I suggest you have a read of that before you continue here.
In part two we look at how the debut record “The Revolution Is Never Coming” was funded and delve deeper into the relationship between The Red Paintings and their fans, one of whom is Chloe and she shares her thoughts. We look at Trash‘s views on suicide and animal rights, and the importance of finding the balance between preaching to and talking with an audience. It’s also your last chance to win the The Red Paintings prize pack, which consists of a signed CD and T-shirt. Just tell us what The Red Paintings means to you in around 150 words and we will pick one at random. Email your story to [email protected]. We will publish a selection of responses in part three of our interview next week.
Someone spent energy, made a buck, then took it out of their wallet and went ‘I don’t know what this guy’s going to create but I’m going to give him $40 anyway because I believe in him’, and that’s a big call to me.
“The Revolution Is Never Coming” should never have cost $236,000 and taken almost six years, but it did. The only way this record exists is through a huge commitment from fans, but you can’t expect everyone who signed up to the vision to be ready to take the journey it became.
We offered people an album with a true vision, and it would be the first Red Paintings studio album and there would be prizes along the way that we couldn’t disclose until we knew what they were as we went along. Now as we went along we found dips.
I did my six month preproduction with this guy in Brisbane and we said OK, this is gonna take three months and forty thousand bucks and we laid it all out, studio time and everything and we laid out the instrumentation and we worked it all out. And I went to the fans and said alright guys we’ve just got off the Dresden Dolls tour, I’m fifty thousand dollars in debt. I’ve shopped the Red Paintings record to the industry, been to the major labels in Sydney, I’ve wined and dined with them all and every single one of them told me it won’t work, it will be unsuccessful and I’ve created a War of the Worlds, so there was no way anyone was going to put any money into it from an industry perspective.
I went OK, two things on my mind – I’m fucked, get over it, you had a dream, you had an art idea. It’s gone, because you can’t spend the rest of your life putting money into something that’s a hobby that’s never gonna create a cent. The second part of me went – I’m sick of the system, fuck the system, find a new way to do things and just fucking make it happen and don’t look back and jump every time, always jump, close your eyes and hope you land on your feet. If you don’t, well you were one human being who was sacrificed who cares if you die who cares!? Who cares!? At least you tried. So I chose the second one.
During this stage there were as many as 300 or more fans on the The Red Paintings forum talking with Trash as he kept them up to date with the meetings and what was happening. He hadn’t found anyone who had done it before, but he told them he’d found a solution and asked them, if they acted like his management company and financed it, whether anyone would be interested. This was before Kickstarter and other crowd-funding organisations, but Trent Reznor had been looking at something similar. The suggestion was that if the CD was going to cost $25-30 (yes, music costs a lot in Australia), and people put in an extra ten or more, everyone who put in would get the album and some extras.
Not only were the fans into it they started creating their own pie charts and coming to me every day ‘Hey Trash, how much did we get today’ and I’d be ‘well we got another fifty bucks’ and they would add it to their chart and all the fans were involved, and it was amazing, because I think it was really refreshing for everyone and they were excited because they were a part of the journey right from the beginning.
As donations slowed down at various times the fans would come up with ideas. At one point the studio was after another $5,000 and so Trash went on the forum to explain what was happening. A fan suggested that donors should be able to come along to the studio, so the offer was made that anyone who donated in the next week could come to an eight-hour open day to meet with the band and see what it’s like recording an album. In three days $6,000 came in so they had the open day, the place was packed and there were little kids with their parents coming and hugging Trash.
We were creating this beautiful thing. It wasn’t about Red Paintings and its music, it was about building a community of people that were discussing and debating issues about life in general, and just meeting friends and feeling good about yourself.
The idea was then expanded to allowing kids who were under 18 who played an instrument or sang to become more involved. They could become part of the choir or if they played strings they could join at the back of the orchestra. Even if they were not great on their instrument they could come and play along without being recorded but still be a part of the experience.
That to me was the most powerful thing about the record. I will always remember those times because of the way these human beings, these soul, these kids, I could see how they were reacting they were just so overwhelmed and their ears were opening for the first time in their lives and that’s the most important time to grab a human being – when their mind’s starting to think for itself.
This part of the interview is where Trash was the most excited and positive. Despite the negative experiences of making the record it was when he started talking about the friends he’s made and the community that The Red Paintings became that he sounded fulfilled. Despite this it’s impossible to ignore the pain the record caused, so there’s a battle going on between the need to have experiences and take time in a world where instant gratification is pulling down the quality of music and art, and the pain so many of those experiences caused. It’s clear to me that Trash still weighs those competing forces and outcomes against each other on a continual basis.
I can tell you that most people have this pretty picture in their mind that they were seeing all the things Red Paintings were doing around the world like were on a holiday, and there were fans some of whom were very abusive I’ve gotta say, and we’re saying the fan base was amazing and yes they are and they were very supportive but some people also didn’t feel there was enough information being fed back to them of the experiences I was having even though I was trying to keep them up to date.
And the other thing is that people, they kind of, what I find about human beings is that they are so quick to write off, so quick to judge and the attention span’s getting shorter and shorter as humanity goes on, so while you’re trying to make an album and do everything right for everyone you’ve gotta deal with all these…you’ve almost gotta multi-task your personality and your job as a front man or a singer or producer or whatever and to try to keep everybody feeling content, and the way I live my life is that I wanna make sure every person feels good about themselves one way or another so I’m trying to juggle the fan base and the engineers and everything else and some things are falling to the wayside- slipping out of my fingers so to speak and I’m still trying catch them but I can’t, and that was really hard for me to deal with and I had to let some things go.
The best way I could deal with it from a fan point of view with the people that were getting negative was (for my moderator) to find those posts that were being put up. I have a really good moderator and she keeps me up to date and she said ‘Look, you’ve got fans who’ve started a hate forum. They’re saying you ripped off, that you took the money and you’ve been on holidays and you haven’t even made an album.’ And I thought, OK, that’s not a good place to be so I said ‘Hook me up to the people’ and I contacted them personally and I said ‘Hey, I know you’ve been really negative and you have every right to be, but I just want to explain myself to you personally so can you send me your number’ and it turns out these people were from all over the world.
Trash recalls calling a guy in the US Mid-West at some strange hour who was a bit surprised to hear from him. He wanted the chance to explain why the guy didn’t have his record and what he had donated to and what had been happening. About half way through the guy asked if Trash would speak to his seven year old daughter who was a big fan, and after the conversation went online and donated another $100 saying ‘Trash, take as long as you want man’.
Time and time again when looking at the story of The Red Paintings and “Revolution”, this theme of community displays its influence. Fans are part of The Red Paintings in a way very different from how we’ve usually seen the relationship through the years, whether it be the Kiss Army, Gaga’s little monsters or Beliebers. Last week we heard from Mickus – this week we look at what Chloe has to say about the relationship.
My name is Chloe and I have been following The Red Paintings for, oh, around 8-9yrs. They were the first band I ever shot (I am a music photographer.) I am originally from Tweed Heads and have seen them play upwards of 10 times.
Trash’s music seemed to always speak the truth. After nearly a decade of shooting bands & festivals around the world, the truth is someone that has become harder and harder to find in music. I now live in Melbourne and keep myself up to date with Trash’s progress. I think one of the other reasons I grasp so tightly at their music and progress is because he (Trash) does everything the authentic way. He has not sold out and has hung onto his dream, determined to share his message in the manner in which it was intended.
The Red Paintings are not out of reach. Their message is honest. Not always pretty, but honest. In a time where uncertainty and unrest is a constant, The Red Paintings speak right to a person’s soul. It may take a few times of seeing them perform to finally work out the message they are sharing with you, and indeed that there is a message but once you realise, you feel at home. And that is a true gift.
As for the album, I had no doubt that it would happen. Trash is the real deal an would not give up on what needs to be done simply because it is difficult. As Charles Bukowski said, ‘if you’re going to try, go all the way.’ I will continue to follow The Red Paintings and expose as many people as I can to them.
Below is a review I did at one of their Brisbane shows a few years back. It goes a little more into detail about how their live act touches me.
It is probably not by chance I felt as though I was looking at a great Renaisance artists masterpiece as The Red Paintings took the stage @ Brisbane’s HiFi. I had no desire to shoot this gig in the usual manner, as it wasn’t your usual gig. So, doing as the stage painters did with their human canvases, I interpreted the message.
With each song, Trash was revealing the inner workings of his masterpiece. Somehow, with the cacophony of sound, everything was becoming simpler. By mid-way through the set, besides having to continually monitor the lower altitude of my jaw, all of the aesthetic details had been stripped away and we were looking at Trash’s base colours. By ‘Hong Kong’, and having given up on lifting my jaw off the floor, we were close to the blank canvas.
At that stigmatic varsity, while surrounded with the dense whimsy of sound, we arrived – the Truth.
I guess that is why he is a master of his craft; he and his band took something so complex, and delivered it seamlessly. Instead of having to work out what it all meant, The Red Paintings us the answer. The truth isn’t always confusing.
Like any relationship, there are times when tensions arise, some of which I’ve covered above and in part one. When you have strong views on life and society and people start listening to you, it’s easy to get carried away and start preaching. Bono is famous for pissing off concert goers by lecturing to them and for a while Trash found himself following that same dodgy path. With the help of fans, though, he was able to find the right balance and approach.
When people feel something, then they can see it.
As much as Trash likes to tell a story he also likes to make a clear, concise point. While some things are less clear in his mind, he is singularly clear about animal rights. He happened to spend some time with a member of Sea Shepherd who opened his mind to a new way of thinking about the relationship between humans and animals.
The problem is that most people are feeling numb, now if they’re feeling numb and they build a wall inside their hearts, well if they can’t feel it man, how the fuck can they see it? They’re not gonna change who they are, they’re not even going to realise they have choice! That was my realisation on animal rights, and I could see an animal getting hit in the head and I could see a thousand cows lined up and watching the next one get brutally murdered in front of each other and then sitting on someone’s dinner plate.
To me that was wrong, I had to do something about it and I went straight to the fanbase and said ‘Guys we’ve gotta wake up, there’s a problem, we’re involved in a holocaust we can’t see right now.’ And the fanbase retaliated going ‘Who the fuck do you think you are, some religious madman telling us what to eat?’, and they were right. I fought with them, we went into battles, and I was blindsided only because I cared so much, I was interested in them and their health and everything I’d come to understand and educated myself about.
Once again Trash realised what he was doing and pulled himself up, apologised to his fans and explained what he believed and why. Six months later he had fans coming up to him at shows saying that once he stopped shoving his views down their throat and gave them time to think about it they actually agreed with him. Animal rights has become a growing part of The Red Paintings community but not at the expense of tearing it apart.
With all the stuff running around in his head and the pressures he had created for himself it’s not surprising that suicide entered Trash‘s mind more than once, and like any community, suicide’s had an impact on the The Red Paintings extended family. Recently Trash sent me some responses to an email interview I was doing for another site. He had just got off the plane in London and it was clear from his answers that he wasn’t much in the mood for giving an interview. It was only now when I was talking with him that I discovered why.
We’ve had so many fans who commit suicide, it blows my mind, like recently we had this fan in Brisbane who used to do our street team, you know a lovely girl but really messed up I gotta say, and she used to come to gigs and sit in the corner and cry and I would go up to the gigs after and hold her and ask her what’s wrong and she would say ‘I really have no reason to live and I come to the gigs and it makes me feel something and it’s nice to feel something’ and a bit over a year ago she gave birth to a kid. And she went and hung herself from a tree in Brisbane leaving behind her one year and one month old child.
So it’s three in the morning and I get this email and it says ‘ I don’t know who to turn to’ – this is the header and the email says ‘I’ve just seen the body of my best friend, the police stormed into my house and put a light in my face and said we need you to identify your friend’s body, come with us. I went to the side of a river where my friend’s body was lying and I had to identify my friend. She’s dead, she really loved you, loved coming to your gigs and she felt like you really helped her’. And I’m thinking ‘Holy Fuck! This is full on’ and I cried all the way to the airport (to fly to London) and I was just devastated and I felt like I could have done something more. So what we did was we released ‘Rain’ off the album early and we raised six hundred bucks and gave it to her family.
Trash has been working with a Doctor in Melbourne to look at what The Red Paintings can get involved in to help reduce suicide, and he’s seeking answers in what he knows best and believes strongly in. From his own experiences he believes young people don’t feel anyone’s listening and that they don’t want to be a burden, and that part of the answer is getting troubled youth to sit down and talk openly about their experiences. Given what you’ve read in this interview it should come as no surprise that Trash sees the answer in people, especially younger people, having the opportunity to express themselves, see that they have choices, and make the right choices.
Throughout the saga that unfolded following the vision for his masterpiece, Trash faced the growing mushroom cloud of expectation and the pressure on himself to keep everyone happy. In the end it became something that he was no longer doing for himself yet it consumed his life, and the emotional and psychological aftermath is something he’s going to find difficult to deal with. Theodor Geisel once said “Everything stinks until it’s finished”, and as much as I think Trash may like the part of his life that is “Revolution” to be finished, I don’t think he really feels that it is.
Talking with Trash reminded me of how I once got offered for free a beautiful, large wooden sailing boat by a workmate. He had spend seven years making it and with only rigging left to go to complete, it had spent the last three years sitting in its cradle covered with tarps, never seeing a drop of water. He had no desire whatsoever to sail the boat he had spent thousands and thousands of hours and dollars creating.
Part of the reason the story of Trash and “The Revolution is Never Coming” is so compelling is that we all experience some, if not all of it, in our own lives although for most of us not in these epic proportions. Here at ThisIsNotAScene we’d like to thank Trash for being so candid with us about his experiences, and also acknowledge what so many of the artists we love go through, in the pursuit of bringing us the music that we love.
Please join me again next week when we hear from the fans in part three of the interview.