Life in the Trashcan Sinatras isn't always easy. Since entering the public consciousness in the '90s via albums such as Cake and singles such as the all-too-prophetic "Obscurity Knocks," the Glasgow, Scotland, band has been through bankruptcy, record-label collapse and long gaps between albums. The band has survived via a combination of low-key determination and a devoted fan base. Its most recent studio album, In the Music, is a fine set full of melodic gems with an intact gift for articulate wordplay. For this current tour, the band has used its website (www .trashcansinatras.com) and social networking to book house shows and even scare up horn players. Guitarist/vocalist John Douglas called up B-Sides from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to discuss the tour.
B-Sides: You're about a week into your tour. What have been some of the highlights so far?
John Douglas: When we played in Dallas, we had a couple of guys come along and join us on brass on "I've Seen Everything." There's a really nice brass arrangement on it, but we never really had a chance to try it live. Before we came out on this tour, we asked for anyone who plays brass, trumpet or flugelhorn to get in touch. A few people did, and I sent them the parts. It was a nice surprise for the band to have a brass section. And we sold out our show in Atlanta. Most of the shows have been great. We haven't played the South or Midwest since ten or fifteen years ago, so it's been nice to go around and visit again.
Any particular new songs that you're trying out for this tour?
There's a new one called "I See the Moon." A couple more that we've been trying out in sound check.
You grew up in Glasgow at the dawn of punk. What were some of your inspirations? Did you follow the Postcard Records scene or other Scottish bands?
Not so much Scottish bands. Bands like the Clash, the Jam and XTC and a few others really made me want to pick up a guitar. As far as Scottish bands, the Blue Nile were very influential. They had a record in the early '80s, A Walk Across the Rooftops. At the time it came out I was just toying with the guitar. I knew I wanted to write songs, and that record just sounded otherworldly, such a sonic new thing. But the thing was they were Scotsmen, my age, and it was the beginnings of realizing that you could be Scottish and make records there, rather than in London. But Glasgow had its own scene. Bands like Orange Juice seemed to be tongue-in-cheek and ironic, but they had their charms.
What do you consider the secret to your longevity?
Every one of us loves what we do. What makes the bad times worthwhile is knowing we're connecting with people. That's really too powerful to neglect.
What does 2011 have in store for the band?
We're working up new material at the moment. Hopefully we're going to release a box set of the first two albums with unreleased tracks. We were also toying with the idea of a best of, as an introduction to the band. Hopefully by Christmas this year we'll have a new CD.
The band is currently split between Glasgow and California. How do you manage the distance when collaborating?
It's as easy as it was when we lived across the city from each other. We e-mail ideas to each other, and when we get together we know what we'll be working on.
In the Music includes a guest vocal by Carly Simon. I know you recorded part of it in Martha's Vineyard. Did you meet her there?
The producer's family is from Martha's Vineyard, so we decided to finish up the recordings up there. One night, just by chance, one of Carly's friends came over while we were doing some tracks. She said that Carly would connect with some of the music. Next thing we knew, she got in touch with us to say she'd love to contribute. She couldn't do it when we were in Martha's Vineyard.
So no dirt about James Taylor?
No! Maybe someday. She recorded it in New York, and we took it back to Glasgow. Just a beautiful moment.
You've used your website to reach out to your fans. How has that played out on this tour?
We got heavily involved in the Internet in its early days just through luck. A friend of ours was very savvy on it. It's been a great way to communicate with fans, and it's great that they're all in touch. We can do things like put out requests for our brass players. We also did a thing this year where we asked people to send us their requests for each town, and we'd play the top three or four at each date. There's something very community-oriented about it.