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Trashcan Sinatras: John Douglas Talks House Gigs, Requests and Tours

Trashcan Sinatras backstage at McCabe's
Trashcan Sinatras backstage at McCabe's
Liz Ohanesian

It's a familiar situation for those of us who go to see live bands frequently. We get so caught up in the haze of a really good show that the details become blurry. Time passes and we forget songs and maybe bits of banter that we so loved at the time. We'll search YouTube to see if maybe someone posted a recording, to see if we can jar our memory, but the cel phone video clips will never sound quite as good as they did inside the venue. Sunday night at McCabe's in Santa Monica, Trashcan Sinatras offered fans the chance to prevent that situation.

About fifteen minutes after the end of a show that clocked in at just under two hours, a box of flash drives arrived at the merch booth, each one containing the entire performance that we had watched. Fans could now own a digital copy of the new, unreleased song "I See the Moon," they would have a chance to relive between-song banter, like the jokes about how often people have strummed "Stairway to Heaven" or "Smoke on the Water" inside the legendary guitar shop. The flash drives proved to be the hot merch item of the night, I bought the last one only a few minutes after they initially appeared.

Those who have followed the career of Trashcan Sinatras over the years know that the band is filled with good ideas. For their current acoustic tour, the Scottish indie guitar-pop group has been interspersing dates at intimate, but established, venues with house gigs.

"I've got some friends back in the U.K. that have done house gigs over the years and we had a few offers to do them," explained guitarist John Douglas backstage at McCabe's. "I asked my friends in the U.K. what it's like... Is it dangerous? Is it unpredictable?"

The band played their first U.S. house party concert earlier this year in Portland, Oregon, prior to the current tour.

"The first one was really nice," he said. "The people were really friendly. We thought we would do a few more of them."

For the band, it means that they can play towns that they haven't in the past, like Las Vegas-adjacent Henderson, Nevada. However, there are some drawbacks that they've discovered, the biggest one being that a concert inside someone's house is only going to be able to hold about fifty people.

"It's a funny debate that we have with ourselves internally," said Douglas. "The upside is you get to go to a town and play in unusual circumstances and meet people. The downside is that the gig is quite exclusive. There are only fifty tickets. It doesn't sit well with us that we can go to your town and play and it's sort of that limited."

Keep in mind that this is a band that has, on numerous occasions, sold out various venues across the Los Angeles area, where they will be playing another house gig this weekend.

Though they have only released five full-length studio albums in twenty years (one of which, A Happy Pocket, was never officially released in the U.S.), Trashcan Sinatras have amassed a devoted following. Sunday's show boasted a significant amount of second generation fans, children and young teenagers that had come to the all-ages event with parents.

Part of this could be attributed to the band's perseverance, their knack for throwing traditional music industry practices to the wayside. During the downtime preceding the release of 2004's Weightlifting, Trashcan Sinatras jumped online, creating a direct connection between artists and fans at a time when that wasn't quite commonplace. As time progressed, the fans became more involved in the band's world. Those who pre-orded the special edition of the band's latest album, In the Music, are listed in the liner notes. For the current tour, fans had the opportunity to request songs before the date of the show.

"We'll do maybe three or four suggestions," said Douglas. When asked, he mentioned that requests typically come from their 1990 debut album, Cake, or the rare 1996 effort A Happy Pocket.

"A lot of songs from the second [album, I've Seen Everything] we'll do anyway."

The connection the band has established with fans is perhaps also the reason Trashcan Sinatras can continue touring, even when it seems like an unreasonable time to do so. Last year, they hit the road in U.S. despite the fact that the release of In the Music had been delayed.

"We organized a tour and then the record company that we were going through folded, which is our usual luck," he said. "We decided to go ahead with the tour anyway. We sold the album at the shows even though it wasn't officially out."

There's a lot to enjoy about a Trashcan Sinatras' show, the quotable lyrics, the lovely harmonies and their selection of live cover songs. But if you heard the reaction when the band played a request, or saw the line for the merch booth after the show, you would know that it's the little things that the band does that continues to endear them to fans two decades later.


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