It’s not often that an independent band can afford to approach their art with perfectionism in mind, but The Red Paintings are nothing if not dogged when it comes to quality control. Man-with-the-plan Trash McSweeney has spent the last six years slavishly piecing together the outfit’s latest record, The Revolution Is Never Coming, finally delivering the results to the world this year. Things have changed since 2007, though, and for a less-determined band the highly fickle music market coupled with the dearth of output may have spelled the end.
But The Red Paintings have a way of kicking on, inspired by the connections they make with their dedicated fan base, a devotion to animal welfare and the drive to deliver something that truly represents what they set out to achieve. In this extensive Q&A, McSweeney chats to Music Feeds about the goings on in the world of The Red Paintings, delivering on expectations, maintaining a unique live presence and the difficulties of sticking to your guns against the advice of those around you – even if it means launching a giant geisha balloon into space all by yourself.
Music Feeds: It’s been many, many years in the making. Let’s start with the obvious question – why has it taken so long to release The Revolution Is Never Coming?
Trash McSweeney: There is no quick answer to this question. But basically – because I’m a relentless nutter and I struggled to create in audio form what my head and heart were feeling and seeing. I wasn’t prepared to compromise my vision for the album no matter what the consequences were. Mix after mix, invoice after invoice it just wasn’t coming out right. It wasn’t until the 8th and final mix in LA that I finally felt relaxed hearing it – that’s when I knew we had it. Being at the mercy of the desk operator was one factor, second the money to travel, survive and pay for each previous mix was also setting things back.
I’m lucky, though, because not many artists get such an opportunity to carve their own path with every aspect of their art and actually get there in the end. My dream was to record an album with a big orchestra, choirs and more. If we were a big band like Muse or Radiohead then I’m sure we would have had it in 6 months, but we are not even close to that status so it’s hard to want to create records as big as these when there is no great financial history – just a nobody band and songwriter with a dream and an over the top vision. Instead of sulking about it, I just went out and found other ways to create it anyway and this allowed me the opportunity to connect deeply with our fan base. Our fans came into the studio to sing in our choirs and play in our orchestras, laying their own fingerprints on the record. It’s been a colourful adventure that I think most artists would only dream of.
At the end of the day I feel like I made the right decisions and I’ve come so far as an artist and a a person. It is priceless the people I have met along the way around the world, the close friendships I have made and the way my life has been shaped by them is the best part.
The Red Paintings – Wasps video teaser
MF: It also begs the question – why the false starts across all these years? Interviews as far back as 2008 say the release is coming, then again in 2012, then again this year. When was the album actually completed?
TM: We were confident on a few occasions that we had it in the bag and were setting up the release dates. But each time I caught a plane back to Australia to set things up and would listen back on the journey home, I was heartbroken to realise that it was still not right. My body was my best set of ears because as soon as I would sit down to hear a mix, I found myself feeling anxious and sick – this meant things were not ready and back to the drawing board we would go.
It was an awful feeling that at times put me into the heaviest depression I’ve ever felt. I had seizures and even serious thoughts of suicide in Nashville after one mix went terribly wrong – the engineer deleted one of the songs’ drum tracks and broke the hard drive with all the session files which cost me over $2,000 to retrieve. There are so many fucking nightmare stories around this album that I could go on about for days. I was just obsessed with getting this mix right and no-one could change my mind – if it meant 3, 5, 10 years to be finished and a band buried then so be it. The final mix and master happened quite recently. Just after this, Bryan Carlstrom, the engineer who worked with me in LA on the final mix, died of a stroke. I still cannot believe he died so close to the album’s release, it is such a shame. I’m honoured to say he worked on this album with me.
MF: You received a fair bit of flack over the fan donations call-out for the album a few years ago. Now it seems crowd-funding is a commonplace occurrence in the music industry. What do you think of this development, was it something you always felt comfortable with or were you driven to it by necessity? Will the next album be crowd-funded (and will it take 5 years)?
TM: After meeting after meeting from city to city to try to sell the album vision and ideas, I realised the music industry was never going to back me and my vision for this album. I felt like my only option outside of working full time to create it (which was almost impossible with us touring at the same time) was to ask the fan base for financial help and explain to them clearly what the vision and plan was going to be. I was lucky they trusted in what I was capable of based on past EPs and tours. I’m very open with our fans on most things negative or positive.
The flack I received was fair though, I did say I needed $40k and it was to be created in 6 months – but it ended up costing $230k and took 5 years. I’ll never own a house in my life. Now I know how to make such an album and will not make the same mistakes. As for crowd funding a second album – I don’t know yet. We will have to see how successful ‘The Revolution Is Never Coming’ actually is. I would much prefer to just make it with the band’s funds first and foremost. Kick-starter didn’t exist when I reached out for help on this album. It was only really us and Nine Inch Nails that were being noted around the world for album fan funding, but I’m sure there were more. It seems every man and his poodle is looking to crowd-fund projects now – and why not? Beats a bank chasing your arse to pay back loans and paying back all the interest. Also beats a mob breaking your legs if you can’t produce a great product.
The Red Paintings – Sing (Live At Music Feeds Studio)
MF: What would you say to those fans who were upset that the album didn’t come out when it was promised?
TM: Firstly I am sorry if anyone is feeling they were hard done by. Fans have been kept in the loop about the ups and downs most of the way, so it was not like we just took the funds and ran away with no updates. But I was so focused on what was going down at times that it wasn’t always easy. I’ve already sent personal emails to many fans who donated. If anyone said they were upset with me, I would ask for their number and call them anywhere around the world, explain how much hardship this ordeal has taken – and that I would deliver, eventually.
I’m confident TRP fans also think it’s important I created what I originally set out to achieve. They are a patient bunch and I’m very lucky to have their support, I know that. This album just was not ready to see the light of day until now. For too long we rushed all things in TRP just to keep labels, managers or whoever happy and moving forward. I realised there is a big world out there of opportunities and experiences waiting to happen and that I couldn’t rely on things to fall at my feet. Truth is, I’m not a rock star and I don’t think the world is looking for one either. I just set off for bigger things and worked to the bone to make them a reality. I still have a long way to go. The best analogy I could give you on how I see it would be trying to make your own Yellow Brick Road and paving every single yellow brick in cement before you can step on it and move forward. That is the life I feel like I’ve been living out in TRP.