By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
It's been 11 years since the Trashcan Sinatras last did a proper U.S. tour, but nothing has changed since then, according to singer Frank Reader. Well, okay, a few things
"I think my bladder is a bit weaker than it was the last time," he says with a laugh over the phone from the band's tour bus. "That's the only thing I've noticed."
But a few little infirmities are to be expected. It's been eight years since the band's last studio album, and we're all getting older. Those fans who have weathered the wait will be glad to find that the Scottish jangle pop quintet's sound, at least, is as vital as ever. Their fourth full-length album Weightlifting is awash with lush, elegant pop songs laced with keyboards and strings and Reader's deeply resonant vocals. Joyous upbeat indie rockers like "Welcome Back" slip easily into gentle ballads like "Got Carried Away," with its achy slide guitar, and "What Women Do to Men," which has the mournful majesty of a modern day torch song.
Their music may be business as usual, but they only got the chance to test out their road legs again after some major changes in the musical landscape, at home and abroad. Soulful indie pop managed to muscle back in amid the brawnier sounds of pop punk and grunge rock in recent years, thanks to the likes of the French Kicks and the Sinatras' current label mates Apollo Sunshine, and Scottish bands like Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol led the charge.
The Traschcan Sinatras joined the fray by moving their headquarters into the city of Glasgow a few years back, part of a comeback story with a distinctively continental flavor. You see, Reader played football—well, "soccer," right?—on Thursday nights, and Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian played on the next pitch over. The two footballers and musicians got to talking, and Reader was surprised that the younger band credited the Traschan Sinatras as an influence, inviting them to play Glasgow's West End Festival before 10,000 people in 2004. The experience was important, he says—not just for putting them back in the public eye, but for rejuvenating the band's confidence.
"It's really gratifying, actually, to hear them speak about us as people that they listened to and took some kind of inspiration from," Reader says. "[We didn't] really realize that what we saw as kind of just stubborn foolhardiness, people kind of saw as admirable and sticking to our guns."
There were plenty of dark days in the eight years that passed between the dissolution of their former label Go! Discs, when they were no longer the easy mates they had once been—at one point so down on their luck that they had to sell their former studio.
"There was a period when we were thinking every day we were going to throw in the towel," says Reader. "Just after we'd been dropped, we were just starting to turn on each other and things were getting a bit ugly financially, and I think our confidence had really been stripped from us."
But the thing that had always kept the band going—even before they were discovered by a new generation of indie rock lads and lassies—was, well, the songs. Even when things looked especially bleak, they had a handful of unrecorded ideas that they felt deserved at least a last go in the studio. Recording these odds and ends rejuvenated their creative spirit, as did the constant support they received through their Web site from diehard fans—see, someone does read those emails!—and they slowly began writing more songs for their proper comeback. They financed the recording of Weightlifting by selling a self-produced album of demos and B-sides on their website.
After a trip to South by Southwest last winter, they received nibbles from several small labels and landed on the hip indie spinART. And now that they find themselves back in the spotlight again, all of the trials and tribulations along the way have actually made them more comfortable in its glow than ever before. Reader says all the sideswipes the Sinatras encountered along the way strengthened both their sense of unity and the songs themselves—and says that their new songs have both a greater sense of confidence and a greater sense of who they are as people.
"I make no bones about saying that I've spent years not knowing who I am at all, and not accepting who I am, and trying to be somebody I'm not," he says. "And I don't feel like that anymore. I just feel a little wiser, thankfully. I don't know if it's wisdom—it's just kind of a realization that we're stuck with who we are, so we better get used to it. The songs seem to be carrying that theme and we're happy about that. It gives us something to talk about."
The Trashcan Sinatras with Roddy Hart and Brook Lee at the Coachhouse, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Wed., 8 p.m. $15. All ages.