Trash, synesthesia & The Red Paintings


It’s nearing WGT time in Leipzig, but you don’t have to wait til then to experience the art rock band, The Red Paintings. They’ll be at Moritzbastei Thur 18 May, 8 pm. I talked to the man behind it all, Trash McSweeney.

You can imagine Trash as a type of performance artist.

The Red Paintings offers his life as his medium. He writes songs that address the things he cares about. He is concerned about animal rights and is a strict vegan, though sometimes the road makes being vegetarian more viable:

“Be kind to animals and stop consuming them and maybe the human race will live a lot longer.”

He is currently on his UK/EU Deleted Romantic Tour. He wants to draw attention to our disconnect from nature. He sees our modern, always online, always plugged in state as an assault to our relationship with the natural world. This is a multi-layered problem.

On a personal level, we simply are so busy on our devices that we miss what’s happening around us. When was the last time you listened to a bird sing live instead of something through your headphones? On a wider scale, we are using our resources faster than we can produce them and it’s painfully obvious to most that they are not limitless.

He grew up in Australia and now lives in Los Angeles. I asked how that had changed his view of the world. Of course the current administration of climate change deniers has him, like many of us, in a state of disbelief. His “Fuck the system” motto has never rung truer, but to stop there would mean giving up. That’s why “Change the system” immediately follows. In fact, on the new album, currently in production, there is a song called Fuck the system. I am looking forward to seeing the lyrics.

Ironically, fighting the system is the same battle cry of those who put Trump in office. The difference? The focus of those changes. And the response across the board has been activism. This is a time when people who are normally asleep are getting woke.

But going outside the system is nothing new for Trash. He has a close connection with his fans and it was them who made it possible to get to the next level. Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls (confirmed for WGT) asked her fans who they’d like to see as her warm up band. Many suggested The Red Paintings, so she checked them out.

Skipping the traditional record label constraints and requirements and turning to the people who are actually listening has made it possible to create. They want to hear it and are happy to give directly to the source and skip the capitalist bullshit. They know it is all about sharing and giving back.

Listening to the music is one thing, but going to a performance is a whole “other worldly” experience.

Trash feels aligned with the art of the turn of the century. Though he doesn’t want to classify himself, he identifies most with the Dadists. They arose in reaction to the nationalism that lead to WWI. They were not as concerned with making aesthetically pleasing work as they were with raising awareness.

Which painters inspire him? Mark Ryden, Brett Whiteley, Salvador Dali.

I was not surprised to find Dali among his list. I can imagine Dali would quite enjoy TRP concerts, were it not for Dali needing to be the centre of attention at all times.

Trash may be the creator of the experience, but he is far from selfish with it. He calls for painters to paint on stage during the performances. He also asks for volunteers to be human canvases and for people to paint them.

I was a little worried about people being able to finish a canvas in the span of a live show. Trash said that was a concern for many painters as well, but he just encourages them to let go of preconceived ideas and simply let the energy of the surroundings flow through them. He keeps all the paintings and has more than 1,000 at his home in Australia. He says the energy they produce is evident when you are in the room with them. He can look at one and be transported.

This could also be a result of his synesthesia. In an interview with Vulture Magazine, he said:

“After the seizure I started seeing music as colour. I was sitting in my room at my Mum’s house listening to music and looking at the paintings on the walls, connecting the colours. When I picked up my guitar and started strumming chords and putting combinations of chords together I was seeing colours in my head.”

“I started to compose this idea of a band that was based on music and art and that kind of planted the seed. The big thing for me that sealed the deal was when I was listening to orchestral music; I had like a massive spectrum of colour, like rainbows, in my head. That’s why I have strings in the band.”

Shauna Hopkins paints Rebecca Siân Blackett on stage at The Red Paintings concert, photo Bob Slassor

I spoke to two girls from Wales who experienced being on stage during a performance. They hadn’t met before and are still in contact on Facebook.

Shauna hadn’t planned on being on stage when she went to see The Red Paintings at a local goth festival, but her mother urged her to participate. She was worried she wouldn’t produce anything of merit. What happened was she was freed and realised the important thing was to just be in the moment. Something similar happened to the human canvas, Rebecca.

“It was very surreal! I have bad social anxiety, so going on stage was terrifying. But it felt amazing and so liberating. I left the paint on all night as I watched the other bands. I was getting loads of attention and compliments. I loved every minute. I listen to them now, and it brings back those amazing memories!”

It does the same for Shauna. She can just put the music on and be back on the stage.

Though they left with similar results, they came there from very different places. Shauna was doing a project on synesthesia in art class and came upon Trash during her research. Rebecca saw them on a really obscure music channel and was so impressed that she went on YouTube to find out more.

Shauna loves the TRP as a whole package, and feels the stage shows are just as important as listening. What moves her musically? “Oh gosh, everything, at the moment I’m revising constantly so some classical music from opera, but my favourite genres are girl punk, indie, lo-fi and new wave.” 

Sometimes a meeting with a fan changes everything.

Alien Fetus in Jar. Examination tag signed by Trash McSweeney of orchestral art rock band, The Red Paintings.

Costumier to the stars Adrian Gwillym went to a concert with a friend and found something he felt was excitingly unique. He offered to do this tour’s costumes. They’ve been working on them for more than a year.

This was a collaboration between two kindred spirits. Adrian says he didn’t even really need to make sketches. He  just instinctively knew what Trash was thinking. “The only thing holding us back was money.”

I didn’t ask him what it was like dressing Johnny Depp, Harry Potter or Harrison Ford. I was only interested in hearing about the work with Trash. I could tell this had been a rewarding experience and he was very happy to be part of it. His only disappointment was that he could not go on tour and keep an eye on the costumes and rework them as needed.

This set and costumes debuted less than a week ago. We, in Leipzig, are truly honored to be there at the beginning of what I think will be a long friendship.

The Red Paintings

12.05 Hagen – KUZ Pelmke
13.05 Lübeck – Treibsand
15.05 Reutlingen – Franz K
16.05 Wiesbaden – Schlachthof
17.05 Münster – Gleis 22
18.05 Leipzig – Moritzbastei 
19.05 Oberhausen – Druckluft
20.05 Hamburg – Monkeys Club
02.06 Eichstatt – Open Air

Artist, curator and writer: maeshelle west-davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums.

Public domain photo
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