By Paul Stinson
After eight years, three albums, countless shows, multiple residencies and a handful of drummers, Austin’s loveable punk malcontents A Giant Dog are finally beginning to get their due, garnering airplay to go along with their long-standing history of packing out Austin venues as the band gets set to launch their Merge Records debut Pile on May 6.
A Giant Dog frontwoman/lyricist Sabrina Ellis and guitarist/songwriter Andrew Cashen took a break from working, practicing and plotting hazing measures for their new drummer just long enough to entertain questions from Nada’s Austin bureau chief, discussing how to keep it punk after signing with a label, childhood aspirations and the critical role of mayonnaise and mice in today’s society.
NM: At a mid-Feb. show, a band member expressed with a mixture of wonderment, arrival and exasperation that after being a band for eight years that you heard yourselves on the radio.
Ellis: Mostly, I needed to highlight that after eight years the radio didn’t pay much attention our songs, and the first one they pick is called “Sex & Drugs.” A title they can’t even say on the radio. They had to call it “Sex & Love.” The first song we’ve made that’s been radio appropriate has a censored title.
NM: It seems like after all those years nothing has changed (in terms of the band’s approach to life and music) and yet everything is about to –at least a little bit– as Merge Records gets set to release the band’s third album in advance of a May tour.
AGD is no stranger to touring -obviously- but what does it mean to be given this level of recognition/responsibility that comes with going national?
Ellis: We’re not seeing any difference. We’re answering emails now. Lucky for you. Pre-Merge, I wouldn’t have seen this interview ‘til after SXSW.
We’ll be taking a DIY, punk tour in May, playing many of the same dives we’ve always played, with friends’ bands who we always play with, and crashing on their floors. We’re still excited about it.
Cashen: We Will Find out.
NM: On tour, diner stops/truck stops are of course critical for refueling, food and otherwise, but also offer a window on humanity outside the Austin bubble. Name a revelation you had about humanity at a diner or tell me about the cheesiest momento you ever got at one of these fine places?
Ellis: I defer to Andrew, for the Subway mayo story.
Cashen: Imagine a women in front of you in line at a Subway saying “more… more… moooorrreee… more.” She is describing to the sandwich artist the amount of mayonnaise she enjoys on her “sandwich.” There was no more sandwich, it was just a giant artery clogging puddle. It made me rethink my existence on this earth.
NM: Salad or Fries?
NM: Soup or Muffin?
Cashen: Muffin Soup
Ellis: These are unrelated, Paul. That’s like asking socks or panties. Instead of boxers or briefs.
NM: Sex or Drugs?
Cashen: Sex on drugs.
Ellis: These days, mostly just sex. Sex is free. Too broke for drugs.
NM: ‘Sex and Drugs’ is the first single off AGD’s debut that comes out in May. In the video, childhood Sabrina casts her gaze upon the band playing a gig in a snowglobe, with Sabrina as a Russian snow queen, and the band a metallic race of glitterati.
You’ve worked the better part of a decade to arrive here, developing a rabid local following after years of delivering high-energy shows, sometimes at the tail-end of having worked a double-shift. While everyone in the band shares a sense of commitment and sacrifice, that’s a whole lot of commitment to performance and your craft.
Did childhood Sabrina know that she’d end up some day singing about sex and drugs in a snowglobe? If so, when?
Ellis: I always wanted to be a park ranger. So I guess I always knew I wanted to smoke weed.
When I read your question, I had this flashback to an early time, first grade, when we were asked to make a presentation on what we’d like to be when we grow up. We made these reel-to-reel TV screens out of butcher paper and empty paper towel rolls, it seemed magic… I still don’t know how we did it. This was before my dream of being park ranger developed. In first grade, my career goal was singer. I was a fool.
I drew a picture of Whitney Houston holding a microphone. The mic I drew looked like a tennis racket. Everyone in my class thought I wanted to become a black tennis player. I’m way worse at tennis than I am at singing and dancing. The truth is, if I were good at tennis, tennis is what I would have to do. Either way, people will see my panties.
NM: In terms of the Snowglobe gig, what did that rider look like? Was it mostly parkas and walrus repellent? Did Graham just pretend he was Wolverine from X-men? Is it true Andy [guitarist] had to go into rehab for glitter addiction?
Ellis: Funny enough, someone had to go to the hospital for putting that whole snow globe up their ass without a handle. They were able to get us out okay, nobody was injured.
And yes, about Andy’s glitter rehab. He replaced the glitter addiction with mice.
Cashen: Andy has been in and out rehab for years now. He told me it got so bad at one point he gave a heej to an angry leprechaun just for the remnants of a two year old bag of glitter. Its kind of sad.
NM: Question to the rest of the band: you guys wore t-shirts during a snowstorm while Sabrina was the only one sensibly dressed. Did that disparity cause any level of friction in the band?
Ellis: No comment.
Cashen: Everybody in this band hates everybody that exists. There’s no real friction, there’s just a flatline of hate. It’s quite a wonderful way to live, I recommend it.
NM: The band recently played their first public show at [Austin venue] Barracuda with Danny Blanchard from yours and Andrew’s other band Sweet Spirit, subjecting him to a bit of hazing during an overly-long drum intro to ‘Cleveland Steven’ as he pounded away into a holding pattern while waiting for the rest of the band to join in.
What other forms of hazing do you have in mind for him?
Cashen: Typical homoerotic frat boy shit. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
NM: While Sex and Drugs is anthemic and instantly-relatable with the refrain of “can’t even remember being young,” the other songs on the album while touching upon those staple foods of punk rock extend well beyond that, including Creep and Jizzney, two of the other must-hears on the new album, lending a sense of self-inventory and romance not frequently heard in the sex and drugs crowd. Tell us a bit about those.
Ellis: We never thought we would give up the party. We resented those around us who did. But sometimes shit gets real and we have to be honest, not just making music after an ideal. We still party.
A Giant Dog “PILE” Tour:
Sat, 5/7 – Austin, TX @ Barracuda (Album Release Party)
Thu, 5/12 – Houston, TX @ Satellite
Fri, 5/13 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
Sat, 5/14 – Tulsa, OK @ SoundPony Bar
Sun, 5/15 – Kansas City, KS @ The Blind Tiger
Mon, 5/16 – Omaha, NE @ Milk Run
Wed, 5/18 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
Thu, 5/19 – Madison, WI @ Mickey’s Tavern
Sat, 5/21 – Cleveland, OH @ Happy Dog
Sun, 5/22 – Buffalo, NY @ Buffalo’s Mohawk Place
Wed, 5/25 – Boston, MA @ O’Brien’s Pub
Thu, 5/26 – New York, NY @ Cake Shop
Fri, 5/27 – Brooklyn, NY @ Our Wicked Lady
Sat, 5/28 – Philadelphia @ Girard Hall
Tue, 5/31 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
Wed, 6/1 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
Fri, 6/3 – Memphis @ Hi Tone
Sat, 6/11 – Dia De Los Toadies @ New Braunfels, TX
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