“I’m too old to die young,” frontwoman Sabrina Ellis of A Giant Dog belts out on “Sex & Drugs.” These lyrics, along with lines like “you’ve been told that drugs are gonna stain your plain white soul” in the following song “& Rock & Roll,” set the tone for the Texan band’s third album Pile.
With equal parts T-Rex, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, and the Ramones, the Austin band proves rock ’n’ roll isn’t dead. And for all the members of the band except for the drummer Matthew Strmiska, they’ve been playing rock music together since high school.
I talked to guitarist Andrew Cashen about their origins, signing to Merge Records, working with Spoon’s producer Mike McCarthy, and their tour with fellow rockers Titus Andronicus.
For Pile, the band scheduled all the recording for all parts of each song. They worked in the same studio and with the same producer as their previous album Fight. “The record was very streamlined and we knew exactly what we wanted to do,” Cashen said, noting the ease of the creative process. In contrast, they just recorded another album in a new studio without much written. “We’ve had two weeks off in the past six months and spent it in the studio,” he said while laughing.
“The tour’s been great and Titus is a great fit. I don’t know if we sound similar, but we both have the energy,” said Cashen. He first formed a punk band with the other guitarist Andy Bauer when they were teenagers. During their adolescence, both Sabrina Ellis and Graham Low (bassist) would go to Cashen’s shows and hang out. All of them but Ellis went to the same high school but Cashen said they knew her through mutual friends.
It took a homecoming dance to form most of the band’s lineup. Ellis’s school found out Cashen and his friends played in bands so they asked them to get together. Ellis and the band covered the likes of Ramones, Joan Jett and Stevie Ray Vaughn, which put the band on a sonic trajectory sound for years to come — even if they didn’t know it at the time.
By high school graduation, Cashen stayed in Houston for college while Andy went to Austin and Sabrina went off to New York City to embark on their own studies. After the band members either graduated from college or dropped out, they all ended up meeting together in Austin. Cashen said, “I hung out with Sabrina, getting drunk on a rooftop with an acoustic guitar, and it felt like we were onto something.”
“Even though we come from a punk rock background, and I don’t necessarily think we’re a punk band, but going to punk shows sparked our interest,” he said. Punk music was also the reason Cashen started to play music because it exposed him to “an immense amount of energy.” To this day, Cashen said A Giant Dog still tries to mimic that. “I want to give that experience to someone else.”
Cashen’s musical background stems from his preteen tastes and the music his parents listened to. He got a taste of classic rock bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd through his dad, and he listened to John Denver and Neil Diamond through his mom. But by the age of 12 or 13, he started listening to pop punk and bands like No FX and Rancid. Then, he “slowly went to the rabbit hole.”
The first CD Cashen bought was by the Toadies, which is a band A Giant Dog opened for earlier this year. “If I could go back in time and tell my younger self ‘your band would open for the Toadies’, I would have been like, fuck off’.”
A Giant Dog plays at the Bottom Lounge with Titus Andronicus and Chicago’s The Howl this Wednesday (tonight) starting at 8pm. Tickets cost $18 in advance and $20 at the door, and they can be bought here.