A Gi­ant Dog de­fines cult-band burnout


To be la­beled a "cult band" can be both an ad­mir­ing nod to re­silient if un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated tal­ent and a curse. Let's face it, no one wants to be a great un­known for very long, but that's been the fate of A Gi­ant Dog for the last decade.

Singer Sab­rina El­lis is as deadly hon­est in re­spond­ing to ques­tions about the band's sta­tus as she is in her fire­brand lyrics. "I feel that strug­gle ev­ery day, de­spite how much suc­cess or good press or sales we're get­ting with the band," she says. "I feel I'm go­ing through life with a feel­ing of, Is this wor th it? Am I get­ting any­where? Be­ing in a day-to-day strug­gle where we're not mak­ing money, no one knows who you are — that ex­presses life in a way."

"Toy" (Merge), the Austin, Texas, band's fourth and best al­bum, doesn't shy from those doubts. It broad­ens the garage-punk quin­tet's sound with more am­bi­tious ar­range­ments and in­tro­spec­tive songs. The har­row­ing "Sur­vive" was writ­ten by El­lis and guitarist An­drew Cashen in the af­ter­math of a 2015 car crash that nearly killed her. When El­lis re­gained con­scious­ness in the hospi­tal, she started to come to grips with some of the per­sonal is­sues that she had long ne­glected.

"I wanted to be seen as strong and in­de­struc­tible with­out ever feel­ing bur­dened. I could take any blows with­out feel­ing the hurt," she says. "When I wrecked my car, I was at a point of des­per­a­tion, and had feel­ings that I didn't want to go on liv­ing. I had lot of rage I didn't un­der­stand — over­whelm­ing anger and emo­tion that drove me to put my­self in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions."

She dove back into song­writ­ing with re­newed pur pose, and the core of "Toy" be­gan to take shape. "It was hard to sit down and want to keep writ­ing songs about steal­ing drugs and drink­ing and par ty­ing," she says. "That works its way into the 'Toy' al­bum, too, be­cause that's con­text of who we are, but you want to reach in and tell people more. It's risky to be that vul­ner­a­ble, but artists around me in­spired me that it's OK to do that. The band Bully, I was struck by the raw hon­esty of their lyrics. It made me al­most un­com­fort­able to lis­ten to it. With this new al­bum, I re­al­ized I'd achieved some­thing when I made my­self un­com­fort­able with some of the lyrics that were com­ing out."

For a band that built its fol­low­ing with un­hinged con­cert per­for­mances, the grad­ual shift to­ward more in­tensely per­sonal lyrics and songs that di­aled back on the tem­pos a bit also re­quired an ad­just­ment. El­lis says that a re­cent show­case for the al­bum in Austin was nerve-rack­ing be­cause she knew some of the songs wouldn't be quite as rau­cous as the band's ear­lier ma­te­rial. But the au­di­ence's pos­i­tive re­sponse to the new songs felt val­i­dat­ing.

"The stage, that's where we push our bound­aries as in­di­vid­u­als and as a group," she says. "I al­ways saw per­for­mance as an en­durance test. If I'm not sweaty and ready to col­lapse at the end, or didn't say some­thing that some­one wants to beat me up for, I feel like I haven't ex­plored ev­ery av­enue of a per­for­mance."

In ad­di­tion, El­lis says she quit drink­ing a few months ago and had to ad­just to per­form­ing with­out us­ing booze as an in­hi­bi­tion-crusher. "I had to teach my­self how to dance and be phys­i­cally spon­ta­neous all over again," she says. "With­out al­co­hol, I tend to over­think things — am I cal­cu­lat­ing too much? — but about three, four songs in, I find I can still com­pletely for­get my­self and be­come a sweaty, writhing mess. Per­form­ing is some­thing I can't go through life with­out hav­ing."

This is good news for fans al­ready privy to A Gi­ant Dog's blow-torch con­certs. But is it enough to sus­tain El­lis, Cashen, guitarist Andy Bauer, bassist Gra­ham Low and drum­mer Daniel Blan­chard as road war­riors for an­other decade? She and Cashen are no longer the teenage "mis­fits" who bonded over their in­abil­ity to fit in at a Hous­ton high school.

When the band for med in 2008, "it was re­ally hard to per­ceive we'd still be do­ing this nine years later," El­lis says. "About five years ago, I re­al­ized that I was view­ing my en­tire ca­reer as if we were in a doc­u­men­tary about one of those bands that was very ap­pre­ci­ated by a hand­ful of people but no one else knew about. We've al­ways had the zealots who like us."


Austin, Texas, rock quin­tet A Gi­ant Dog, from left, An­drew Cashen, Andy Bauer, Daniel Blan­chard, Gra­ham Low and Sab­rina El­lis, front.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.