The Meaning of Life According to A Giant Dog: “Find The Free Shit”

We’re all about, there might be people in outer space! We’re all about respecting yourself! We’re all about respecting one another! We’re about respecting your mom, your dad… I’m just warming up,” Sabrina chants at the start of their Pickathon Pumphouse Session in Portland. For a band that describes their music as encompassing “the passion, the modern survival of winged tipped shoes, seahorse androgyny, moon-rivers and bingo” and their influences as including everything from “bottles of cheap red wine” to Kurt Vonnegut novels, A Giant Dog is elusive to definition—which, I’m sure, is the point.

Currently made up of Andrew (vocals, guitar), Sabrina (vocals), Andy (guitar), Matt (drums), and Graham (bass), the band has built a name in Austin for their explosive live shows, fueled by booze and riot. They have captured the attention of the bulk of the city, including, notably, Spoon’s front man Britt Daniels. Daniels took them on tour with Spoon in 2014 and has worked closely with the band since, recently singing on “Get With You And Get High” from their upcoming album Pile.

I saw one of A Giant Dog’s many showcases at SXSW, and their live set was intoxicating. With a distant and crazed look, Sabrina sang with a steadfast ferocity, all the while marching and strutting around the stage. Graham at one point left the venue in the middle of a song, but continued to play his bass in the streets. It ended with Andrew climbing the rails of the bar to the second then third floor of the venue. He stood suspended above the crowd on the railing of the third floor as the rest of the band rang out their last notes.

Older albums by the band, Fight and Bone, are full of raw and youthful anger that translates into a loud, wild, and nihilistic “life’s fucked up, nothing really matters, and we’ll do what we want” energy that throws itself at you relentlessly. Fueled by rampant drums and thundering power chords, their songs are built on shouted harmonies between Andrew and Sabrina. A Giant Dog is that age when all sense of self-preservation slips out from under you. A Giant Dog is that unbridled rage that’s meant to come after the end of American Beauty. They play with a fuck-it kind of blissful anger and outrageousness that’s magnetic and sometimes terrifying.

Just as elusive to being pinned down to definition are Sabrina and Andrew, childhood friends and founding members of A Giant Dog. “I just really thrive on matchbooks,” Sabrina jokingly tells me after they start talking about what life means to them. “It really gets you through the day. You can remember where you went. The nice places you went to… even if you were alone. Matchbooks! That’s what life means. And then if you take a nasty poop, you can light a match and cover your trail completely. Always have a matchbook.”

Our favorite response from Sabrina and Andrew was the reason for why they list Kurt Vonnegut as an influence. Sabrina explains it’s “the way [he] writes…the way he places humor and cynicism and outrageousness all in one place. That’s kind of how we take our inspiration from him. That’s how we feel too about this life that we’re put in. Like you better make jokes or else it’s gonna hurt.” As she says this to me, it’s clear how their music walks hand in hand with Vonnegut novels in placing “humor and cynicism and outrageousness all in one place.” Their music, much like Kurt Vonnegut, points out how devoid of meaning life can be. Their songs jump from singing about waking up in the hospital to “blinding white” pain to buying “a Nutria at the zoo” to “all my friends say I look tired…” Like Vonnegut, they look at the stupid, the unbearable, and the pointless parts of life, and instead of bending over to mourn, they fight, scream, and laugh.

“Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?” – Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country

What is clear with A Giant Dog is that their lack of consistent meaning, much like life, is irrelevant. Their music tells you to give up your childhood heartache, old heartbreaks, and existential dread in favor of friends, jokes, and having a good fucking time. Sabrina tells me life “isn’t a choice.” But you have to “try your hardest to make the best out of it,” Andrew says. You have to “turn it into your resource, and use it,” Sabrina concludes.  “Manipulate it. Get all you can. Like South By! Find the free shit.”

As we’re reaching a cusp for A Giant Dog with their newest album Pile, their songs are growing into something else. I comment on how songs like “Jizzney” and “Sex & Drugs” sound different from older songs, and Andrew tells me, “Every band wants to progress.” Pile is still just as loud and explosive as their previous albums, but starkly more introspective. Sabrina says the band has “improved, evolved, and matured as people. [They] have more to say.” Pile’s official release date is May 6, 2016, and it will be the band’s first album with Merge Records. A Giant Dog will be on tour for Pile this summer, and will play in Boston May 25th at O’Brien’s Pub. Be sure to check them out!

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I got the chance to talk with Andrew and Sabrina before their SXSW showcase at the Tap Room. We talked about everything from their favorite Austin bars to why they like Kurt Vonnegut to the meaning of life. Read our talk with A Giant Dog below:

You guys are from Houston? I’m from Houston too! I always just thought you guys were from Austin?

S: Well, we grew up in Houston and formed our band in Austin.

A: We’ve lived in Austin for 8 years now.

What was it like growing up in Houston?

S: Pretty boring. There’s not much to do for teenagers.

A: Me and the guy who plays guitar in this band, we did a lot of vandalism. To pass time. Just growing up in the suburbs, it’s boring. Especially when you can’t drink or go out to anything or do anything. We skateboarded and then we vandalized a lot of stuff. Creative vandalism. Not just destructive.

Any cool shows at South By you’ve seen?

A: Today we saw Shannon and the Clams. The Blind Shake. They kill it.

S: I’m excited to see Peaches tomorrow, we’re playing with her.

A: Suckin’ on my titties

S: I wanna see John Doe tomorrow. He’s from this one band called X, back in the day.

I have to say that the first time I heard y’all was in the All Cheerleaders Die soundtrack. Which is funny, but those songs were so good.

(Laughing)

S: Awesome!

Where did that come from?

A: I mean, it’s a movie with a really small budget. And we were a really small band. They offered us three hundred dollars to put us in a movie, and we were like yeah. Pretty simple. We didn’t even know what kind of movie it was? We got a brief description, and we’re like “Sure?” All of us are hurtin’ for money. You don’t make money playing music.

A: That’s hilarious. Right now, The Doors are playing. But on our walk over here, Sabrina said that she wants a shirt that says “Jim Morrison is dope.”

S: People always tell me that I look like Jim Morrison.

I can see it! Yeah, it’s there.

A: It’s just the kind of thing that’s like kids who just got into college would be like Oh, that shirt’s badass! And then the person wearing it would be like… it’s a fucking joke.

S: I just smoked weed for the first time and heard the Doors for the first time, and I just think Jim Morrison is DOPE!

A: I just figured out what the word “dope” means.

S: What does it mean?

(Laughing)

A: Cool.

S: I thought it meant heroine.

You have that one song “Ghostcest” on your album and on the All Cheerleaders Die soundtrack. It’s really different from all your other songs on that album. Where’d that come from?

A: We’ve always written soft—

S: Secret pretty songs.

A: But always thought it wasn’t appropriate for A Giant Dog because our live shows have always been rowdy. And we always want to bring a lot of energy. I mean we never play [Ghostcest] live? It was just one that we wanted to throw on the album. I’ve always appreciated those albums that have had tracks that are different. Throw people for a curveball! You can’t take all that intensity all the time.

So you guys do write the softer songs, but the reputation you’ve built in Austin for high energy shows kind of makes you guys steer away from writing the softer songs then?

A: Not in this band. We’ve got another band we like to explore that more.

S: We’re called Sweet Spirit. We like being writing partners so much. Or maybe it’s like being faded into something… We’re so efficient at working together that we ended up starting two bands together.

A: People who are fans of this band. I’ve been afraid of them going like, “Man! That band got soft.” I wanna keep what we have.

That’s fair. In that same vein though, I feel like your new album Pile sounds different from previous albums? Is that deliberate?

A: Every band wants to progress.

S: Yeah, we improved. And evolved. And we matured as people too. We have more to say.

A: We’re not 23 anymore!

S: But you can tell people we are.

A: Well, [Sabrina’s] 18.

S: Yeah, I’m 18. How’d you get older than me?

A: I’m just more mature?

S: Oh yeah. Mature man baby. We could start a porno DVD called “Mature Man Babies.”

A: That’s probably already a fetish of like Just do stuff for me! I’m lazy.

S: For some reason, I can see that attract a lot of women.

I’ve read that you guys like Kurt Vonnegut?

S: Yeah, well, he’s got a sense of humor. We, actually as a band, have read some of his books on tours. Every now and then, when you have an album due and you’re trying to think of something to write a song about. And you’re like “Oh, I remember this novel he wrote.” Yeah I dunno. We’ve definitely taken some of his ideas.

A: Did you know I’ve redesigned a book cover for Breakfast of Champions? It was a college project.

S: If only he was alive, maybe he would replace his book cover? It’s interesting how books have multiple cover designs. Publishers put out multiple cover designs. Albums, records, you just use one cover design.

A: And the other thing I like about Kurt Vonnegut too is in his books, he would place these little—

S: Pictures he drew himself! And they were horrible. I love it.

A: They were awful, but they became iconic… like that Blue Monday Blimp.

GoodbyeBlueMonday

S: You weren’t really looking at his pictures for the way he drew. You were looking for his joke, almost like a comic book. I remember one, in Slaughterhouse Five, there’s a tombstone and it’s just like “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” Which is the most ironic statement anyone could make. But the character in the book is simple enough to really feel that way. And the picture is something a kid would draw. The way Vonnegut writes, and the way he places humor and cynicism and outrageousness in all in one place. That’s kind of how we take our inspiration from him, that’s how we feel too about this life that we’re put in. Like you better make jokes or else it’s gonna hurt.

everything-was-beautiful-and-nothing-hurt

When I read that you guys listed Vonnegut as an influence, it was unexpected. But it makes a lot of sense now. Your music and shows are very much like how you just described… I like that. Well then, what does life mean to you guys?

S: It’s not a choice.

A: You just went from like 2 to 10!

Yeah, we’re all 0 to 100 real quick. No chill.

(Laughing)

S: So what does life mean to Andrew and Sabrina? It’s not a choice, y’know? It happens to you, and you have to—

A: Try your hardest to make the best out of it.

S: Turn it into your resource, and use it. Manipulate it. Get all you can. Like South By! Find the free shit.

A: You can dwell on bad shit all you want.

S: Find the free shit.

A: Yeah, find the free shit in life.

S: Lots of matchbooks.

(Laughing)

S: I just really thrive on matchbooks. It really gets you through the day. You can remember where you went. The nice places you went to, even if you were alone. Matchbooks! That’s what life means. And then if you take a nasty poop, you can light a match and cover your trail completely. Always have a matchbook.

(Laughing)

I’ll keep that in mind. Matchbooks.

So do you guys draw? I feel like you guys would draw.

A: I draw. I paint, I draw. I do graphic design. I’ve got some shit on my phone if you wanna see it?

S: That’s actually the only cool thing about Andrew is that he draws.

(Laughing)

S: He can draw words, he can draw pictures, he can draw animals.

Andrew shows me pictures of what’s he’s drawn on his phone.

S: He draws all the t-shirts. He builds the monsters that are on all the album covers.

A: I know that’s not going to be very interesting for [the interview]… “He showed me a picture on his phone.

“It was very good.”

(Laughing)

They were really good. The pictures he showed me were really cool to see.

A: In quotations: “Trust me!”

Trust me, they were.

S: He definitely draws well. How many hours does it take you to draw?

A: An hour.

S: An hour every time?

(Laughing)

A: Pretty much. If I’ve got a concept. An hour.

S: What’s the quickest time you can masturbate?

A: What’s the biggest time I’ve masturbated? The largest time? I was on top of a mountain. Actually, in between two mountains. A foot on each. I jerked off on to all these villagers. And they were like, “This is so large!”

(Laughing)

S: That’s a picture I want you to draw.

A: It’s gonna be for my first solo show. Me on top of two mountains jerking off.

S: Just call it Andrew Mountain. It’s your solo project.

(Laughing)

A; That’s actually really cool. Andrew Mountain.

S: He’s gonna go solo folk.

A: 2017, look out for it! Andrew Mountain.

S: I always knew he was gonna go solo folk. He spent years training me and beating me out of a folk career just so that he could have his own solo folk career. Turned me into a rock n’ roll, punk rock [singer]. And then you go do solo folk the way I was gonna do it. When I was 20. When we started the band, once upon a time, I might have been a Joanna Newsom. But Andrew, he put me actually in an iron maiden. Like in one.

(Laughing)

Right. Physically?

S: Yeah he put me in an iron maiden until I could belt and yell like Rod Stewart.

A: And this was all so that I could have a solo career in 2017.

What about you?

S: No, I don’t draw at all. I can draw a picture to go with your article?

Yes, please.

S: That’d be awesome because it would look so awful.

IMG_2600

I drew a picture too. I gave it to her, so you can ask her for a picture of it.

S: This is the worst bar I’ve ever been to.

A: I want you to get this on record. Fuck The Tap Room.

S: I’m so sorry we brought you here, Chelsea.

What’s your favorite Austin bar?

S: Dive-y.

A: I work at Hotel Vegas and Barracuda. But honestly when I’m going out and not working, it’s King Bee, Nomad. It’s smaller bars tucked away, where I’m not gonna see that many people that I know.

S: Nomad’s great. Vegas is great! But yeah, he works there so I usually avoid it. It’s awkward to see each other in daylight.

S: What do you like better? Quarters, dimes or pennies? I like pennies personally because they’re so insignificant. Often dirty. And it reminds me of my life. And it sounds like panties.

(Laughing)

A: I used to swallow pennies as a child.

S: No, not just as a child. I remember being 18. Christie V’s parents were out of town. We were having a rager, and you lost your virginity that night! But first you had to do your mating dance, which was to eat a jar of pennies. Just to really… and it finally worked!

A: (Mating dance sounds)

S: He was singing Enya and eating a jar of pennies. Finally lost his virginity that night.

A: It turns ladies on.

That’s how ya do it! Yup.

S: Andrew has all these qualities that turn women on, but I think honestly it’s just… he has a weird pheromone? Because not everything about him should be attractive to women.

A: Not every man can eat a jar of pennies while singing Enya.

S: Not every man can eat Enya’s panties while singing jars of clay.

(Laughing)

A: That’s so much better!

S: We started a new band today, it’s call My Morning Leon.

(Laughing)

A: Wait I thought it was called—

S: Kings of Leon Bridges?

A: Kings of Leon Bridges!

S: My Morning Leon is something that sounds kind of dirty.

(Laughing)

S: That’s our side project. You will hear from My Morning Leon soon. ‘Cause our side projects have an eight year basis of trying…

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” – Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country

One response to “The Meaning of Life According to A Giant Dog: “Find The Free Shit”

  1. Pingback: Melisma’s SXSW Music 2016 Recap | MELISMA MAGAZINE·

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