In the world of punk, there’s plenty to get excited about. Many punk bands are starting to stand up against the current administration, and some are even donating their earnings to various causes. Others are turning the genre on its head a bit. For Austin’s A Giant Dog, the latter has always been their siren song. Easily one of the more experimental punk bands in music today, their theatrical aspirations and bombastic live shows have earned them the respect of anyone lucky enough to see them perform. On their new album, Toy, from Merge Records, the Austin quintet proves quickly that they can bring the energy and histrionics of their live act to record. Free Press Houston was more than thrilled to sit down with lead singer Sabrina Ellis to chat about the new album and what people should be ready for when the band returns to Houston on August 27.
Free Press Houston: You guys have possibly one of the strongest work ethics in music with what is it now, with 12 tours and another new album in such a short span. How do you keep from killing one another?
Sabrina Ellis: It’s our fourth full-length, and we’re keeping up with releases on a yearly rate for Merge. It’s easy and fast to write three minute punk songs, and with as much as we tour, it’s important for us to keep new material coming.That’s an important question, as we’re speaking, I’m in Kansas City crouched behind a bed in the corner of an Airbnb room hoping no one sees me (laughs). It’s the same as if you’re in a large family with a lot of siblings, you know? We’re all poor and hard working, but everyone needs their space, and seeing as how we’ve been on the road since last May, no one gets heated. So if there’s a day or two where you just need to put up an invisible wall, everyone understands. It’s like PMS time, but because there’s guys in the band, it’s co-ed PMS time.
FPH: The new album, Toy, really seems to highlight some of the more theatrical elements of the band while still keeping your intensity in tact. What was the goal for the band when you went to make the album?
Ellis: No. I appreciate that you felt that, but the goal was to be more experimental this time. Andrew (Cashen) from our band produced the album, and while he has a set idea when he writes songs, I don’t think he had a set plan when making this album. He had sounds for sure, but no straight plan for the record.
FPH: Tracks like “Toy Gun,” “Angst In My Pants” and “Hero For The Weekend” seem to really showcase the ferocity of your live sets. Is it difficult to capture the energy of your live shows while you’re recording, or do you guys have a method in how you make records?
Ellis: This band has always recorded live in a room together, and then Andrew and I go back and overdub my vocals and guitar solos. It has a lot to do with our engineer Stuart Sikes (The White Stripes, Promise Ring, Loretta Lynn). I love him. You know how you have the characters of Hank Hill, Dale Gribble, Boomhauer and Bill Dauterive? Stuart should be the fifth member hiding behind a fence in the alley.
FPH: Your last two shows here in Houston were easily ranked among my favorites I’ve seen from the band. Would it shock you if I admitted that I can’t hear tracks off of Pile without thinking of how y’all perform them live?
Ellis: It doesn’t shock me, but I appreciate it. It would be like if I had aspirations of becoming a model — I don’t by the way — and someone came up to me and said, “You should be a model.” Part of the live show is forty five minutes of me making a spectacle of myself, that you can’t look away from. I’m not what people… When I was younger, I wasn’t the pretty girl. I don’t look like Marilyn Monroe or Christina Aguilera, so I don’t fall in the category of women you’d find yourself staring at. So to perform in a way that people can’t help but watch me perform, that’s all that I want.
FPH: You’re from Houston, though the band was formed in Austin. Was there a reason behind leaving here in favor for Austin, and are there ever things about Houston that you miss?
Ellis: Well, I left Houston for New York when I was young, kind of that New York or nothing idea in my head. But after failing out of college, doing way too many drugs, and getting into trouble, I found myself back in Texas in Austin just to find a smaller place. It was never about leaving Houston, it was about leaving Texas. This state is my home, but you have to acknowledge that it has its quirks. But with traveling and age, I learned that any place can not be what you want it to be, and that you have to make it what you want. Right now what I miss most about Houston is the diversity and the cuisine. New York, Los Angeles and Houston have the best food in the country.
FPH: For anyone that’s never seen the bombastic and high energy that A Giant Dog brings to a live set, how would you describe an A Giant Dog show to them?
Ellis: An endurance test. Not for the audience, well, maybe it is, but more for the five of us. If we we don’t feel like we’re gonna’ throw up or have a heart attack during and afterwards, then we didn’t get off.
You can stream “Toy” on all of the usual places when it gets released on August 25, or pre-order it from Merge Records. You can witness the endurance test when A Giant Dog performs with Houston’s We Were Wolves as direct support, upstairs at White Oak Music Hall on Sunday, Aug. 27. The all-ages show has doors at 7 pm and tickets between $10 and $11.