A Giant Dog: Growing Pains

The theatrical Austin punks in A Giant Dog mature their mess

“Normally, we’re very storyteller-esque,” says A Giant Dog guitarist/vocalist Andrew Cashen about the songs he and co-vocalist Sabrina Ellis brought to Toy, the Austin band’s second LP for Merge. “I have a problem with Katy Perry songs that are just ‘I/Me/My.’ Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.”

Produced by Cashen and engineered by Stuart Sikes (White Stripes, Modest Mouse), Toy tunes such as “Fake Plastic Trees” (which namedrops fabled Texas fast-food chain Whataburger) spin a yarn with Cashen and Ellis’ trademark broad humor and theatrical glam-punk style, like mid-’70s Queen colliding with Machine Gun Etiquette-era Damned. Or perhaps a rawer Sparks, whose ’80s synth-pop classic “Angst In My Pants” gets covered on Toy in a manner more akin to the Mael brothers’ mid-’70s period. As typical with A Giant Dog (or even Cashen and Ellis’ conjoined-twin new-wave/pop outfit Sweet Spirit), the songs document messy 20-something lives rapidly becoming messy 30-something lives. Yet blaring from “Fake Plastic Trees” and drunken seduction ode “Photograph” is that damned Katy Perry-like first-person tense Cashen can’t abide.

Perhaps the members of A Giant Dog are aging gracefully? Or blurring their two bands’ identities? Sweet Spirit’s recent St. Mojo sees them absorbing more of A Giant Dog’s punk energy, while Toy folds in Sweet Spirit’s broad gestures and experimentation.

“A Giant Dog’s been a band since 2008,” says Cashen. “This is our fourth record. Sweet Spirit’s only done two. We’re still trying to figure out what Sweet Spirit is as a band. But A Giant Dog has had time to germinate. You can’t write the same record over and over again. So we went into the studio with the idea of pushing what we sound like and still have our core values in there.”

Tim Stegall