A Giant Dog Drinks Beer, Drops Acid, Makes New Music and Writes a TV Series

A Giant Dog
A Giant Dog Photo by Pooneh Ghana, courtesy of Merge Records
There are certain questions one might ask a member of a band to gain some insight on the group. For instance, since A Giant Dog is one of the featured acts on the second installment of Punks & Pints Fest at SpindleTap Brewery this weekend, we asked the band’s guitarist/vocalist Andrew Cashen if the band enjoys beer and which styles they prefer.

“Yeah. We’re pretty hefty beer drinkers. I think me and Danny are pilsner dudes. Andy likes all kinds of stuff. He goes and picks the weird beers,” Cashen said. “I think Sabrina sometimes likes pilsners, sometimes likes stout kind of stuff like Guinness.”

Fair enough. A bit of a mundane question and a direct answer. It was a different, completely innocuous question which revealed much more about the Austin-based band. We asked Cashen to suggest a video or two to best represent what A Giant Dog does, something to encapsulate everything that’s made fans of fellow artists like Jack White and Laura Jane Grace.

“There’s a video of us taking acid at Disneyland for a music video. I think that one’s pretty cool,” Cashen said matter-of-factly. “That was like 2016 or ’17. We had shot a music video previous to that and me and Sabrina flew out to L.A. to edit that music video and the guy editing it, Ed Dougherty, I had just told this story about me being in high school and taking mushrooms and going to an amusement park and me and all my friends thought that we were gonna die and he thought it was really funny.

“He’s like, ‘Well, you know, I actually have hits of acid in my freezer and Disneyland’s like three blocks that way. You guys want me to just get a camera and make another music video?’ So we did it. Just spent the afternoon doing that. It actually came out pretty good.”

The video was for the song “Roller Coaster” from A Giant Dog’s 2017 album Toy and stars Cashen and the band's lead vocalist Sabrina Ellis. The song might be in the set when the band plays this Saturday's festival which pairs beer and burlesque acts with local, regional and national punk bands. A Giant Dog will be joined by HR of Bad Brains, The Suspects, Piñata Protest, O’ Doyle Rules and deejay sets from DJ Fermented and DJ Muskratch. When A Giant Dog performs, as the video for “Roller Coaster” suggests, prepare for inventive, spur of the moment thrills.

click to enlarge This year's Punks & Pints broadens to include acts from outside the Houston area - SHOW POSTER
This year's Punks & Pints broadens to include acts from outside the Houston area
Show poster
The band's been active since 2008 and has played Houston plenty over the years. Several of its members have Houston roots. The festival gave us a chance to catch up with the band and its various offshoot acts.

“We did a West Coast tour. We’re gearing up to tour the whole month of August out to the East Coast and up to Canada, New York, all that,” Cashen said and also reported Merge Records, which released Toy and Pile, the band’s last two albums, has plans to re-release Fight and Bone, its first two. The band hoped to have physical copies of those re-releases for the approaching tour, but that plan is pending industry-wide record plant delays.

“Hopefully we have those records in time. We may not. It’s a crap shoot. But, we’re still going to tour I think the entire month of August.”

It won’t be the band’s first foray back to live shows since the pandemic. They toured out west earlier this year, Cashen said.

“Not very many people are touring these days so it’s always an accomplishment. It felt great, felt good to be back out on the road. The turnout was pretty good. But it was also kind of scary too because California is a long way away from Texas and if one of us were to get COVID during that time - we were being super-careful - they’re a little more health conscious on the West Coast than they are in Texas. It’s like the wild west out here, nobody really cares about COVID. So, it did feel a little safer being out there and everybody was wearing masks and stuff. But, at some point if one of us got COVID we’d just have had to pack it up and call the tour quits or just delay a bunch of shows and stay in a hotel for a week.”

It’s not optimal but it’s a calculated risk that bands are taking these days just to resume their livelihoods and get music to fans again. Touring is especially important to an act like A Giant Dog. Its intense, thought-provoking, sometimes funny, sometimes raunchy music is a genius battle plan on record, a plan that’s only fully realized when the band launches its full-scale attack during its infamous live sets.

Cashen said the East Coast tour will give the band a chance to perform some newly written songs from an approaching album.

“We wrote a concept album. We’re waiting on a super producer that I can’t tell you about to produce the album, to see if they’re available, but once we get that okay we’ll probably get in the studio as soon as possible to record a new album. But we’ll be playing some stuff off of that just to kind of feel it out,” Cashen shared.

“It’s about virtual reality. There’s some gender issues that are going on,” he hinted. “Virtual reality. Being trapped in virtual reality. I don’t want to get too into detail.”

Readers, and A Giant Dog fanatics, take what you will from that clue about the music. We tried to eke more out of Cashen and learned that, “We started writing it during the pandemic and me and Sabrina actually started writing a TV series to go along with it. It’s like three episodes deep. And then we kind of got busy and let it fall by the wayside. If you know anybody who wants to put out a TV series, we kind of may need some pointers in that direction.”

Ellis and Cashen also helm Sweet Spirit and Cashen reported some lineup changes to that band and that they’ve been playing shows in Austin though they don’t have any plans to tour this year. A Giant Dog’s lineup remains intact with Cashen and Ellis joined by guitarist Andy Bauer, Graham Low on bass and drummer Daniel Blanchard. Cashen does solo work too and is joined by some A Giant Dog members for a hardcore band called Tear Dungeon which also recently recorded an album.

We asked Cashen why this music is shuttled to different acts. Why not produce everything under the banner of one band?

“We’ve had record labels ask us this question, too. From a business standpoint, sometimes it’s a good idea. Most of the time it’s not, but I’m not a businessperson,” he said. “We kind of struggled with what we wanted to sound like for the first couple of months that we were doing it and then it just kind of clicked, like ‘Oh yeah, this is our sound.’ And then we ended up writing two records. But, me and Sabrina both had this other more poppy stuff that even if we tried to shove a square peg into a round hole it just didn’t fit.”

“There’s so many different styles of music. Especially living in Austin it’s cheap enough still — even though it’s getting more expensive — to be able to have a practice space and get good musicians that you’re constantly surrounded by and just explore different options. Not every single one of them has to be a money-making venture, sometimes you just do it for fun.”

For those not in the know, the live set is fun. It’s high energy, amazing, sometimes wild. How wild? Cashen’s band Tear Dungeon played a set in January at Austin’s Hotel Vegas and The Austin Chronicle reported on the scene, which saw Cashen douse himself in fake blood, deliver a song from the club’s rooftop and prowl from tabletop to tabletop for songs like “I Cum Blood” and “If I Was a Cop.” In a recent chat with Houston Press, punk rock icon Laura Jane Grace dubbed Ellis “the best vocalist/frontperson in punk rock or rock and roll right now.” Ellis’s exploits onstage are arguably more dynamic and outlandish. How will this play out for unsuspecting fest-goers, people who are more attracted to the event for a giant beer than A Giant Dog, we asked?

“I’d say, do your homework,” Cashen advised. “I’ve had people complain sometimes. They’ll say that we got too rowdy. I don’t ever go to a show to sit in the front row and just expect not to get pummeled with music or fireworks or whatever. Know what you’re in store for. If not, prepare to be surprised.”

A Giant Dog performs at Punks & Pints Fest 2, Saturday, May 21, 2022 at SpindleTap Brewery, 10622 Hirsch. With HR of Bad Brains, The Suspects, Piñata Protest, O’Doyle Rules, DJ Fermented, DJ Muskratch and burlesque acts. 21 and up only. Doors at 1 p.m., $18-$100.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.