How I Got Here: Adam Marshall, The Bazillions ("Cake" by the Trash Can Sinatras)

Adam and Kristin Marshall holding copies of the Trash Can Sinatras album "Cake"

Adam and Kristin Marshall holding copies of the Trash Can Sinatras album "Cake"

Adam Marshall and Kristin Marshall are not only the driving forces behind the Minnesota kindie-power-pop band The Bazillions, they're also married.

Now, that's not the typical way I'd introduce an essay for "How I Got Here," the series where kids musicians write about influential music.

But this essay is definitely not your typical "How I Got Here" essay.  Yes, Adam Marshall talks about the influence of the debut full-length from the Scottish band Trash Can Sinatras on life as a music fan and musician, but this is one of those times when the phrase "life-changing album" literally applies.

I was a theatre major in college. So after graduation, like many young actors, I migrated to the Big Apple to pursue my dream. It wasn’t long before I found success … in the food service industry. The year was 1989, I was fresh out of undergraduate school, and New York City was my new home – Astoria, Queens to be exact. I moved in with my best friend Rob, and we shared a nice little two-bedroom apartment.

Rob and I spent a great deal of time listening to music and eating pizza from Tony's Pizza, which was around the corner. Two bucks for a slice and a can of soda. We were poor, but we were living the dream.  Rob was/is a great actor with a Sinatra-like baritone voice. So it wasn't long before he got cast in a national tour that lasted for much of the spring and summer of 1990. I was certainly happy for Rob, but I was sad to see him go because now I was alone in the Big Apple, which can be pretty lonely.

When I wasn’t waiting tables, I spent the days listening to music, playing the guitar, writing songs and occasionally pursuing acting. The highlight of each week was Sunday night at midnight: 120 Minutes on MTV. This was the place to discover the best new music. 120 Minutes was a goldmine for me. I have always been interested in finding music that is off the beaten path. To this day, I go out, and I dig through bins of records looking for gems that are basically unknown, like an archeologist unearthing his latest discovery.

So in the spring of 1990 I was diligently watching 120 Minutes with a yellow legal pad in hand, writing down artists and songs that piqued my interest. I remember hearing G.W. McClennan's  “Easy Come Easy Go” and “There She Goes” by The La’s. I heard The Sundays, John Wesley Harding, Robyn Hitchcock… It was the music that made that show so great, and I watched it every Sunday night. A music snob’s dream come true.

One Sunday night I heard a song by a Scottish band called the Trash Can Sinatras. I had never heard of them before. The song was called “Only Tongue Can Tell” from an oddly titled album called Cake. It was a pretty nice song with a sweet melody, a bouncy beat and a very catchy chorus: my kind of song. It sounded kind of like Aztec Camera or the Housemartins or the Smiths. And in a way it didn’t sound like those bands at all. It was something completely its own. I wrote the band name and song in my yellow legal pad.

Trash Can Sinatras' Cake album cover

Trash Can Sinatras' Cake album cover

The next day I went to my small, local Astoria CD store, a little hole in the wall place with posters on the wall and a fairly limited selection. I flipped through the used CDs as usual and almost immediately I came across Cake. “Well that’s weird,” I thought. I had never heard of this band until several hours ago, and here they are all the way from Scotland in Astoria, Queens. What are the chances of that? Maybe it’s a sign. Certainly, reason enough to buy it.

I brought it home to the apartment and I popped it in the CD player. I listened to it from beginning to end. When it was finished I played it again. There was the song I had heard on 120 Minutes, but there were nine other songs, too. Songs with strange titles like “Thrupenny Tears,” “Circling The Circumference,” and “Obscurity Knocks.” There was plenty of strumming acoustic guitars, arpeggiated electric guitars augmented with occasional string sections. There was so much to listen to that it didn’t matter that it was almost impossible to decipher the lyrics through singer Frank Reader’s thick Scottish accent. By the end of the second time through I was hooked.  This was amazing music!

I spent all of the summer of 1990 listening to this CD. I would play it loud. It would fill the apartment and leak out the windows and doors. It was as if I needed to hear this music every day. It was the only music I would listen to. It was my soundtrack for the summer.  

Three years later, the Trash Can Sinatras released their second album, I’ve Seen Everything. Amazingly, it was the equal of Cake. I went to see them at The Limelight in 1993. They did not disappoint. They had become my favorite band.

By 1994, I was actually getting closer to becoming a working actor. Like Rob, much of my work was out of town. In November of that year, I went to Omaha, Nebraska for rehearsals of a touring production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I was cast as Young Scrooge.  I spent most of the rehearsal process working with the actress who was cast opposite me. During a break from rehearsals I found myself sitting in the theatre seats of the Omaha Playhouse several rows behind the young actress who played the oldest Cratchit daughter, Martha, and the child actor who played Peter Cratchit. They were having a casual conversation. I could tell that the actress was trying to get to know the young actor, probably to strengthen the family bond they were portraying on the stage. She asked him what kind of music he liked. I don’t remember his response, but I suppose it was a typical listing of groups a twelve-year-old from 1994 would like.

He then asked her what kind of music she liked. Her reply was, “Oh, you probably wouldn’t know any of the bands that I like.” I figured that like most musical theatre actors her tastes would be based around Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, and the like. The young actor pressed on, “Really, I want to know, what kind of music do you like?”

At this point I was pretty interested too. I leaned in a little closer to hear her response. She said, “All right. You’re not going to know them, but I’ll tell you anyway.” The first band that she mentioned was the Trash Can Sinatras. WHAT!? What did she say? Did she say the Trash Can Sinatras? No way! She also mentioned The Jayhawks and Aztec Camera! I bounded over the rows of seats between us and elbowed the young actor out of the way.  Slightly winded from hurdling over the seats, I told her I had never known anyone whose favorite bands were the ones she had just mentioned.

We spent the rest of the rehearsals talking about music, films and life. Once the tour hit the road, we would sit together on the tour bus and share music with each other. We bought one of those headphone audio adapters that allow you to plug two headphones into one portable CD player. We listened to all kinds of music, and of course we listened to Cake by the Trash Can Sinatras, the band that brought us together. This was love.

Adam Marshall and Kristin Marshall in 1994

Adam Marshall and Kristin Marshall in 1994

Her name was Kristin, and soon we were singing and writing songs together. We moved to Minneapolis in 1997. In November of 1999 we were married.  Eventually all of our singing and songwriting led us to The Bazillions. The Trash Can Sinatras are there when we write and record. You can hear their influence on many of our songs. The opening guitar to “Lookout Man” always reminds me of their song “Obscurity Knocks.” “Similes & Metaphors,” “Rainy Day Clubhouse,” “Sons & Daughters” all feel like distant cousins of their songs.

Kristin and I still listen to the Trash Can Sinatras.  We’ve gone to see them live together. We have as much of their music as you could collect. The band that brought us together is gladly still making music, still playing shows, and I’m sure, still bringing people together.

Photo credit of Adam and Kristin w/ albums: Naomi Marshall