Queer Artist Spotlight: Music as connection to God, an Interview with Thee Trashcan
It is April 23rd, 2023 as I write this, and nearly every article written by a queer or trans person begins with “there are over 400 bills around the country targeting trans people right now”. I’ve watched people who would never have become activists become activists, I’ve watched people who never read the news become religious readers, I’ve watched the people I know make plans and plot courses out of Florida for their own safety.
And that is important to remember as I introduce this series. This is my Queer Artist Spotlight series, it is meant to spotlight queer creators big and small, Floridian or not. It’s a deep dive into their individual processes, motivations and influences. It’s important to ground this series in the broader context of the contemporary moment in trans rights that we’re currently experiencing, because art, and punk art like we’ll hear about today, is an act of defiance. When a people is most underfoot, they will still create art. Things have been worse, and they will likely be worse yet, but queer people will create through it all, and I want you to meet the people who are doing that today.
So, without further ado, I’m introducing you to Thee Trashcan, or, Milo Paul, host of WVAU’s award winning radio show, guitar and vocals for Other Victorians and (probably) the Guitar and Vocals for Fleabath, as well as other projects yet to be released. She is also a queer artist, and she creates through it all.
So, here’s our interview.
So just to start us off, who are you, what kind of art do you make? Then, how would you identify yourself as part of the LGBTQ+ community?
My name is Milo Paul pronouns: anything but he/him. I make primarily noise, decent sounding noise and I occasionally dabble with visual stuff.
Absolutely. Speaking of that noise, what was your experience like running the award winning Thee Trashcan radio show for WVAU in 2017 all the way till 2022? And what did it mean for you to take that name and use it for personal projects?
It was, it was strange. It was not even a super like high key name idea. I wasn't, I mean, I wasn't like using it as a placeholder or anything, but I just like kind of grabbed what was immediately interesting to me at that moment, which (was) like garage punk music in the vein of Billy Childish and the Medway scene in Britain and thought, OK, that's what I'm gonna play on my show.
So let's call myself that, I want trash level, low-fi rock music playing on my show, I'll be a trash can. And the thing with that Thee, the double E, it's not like Megan thee Stallion or anything. It's, um, a thing started by that community. (It) has a very weird esoteric dated origin. But I won't get into that. Um, in terms of changing it to this overall project, It's been weird. I didn't anticipate it going in that direction.
I thought I was gonna be confined to college and nothing else. But then I realized I still wanted to do music after I had already graduated. And I figured since I had already established
myself in my local music community with radio, I don't see how I couldn't extend it to other facets of my artistic identity. And so that's how it happened. And uh now I'm getting notoriety for it. So…
Traveling back a little bit to before that notoriety began, where do you think your interest for music started?
The origins are horrific actually. My dad was a big fan of the Grateful Dead, a deadhead as it were… I was brought up with that music primarily as well as The Beatles because he made me watch Yellow Submarine, their animated film like, religiously all the time. And while those influences of his have been quite stuck to me, the, the very process of making music and producing something that people can enjoy on an audio level stuck with me and there's like, videos of me at a very young age, like, play pretending I'm performing with instruments that I don't even know how to play with like a flute or a guitar.
(Deadheads gather at the feet of their idols. Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-return-of-the-deadheads-1430933536)
Kind of on that note of style and divergence there, from your older works like stuff like Koombiyeah, your newer work with Other Victorians, How do you think your musical style as far as creation and your skill in that vein developed over time?
Well, I couldn’t do shit back in the day. I was inconceivably bad at making music. Um, especially recording it. Especially Koombiyeah, I, I need to take that down. Not, not, I don't know, I, at that point in my life, I just wanted to show that I could produce something.
(The first song ever uploaded to the Thee Trashcan SoundCloud page, 7 years ago.)
Well, the funny thing about that is, is um it, it kind of hasn't, I mean, I'm being rude to myself. It definitely has, but I have, I'm, I'm rather limited in my scope and ability to do things with the guitar At the very least. I'm double jointed. I have Ehlers-Danlos.. It's hard to form calluses correctly. But I guess I've just been determined.
(A graphic from the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center. Ehlers-Danlos can manifest in many ways not specified in this image, such as joint hypermobility and Scoliosis. Source: https://pelvicpainrehab.com/uncategorized/21305/ehlers-danlos-syndrome-facts-information-and-myths-busted/)
I think that's mostly what has been brought with me. Not really a development of skill, just a greater determination to like, show up to the plate and bring what I have to offer as limited as (that) could be.. Yeah, with other Victorians actually, the way that develops it wasn't like, that's a very good example of music I make that isn't terribly intricate. Not that I'm a very musically intricate person, but that's a project that's much more vested in lyrics than say another project of mine, which is being popular in DC called FleaBath where half the time I don't remember half the lyrics I've written. So bearing that in mind, FleaBath is kind of like the instrument project where I actually try to use what I've, you know, garnered and present that to people on the guitar and then everything else, including Thee Trashcan is much more vested in stuff such as a spoken word or poetry and just having music behind it.
(A more recent song by Thee Trashcan with the band FleaBath, with Milo Paul (Probably) on guitar and Vocals. Fleabath, as pitched by it's creators, is the following: "It has distant cousins crawling out of the Medway Delta, aunts and uncles in Memphis where they all smoke static, fuzzy comrades in New York City basements, but Fleabath’s the first of its kind to slither out of the DC swamp. Primordial, ragtag, and firing on all cylinders, the trio have a live record in the chamber and plenty more where that came from. HEAR them give Billy Childish, Oblivians, and Guitar Wolf a run for their monies! SEE them desecrate each and every stage they waltz grotesque onto! And DELIGHT in their destruction of rock ‘n’ roll ceremony! You won’t know anything else afterward.")
On that note of determination, as an LGBT person, what importance does punk have to you?
It's very important even though if you look at the history of punk, it's rather- I don't want to say lack luster because there's definitely, you know, LGBT folks all throughout the history of that genre of music, but there definitely has been a lot of homophobia (and) transphobia straight up. You look at some of the most popular bands of the period such as The Ramones and Johnny Ramone probably would want to kick the shit out of me, which, which in turn, as I like came to this genre of music at a young age before I realized I was queer it kind of like, inside of me, I kind of like 180d wanted to be the punk’d punk, like, like the punk that pisses off the punks as it were. And um that's, that's definitely (stayed) with me, that's been with me this entire time. But punk is still very important even with- even though my relationship with it is quite complicated, I can't ignore ingrained systems of systematic violence that are within that community and are perpetuated by it. But it does give me the urge and further determination to try to go against that because I feel like to have music for the outsider is the most essential thing for the soul and to deprive people of it is fascistic and wrong.
"I feel like to have music for the outsider is the most essential thing for the soul and to deprive people of it is fascistic and wrong."
(Fleabath's song, "I don't want to be a Ramone".)
(A person who may or may not be Milo Paul performing with Fleabath at Genderpunk DC. Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=141118328675031&set=pb.100083305933076.-2207520000. . Photo taken by @llw_902 on Instagram)
And kind of on that note of the complexities of your relationship to punk, in your series “Agendered and going on a bender”, you say, “I don't think I wanted music for the sake of music. I wanted, at most, music that validated a lot of the lies I was telling myself.” What did you mean by that? And how is your relationship to music as a thing changed over time?
Back then? In, in that, in that specific article I was referring to when I was like, unaware that I was queer. And, uh, it, it, it's in reference to the bands I listened to at the time I listened to a lot of bad religion. I listen to a lot of Ramones. And like with bands like Bad Religion, there isn't necessarily something inherently volatile or politically wrong with what they're going for, they're just very atheistic people writing very atheistic melodic hardcore music.
(A young Milo Paul from "Agendered and going on a bender: Punk created by a non-binary fan, Pt. 1". Source:https://wvau.org/8011/uncategorized/archives/agendered-and-going-on-a-bender-punk-created-by-a-non-binary-fan-pt-1/)
And at the time, a lot of the problems of the world as far as I was concerned were based around religion and that's what I blamed it on. That's what I blamed the wrongs of the world on. I wasn't looking at gender, I wasn't looking at, you know, systematic violence.
I wasn't looking at inequality. I was just blaming religion and I was just being a 13 year old edge Lord as it were.
And growing up and coming into my own identity meant wanting to experiment with punk bands in terms of what I was listening to. I wanted to make sure I was having a larger palette in terms of representation. I listened to a band called Closet Burner who are still very important to me and they are queer power violence bands that were a very obvious precursor to Hers Collective from Baltimore. And when I discovered that band, I realized holy shit, it doesn't have to be white men. I am not a white man. I am actually, I'm white but I, I, I'm not man as it were. And, and I can, I, I can etch my place where I want it to be etched, I can express myself, I can be myself, I can be a punk and I don't have to be a man about it. And that was very important to me.
"I can etch my place where I want it to be etched, I can express myself, I can be myself, I can be a punk and I don't have to be a man about it. And that was very important to me. "
Zooming in from your relationship to outside bands and music, to your relationship with bands you were in from free to Gorilla Elvis to other Victorians and FleaBath. Well, what's your experience within bands been like? And how has each been important to you?
Within the bands? Well, in terms of all the bands I've been in, I, I've been in a lot, I'm actually, I, I, I've had a lot of jabs at me from my friends about being in too many bands. But um each of them did bring something to the table that was very essential to, essential to my personal development as a queer artist. I mean, my first band not so much, it was a black metal band that did black metal covers of classic rock songs.
(The last Afterfreeze session. Caption: "Recorded at Yash's grad party with an Iphone.
There were no drums at hand so I grabbed a spoon and a pencil, fucking Yash's table.
Afterfreeze: 2014- 2017)
Not really my thing. But as it happens, everyone else in the band was also queer, we just didn't all know that yet. Then my, my second band Turb which is on hiatus, I don't know, our drummer is a lesbian who does street fights in LA Now, I'm happy for her. That band was very important because it was definitely the first time that it gave me a creative outlet, I was just a drummer in Afterfreeze, that band I was fronting, I was doing guitar and I was doing vocals and I was purposely trying to write queer music for the first time. Whether that was successful though is, you know, another thing entirely. And then with Other Victorians, I think I definitely came most into my own, especially because the other members of that band are my literal best friends in the world.
("You're Gonna Miss Me", a cover of 13th Floor Elevators, on the Turb EP.)
Sparks Lowy who is- I stay at their house every week. They, they were like, they have been consistently like, tapped into my mind since 2017. And that's just been a wonderful dialogue and our drummer who I don't think would want to have much said about them because their a very private person. They're quite literally my oldest friend right now.
So, like,(those are the) people I've been with the longest. And that means, uh that leaves like two other bands I'd say that were very important, but for very different reasons. Laughing at the Void, which I've honestly tried to erase a little bit. But I've realized in the last year that there hasn't been much point in erasing. Had a lot of just not, not sound of mind people in that band and we were all queer and we were, well, OK, almost all of us are queer.
(The members of Other Victorians. Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=631700904983250&set=a.599310441555630)
There was one person in the band that wasn't queer and trans, everyone else was queer and trans and definitely on the spectrum. And that was very good. That, that was, we did Anarcho-hardcore and I felt like I was bringing the politics I have into music and that felt very important. It just also happened to be the case that our front person was a very emotionally arrogant, not arrogant- aggressive person to a point where I had to leave the band because of their abuses and they've later gone on and done very not good things. And I'm glad I got out of there while I could. That gave me the ability to act with caution, which I subsequently ignored because my most recent project, other than my solo project, was a Craigslist founded band with a doctor from George Mason University and just some other dude in the punk scene around here. And that one has been the most fruitful.
We haven't produced anything yet but we're recording an EP that's gonna be like, it's gonna be what drives us to do a tour. We got a tour lined up. I've never done a tour. That's huge for me. I didn't think that would happen and we’re playing places that I didn't think I would ever play and that's just amazing. I didn't think it would happen but we're here.
On the communal aspect of bands, what was it like to take a song like dog leash that you've said is incredibly personal and performing it with a full band in contrast with its original debut, which was, I'm pretty sure, a solo creation just by you, if the soundcloud Notes are correct. So what was that experience like?
It was important. Um Dog Leash's lyrics are THE lyrics. They're what I treasure most in the world in terms of my creative output. I'm not gonna say they're ingenious and it could just be that they're just very deeply personal to me. And I was able to say what I needed to say the way I wanted to say it, which was on its own, an amazing thing for me.
(Dog Leash, by Thee Trashcan. You can listen to the full band version on the Other Victorians EP "Grey, Thanks" here: https://soundcloud.com/milo-paul/dog-leashmp3?si=978e03136fd4432eb8057556c5137d68&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing. It is captioned: "My soul delivered straight to your door".)
But transitioning to using that and having that be a song that I perform with the band led to this, this immense validation. Because it was a song that people would come up to me about, and ask me about the lyrics and compliment me about the lyrics. My bandmates included, my bandmates were supportive. They, they, they understood what I was saying.
When I played it to them for the first time, they all collectively sighed because of how much it hit them. And I realized we could do something with this. They all felt the emotions that I wanted to express and we all love the song because of it. That just was so (immensely) creatively validating. And now I go out to shows and I play that song and people are like- I had a person say, right, “Is your dad a preacher?” And I asked “why?” And they said that “I'm the son of a preacher” or a priest, either one- “And there was this profound sense of trauma that I shared or had in common with you in that song, as you expressed it in that song.” I am not the child of a priest or a preacher, but the fact I was able to get across and capture something in someone else's psyche and made them not feel alone with that trauma was beautiful.
And I did that with my bandmates. I did that with that person. I've done it with a bunch of other people just based off of them Coming up to me And talking to me about it and that's just been amazing. I'm beyond happy I can do that for others.
What does making music mean to you?
Making music means tapping into the vein, the big vein, you know, the vein of God. And I don't really believe in God outright. I would say I'm spiritual to some degree, but I'm not religious, but music is how we connect to that force. And I find it to be a very queer, very outside, very other force, even though the way that we view a God in most cultures would be the, the net average of everyone. And I feel like sticking with that vein, understanding that everyone's kind of on the fringe of everything, on the precipice of being something, they are in art able to announce to the world that you are here through sound, whether that's shrieking through a guitar or just screaming your lungs out. That's what music is to me that's connecting to God and that is connecting to everyone else. And I think that's deeply important.
"they are in art able to announce to the world that you are here through sound, whether that's shrieking through a guitar or just screaming your lungs out. That's what music is to me that's connecting to God and that is connecting to everyone else. And I think that's deeply important. "
(Milo Paul in the final entry in the Agendered and Going on a Bender series. Source: https://wvau.org/10555/uncategorized/agendered-and-going-on-a-bender-punk-concluded-by-a-non-binary-fan/)
This article was written by Samira Burnside. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org through email.
You can find Thee Trashcan's work with Other Victorians here: https://theetrashcan.bandcamp.com/track/dog-leash
and here: https://soundcloud.com/user-330263664
You can find Thee Trashcan's music here: https://soundcloud.com/milo-paul/tracks