Ashtray Boy

Painted With the Mouth, the tenth full-length album from the long-running Aussie-American combo Ashtray Boy, is a tour de force of poppy melodies, darkly quirky narratives, and inventive, upbeat arrangements. Singer/guitarist Randall Lee’s rich, unique baritone –

Honed over 30 years of playing as Ashtray Boy – propels these 17 tracks, whose topics include 1950’s Italian film noir, the love of obscure guitars, and being an “Ex-Cannane” (Lee started his songwriting career as a principal player in legendary indie pop band the Cannanes.)

“Arrivederci Baby,” the album’s opener, channels the continental flair AB brought to their 2003 album The Euro – in which each song represented a different European country – this time, telling the tale of a doomed Roman holiday. “Dyer/Maker” references the Led Zeppelin chestnut, recasting it as the tale of failed musical aspirations between two Zep fans working in a tie-dye factory. Lee out-strums the Wedding Present’s David Gedge in AB’s barn-burning cover of “Anyone Can Make a Mistake.” There are several paeans to beloved guitars: “The Flamingo” professes its love for the fabulously pink ‘60s Maton electric, while “J2K#12” is an ode to the Telecaster built for Lee by drummer/lyricist J. Niimi (who is a luthier by trade.) And “Oh Gilberto” imagines a fictional tryst between Antonio Carlos Jobim and the wife of the Tropicalia maestro.

The memorable songcraft and tangible pop hooks of Painted With the Mouth are the perfect antidote to the rehashed punk, soulless electronica, and for-its-own-sake eclecticism that seem to dominate the current indie scene. Ashtray Boy are legends in the making, and the latest jewel in Minty Fresh’s crown.







Ashtray Boy began in 1984 as the solo project of 20-year-old Adelaide native Randall

Lee, the soon-to-be singer/songwriter of the legendary Aussie indie pop combo the

Cannanes. His first release, as Ashtray Boy and His Country Cousin, was a homemade

cassette that was recorded to help land gigs. Originally called Astro Boy, the project

became “Ashtray Boy” after the mispronunciation of a radio DJ during an interview with

Lee, and the name stuck. Following his stint with the Cannanes (resulting in the landmark

critic’s favorite The African Man’s Tomato LP), Lee started the pop trio Nice with two

other Sydney music scene veterans, and their self-titled debut was released in the U.S. in

1991 by the seminal Chicago label Feel Good All Over (also home to the Cannanes, the

Magnetic Fields, Alternative TV, and other underground favorites.)

While visiting the U.S. in the Spring of 1992, Lee decided to pay a visit to Feel Good All

Over honcho John Henderson in Chicago. Henderson asked Lee if he had any new songs,

and when Lee replied that he had a whole album’s worth, Henderson booked some time

at the fledgling recording studio King Size Sound Labs, then located in the basement of

produced Dave Trumfio’s North Side rental home. Lee began the recording process with

the intent of making a solo album, but when Lee and Trumfio decided the recordings

needed some drums, they enlisted Trumfio’s roommate, J. Niimi (then a 20-year-old

music student), to provide the rhythm. Niimi was a fan of indie rock, and was familiar

with the Cannanes and Feel Good All Over, so he changed out of his bathrobe and got

behind his drum kit. Trumfio lent his majestic upright bass playing to the proceedings,

and Lee convinced Henderson’s then roommate, a pre-Guyville Liz Phair, to come over

and lay down some vocals. The resultant full-band debut, the Honeymoon Suite, was

released in 1993. Early gigs for this lineup were played with Liz Phair opening.

The Honeymoon Suite caught the attention of Ajax Records proprietor Tim Adams,

who had also released albums by the Cannanes. Lee returned to the US the following

year to record their sophomore album, Macho Champions, released on Ajax in 1994.

Ajax would release two more albums, 1995’s Candypants Beach and The Everyman’s

Fourth Dimension in 1996 (both recorded by Trumfio at the now-commercial King Size

Sound Labs), before folding its label operations in the late ‘90s. By this point, the trio of

Lee/Niimi/Trumfio was an established entity, launching U.S. tours in 1994, 1995, and

1997. In the meantime, Lee formed a second, Sydney-based incarnation of Ashtray Boy,

featuring Thomas Tallis and Neil Johnston. Trumfio eventually left the band to pursue his

own band, the Pulsars, and Lee married Carla Bruce, who had contributed vocals to some

of the Ajax albums. Lee and Niimi went on to produce and record the songs that made up

the next two albums, There’s Your Heart and The King’s Buccaneer, both released by the

German label Bouncing Corp, and Carla Bruce-Lee was now a full-time member of the


2003 brought The Euro (on Bouncing Corp.’s new imprint, Jellyfant), a concept album

about the economic unification of Europe. In 2005, Last Year’s Song, a collection of

outtakes and alternate mixes, was released by Australian label Phono-Statique (who also

co-released There’s Your Heart). The ‘oughts brought personnel changes to the band, and

Niimi briefly parted ways with the group, reuniting again in 2007, then again in 2011 and

2013, for shows in Chicago and LA, and the start of new recordings slated for the band’s

tenth album, to be released in late 2014. Ashtray Boy’s latest release, the Together LP

(Jellyfant, 2013), is a wide-ranging collection of singles, b-sides, compilation tracks, and

outtakes. In 2014 the band inked a contract with the Chicago record label Minty Fresh,

for the digital re-release of its entire back catalog, and the aforementioned tenth album Painted With The Mouth Released September 2015

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