A Giant Dog's Sabrina Ellis talks hemorrhoids, dry humping, and rock 'n' roll 

Unleashed

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Steven Ruud

There's nothing sterile about Austin rock 'n' roll outfit, A Giant Dog. Buoyed by powerhouse vocalist Sabrina Ellis, the five-piece oozes with a raucous, devil-may-care air that explodes in titles like "Teenage Orgasm," off 2012's Fight, "Civil Whore," from 2013's Bone, and "Get with You and Get High" from this year's balls-to-the-wall offering, Pile. The explicit rawness of the band — also comprising vocalist/guitarist Andrew Cashen, guitarist Andy Bauer, bassist Graham Low, and drummer Matthew Strmiska — is its lifeblood, giving them the freedom to do and say whatever they damn well please. "My favorite part of A Giant Dog is that I don't have to censor anything, ever, and anytime anybody has suggested that I might like to censor a little bit so we can be on the radio, I'm like, 'Seriously, fuck off,'" Ellis says. "This is all I've got. This is years of society making me feel confused and unworthy, and I'm not just going to make it comfortable for people because that's gonna make me more money. That's insane."

That said, Ellis and co-vocalist/co-songwriter Cashen do tame it a smidgen for their other project, Sweet Spirit, an indie-pop six-piece that mama would approve of. "We play state fair types of things," Ellis says. "But, and I won't even censor this because I don't mind these feelings: I'd rather be half naked in a dive bar sweating — and maybe there's blood — than to be up on a stage in front of 10,000 people as the sun sets with the city in the background. Give me the dive bar any day."

Ellis and Cashen have performed in bands together for 15 years. They met in high school, and when Ellis wasn't busy doing theater ("Most people think that people who do theater are outgoing," she says, "but really they're just freaky little nerds hanging out backstage, kind of dry humping each other in the dark."), she sang in Cashen's punk-rock cover band. "None of us were really gettin' dates, so we decided to do that," Ellis says.

Since then, Ellis and Cashen have also been a dynamic songwriting duo with a chemistry — both lyrically and onstage — that sends chills down the spine. These days, they make the most of what time they have to create, which, between touring with both A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit all year, only breaks down to a few hours every two or three months. When it comes to working, Ellis says she's always trying to keep up with Cashen's energy, and likens that relationship to that of siblings. "I keep a notebook with running stream-of-consciousness thoughts, but I have to guard that notebook very closely," she says. "In the past, Andrew's been known to go through it and write sassy comments in the margin, responding to my deep, sincere sadness with stuff like, 'Ah, my hemorrhoids hurt,' or things like that."

But growing up, Ellis — the girl whose onstage swagger, guts, and glam is reminiscent of David Lee Roth, whose music sounds like the lovechild of Marc Bolan, Shovels & Rope, and the New York Dolls — never wanted the life of a rock star. "I didn't start doing that until I was 20," she says. "In high school I would go to punk shows ... but I didn't see myself with these rock 'n' roll aspirations. I thought that that idea was pretty silly and unrealistic — didn't want to grow up and do something that very few people get to do and that basically leads you to be stuck in some sort of adolescence for the rest of your life. And that's how I've ended up. And now I'm 30. And I'm doing that."

At one point five years back, she even tried to find a way out of indie rock. With her eyes focused on her other passion, cooking, the singer bought a nice knife and landed an apprenticeship at a five-star restaurant. She lasted all of four months. "It was severe pressure," she says. "I felt like I was in the military, and I started having panic attacks. And then at the same time, I was writing music, and that started to go a little better. So the next thing I knew I was back to being a short-order cook and going on tour a lot. And I do prefer this, but I think that if I didn't have rock 'n' roll, I'd be in some other sort of job that involves a lot of drugs and high pressure and late nights and photo shoots, such as cooking. It's so glam these days."

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