The Red Paintings take the "art" in art rock literally. The Australian band's concerts usually feature artists and audience members painting in front of the stage while volunteers are stripped to their underwear and turned into human canvases. The bandmembers themselves are turned into works of art via their elaborate costumes, dressing as animals, robots, aliens, or geishas. This extends to their publicity, which is treated as a kind of performance art in imitation of Andy Warhol. Eccentric lead singer Jamie Barrett, who calls himself Trash McSweeney, has claimed to have been contacted by aliens and to have suffered from multiple brain seizures that have left him with synesthesia, or more precisely chromesthesia, a condition that allows people to perceive musical tones as having colors. The story goes that this neurological incident was the epiphany that inspired him to form the Red Paintings in 1998.
The original lineup in McSweeney's home town of Geelong consisted of Alisha Fountain on bass, Luke "G" Rossiello on synthesizer, Nathan Hewitt on synthesizer and sampling, and Phil Smythwaite on violin. They released three EPs independently -- Angel Flummox, Reality, and Cinema Love -- before McSweeney left Geelong and relocated to Brisbane, replacing the rest of the band entirely. This new lineup eventually included Josh Engelking on percussion, Bo Witton on bass, Ellen Stancombe on violin, and Wayne Jennings on cello.
A live performance recorded with Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ FM was released as the album Your Tears Are Warning Signs, which was followed by the Walls EP, released through Modern Music in 2005. At around this time the lineup shifted again and Witton was replaced by bass player Amanda Holmes. The next Red Paintings EP, Destroy the Robots, was preceded by a series of "robot marches" organized by the band. In each town they visited on this tour they dressed as robots and took to the streets, gathering crowds of followers and marching through shopping malls and other locations without permission. Modern Music signed a deal with Sony BMG, which distributed Destroy the Robots, but tensions between McSweeney and the label led to an acrimonious parting of the ways and the Red Paintings becoming independent again. At the same time, they cycled through drummer/percussionists once more, eventually settling on Andy Davis to be their newest member.
After reading a recommendation on an Internet forum, Amanda Palmer of cabaret-rock duo the Dresden Dolls sought the Red Paintings out to support them on their 2006 international tour. During this tour the band's van was broken into twice, and the thieves stole equipment as well as the paintings the group had been collecting from the shows. Their tour manager and audio engineer left the band at different points during the tour -- as did their cellist, with new cellist David Sue Yak brought in as a replacement. A DVD documenting some of the events of the previous troubled year, Seizure & Synaesthesia, was released in 2007 along with the Feed the Wolf EP, with production costs raised by donations from their fans. This model was effective enough that they asked fans for donations of $40 to fund the recording of a full album, promising a copy of the CD and a thank you in the liner notes for every donation. Enough money was raised to book studio time, and they spent the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 recording the album The Revolution Is Never Coming.