Prior to their most excellent and triumphant performance at Glasgow’s Garage venue on October 22nd, we had the chance for a quick chat to Reel Big Fish’s founder and frontman Aaron Barrett, along with impressively-waxed moustache bearer and trumpeter Johnny Christmas. This is what they had to say about a band twenty-some years in existence, life on the road, new material and more… At least, after they got around trying to pronounce Lara’s name!
Twenty five years next year from when the band first formed in 1991. Twenty since Turn the Radio Off. How do you have the energy to do what you do for so long?
Aaron: Get lots of sleep. Twenty hours a day.
Johnny: He’s a professional sleeper, really! Though not so much on this tour.
With so many albums out, how easy or difficult is it to come up with something new each time which pleases the fans?
Aaron: I’ve always just written songs the way that I do and that’s what comes out. I just found the one thing I was good at and kept doing it for twenty five years.
Johnny: You’re not really chasing anything, it’s just what we do.
The first time I heard of you was through your over of a-ha’s “Take On Me”. You’re fairly well known for your cover songs. How do you choose which songs to cover?
Aaron: Well that song I really love. It made sense to cover it. But other songs… it’s kind of random. Sometimes for different compilations that we were on. We did “Kiss Me Deadly” for a hair metal tribute album, “Hungry Like The Wolf” for a Duran Duran tribute album… other records it’s like “hmmm… that one!“.
You’ve got quite a lot of albums out, the last one in 2012. Anything new on the horizon at the moment?
Johnny: Our engineer lost his studio.
Aaron: He’s looked everywhere for it.
Johnny: He’s checked every dog pound, every lost and found and he just can’t find it. He needs to get a new building and set up a new studio, so it’s going to be a little while.
Aaron: We refuse to record with anyone else. We’ve recorded everything with him since after Cheer Up. You know, all the terrible stuff. All the good stuff was pre-Dave. All the popular stuff was before him.
You’re about halfway through your UK dates with Europe coming up, but you started off with the Warped tour on Sunday. How did that go down?
Aaron: It was fun, though not a lot of our fans maybe because a lot of the bands on it were in very different scenes. The top bands were Black Veil Brides and Asking Alexandria. So a lot of their fans, a lot of horrified looks. Young girls in black, looking disgusted.
Johnny: And confused!
Aaron: I think we won a lot of them over.
Johnny: We’ve been privileged to be put in a lot of situations like that so we’re kinda used to it.
Aaron: We’re used to the awkwardness.
Johnny: We shared a stage with Megadeth, Testament and 3 Doors Down – in one show – in Dubai! It was like the highlight of my life, watching Megadeth and Testament. I’m a huge fan. But when we went on the crowd just ate it up – they went crazy.
We have Megadeth coming through in a few weeks with Lamb of God. But get this… they have the same drummer playing for both bands. How insane is that? Oh, wait… you have Ed from Suburban Legends playing with you now as well!
Johnny: Yeah, people get sick, somebody quits… so it’s good that someone can step up and do double duty. And survive.
Is Ed an official member of the band now?
Aaron: Well, he’s in the promo photo.
Johnny: Ed’s doing a great job,
Aaron: Over a year now.
Is this the first run of dates where he’s been playing for both bands?
Aaron: Yeah, this is the first time we’ve played with Suburban Legends in a couple of years.
Johnny: I think the last time we toured in Europe with Suburban Legends, out old drummer Ryland was playing in both bands.
You often do a lot of versions of the song “S.R.” when you play live. Why that song in particular?
Aaron: It wasn’t a planned thing. It was just years and years of playing, that song’s really short and simple – the same chord change all the time. One day on stage I just said “Hey, what is this song was longer?”. On the live album we made it into a gag, but we’re pretending. “What if we did it punk rock? What if we did it country?”. That actually happened one time.
Do you rehearse these things?
Arron: Oh, no. If you rehearse things then it’s not funny. It’s too fake. Sometimes we do, like we used to introduce “Beer” with “This is a song about our favourite drink in the world!” and then we’d play “Tequila”, then “Red Red Wine”. Each song would sound worse and worse, then we’d do “Margaritaville” but the band were starting to play it right and it just wasn’t as funny. It’s not funny if it’s not a train wreck! That stuff has to be spontaneous.
Has anyone ever requested “S.R.” in a style you couldn’t do?
Aaron: They’ve requested that we stop doing the “S.R.” gag, period. It’s fifteen minutes long and they want to hear some other songs.
What’s the maddest thing you’ve seen or done on tour?
Aaron: We lost Johnny one time. He got drunk, got in a cab and said “Take me to the college!”
Johnny: Yeah, they took me to the wrong college. And I didn’t have any money so they took me to the police station on campus. This was in Boston and it was raining. They just left me in the foyer, not in a cell or anything. My phone stopped working…
Aaron: This was his first show with the band.
Johnny: What a way to start, eh? I started to throw up in the foyer. I’d had a few… “beverages”, possibly one too many. They gave me a trash can and managed to get hold of Tom, our tour manager who brings the whole bus over to get me. They pile me into the bus and our old drummer has a video camera, and he gives me a shoe box. I throw up in the shoe box.
Aaron: And he was doing this laugh like “HEEHEEHEEHEE!” [imagine a drunk Wicked Witch of the West – Mosh].
Johnny: I got the talking to by Tom after that.
If you were to meet a young band, just starting up, what advice would you give them?
Aaron: Save your money.
Johnny: Write hit songs.
Aaron: It’s hard to give advice because every situation is different. We didn’t discover a manual of how to succeed and go through it “tick, tick, tick” in order.
Johnny: Nowadays there are so many different ways how people can get music, how they hear about shows. I mean, you guys [talking to Aaron about the early days before Johnny joined the band – Mosh] wored your asses off, handing out flyers out side shows. I mean, you can still do that but web presence is so important now that distinguishing yourself is really the challenge.
Aaron: Cream rises to the top. And so does shit! Read Motley Crue’s The Dirt. It’s not a book, it’s a manual. A manual of how to have a really fucked up life.