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Interview – Aaron Barrett, Reel Big Fish – November 2012

| 5 December 2012 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

G’day Aaron, how you doing?

“Good, how are you Shane?”

Very good mate, thanks for taking time to talk to me today.

“Yeah, no problem. Glad we are able to do this. ”

Absolutely. Where are you at, at the moment?

“We’re in Washington, beautiful weather – it’s finally stopped raining and the sun has come back out. ”

Excellent. So you must be looking forward to spending some time down under touring for Soundwave?

“Definitely. We love being down there and we love the people and the atmosphere. It reminds us of home a little bit. We’re from sunny California, so the climate is somewhat similar, so it will be nice to experience the good weather again.”

So with a couple of relatively new guys in the band, what can Aussie crowds expect from your set? Are you going to be weighted more towards new songs, or old songs, or just a bit of cherry picking?

“Well we always try to have a good wide variety of old songs and new songs. We definitely have the 10 or so staple songs in our set that are a few of our favourites and the hit songs that we always play, the songs that everyone knows us for. So we always want to please the fans with those songs and then usually there’s some room for some of the older songs that we don’t get to play too often, and then we’ll throw in some new songs here and there from our new album, “Candy Coated Fury “ that just came out. So it will be a nice cosmopolitan set. ”

Fantastic, I’m sure that will go down really well. You’ve had a really busy few years; there’s been a couple of new studio albums, you’ve done some production for other bands, you’ve toured a whole bunch, you’ve re-recorded a whole stack of your old songs and you even found time to have your appendix out last year, I mean, that bit especially must have hurt obviously.

“Yes, there’s kind of no rest for the wicked with this band! We’re always constantly working. I think we prefer it that way. I think if we were just to be sitting at home doing nothing I think we’d all go a little crazy. There’s been a few health issues, but we all came out of it alive, especially me!”

That’s the main thing, isn’t it? I had a similar thing happen when I was staying in a youth hostel in London some years ago, it wasn’t very pleasant at all.

“Yeah, well you know, when it happened we were at home so we had that. As it turned out there was sort of a new infection as we were on our summer tour, so in the middle of that tour I had to go back into hospital to get a bunch of poisonous fluid taken out of my stomach. ”


“But you know, I guess it’s one of those things: We tour, we play and it’s just what we do. It’s what we love and it’s definitely what keeps this band going. It’s what keeps us relevant with our fans; the constant touring, never letting them forget about us.”

It certainly doesn’t seem that being an independent band now is hurting your workload at all.

“Well I will say that being on a major label in the beginning definitely helped. It helped us get our fan base and it helped us get our music out there. But, you know, obviously as soon as the ska punk genre sort of went back to the underground, the record labels didn’t know what to do with us. But by then we were lucky enough to have sort of established this wonderful, loyal fan base. Then once the internet started really becoming a big thing, like Napster and file sharing – obviously we would love it if our fans purchased our music, but if someone is going to download music for free and it gets them out to a show and they buy a t shirt, then that’s perfectly fine with us. So yeah, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve stuck to our guns and always been really loud and proud about being a ska band, I think our fans have appreciated that and its one of the things that has kept them around. Sort of being honest and sincere about what it is we’re doing.”

You mentioned the internet, I mean, there’s that real trade off nowadays, isn’t there, where it’s much easier to publicise yourself and be one on one with your fans, but you lose a lot of that record sale possibilities. But as you say, if you use it to up-sell your tours and your merch and so on, you can make a living out of it still, I think.

“Oh yeah, definitely. Reel Big Fish as a band have definitely built its reputation on its live show and that’s proven to be very beneficial for us. There are a lot of fans that are more into the idea of writing music and making records, and we love that aspect of it too, but a lot of people don’t place a whole lot of emphasis on touring and that’s sort of, like I said, that’s what a big part of this band is. And once again, going back to the internet, it’s certainly helped us reach an international audience that may have never been possible for us. As long as our music gets out there and people enjoy it, it definitely makes it worth it for us to just keep going and keep doing it.”

How healthy do you think the ska scene is worldwide nowadays?

“Throughout the world there seems to be pockets of ska bands and ska scenes starting to pop up more, and that’s really exciting for a band like us. We don’t necessarily fit into the ska surge again, it’s not like we think we’re going to be huge and rich and famous. We probably wouldn’t be much bigger than we are now, but we just love ska music, and we love the scene, so we always try and support new and up and coming bands as much as we can. A lot of times when bands give their demos to bigger bands, usually I imagine the demos just get thrown out, but we listen to all that stuff because you never know; there could be a diamond in the rough and all of a sudden you have this amazing new ska band. There are little pockets throughout the world where it is starting to get bigger, but I think the good news is that it never really goes away. I think this is the sort of music that makes people happy when they listen to it, so I don’t think it will ever go away completely.”

Awesome. To get personal for a moment; as the only original member in the band and as chief songwriter, and lead guitarist, I mean you’re pretty much the band leader; the pressure of constantly flying the band’s flag seemed to get to you a few years ago and resulted in the album that was a bit darker; “We’re Not Happy ‘til You’re Not Happy”. Are you feeling happier with the bands’ legacy? Certainly talking to you now you’re saying that you’re doing what you love and all that sort of stuff.

“Yeah, well I think that album in particular, that was definitely an album that was made at a time when things couldn’t have been worse between our record label, and the band camaraderie/ morale wasn’t that great at the time, so it’s a bit of a darker album, but I think the line-up that we have now, they’re a great group of guys. We’re performing better than ever and everyone gets along well. I feel that just being able to keep a band going for 20 plus years at this point for us, I mean, if you’re able to keep some perspective about it, I think that’s a huge accomplishment. To be able to do what we do now and throughout the years continue to do, which is just have people come out and see us play and continue to buy our music, I couldn’t be happier.”

Good to hear! You’ve also got a reputation for, well some people call it juvenile humour, but you’re certainly very quirky, you’re happy to dress up as Elvis for a video clip, and you were in the movie Baseketball, and all that sort of stuff. Even though you have more recently described the perspective of the band as being a bit old and jaded, certainly around that album we were talking about, it still seems like you are really enjoying it and having a lot of fun.

“Yeah, I think with the brand new album, “Candy Coated Fury”, there seems to be a certain sort of writing style that just comes naturally. There’s always going to be that sarcasm, sometimes spiteful and sometimes painful lyrics. But I think in a way everybody sort of feels that way. I think it’s just a matter of conveying that idea. It’s almost kind of like ‘I hate you, I never want to see you again, but I love you, please don’t go’. Depending on whether it’s  a relationship, a guy and a girl relationship, or a girl and a guy, boyfriends, girlfriends, just friends or whatever, it seems to be the sort of writing style that myself and the band have adopted and it seems to have worked. We seem to have this happy go lucky music mixed in with negative lyrics at times. It’s kind of like taking a punch to the face but then you get a hug afterwards.”

That’s a good way to describe it! Talking about music; there are some really diverse influences on the new album; you’ve got your roots in that happy hyper ska sound, there’s some soul and punk and, I like one of the things I read online was the song I Dare You to Break My Heart which has been described as a cock rock anthem, and you called it a KISS song, if KISS were into Motown, or something like that. What were you listening to when you were writing all these songs? Where did all these influences get pulled from?

“Everybody in the band, our influence from the music we listen to is all over the map. We all love Motown, we all love hip hop, we all love heavy metal music, we all love Rock music. I think that’s one of the great things about being in this band as well, we’re able to appreciate pretty much any style of music and I think that’s great because it keeps us open to new ways to incorporate that into our own music and make it our own. Again, one of the great things about the way we’ve represented the music of Reel Big Fish to our fans is that, sure we have the fast, ska/pop type tunes, but we can also have, like you just said, if KISS wrote a Motown song!  We take influence from all over, and not just music but life in general. I don’t know, I think the great thing about how music and life, and life experiences can influence you, sometimes you don’t even necessarily know where the inspiration or the influence came from, it just came from somewhere along the way of whether it was the music you were listening to, or inspired by a movie or something. We manage to incorporate all of that into our music.”

Yeah, cool, so you’re not being elitist at all which is good.

“We embrace it all.”

Excellent. And as you said before, it’s like giving out a punch in the face and following up with a hug, lyrically there is that bitter sweetness, very witty and sarcastic, and I find your lyrics are always really intelligent. Have you considered a side career or a future career in writing?

“Like novels?”

Either fiction or a memoir based series of books…

“I don’t know, you never know. I guess it’s something that I haven’t quite thought about before. Obviously after being in this band for 20 plus years there are definitely a lot of stories to tell, but I don’t know. That’s a good idea actually. I’ll have to think about that.”

Cool, I’ll send you the bill for the royalties, no problems.

[Laughs] “Yeah.”

You write a lot of bad relationship songs, I’m really hoping they’re not always written from a personal perspective.

“Well, I think every artist whether it’s a painter, writer, musician or a sculpter, I think most artists have some sort of struggle. Some of it is from my own experiences and some of it is just from observing friends and other peoples’ bad times and somehow turning it all into songs that we do. But happily no, it’s not all completely my own doing.”

That’s good to hear, mate! So to wrap up, if you could magically go back in time and contribute to the making of any album throughout history, what would it be?

“Oh my gosh! Erm… I think it would have been pretty awesome to be a part of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.”

Wow, yeah, cool.

“That would have been pretty awesome.”

Especially getting a song writing credit and waiting for the cheques to roll in.

[Laughs] “Exactly!”

Awesome mate. It’s been great talking to you, thank you very much for your time again and we’re certainly looking forward to seeing you when you hit Perth next year.

“Alright, thank you so much.”

Category: Interviews

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