First off, I just want to extend a token of gratitude to you for taking the time to sit down and answer some questions for us. Now, please state your name and position in Reel Big Fish.
My name is Aaron Barrett. I'm the lead vocalist, guitarist, and a songwriter for the Reel Big Fish. Ohm and now I'm the producer, too! [Laughs]
For anyone who might have been living under a rock for the past decade, can you please give us a quick history lesson on Reel Big Fish?
We started in Orange County (that's right, kids, the OC) in 1991, and we got pretty big in the local ska scene by playing alongside other bands including No Doubt, Sublime, Save Ferris, and The Aquabats. Then, in 1996, we signed a contract with Mojo Records. We had a moderately successful single ("Sell Out) for a few months, and we have been touring and releasing albums ever since.
On August 22nd, you released a triple-disc, live effort entitled Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album. How has the response been to the release, thus far?
Actually, this album has received the most positive reviews of any album we have ever put out! Usually, everybody hates the new albums when they are released, but then they eventually learn to love them later on, so hopefully this time won't be the opposite situation.
What inspired the band to release a live package, and do you feel it met the expectations you had set in store?
We wanted to do a live album because we feel that we have always performed better in a live atmosphere, in comparison to our recordings. There is just this magic that happens when we get up on stage, and that is very hard to capture in the studio. Also, the live show is different because it's a show, and it's not just a bunch of songs thrown together. So, we really wanted to capture all the banter and funny stuff that goes on in between songs, too! Also, Jive Records owns all of our previous recordings, so this was a way to take back our music.
What inspired the band to film a second live DVD with only one album under it's belt since the first release?
I just don't know why everyone is so shocked that we decided to put out a second DVD. I don't understand what the big surprise is! I mean, are we the only band who has put out more than one DVD? People seem to act like it is the weirdest thing they've ever heard of. We filmed a DVD in 2002, and now we released a second one four years later. Every show is going to be different, and especially if it's in a different location. It's a completely different experience each time. I'm already making plans for another DVD. Is that going to freak people out, too? [Laughs] Basically, we got the album portion of the live package together, and we figured that it would be fun to have a bonus DVD in there, as well. That's all.
If you encountered an unfamiliar consumer in a local record store, how would you describe your latest release, and which of it's qualities would you use as selling points?
Wow. Well, I would use the words "fun" and "funny" a lot. [Laughs] Also, I suppose I would just tell them how good it sounds for a live album, how danceable it is, and that it is pure, non- stop entertainment and hilarity! [Laughs]
This past summer, fans witnessed the band's flight from Jive Records. In detail, can you please explain the situation?
Well, what happened was Mojo Records were dropped from Universal, and then they were picked up by Zomba/Jive. Have you ever heard of a record label being dropped? [Laughs] Anyways, suddenly we were on this huge major label that didn't really know anything about our band, nor understand what we were all about as musicians. Also, they just didn't know what to do with us, so as time went by, we got less and less attention and less and less promotion. But, we still justified the whole situation by saying to ourselves "well at least our records are still on the shelves in stores all over the world." But, when our latest studio recording, We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy, came out, they chose to only release it in the United States. That's when we knew it was time for us to go!
What are your uncensored feelings towards the label, and how do you feel about once again attaining the title of an independent act?
Well, first of all, I'm not all violently pissed off and vengeful towards them. They just didn't understand us, and also, they were just pretty clueless as to what to do with a band like ourselves. However, I'm not going to go on a whole "major labels are evil, fuck them" tangent, because if they had been behind us the entire time, it would have been really awesome. But, it is true that the more it becomes about business, making money and moving products, the less it becomes about music, art and people. So, fuck them! [Laughs]
If the right offer from a record label came along, what are the odds that the band would sign a new contract?
To be honest, it would have to be a very fair contract that had our best interests as a band at heart. We aren't against record deals, just bad record deals! [Laughs] But, so far, doing it on our own is working pretty well for us, so there really is no reason to sign to a record label, at the moment.
How much control, if any, did Jive Records have over the direction and material presented on your previous releases?
Surprisingly, very little, actually. They pretty much let us make the albums we wanted to make, and they let us work out the details ourselves, such as deciding what the cover art would look like. But, I can't help but think that maybe it was because they weren't that interested in what we were doing, and they didn't think it would make them any money, anyways, so they just continued to let us go ahead and do whatever we wanted. However, they did put out The Forces of Evil album, and that was pretty cool of them.
What are your uncensored feelings towards major record labels and the current state of mainstream music?
I think there is a lot of really great music out right now. I know as a ska band member, I'm supposed to be at war with emo music, but I'll take bands like Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance over Creed, Limp Bizkit and Matchbox 20, anyday. The 90's were a fairly rough time near the end. I'll take garage rock and indie rock over nu-metal and grunge. As for major record labels? I personally don't think they are going to last very long. [Laughs]
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent act, in comparison to being signed to a major record label?
When a major record label is working for you, it's awesome! We had Universal Records fully behind us back in 1997, and we ended up with a hit record to our name. We were able to get our music out to millions of people. That is what any band wants, isn't it? To be able to share their music with as many people as possible, and to play music for a living. Being a part of the Mojo/Universal family really helped us out. But, then, being on Jive Records was the exact opposite. They didn't promote our band or put any money into us, so it felt like we were being held back. I suppose I've been on both sides of the situation. But, I do know that for us, doing it on our own, or maybe being on a small, independent record label that cares and understands what we're about, is what is best for us.
You've announced that Jive Records will be releasing a Reel Big Fish greatest hits collection in November. How do you feel about this endeavour?
I really wish they wouldn't, and I can't help but feel like they are only doing it to take away from the sales of our new, live album, and that really upsets me. But, unfortunately, there really isn't anything we can do to stop them, as they own all of those recordings. However, at least they were nice enough to let us be involved. There isn't anything on the album that hasn't been released before, and our fans already own all of the material. So, whatever! [Laughs]
It's come to my attention that the band has been writing and arranging new material. What can listeners expect from your forthcoming efforts?
Oh, really? Where did you get that information? [Laughs] As always, I will just write the best songs I possibly can, and someday, I will write a song better than "Beer." But, remember, they can't all be winners! [Laughs]
When can we expect a new full-length from Reel Big Fish, and do you have anything in mind that you'd like to try with your next release?
Well, I don't think we will start working on a new album until late next year, but we do have some fun stuff coming out before that time. So, don't worry, as lots of new music from Reel Big Fish is on it's way! But, as far as what I'd like to "try" on the next album, I'd really just like to make it sound good! That's my goal. [Laughs]
Furthermore, you've announced that you will be releasing a split effort with Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer in the future. What can you tell us about the release, and when can we expect it to hit shelves?
I'm not sure when that release is set to come out, but we have completely finished recoridng it. It's called Duet All Night Long, and each band performs three covers. I sing with them Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer on their songs, and Rachel, the band's vocalist, sings with me on our songs. I was very excited to do "Lyin' Ass Btch" by Fishbone, though, and it sounds awesome!
In addition to performing with Reel Big Fish as the band's frontman, you've also done your fair share of work behind the scenes. What inspired you to try your hand at production, and do you plan on continuing to produce your releases?
Well, I have always been the guy in the band that stays there the entire time, even when my parts are finished being recorded. I have always been the one who worries about the finished product, and sits right next to the engineer in the studio telling him exactly how I want our albums to sound. So, I have always been involved in the "production" of our albums, I'm just finally getting credit! But, yes, I will continue to produce our albums. I can't trust anybody else! [Laughs]
Your latest, studio release, We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy, received a significant amount of backlash for it's supposed "bad sound quality." What are your thoughts on this particular criticism, and how do you feel about the album's sound quality?
Well, I definitely went for a "unique" sound on that one. I wanted it to be a little more raw sounding, but I guess there was a little bit of miscommunication between the engineer and myself, so he decided to record the entire album with room microphones, to try to give it a live sound. However, that wasn't necessarily what I was going for at all, but by the time I realized that it wasn't sounding the way I wanted it to, it was too late. I can understand why people say it sounds "bad", as it isn't exactly what they are used to sounding like, but I would say that it is a very interesting and unusual record. The songs are great, but I do wish it sounded more along the lines of Why Do They Rock So Hard?
Reel Big Fish are preparing to embark on the Fall of Ska tour alongside support acts Streetlight Manifesto, Westbound Train, and the Suburban Legends. What can fans expect from this tour?
This is going to be an amazing tour that is full of non-stop skankin'! I've been trying to to arrange an all-ska tour for a long time, and you would be surprised at how hard it was to do. There is just so much bullshit and politics involved in booking a tour. Everybody owes somebody a favor, or the booking agent thinks such and such is about to "blow up", so we have to take them out on tour, or so and so produced this band so we have to let them open! It has been a long time since we performed on a tour where the lineup consisted of only bands we wanted on tour with us.
After years of performing, how do you consistently ensure that Reel Big Fish's live performances remain fresh, exciting, and memorable?
I suppose by always having fun playing shows, and just getting up on stage and having a great time. We always take our performances just serious enough where we know we are entertaining our audiences, and that we have to play well and give them a show. But, other than that, anything goes! We don't always play the same setlist, or say the same thing word for word between songs every night night like some bands do. We try to be spontaneous, and we try to connect with the audience on a personal level. We don't act like untouchable rock stars on stage, as we are just six, silly guys who could be your regular, everyday friend. But, I don't really know! We just get up there and do what we do, and in the end, we hope people like it. There isn't really any kind of science behind it.
If you could select any band to tour with that you haven't had the opportunity to play with already, who would you choose, and why?
I would love to tour with Rancid. They have always been one of our favorite bands. Also, I'd love to go out on the road with The Aquabats, again. It's been nearly 10 years. Plus, of course, it's always been one of our dreams to tour with Less Than Jake, but for some reason it just hasn't happened. But, I'm sure the absence of a tour with Less Than Jake tour hasn't happened because of booking agents, or for some business-related reasons. I doubt it has anything to do with the guys in the band, or at least I hope not.
Do you have any pre-show rituals you often perform before stepping on stage?
Well, just a little verbal abuse and some male nudity on the bus. That's about it. [Laughs]
As I'm sure all of our readers are curious, could you please explain what the day in the life of a touring musician is like?
Well, I don't see much of the daytime, as I'm usually sleeping! [Laughs] But, on tour, there is not much to do besides hang around and wait for the show to start. We just try to keep busy however we can. Every day we are in a new city, and that is pretty strange, at first, but after a while, it's really wierd to come home and be in the same place for weeks at a time! [Laughs] As for a day in the life, let's see. First, you wake up at 3pm, and then you soundcheck, brush your teeth, look for somewhere to eat, eat, go back to the club and watch people file into the building. Then, you watch other bands play for a while, change your clothes, get on stage, rock out, go back to the bus, eat, drink, be merry. Finally, the bus call arrives, your bus leaves the club, you watch movies, and go to sleep. Then, the next day you wake up in new city and repeat it all over again.
Where is your favourite place to play, and why?
Hawaii, because we are paid to go on a vacation to a tropical island! But, the truth is that we love to play anywhere that there are people who want to dance and have a good time at our shows.
Which songs are your favourite to play live, and why?
To be honest, they are all fun to play live. But, I always love to play "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Ban the Tube Top."
After the Fall of Ska tour has run it's course, what can we expect from Reel Big Fish?
Well, we are going to tour the United Kingdom and Europe in January, and then we plan on visiting Australia and Japan in March. Also, we are going to put out some fun EP's, and then late next year, we will likely start working on a new album. The best thing about not being signed to a record label is that we can put out music as often as we want, and there is no three year wait between releases! [Laughs]
In 2003, you released an album entitled Friend or FOE? with your side project, The Forces of Evil. Can you please, once and for all, confirm the status of the group?
We are on an indefinate hiatus. Between me always being so busy with Reel Big Fish, and most of the other members having real jobs, or other priorities on their hands, they weren't able to tour full time. Plus, lets not forget the fact that half of the band hates me because we kicked Justin Ferreira out of Reel Big Fish. So, I can't picture us doing anything anytime soon, if ever again. To be honest, that band was a lot of fun, but it just didn't make much sense to start another band that was so similar to Reel Big Fish, especially when I didn't really have the time to put in the work that needed to be put in. I suppose it just wasn't fair to everyone involved.
At that time, you described The Forces of Evil's existence as a way to "breathe new life to the ska scene." Do you feel you accomplished this goal, and how do you feel now that the project has, more or less, disbanded?
Well, the more good ska music out there, the better! I don't know if we put new life into the Orange County ska scene, but I do think we added a little excitement that may have been lacking at that time.
Your two, previous releases have featured a variety of unique cover songs. What has inspired you to cover so many compositions, and do you have any idea of covers listeners can expect you to perform, in the future?
There are so many good songs out there, and sometimes it just feels great to play a song that somebody else wrote. I've got some amazing covers in the works! Alright, fine, you caught me. That was just my own way of saying "I haven't thought of anything quite yet." [Laughs]
Reel Big Fish are an act that a large majority of listeners discovered through peer-to-peer, file sharing programs. How does that make you feel, and what are your personal feelings towards downloading music?
That's awesome! I think downloading has helped this band get as big as it has, especially in the United Kingdom, where we didn't have any albums available until 2002. I also think downloading has kept this band going as long as it has.
The band's original lineup featured a four piece horn section, but since the original departures, you've performed with only three horn players. Why did the band never decide to enlist the help of a second trombone player?
I think it's just a matter of us not knowing anyone that is able to fill the position, or maybe we were just waiting for the right person to come along, or perhaps we're just lazy. But, I would love to have a saxophone player join our lineup again, someday. We used to have two trumpet players, three trombone players, and a saxophone player, but a few of them went away to college right before ewe got signed. Suckers! [Laughs]
It's safe to say Reel Big Fish has experienced it's fair share of lineup alterations. How do you cope with the departures of members, and do you feel your current lineup is the one you're content with?
Well, actually, it's usually really nice to get a new band member, because they are so excited to be on tour and playing music for a living, and it's pretty refreshing to the rest of us bitter, jaded, old road dogs! [Laughs] But, we have had so many people come through this band, that we have become very good at dealing with members leaving. There have been like 25 people in this band! But, I think right now we have the best lineup we have ever had. Musically, we are easily better than ever, and personality wise, we all get along really well. It makes touring so much better without any fighting or tension in the band.
The internet is full of stories as to why your original trumpet player, Tavis Werts, is no longer a member of Reel Big Fish, as well as rumours of a personal vendetta between the two of you. Can you please, once and for all, explain to us the situation?
Tavis was just one of those know-it-all type people, and the kind that would always try to make you feel stupid for not knowing something. If he knew you something that you didn't know, he would always rub it in your face. Plus, he just turned out to be a real asshole, and after living with him on a tour bus and in hotel rooms for nearly six years, we had all had about enough of his attitude. One night he was drunk, he thought I threw something at him, which I certainly did not, and in retaliation, he threw a Gatorade bottle at my nose, and then lunged at me. So, I punched him in the face, he quit, and I fired him at about the same time. Plus, he was a pretty awful trumpet player.
What really happened to your previous trumpet player, Tyler Jones, and where is he now?
Well, Tyler Jones was going through a lot of personal problems which he was bringing into the band, and he was taking out his frustrations and his bad moods on all of us. In the end, he was just impossible to live with, and he was drinking so much that it was affecting his performances on stage. So, we had to ask him to leave the band. He was a really awesome guy, though, and it is a total shame that things went the way they did. But, he is a bartender now, and from what I've heard, he's doing great.
Reel Big Fish have always offered a significant amount of ska material on their albums. How do you feel about bands who began as ska musicians and later abandoned their roots, and is ska music a genre you invision yourself playing forever?
I think a band can do whatever they wish. If they want to stop playing ska music, or if they want to start playing ska music, that's all their business. A band should play whatever kind of music they want to play, and never feel as if they have to play a certain genre because a scene or a record label tells them to do so. I will always play ska because it is my favorite kind of music, but I will also more than likely write some songs that are not ska songs. Why not? I love music! No one can tell me what I can or can't play, or and what I can and can't listen to! But, at the same time, I understand the dissapointment a fan feels when a band is such an awesome ska band, and then go ahead and totally change in order to secure a record deal. If they feel that they are so far beyond ska, musically, that's lame! There is nothing that pisses me off more then when a band says they don't want to be "limited" by being a ska band, or that they are "more mature" now that they have stopped playing ska music.
How do you feel about being widely labelled as pioneers of ska music?
I don't know if we are pioneers of ska music, but I do think we are one of many awesome bands that love to play ska, and one that wants to do everything we can to keep it alive.
Which Reel Big Fish album / song is your personal favourite?
I still like Why Do They Rock So Hard? the best. That album is just amazing, and I still love to listen to it! It's too hard to pick a favorite song, though, as I love them all.
If you could change one moment in your band's history, which moment would it be, and why?
I would have put our cover of A-Ha's song "Take On Me" on the United States release of Why Do They Rock So Hard?
Do you have any advice for young musicians who are trying to get their start in the music industry?
Be sure to listen to a lot of music, and not only one style, and get good at your own instrument. Get a manager who knows a lot about the music business, and one that really has your best interests in mind. Play music you want to play, and not what you believe a record label wants to hear. I assure you that people will know if you're fake!
Well, that's all the questions I have for you today. Do you have any last words you'd like to leave our readers with before we part?
I just want to thank all of our fans for their support, as they are the ones who have had our backs all along, and the ones who have kept us going when record labels and the music industry let us down. We would not be here today, doing what we do, without the Reel Big Fish fans. Thanks so much, everybody, and I'm sorry to get all sappy on you. [Laughs]
Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. We wish you the very best of luck in the future.
No problem. This interview was a lot of fun. Thanks!
I really liked this interview. Good work!
I was in love with Reel Big Fish when I was younger (I'm still a fan though) and got to interview Scott a few years back. It was great but he was too funny to seriously answer any questions.
Secretly I just wanted to meet Aaron but he was taking a shower *sigh*