Impact caught up with Reel Big Fish front-man Aaron Barrett to discuss the trumpet-infused, ska punk band’s influences, aspirations and history, not to mention the truth behind the infamous Gwen Stefani rumour. After almost 2 decades of being in the music industry, the band show us with an energetic performance and an entertaining interview just how much they love their job…
So how are you all?
We’re not bad, thanks!
How’s the tour gone so far?
Pretty well. We’re heading to London tomorrow.
What’s your favourite place in the world to play in?
I don’t know, everyone asks that question. For us, it doesn’t matter where we are as long as we have fun.
Ska is quite an obscure musical choice to get into, why did you end up choosing it?
It wasn’t obscure where we came from, in South California there was a huge ska scene. The big local bands were No Doubt and Sublime. We started going to ska shows, and just had a great time.
What would you say is your favourite wave of ska, first, second or third?
I really love all of them, I don’t have a favourite…it just depends on the mood, because they’re so different. Like the whole Jamaican ska is so different to third wave punk ska. I always loved two-tone ska, I guess that’s what got me into it. I never even realised that that was what I was listening to when I was little, I used to love the beat…the English beat.
Who would you say are your main influences?
The Selector and The Beat. I think when we first started we were really influenced by the very first Fishbone album and we were listening to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones a lot. They all know how to party. And we really listened to Operation Ivy!
You’ve had loads of changes to the members of your band. What spurred that on?
Well when we first started we were 16, and it’s difficult trying to keep personalities together for so long. As years went on, people would leave for college or go off to school or whatever…and once we got signed, we were getting a lot of money, so of course people stayed. Then we were touring a lot, and a tour is a whole other kind of nightmare, trying to live with people in a little bus, sleeping in bunk beds on top of each other. I think it’s awesome and really fun, but I can understand how it could drive you crazy. People don’t want to be away from girlfriends, or wives or babies.
So you’ve been together for about 2 decades now?
We’ve been touring constantly for about 14 years, that’s why there’s been so many different people and different personalities…it’s always been pretty random how we meet new band members. ‘Oh you know a guy? Alright, he’ll do!’
What would you say is the highlight of your career to date?
I don’t know, I don’t look back and go ‘Oh man, that was the best time! That has made it all worth it!’. Just to still be here really. This is our 9th year of coming to the UK, and to still be able to bring over a thousand people to a club is incredible.
Has this always been your aspiration since you were young? Or have you gone along with it and ended up in a lucky place?
I always loved music, I just didn’t try playing an instrument until I was about 14 or 15. It was the late eighties when hair metal bands came out that I really got into it, that was a great time! So of course seeing all these people with the big hair, and the bright colours playing guitars, I just thought, ‘That’s what I wanna do. I wanna play ripping guitar solos and dance around in spandex.’
The content of your music is quite light-hearted and jovial, have you ever thought about making an album that was more…
Yes! Dark and twisted?
I think if you really sit down and look at the lyrics, you’ll see that there’s some f*cked up things in there. If you read all the lyrics you’d think… ‘That guy’s funny…and angry!’ I was always really shy. I took this poetry class in school and I figured out that the way I could be confident in front of people would be to make it funny. Of course, we do have silly songs. But some come right from the heart…my cold, black heart.
There’s a rumour that ‘She’s famous now’, a song about losing your lover to fame, is about Gwen Stefani…is that true?!
No! You wanna know why? It’s because on our live album we shouted ‘This song is about Gwen Stefani, our lost love!’
And ‘She has a girlfriend now’, about losing your girlfriend to another woman…is that true?
That is half true. I had two different girlfriends in high school that ended up becoming lesbians later. It’s not as exciting as it seems.
I want to ask you about your latest album. What was the inspiration behind producing a covers’ album?
Well…we’ve never done one! I don’t know, it was just something fun to do and now that we’re not on a major record label anymore, it’s easier to get something done.
What was the reason for your change in label?
We signed with Mojo records, an indie label, and we were on that for a long time, but they got bought by Jive records…then they were just too big, and they didn’t know what to do with us.
Would you not say you’re a big band?
Yeh, but not what they’re used to. We always have a lot of crazy ideas, and we have a certain way of doing things and making our music. Big record labels are like ‘Oh you should do this, why don’t you try this, why don’t you cover this song?’ And we’re just like ‘…no.’
Which album did you have most fun making?
I have never enjoyed recording in my life. It is the most horrible experience. You know what though, I really like the new album. I am most proud of that one, it’s our masterpiece. We recorded a week of shows, and edited all the best performances and jokes and…
Shoved it all in together to make a slightly more raw sound?
Yeh! That’s the one.
So finally, do you think you will ever change your style at all?
No way! It’s a bad idea. The only band I know who did that failed, except for Kara’s Flowers who became Maroon 5 and they’re millionaires! I doubt we’d be as lucky.