Reel Big Fish
It’s too bad that sarcasm doesn’t print well, because the guys of Reel Big Fish are as funny as they come. After taking the role of unsuspecting reporter quickly, they played upon my position with a barrage of wrong names, one deadpan joke after the other, and downright odd responses, but I didn’t expect this to be a walk in that park. Anyone who has ever heard a RBF album knows that they can tackle even the most serious topics with an incomparable humor, and this seems to extend way beyond their music. By very definition, they are not the type of band who sits nicely and quietly while you dole out questions. Instead, they are the kind of band that reminds you why you are willing to sit outside for hours just to ask a few questions, they are the kind of band that reminds you why you love what you do, and they are the kind of band that makes you think twice about those groups who do sit quietly for interviews.
While many fans know how far they will go for a group they truly love, not many can begin to comprehend what their musical idols will do for them, and that’s where the truth about a band comes out. Nary a band would want to admit that they make less then most of the people who buy their records, but RBF holds no such pretensions. “When it’s all said and done, when all the bills are paid, and the people are paid, we make about as much as somebody in a fast food restaurant full time would make, only putting in longer hours,” admits Aaron Barrett (vocals, guitar) without skipping a beat.
Scott Klopfenstine (vocals, trumpet) agrees, and while one would think this would be a negative aspect of being in the music business, the guys don’t seem too put off by it. “We would contribute to a lot more charities if we had the money,” says Scott, but instead, they put their music on as many compilations they can, such as Heal The Bay. Unlike many groups flooding the airwaves today, you can tell that Reel Big Fish is about a lot more then money, even though on the surface, they joke religiously about their “Rock Star” status.
“Playing live and performing for the people,” they agree, are the best parts of being in the business. So what would the guys be doing if they weren’t in Reel Big Fish? “I want to be a dentist,” offers Aaron, putting his Converse slides on the coffee table in the band’s living room-like dressing room, deep in the belly of Orlando’s Hard Rock Live. While going from international ska sensation to Captain Cavity seems a little off the charts, all the guys seem to have plans that stem beyond music at some point in time, which proves that they may joke about being rock stars, but their futures are all about realism.
Scott and Aaron also agree that they’ve had to overcome a lot as a band such as the stress of touring, record label business, and some awful recording experiences, but nothing could be as dramatic as the differences between themselves. Aaron hates to record, Scott likes it. Scott loves the rush of 14,000 screaming fans and Aaron likes the intimacy of the smaller venues, where he can interact more with the fans. They all listen to vastly different music and all seem to have their own individual dream of Reel Big Fish, but it appears that the group is very tight knit, and whether despite their differences or because of them, they are above all friends, and that makes the whole deal a lot sweeter. “We get treated like kings wherever we go,” says Scott, I suspect only half joking.
As Scott and Aaron dish about their beloved replacement guitarist, Britney Spears, and the fame and fortune that only being in a ska band can bring you (over the noise of trombonist Dan Regan blow drying his afro), they seem more like friends than international stars. With their members as diverse as their sound, one thing that this band has mastered is their ability to look at the lighter side of things and get along.
It’s rather unlikely that you’ll see Reel Big Fish making any big changes in the near future. “We made a new album, we wrote a bunch of new songs, no big deal, we’re not trying to do an image overhaul or anything,” Aaron says. To many fans, this is going to come as breath of fresh air, because why should they ruin a good thing? As a group, they tackle many forms of music, especially ska and reggae, but anyone who catches a RBF show live can’t help but notice the poppy songs they seem all too happy to cover. More than anything, their music builds good times and can lift even the dullest spirits, which is fully their goal, even if it means going to great lengths to achieve it. As anyone caught up in the crowd during a show knows, when a kick ass band like RBF covers a pop song, or an old eighties favorite you know all the words to, the mood only becomes so much greater. Love it or hate it, many of the groups that are being industrialized like basketball shoes today, are only searching for the same elevation. The only downside to this rather noble quest is that it makes it nearly impossible to tell what artists are genuine in their goals and which have dollar signs burned into their eyes. Trying to give the benefit of the doubt to business manufactured music, Scott reminds us that, “It always has been and always will be,” but on the flip side, “sometimes it makes it hard for our kind of bands to get popular,” he admits. “We don’t ask ourselves how we could be like The Backstreet Boys. It’s like watching a movie, people find people to fit a part and control them,” Aaron adds swiftly. “It’s all entertainment”, says Scott.
Finally finished with his now perky afro, Dan plops on the floor to share his thoughts on this thing called pop. “It was kinda a novelty when it first came out, you know, Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys. Everyone jumped on it like a cartoon, now it’s so obvious and in your face, and even MTV sits there, and in an hour segment, they say, ‘Here’s the next ten big things and we hate them too, so here you go.’ It’s gotten ridiculous.” In closing the musically touchy subject of pop music, Aaron adds, “Who are we to judge?”
He has a point beyond all others, because when you get down to the fine print, many bands, artists, groups, and record label “projects” are looking for the same things in the business. However, selling out is a different story. “I think ‘sellout’ is one of those kind of words invented by kids who• have you ever known those kids who find a record they really like but they don’t want to share it with anybody, and then all of a sudden, like, the band gets to be successful, they get to play for more people, and keep on playing and the kids go [in high pitched whiny voice] ‘Why? Why does everyone get to know about these guys! Why?!’ It’s a selfish thing,” says Scott. They all seem to agree that the act of truly selling out is when you’re doing something you don’t want to do for the sake of money, or when your record company demands you change your image or sound and you follow along because they say so.
Of all people to define selling out, Reel Big Fish would have to be who I’d go with, considering their 1997 single “Sell Out” was so infectious (and true) that it sent their MTV video into heavy rotation and made the song a Top 100 of the year, bursting the band into the mainstream music scene. Since then, they have toured all over the world, and released their third album, Why Do They Rock So Hard?. Of their albums, Aaron claims, “We like to make sure that a record is like a good mix tape.” As true as that may be, they also lend themselves to keeping the ironic and ecstatic mood of ska throughout their albums and throughout the scene. With their summer tour with co-headliners Goldfinger (aptly named “Crouching Fish, Hidden Finger”) in full swing, and being on the road with some of their best friends in the business – Goldfinger, RX Bandits, Zebrahead and Homegrown – these guys are beyond pumped. When asked what stuck out about the bands picked for this tour, Scott replied, straight-faced, “Tight asses,” and the room exploded with laughter as Dan bent over in an Ace Ventura talking butt pose.
From the nosebleed seats, it appears that everything is going perfectly within their group, but the guys tell a different story, well, sort of. From what Scott says, Aaron is quite known for his collection of injuries, which he almost seems proud of, rattling them off like badges on honor. This time around, he’s slipped on a set of wet stairs at The Roxy in Atlanta Georgia, leaving his right arm fashionably displayed in a nice blue sling, and rendering himself unable to play the guitar. Since the guys seem to be rather used to Aaron’s accidents, they keep replacement guitarist James Valentine at close reach. Scott and Aaron try their hardest to convince him to stay on the tour for the rest of the shows, and to prove the depth of his point of why Valentine is such “an all around great guy,” Scott breaks into verse, singing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” (which comes out only half as scary as it sounds). “He’s all of our heroes [sic]”, he says, coyly smiling at a seemingly unaffected Valentine, who’s circling the room strumming chords from “Suburban Rhythm,” “Sellout,” and a few other Reel Big Fish songs.
Faces pop in and out of the door almost on schedule, some sitting for a few minutes, others gathering some Gatorade and heading back out the door, regardless, the vibe is pure excitement and they’ve still got six hours until their show. Reel Big Fish are a lot of things, but they are not sellouts or big-headed rock stars. More than anything, they are normal guys who love to play music and have just happened to be able to do it very well. Reel Big Fish is an exceptional example of what a lot of bands out now could use some practice at being: real (and you know, it doesn’t hurt that all jokes aside, they totally rock). ◼