Sitting down with Ska-punk rockers Reel Big Fish at the Manchester Academy date of their 2010 tour, it suddenly becomes hard to find the best starting point for our conversation. With a career spanning almost 20 years, the band has endured quite a lot, but through personal problems and numerous line up changes one thing has always remained the same: the fans.
The Californian group have been touring extensively during the past few years, always popular in the UK and Europe; they’ve found similar success at home, recently announcing that they’ll be playing all of this year’s Van’s Warped Tour. However they don’t take this success for granted, “If nobody wants to see you, you can’t be on tour all the time” explains front man Aaron Barrett, “so lucky for us” and no band seems to tour as extensively as Reel Big Fish.
However, a life spent on the road takes its toll and this could be to blame for the bands frequent line up changes. With most bands, members leaving can sometimes signal the beginning of the end, is it weird for this 6-piece when the time comes for a line up shuffle? When asked a silence lands in the room finally broken by Barrett deadpanning: “If by weird you mean a wonderful relief?”
“It depends, sometimes some people just can’t handle the road and leave the band, some people there’s just terrible personality clashes” says Barrett, referring to the bands mutual farewells and it’s not so mutual farewells. Some splits are necessary, the best example being with ex-trombone player Grant Barry who left the band in 1999 after extended personal problems; these came to a head when he hit a security guard during a Missouri show.
Guitarist and trumpet player Scott Klopfenstein describes how he saw the situation: “You’re like ‘wow it’s going to be weird without Grant’ and then you’re like ‘but things seem to function better now . . .’” But in the long run the band see these turbulences as a form of refinery, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and Barrett is confident that the current line up is the best yet, “everyone gets along very well, plays very well, is good at their instruments and we put on a great show” he explains.
“It really is more about learning to hang out and be around each other even in the times when you can’t” says Klopfenstein, “it’s like being fucking married” he adds. Speaking of marriage, it’s another factor affecting a band that’s constantly on tour. Beloved bassist Matt Wong decided to bow out of the band in 2007 to spend more time with his wife and young son, but Barrett assures fans that he still remains a familiar face within the band, “we see him whenever we’re in California and he comes to our shows, we just saw him a couple of weeks ago.”
Life takes its toll and with the band hitting the big 20 year mark in 2011, what does it feel like to be veterans of the Ska scene? Klopfenstein has his own philosophy on the subject: “The only way to explain it is it’s been like the fastest forever” he says, “I can’t remember not being in this band but I feel it hasn’t really been that long” he adds. Time flies when you’re having fun right? “It flies when you’re not having fun too” assures Barrett, but make no mistake, for the time being it’s going pretty well, “lots of people still come to see us so that’s good” he continues.
So what’s next for Reel Big Fish? Barrett’s answer to that question is more progression. After emerging from a brief turbulent period the band seems focused on improving their game, “You can’t write the same song over and over again for years and years, unless you’re Chuck Berry, or Bad Religion, or Green Day . . . Tried to write Beer like 10 times and it just didn’t come out, got close once, Beer part 2, but it just didn’t happen!”
So 20 years in and still no sign of slowing, we can expect the band to continue doing what they do best: “more touring, playing shows, making music, fighting the good fight and kicking all the asses we can get hold of,” explains Barrett. So watch out.