Take a listen to Reel Big Fish -- perhaps to their Turn the Radio Off disc -- and the first thing you might notice about this Long Beach, California band is... well, after you've noticed they're definitely a ska band... and, yeah, kind of a punk band, too... and, ok, yes, they do seem to have a penchant for loud clothes... but after all that, you might notice something a little lopsided about their sound. The horns -- what's up with that low-end punchy sound? Trombonist Dan Regan is on the line to explain.
"That was luck, because we actually started off with the standard trumpet/trombone/sax, three and a half years ago. Me, Tavis [Werts, trumpet] and this other guy named Adam. I got grounded, so they brought in another trombone player. Then I came back, then I got grounded again..." Dan continued with a convoluted tale of horn players that gets a little confusing. Suffice to say, they ended up with two trombones, two trumpets -- and no sax! "It wasn't like we made this conscious decision to have this really far out arrangement of horns," he says. "But, actually, it's pretty fun, because other ska bands look up on stage and say, 'you look like a big battleship with cannons!'... uh, alright."
Now, wait, what did you mean by "grounded," back there? "For getting bad grades in high school," he responds. Ummmm... [insert grinding gears sound here]... how old ARE you guys?
"Everybody in the horn section is 19. [!!!] Aaron [singer/guitarist] is 22, now, the drummer is 24 and the bass player is 23. There's so many times that the horn players have to sit in the back room of a bar -- well, we don't, but they want us to." And the drinking age in California? "21." Ouch. Sounds like a couple more years of back rooms for the brass.
So, why ska?
"It's weird, 'cuz there's so many bands down here. In Orange County, everybody's in a band and everybody's going to see each other. Ska is the main thing that's going on, but everybody's trying to put other things into it. So you've got all these different kinds of music that's based around ska. Funk bands. Acid jazz. Like us, the punk bands, punk-ska. The tower of power, whatever we are."
"Actually, when I joined the band, I really didn't know what ska was; I mean, I knew what ska was, but I didn't know it was called 'ska,' and I didn't know the whole subculture behind it. I was just looking to jump in a band. But Tavis, at the time, he was a Rude Boy, so it was 'no no, this is what it [ska] is, and you dress like this, we're going to join this band, ok?' [switch to meek deadpan] 'Ok.' I was a hippie, I didn't know!" he laughs. "Is my Mom gonna hate me? Yeah? Alright... "
Ska does definitely have its own culture and its own audience. Ska bands play with other ska bands to ska fans. Ska-punksters Goldfinger, on the other hand, say they benefited from the contrast playing on bills with non-ska bands. Have Reel Big Fish found the same thing?
"Um... I dunno. Down here it's different, because everybody goes to every show. Just like a big family. And in the rest of the country we've only toured with ska bands. The thing about Goldfinger is they came from Hollywood, and in Hollywood, you get on a bill in a club, you've got every kind of group playing before you and after you. But here it's pretty much all the same bands."
"That's a problem we've been having, though. We've been touring with ska bands, they're all older than us and they've been doing it a lot longer. Bands like Let's Go Bowling and the Toasters. They've got their roots firmly planted in the ska community over the whole country. Everywhere we went, they knew everyone personally and whole ska thing. We're a ska band, but we're not quite a ska band, not like they are. We found that we were always having to play catch up. 'No no, really, we DO play ska.' Luckily we made good friends with all those guys, so that made it easier to get in with all the crowds and everybody like that."
"We're thinking it's about time to move away from ska, I mean from touring with ska bands." But not in the immediate future: the band will be playing the Pit Pub out at UBC on Saturday, January 11th, as part of the "Magical Mystery Meat Tour" (hey, that's what he called it) with -- surprise! -- two ska bands, the Skeletones and Goldfinger . This isn't Reel Big Fish's first foray north of the border, as they actually played the Pit Pub in October. Do you remember it, Dan?
"Yeah, I do!!" It sounds like he has a huuuge grin on his face: "I remember that the drinking age was 19 and I knew that I was 19. And I knew that we had a roll of drink tickets. And I knew that I was trying to teach the band a lesson about drinking. The problem was, I play the same when I'm drunk as when I'm not. It's just that, no one else was. So that... didn't work."
"But, yeah, that was fun. We were worried, because we didn't know if we would have any kind of crowd in Vancouver or what was going on. All we knew was that it was just fun passing through the border. The show ended up being really really fun -- I mean, besides the alcohol. Something about it. There was that Vancouver magic happening... "
This isn't their first time sharing a bill with Goldfinger ("they're MANIACS," he adds) and the Skeletones, either. "We actually did two shows just like that at the Troubador in Hollywood, right around when we were getting our record deal with Mojo. The Mojo people went and saw us to decide whether they were going to sign us or not. That scared us so much! We put on an awful show. We got up on stage and our manager just goes, 'Ok, there's the president, there's so and so, there's so and so,' and we just went 'ooooooohhh nnnooooo.' Now we're over it, cuz they're just a bunch of dorks like us!"
Yeah, the dorks signed 'em, making Reel Big Fish one of two bands signed to Mojo Records, Goldfinger, of course, being the other. There must have been some connection between the bands, no? "Well, yeah. We played a show at a small club in Riverside, and John was looking for a horn section to play on the Goldfinger album, and the keyboard player who played on the Goldfinger album is in the Skeletones. We were playing a show with them, and John just happened to be at the show and said 'I want those guys' and then, from there, we just started talking our band with the record people, and one thing lead to another." He laughs, "and NOW we can't get rid of him!"
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