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Interview with Aaron Barrett & John Christianson from Reel Big Fish

UPDATE: You can now listen to the interview on iTunes here or on Mixcloud here.

A few hours prior to their pretty-much-sold-out-show at Corporation (Sheffield), Aaron Barrett and John Christianson, the devilishly good-looking members of the long-running Californian ska band Reel Big Fish, took a few moments aside to chat to Chris Arnold of Cool Beans/Fat Back fame about about touring, new songs, covers of covers, commercials, jehova’s witnesses and pen lids…

Chris Arnold: Aaron, John, what a pleasure. Firstly, how are you guys doing?
John Christianson: Fantastic!
Aaron Barrett: Feel good, I finally got a whole night’s sleep as well. Jet lag – it’s a real disease, trying to raise awareness.

CA: You’re currently on your World Tour at the moment…
AB: We started about seven weeks ago, January 4th over in Hollywood, Los Angeles. It’s been going well.
JC: The guys toured the whole time, I’ve had some time off, I’ve had a baby.
AB: Well it didn’t come out of him.
CA: Congrats John, is that your first?
JC: Yep my first, and I’m recovering nicely, thank you.
AB: Wives are weird like this, they always want you to come on home from touring to watch the baby get born. I mean we’ve got shows to do here!

CA: How have the shows been going so far, is it nice to be back in the UK?
JC: Absolutely.
AB: It’s always a pleasure to come and play in the UK. It’s always packed, crowds every night, people dancing, singing along, like you’re supposed to at a show.
JC: At some shows people go and still enjoy the show but they don’t dance and don’t move around.
AB: It just makes us feel better when you dance.

CA: What can the adoring, dancing crowds expect at a Reel Big Fish show in 2013? Hit after hit after hit no doubt?
AB: Well now we have a new album out called Candy Coated Fury, so you’ll be expecting hit after hit after hit after new song after hit after new song after hit after hit.
JC: After new song hit.
AB: We know what it’s like to go to a show and have a band play all new songs and it’s horrible. No one likes that, we’ll play all your favourites with a few new ones mixed in.
JC: We space them out.
AB: People are really liking the new album. I’m not joking when I say this but this is the first album that’s come out since Turn The Radio Off in 1996 where it’s got a good reaction straight away. Every other album that’s come out since that one everyone’s been like “Argh I hate this one, you guys lost it, you guys suck now, it’s not the same!”
JC: And this is the first album where people are singing the songs right away. Usually it takes us coming out and playing them and then the next time around people are singing along, but at these shows people are singing right away, which is awesome.

CA: You’ve stated that this album is a bit of a return to your roots.
AB: Yes and no, well I think we always kept the ska sound and kept it fun, we always tried different things every now and again, different styles of songs. I feel like this time we didn’t try too hard maybe, we decided “let’s just do what we do, let’s just be Reel Big Fish.” And I think this time around there was something to say, there wasn’t just a message but a feeling that needed to come out.

At this point John opens a pen that Aaron had previously unsuccessfully attempted to open.

AB: How the hell did you open that?!
JC: I have herculean strength.
CA: It’s the strength you achieve from playing the trumpet, unbelievable arm strength.
AB: Not even arm strength, finger strength. This guy…

CA: So the first time I saw you guys was about 7 years ago at the London Forum…
JC: With Skindred?
AB: And the Matches maybe? That was a real fun tour
CA: Yes! You still keep up with what those bands are doing?
AB: I think the Matches broke up a few years ago, Skindred are still plugging away. Metal-reggae, you can’t go wrong. Well you can go wrong, but they didn’t go wrong, they do it very right.

CA: From watching you guys at the Forum way back then to recently catching you at Boomtown Festival last year, the energy has always been prevalent. When getting new members on board do you get them to take some sort of exercise test just to make sure they can keep up with the rest of the band?
JC: Well, we give them the cocaine.
AB: Just kidding! I think whenever a new member comes in the band we get somebody who’s a good musician, and who’s a good guy, who wants to be there and have fun and wants to make the show the best it can possibly be.
JC: Yeah, and I think that everyone who has come in to the band, they’ve wanted to do just that. Speaking for myself you kinda do some research, you watch videos and all that stuff. When I joined the band it was before YouTube so I would go out and buy DVDs and videos of the band and of other bands like the Who. I’d not literally be taking notes but I’d be watching enough so I knew what I needed to do.

CA: You were in Forces of Evil before hand John, is that how you two came together?
AB: That’s how I met John, when I started FOE with a few people from a band called Jeffries Fan Club and the trumpet player from Save Ferris, that trumpet player actually ended up quitting to become a Jehova’s Witness. He did not approve of the bad language. Luckily right down the block there was a guy who played trumpet who everyone knew. We walked down the street and said “hey do you wanna be in the band?”
CA: And the rest is history?
JC: Exactly, I didn’t even have the chance to say no, or yes!
AB: And then naturally, when Reel Big Fish’s trumpet player left, we thought of course, he’s the best trumpet player and the nicest guy we know.
CA: The nicest guy in ska?
AB: Little Johnny Christmas – the Nicest Guy In Ska, I love it! I’m writing that down, that’s your new intro John.

CA: Now on Candy Coated Fury there are a couple of new 80s covers thrown in…
AB: Well Don’t Let Me Down Gently by the Wonder Stuff just made it into 90s, so it’s a 90s song.
CA: Oh really? Just out then?
AB: It may have come out in the 80s but I’m pretty sure it’s 1990. (Just checked this, it came out in September 1989, Chris Arnold 1 – Aaron Barrett – 0)
CA: Now you’ve done a few in the past already, A-ha, Duran Duran, Lita Ford. I’ve got a few suggestions here for potential 80s tunes you could cover, would you consider any or out rightly say “no way” to them?
AB: Wait a minute; get me a pen to write these down (pen lid comes off with ease now)
CA: First up, Tiffany – I Think We’re Alone Now.
AB: Oooohhhhhhhhh, we’ve done too many covers of covers. We can’t do that one. That was originally a 60s song, good song though.
CA: I see, we gotta find something fresh here, how about Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough?
AB: That could work, I always wanted to do Blasphemous Rumours by Depeche Mode, it’s all in minor. Aaron starts humming and singing “I don’t wanna start any blasphemous rumours but I think that God has got a sick sense of humour” – It’s very dark song.
CA: How about Olivia Newton John – Physical.
AB: Ahh let’s get physical, good song. I wouldn’t wanna ruin that one.
JC: Ha, that’s like sacriledge.
CA: You could never beat the original.
AB: It’s too perfect.
CA: And finally one for the ballad corner, Berlin – Take My Breath Away.
AB: Hmmmmmm. Jessica Simpson did that one.
CA: Another cover of a cover perhaps?
JC: No more covers of covers.
AB: Our Monkey Man cover is the Specials version of the Toots & the Maytals version. It’s not even just our own interpretation; it’s an exact rip-off of The Specials version. It’s just the worst cover of a cover, you’re not supposed to do that. And then, Mama We’re All Crazy Now is the White Riot version of the Slade song. Arghhg, what’s wrong with us?!
CA: In fact, over the years I’ve seen bands do your version of Monkey Man. So that’s a cover of a cover of a cover of a cover I believe?
JC: That’s deep, that’s a lot of layers.
AB: Let’s just stick to standards, there’s nothing wrong with them after all.

CA: Now, say that hypothetically the band was held at gunpoint…
AB: That happens all the time!
CA: …and you were told some of your music was going to be used in an advert or a commercial, and you could choose the product, what product what you go for?
AB: In fact our music has already been used in a car commercial and a Rice Krispies cereal commercial.
JC: They used our cover of Boys Don’t Cry for a Renault Commercial.
CA: I like the wording here, you said “they”, was it out of your control?
AB: No, we allowed them to, they gave us money!
JC: It was an awesome commercial, the song is an ode to men crying. Men crying cos they bought the wrong car.
AB: It was a very inappropriate song choice. It sounds appropriate, but really it’s just a whacky cover of Boys Don’t Cry. It was the live version too, they didn’t even want the studio version.
CA: Amazing. When and where was this?
AB: This was last year.
JC: It was in South America and in Brazil.
AB: And then in Austria I think. Somewhere random. Maybe Argentina as well.

CA: Keeping with this question theme, if you were held at gunpoint and you were told you could only listen to one band or one act for the rest of your lives, who would you go for?
AB: How long are they going to stand there with the gun?
CA: They’ve basically held you at gunpoint and they’ve got a long list of questions they want to ask you. I mean, well it’s essentially a different way of asking you what kinda music you’re into.
AB: Probably Reel Big Fish.
JC: Your life probably wouldn’t last very long then, not with your lyrics. John starts singing “I’m gonna kill myself, I’m gonna kill myself!” – I would personally listen to Louis Armstrong.

CA: And finally, if you had to take one member of the band and spend the rest of your days with them, who would you pick? It’s a bit unfair that there’s two of you here, well would you in fact choose each other?
AB: On a desert island with John listening to Louis Armstrong forever?
JC: That’s not so bad.
AB: That sounds like heaven. The sarcasm is Aaron’s voice resonates around the room.
JC: Is there fresh water on this desert island?
AB: That’s the problem, when you gotta pee in each other’s mouths.
CA: It could get pretty dark, pretty quickly.
AB: Yikes!

CA: Before I leave you guys to rest before the show have you got any life skills or tips that you’d like to dispense to the people of the World?
AB: Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Drink lots of champagne because it released lithium into your body and it makes you feel happy. And sleep. Sleep for 20 hours a day if you can.
JC: Don’t be an ass.
AB: Don’t be a jerk, be nice to people. You never know.
JC: You never know who’s gonna help you out.
AB: Says the band who wrote 15 “fuck you” songs. Also, sometimes you get in a bad mood and that needs to be said as well.
JC: There’s gotta be a balance.
AB: They’re just funny songs.
CA: Funny songs are good to dance to.
AB: Exactly, it’s just an excuse for dancing. You gotta put some words over the top of the music somehow.
CA: You do indeed, well thank you very much. Aaron and John, it’s been a pleasure.
AB: Thank you, and we’ll work on that Olivia Newton John song for you.

It’s widely rumoured that they haven’t started work on a ska version of Physical.

Reel Big Fish World Tour dates, biography, music and more here.

Interview arranged by Sam at Yada Yada PR.

Left to right: Chris Arnold (not in RBF), Aaron Barrett (is in RBF), John Christianson (nicest man in ska).