Reel Big Fish
Warped Tour, Cincinnati, OH – July 26, 2008
Okay, so I got a flat tire on the way to Warped Tour 2008 in Cincinnati, OH. Still I was sure I would make it in time to see one of the few bands that I was actually familiar with at this year’s tour. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Reel Big Fish, the ska band gained mainstream recognition in the mid-to-late 1990s, with the hit “Sell Out” was one of the first bands to play that day. Things weren’t so bad, because later I was able to catch up with Dan Regan (trombone, backing vocals) and John Christianson (trumpet, backing vocals) to discuss Warped Tour, Magnum P.I. and what happens when you stuff a burrito in your speedo. Enjoy.
CF – How many times have you guys played at Warped now?
Dan – This is the third time we did the U.S. Warped tour; we did it in ’97, 2002 and 2008. We also did the Australian and Japan leg in ’98.
John – So this is our fourth.
CF – How does the Australian and Japan tours differ than the U.S. tours?
Dan – It’s been a while, um when we did the Australian leg we were all riding in Greyhound buses with captain’s chairs. When we went to the field they would open up bays to the busses and we would grab tents with one pole in the middle; Gunga Din style tents. So you would wake up in the morning and grab your cooler of beer and drag it over to your camp, set up your chairs and you know there would be 311, the Bosstones, The Vandals and Die Toten Hosen, Pennywise… all these legendary bands sitting there drinking beer at 8 in the morning camping. It was awesome… until the ants starting getting us…
John – Australia is the place that has the worlds largest population of things that can kill you… bugs, reptiles, dingoes, Tasmanian devils… wait they’re from Tasmania. Yeah, so it was hard to be adventurous at times.
CF – Yeah, Even Platypuses are poisonous.
John – Yeah.
Dan – Really?
CF – They have poisonous spurs. It’s the reptilian part of their makeup.
John – … and they poo in your cereal.
CF – You’ve experienced this?
John – No, I know better.
Dan – So the rule is don’t piss off a Platypus
CF – What is the typical (Warped) tour like overseas?
Dan – Warped was just one day in each area, but we did have a few days off and they organized surfing and uh shark bait, that kind of fun stuff to do.
John – You are shark bait when you surf.
Dan – It was ’98 so it’s a little bit fuzzy, but they rented like a boat and we did a cruise around the harbor at night. We were all on the boat smoking’ bowls with 311 with the view of the city in front of us. It was one of the most beautiful things ever. We did a group photo in front of the Opera house. It was a great time.
CF – How has Warped Tour changed for you over the years?
Dan – Warped has gotten bigger every year obviously, more bands. It just follows what’s going on, so there’s a lot of the screamo, emo bands nowadays, whatever designations they’re calling it. The food has gotten a whole lot better. It’s gourmet. It’s wonderful every night. It’s a pleasure to stand in line to get lamb chops, all kinds of great stuff.
John – Steaks, yeah.
Dan – There are vegan options. This is the first year they’ve done the whole green thing. They’ve got recycling… all kinds of great stuff. We wake up every morning and do yoga. We’ve got a yoga instructor. It’s almost like a vacation.
As far as the music business is concerned, we’ve been able to see every different angle. We started as a DIY band passing out tapes and stuff. Then we got signed and we were part of the record business. We were on Mtv. We were like… when the record business is working for you it’s one of the greatest things ever. They dump a whole lot of money into projects. It’s amazing.
And then we saw what happens when they stop dumping money into you. So that went on for a long time and we just slid down the shoots and ladders of the record business agenda sheets until finally they dropped us in 2004.
John – Meanwhile, everything the record company was supposed to do for us we were up doing for ourselves and we developed all the skills to become pretty much self-sufficient.
(A couple of people walk by and say thanks to Dan and John)
Dan – We gave the catering staff t-shirts and 6 bottles of wine today.
John – Because they’re so good and take care of us.
Dan – Once the label dropped us we had all of our DIY skills, plus we learned how to do a lot of what the label had been doing and we hit the ground running. We released a three disc live record and then jumped right in to recording a new record. It took a while to get our finances back in place because that stuff’s expensive.
John – After doing the live record and paying for everything it put the band $150,000 in the hole. That’s a scary thing to…
Dan – When you’re on a label that’s the whole part of it. They’re like a bank. But when your lights are getting shut off, you just got to believe you know. It’s going to take at least 6 months to work our way back up.
CF – Was it tough for you to stay together as a band during that time?
Dan – It definitely strained some of the relationships. As soon as you start messing with money people get upset. The thing is that we’ve always had wonderful and dedicated fans and they prove time and time again that they’re down and they believe in Reel Big Fish. It didn’t take too long and things are looking good.
We’re working on a giant, I’m not sure how many disc it’s going to be, a super greatest disc multi-plex DVD package. And then we’re probably going to put out a new record, so that will be a whole bunch of stuff in 2009. We’ve spent most of our time touring, so we don’t have a whole lot of time to record, but we’ve got a studio at home so whenever we get a week here week there we get down and record. We actually have some of the studio on the bus with us and we’re copying vocals, so we’re always working.
That would definitely be my advice to any band that wants to know how we do it. It’s a job and you work all the time. If you believe in it, it will work out. It will happen. Practice and write songs, all the other stuff comes later. The haircuts and all that other BS, you’ll look fine trust me. Someone will put you in limelights.
We’ve been around a long time and whenever we get attitudes from other bands, we say yeah great but let’s see who’s still together in a year. We’ve been around 15 years. If you just be really cool with people, concentrate on writing music and work real hard… It sounds pretty basic, but it’s amazing that attitudes get in the way.
John – I don’t think some bands realize how much the people that you meet are going to be the ones that are going to help your career. No matter who it is you need to be nice to them, because you never know who’s going to be in a position to help you later on down the line. It’s not just an arbitrary thing to put yourself ahead; it’s how to be a human being. Be nice to those around you.
Dan – With our fans, everyday we thank them for putting food on our table and keeping our lights on. We do autograph signings at Warped that last about an hour and a half. Everyday we look our fans in the eye and it’s like thank you, thank you we don’t want to go back and schlep coffee.
CF – How does the band go about writing songs that stay relevant to the younger audience?
Nick – Well we’re all pretty juvenile and the fans themselves keep us young. They always have a lot of energy and we’re just trying to keep up. That’s why we started doing yoga you know, we’re over 30 now and it’s like oh my god how do we do this, they’re just so full of juice. We stay pretty active on MySpace. We run our page from the bus.
It’s like a democracy at this point. It’s a populous situation with Reel Big Fish. If you ask us to play a song we’ll play it. That’s kind of how we do things. We know exactly what the fans want; they never hold back, they tell us exactly what they want. And we make sure we follow what they’re doing plus we don’t know how to do anything else. We figure we’ve always written songs about being in a band because we don’t really preach about a lot of other things this is all we know.
We’ve been the band before we could think. That’s just what we know and I firmly believe that you’ve got to tell the truth. And there are a lot of bands out there that are really smart guys and do a lot of reading and write political, social or religious songs whatever they’re into. But we’ve never been that band you know we’ve had other concerns. Personally we all do. We’re all pretty active. On this tour especially, when we have spare time there’s a lot of great causes and groups out there. Registering to vote, breast cancer… but that’s our spare time stuff
CF – How did you gravitate towards ska music?
Dan – We didn’t really know what ska music was, we grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was just music on the radio. Bands like Madness were on the radio even UB40. We didn’t know what it was. We were like “that sounds like pop music”. So when bands in the local scene like Sublime and No Doubt, Fishbone we’re all playing it we just thought they were playing pop music. People were dancing well aright. So we started copying them.
Then one day someone broke it down for us. Okay, so this music is from Jamaica. It started in the ‘50s. And they gave us the whole history lesson. Since then we definitely did our homework and appreciate all facets of the wonderful music that comes from the island of Jamaica. And then being confused kids from the suburbs we confused it with every bit of A.D.D. that we had in us; glam rock, funk and soul
John – Punk rock.
Dan – Definitely punk rock and we basically fed off all the bands in the scene. We didn’t even think about signing to a record label.
John – Well Aaron our singer did.
Dan – Yeah, the rest of us were like this is so cool. I’m a trombone player. I actually get to be in a band. Whoa That’s so weird you know. Then it just all blew up. It’s crazy.
CF – Tell me about the first time you played and the audience was singing along to one of your songs?
Dan – It’s always been great. Out song “Beer” is one of those songs that everyone in the audience has been singing since we were playing for 300 people in 1993. I don’t know why that is, but that song has always resonated with people.
John – No matter what county you go to even if they don’t speak English they know all the lyrics.
Dan – It’s awesome, it’s a big deal. And we’re all about the live show. That’s what we concentrate on. We tour most of the year and so when you have songs you’ve been playing everyday since 1993 you know it can get kind of old. But all you have to do is look out in that crowd and you get all that energy back and it’s like playing it for the first time.
John – It’s about the fans. It’s not really about us.
CF – Unfortunately we missed your set since you played so early and we got a flat on our way to the show. So I want to know when you are going to be back in the area next?
Dan – We’ll probably be back at Bogart’s
John – Next summer at the very latest.
MR – What’s the name of the first band you’ve ever been in?
Dan – I was in a punk band called Flabbergasm in Long Beach California. We thought we were… the shtick was that we were a superstar stunt team. We all had motorcycle crash helmets with a star that said Flabbergasm on the front. And we had traffic cones that we nicked from the streets, cause we’re front the streets.
Each one had a different letter that spelled out Flabbergasm in front of us. We would do human pyramids and jump through garbage cans, really dumb stuff. We would wear Speedos and capes and we (chuckles) we would go to the local Mexican fast food restaurant like Taco Bell. In California they have Del Taco and they giant like one-pound burritos that you can get for like two dollars. We would each buy one and stick it in our… in our junk right in front of the Speedo. So as we’d play (starts motioning) the beef and the…
John – (Laughing) ahh gross.
Dan – …and the sour cream would run down our legs. Oh god it was horrible. I remember the first time a girl from my English class, I was playing while I was still in high school, the first time a girl form my English class walks into a place where we were playing, she just turned tail like how is this person who’s been sitting next to me for the whole year… oh boy
CF – John, you seemed surprised.
John – Yeah I heard about the band before, but not about the burrito thing in the Speedo.
Dan – Our best show was our very last show. I’m just going to go on talking about that band. It was the last show of this band called Wash, which was known around Long Beach as destroying any venue they played. They filmed this movie, 8mm black & white where they went around to every donut store in Long Beach with a banjo case of one-dollar bills and bought every donut in every donut shop.
The movie was called The Donut Conspiracy and it ended with the show at this venue where they opened the doors to a van and there were all the donuts. The whole crowd started throwing donuts. They instigated a donut fight. So when we were done playing they started the donut fight. We were in our uniforms and we were ready for the donut fight. We had skateboards and we formed a human pyramid on skateboards. The guys on top had donuts and we were driving around the venue like this destroying people with donuts. Eventually the building got set on fire. But it was a great night I would say.
I don’t know is it’s on YouTube. It was in the day before the Internet. If the Donut Conspiracy is on there and at the very end of the movie you see some dudes with helmets that’s us in the background with the fire (going).
I didn’t set it on fire.
CF – John, does your first band have a story?
John – Nothing like Dans story. I was in a rock band with Derek our bassist now called A.D.A. Adolescents that Defied Authority. We never played a show. We never made it out of the bedroom. I gave up guitar and went back to playing trombone.
CF – I’m going to end the interview completely off the subject; What’s your guilty pleasure?
Dan – The World of Warcraft, I’m very guilty of playing it all the time and I feel very guilty because I should know better. But I’m almost level 70 so I CAN’T STOP NOW!
John – I love Magnum P.I. That’s why I wear the Tigers hat. I need to buy the fourth season. That’s the one with all of the Vietnam flashbacks.