Aaron BarrettRock Ridge Music
By Tom Liveyns on November 13th, 2015 at Het Depot - Leuven, Belgium
Reel Big Fish is one of those bands that appeal to large audiences, both within and outside of the punk rock community. They’re loved by die-hard fans, ska kids and punk rockers. Hell, you could play their songs in preschool and get the toddlers skanking.
The band got “mainstream big” with a few solid hits during the 90’s and early 00’s. That’s when I, and probably most of you reading this, got to know Reel Big Fish. These days the band releases their material independently, “Candy Coated Fury” (2012) being the last studio album to have come out.
So when I got the chance to sit down with Aaron Barrett, the face and only remaining founding member of the band, I finally got to ask him about being Sell Out‘s on MTV and about his favourite Beer. I even asked for some fashion advice.
ThePunkSite: Did you know that we are in the beer capital of the world? Leuven, Belgium is the home of AB Inbev, that’s the largest brewer on the planet with in their portfolio brands like Budweiser, Stella Artois and Hoegaarden. So to jump right in, do you have a favourite beer.
Aaron Barrett: Literally this city? I didn’t know that. Maybe Hoegaarden is my favourite beer. But I like the Delirium beers a lot too.
Those are some solid tips. I like the Delirium beers as well. I have to ask this question, so I’m doing it right away: What are your plans after this tour?
Right after this tour we’re going to go home for a couple of days and then we’re going to Bangkok, Thailand and Bandung, Indonesia. After that we have a little time off at home. In the summer we’ll be touring the United States. We’ll make a new album someday, but not today.
Always touring, right?
Well, we’ve made it our job. It’s how we make our living and pay the bills. Playing music for a couple of hours is not that hard. It’s awesome to be in a band that people know and like and to be able to play in front of people. I have friends that can’t get people to come see their band. So we’re very lucky with what we have, and it’s a fun job.
When I played a Reel Big Fish tune to my 2 year old daughter she said: “Wow dad, that’s a lot of music” and then she started dancing.
Haha. That’s a lot of music? That’s funny. That’s a good description, there is a lot going on.
So obviously, your music and performances breathe cheerfulness. How do you do that, being cheerful and positive every night? Is it just who you are, or is it extra hard work sometimes?
Well, we don’t go crazy like we used to when we were younger. We’re more like the soundtrack to the party. We come and play the show, and all the people at the show come to dance and drink. They’re the party, and we’re the soundtrack to the party. Because if you’re partying too much, you can’t do your job well. We try to be professional party throwers. That’s why we’re still doing it after 20 years of touring. It is a responsibility, there’s a lot of people out there who are counting on you. They want to see your show and have a good time, so I don’t want to ruin their good time by messing that up.
Can you see your crowd changing through the years?
A lot of families are bringing their little kids now because we’ve been around for so long. People who liked us when they were young grew up, got married and now they bring their kids to the show. Sometimes I feel bad saying so much cursing and I think: “Oh, I don’t want to do the F.U. Song, there’s little kids right there, that’s weird”. We don’t have all of these fuck you songs, but there’s a few that are favourites of some of the fans. Sometimes I’m not sure if everyone knows about these songs, because if they just like Take On Me, that song hasn’t got any cursing in it. But I remember my dad took me to see some shows when I was younger and they were saying bad words and he was laughing about it and I had a good time. It’s just like going to see a movie, there’s going to be bad words.
To take that last question a bit further. It could be said of your lyrics as well that they are funny but also that they resonate with the audience because they’re close to the truth.
Yeah, it’s not all just jokes. Some of the songs are more ‘jokey’ than others. Some stuff’s real situations, but maybe making light of something that’s making you angry. Making fun of it in a way to get through it. Instead of crying about it, you’re laughing about it.
It definitely looks like a physically taxing experience , playing a Reel Big Fish show. There’s lots of things happening on stage: dancing, jumping, spinning around. I have two explanations for this: you are actually well trained professional athletes or everything hurts near the end of a tour.
No, I mean… It’s all we do. We do it a lot so we have our strength up. We’re not professional athletes but we have our stamina. It’s hard to play this kind of music and stand still. And you know, we’re not that old. We’re just moving to the music, we like to dance.
I have read a piece about a band that’s a torchbearer for its genre and could have fit in at any time period of that genre, from the early days until today. To me Reel Big Fish is that band for ska. Is that something you think about when writing music ?
Well maybe not in the 60’s but after that…
But no, we don’t think about that. It’s just what comes out when we write. Especially the older songs when I was younger and had more ADD, I just wanted to change: fast part, slow part, fast part, faster… As time went on and I figured out song writing a bit and I also figured out what actually works in a song. But I still like to have changes and lots of different things. So the music is the same but a little different. I think I figured out more about what works and what doesn’t. Instead of just going “here’s the punk part” for no reason, and then suddenly “here’s the other part”. Which is cool, that stuff is cool too.
So if I would ask you about your favourite album, it would be your latest work?
I think Candy Coated Fury is really good. I’m very proud of it. I definitely feel like we’ve gotten better. But I love the old albums as well, I’m proud of all the songs that we’ve done. I’m just writing different songs, I don’t think of it as this album is good and this album is bad. We’re just making more music.
I think my favourite is still the live album (Our Live Album Is Better than Your Live Album). It represents what we do on stage. There’s so many funny jokes, and usually we play better live than we do on records sometimes. It’s just, the energy’s there.
So do you think about how songs would come off live?
Definitely with the older songs. In the 90’s people would come to ska shows to dance and go crazy whether they know a song or not. The ska punk kids would like to skank for a while, then they’d like to circle pit and then they’d want to jump. So you would have to keep changing to keep up. That’s why those songs are the way they are.
As it went on, nowadays people like to have one kind of groove longer, so when we play the older songs it changes too fast: “Oh I wanted to jump more”. Back in the 90’s it was teenagers. This is 2015, now there’s different generations of people.
One of my buddies is a real serious guy, he works in a petrochemical firm, has no interest in punk rock, but he’s really into Reel Big Fish. He asked me some fashion advice for coming to the show, so I thought, let’s ask the professionals for help.
Fashion tips? I wouldn’t ask me about fashion tips. Look at my shirt (laughs while pointing at his Hawaiian shirt). I think anything goes at our shows. You don’t have to wear suspenders and porkpie hats. That’s what I really liked about the ska punk scene in Orange Country, California back in the 90’s. There was a lot of super hardcore punk and 2-tone ska shows where you’d have to have a suit or a certain look or you would get beat up, looked at or get elbowed in the face if you didn’t look cool. And then our bands were more silly and we just wanted to have some fun. As we got more and more bands like that, those things changed as well. So, dress however you like. Everybody’s welcome. It’s a party, have fun.
I knew that but I wanted to make him wear funny clothes.
Oh well… The minimum is a Hawaiian shirt and checkered shoes. And wear a clown wig.
While we’re on the topic of the Hawaiian shirt, did you do that on purpose, establish a look for yourself.
I don’t know if I did that on purpose. I mean, I’m going on stage to perform. I should wear bright colours so people can see me, I should be something to look at instead of just wearing a backwards hat and a t-shirt. After all, I’m putting on a show. All of my favourite artists have a look, just look at Jimi Hendrix and at the stuff he wore. So I’m wearing something crazy to get a reaction out of people, or just something that they’ll remember. If I wear something fun to get a laugh out of it, that adds to the entertainment.
You’d have to get a Reel Big Fish lyric tattoo. What would it be?
I got the stupid fish (exposes his Reel Big Fish “mean fish” tattoo on forearm). Isn’t that enough?
It’s too hard to pick one lyric that says everything about everything. Maybe it would be: “At least, I think I’m funny”. But that’s not a song lyric, it’s from the live album.
A long time ago you were MTV favourites. In Belgium there’s no more MTV and I’m guessing in the United States it is now the reality TV channel it was over here for the last decade. How do you feel about that?
It’s funny because I remember people complaining in the 90’s people about how MTV didn’t play enough music anymore. And there would be like a couple of TV shows and game shows and mostly music.
Yeah, it was cool because when I grew up as a kid, watching MTV it was all videos. And that was the dream: “I want to be on MTV”. And we actually got to do that so that’s pretty cool.
You got to be Sell Out’s.
Exactly (laughs). We got to live the dream. I’m glad I got to be a part of that in a time where that was a thing. I don’t think people dream about being a band on MTV anymore. Maybe having a reality show is the new dream.
ThePunkSite.com is a Canadian site. In Belgium we often make jokes about the Dutch, because they’re our neighbours. So maybe you have any jokes about Canada because they’re your ‘neighbours’?
I have nothing bad to say about Canada, it’s a wonderful place. I love Canada, people are so nice there and their money smells like maple syrup. I didn’t believe it but it’s true. Surprisingly enough I don’t have anything bad to say about anybody. That’s the good part of traveling the world. You get to experience all of these different places and cities and enjoy what they have to offer.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer some of our questions.
Sure man. Off course. Are you going to stick around for the show?
Yeah. I bought my ticket months ago.