Rife with shenanigans and a willingness to enjoy themselves that most heavy metal completely eschews and mocks every chance it gets, Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang are a unique beast when it comes to all things loud. Their self-titled full-length, delivered in 2009 via Sargent House, got a huge response thanks to constant touring and a viral-worthy video for opener “Prehistoric Dog,” and after the four-piece had hit the studio to record the follow-up with Chris Funk of The Decemberists, laudable Philadelphia imprint Relapse Records came knocking with an offer to release it. Tack on a killer cover by in-house Relapse artist Orion Landau and you get Murder The Mountains, due out April 12.
To herald its coming, Red Fang have been booked in a support slot for what’s bound to be one of 2011’s heavy highlights, the Metalliance Tour. Red Fang joins headliners Saint Vitus, Helmet and Crowbar as well as Kylesa, Howl and The Atlas Moth for all 19 major market shows, including a stop at Irving Plaza in NYC this Friday, March 25.
Later this summer, they’ll play Hellfest in France alongside the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Kyuss Lives, and they’re already slated to link up with Megadeth in July and August for the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, which will also feature Disturbed, In Flames and Godsmack. Among all these huge names, however, Red Fang’s accessibility doesn’t discount their ability to throw down a little dirty rock, as Murder The Mountains clearly demonstrates. Catchy hooks and choruses sit alongside righteous underground heaviness, and the result is one of early 2011’s most satisfying listens.
Guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles took some time out for the following interview. Red Fang is Giles, guitarist/vocalist David Sullivan, bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam and drummer John Sherman.
How did you decide to work with Chris Funk?
He contacted us about maybe a year before we recorded. He was starting to produce bands and I guess he saw us at a show or something and he just offered his service. I honestly never asked him. I don’t even know if he had seen us. I don’t know. He must have seen us play at some point, I just never did ask him. But yeah, he was trying to get more into the producer role, and we had a meeting with him, and honestly, The Decemberists are not my favorite band. I appreciate them, what they do, but I like hard rock. So I was like, “Well, I don’t know if this guy’s really the guy to work on a hard rock project,” but I think it added a lot more dimension than some of your more typical producers who have a long list of heavy metal projects under their belts. He had a fresher approach than maybe a lot of people who’d be like, “No, no, I always mic amps this way,” and “I always make the drums sound this way” and whatever.
How does the songwriting go for you guys?
We approach songwriting in a lot of different ways, and I think it shows. I feel like we have a variety of songwriting styles going on. It’s not just cookie-cutter Red Fang song one, two, three, and it’s because everybody brings something to the writing process.
Someone’ll have a riff and then someone else’ll run with it. Then someone else’ll take the job of writing lyrics and singing. A lot of times, it’s one riff that’ll come in, and it’ll just spark someone else’s imagination and then, in turn, that’ll come back around. It’s very much a communal process.
I think that comes across on the album. It sounds like multiple people contributing.
When we first started the band, it was the other three guys, and I was living in San Diego. They wrote some amazing riffs, some of these rippers. I was like, “Dude, these riffs are great.” They asked me if I wanted to come back and join the band, and I was like, “Hell yeah, of course I want to join this band!” so I came back and we went through those riffs a lot, but we just couldn’t seem to get them to gel in a song form, and I’d been writing on my own in San Diego, so the first two or three songs were mostly my songwriting, but luckily that changed.
Initially, we were a lot more homogenous. I was singing all the songs and they were a lot more—like “Bird on Fire” was one of our earlier ones, from the first record. They were uptempo, sort of punk rock songs. Once we’d gotten the set together, we relaxed and I think everyone picked up the songwriting a lot more. Lately I have been writing less and less, I feel like, and the other guys are writing more now, and I just really enjoy what everyone’s coming up with.
It’s really fun, and we’ve been doing it long enough now that we’re feeling comfortable with trying out new styles. It’s not like, “Oh, that’s off-limits. That’s too stoner rock. That’s too speed metal. That’s too grunge,” or whatever. It’s like, if you’re sitting in your room and you’re playing your guitar or bass, and it felt good to do it, let’s at least flesh it out, turn it into a song before we reject it. A lot of the times, the songs that you’re most questioning at the outset are the ones you like the most.
There’s a break in the single that’s coming out—it may already be out; we’re going to have it for this tour—the song “Wires” is the lead song. There’s a breakdown that Aaron wrote for it, and when he played it for me, he did a multiple-track demo on his computer, and I was just thinking to myself, “There’s no way I’m playing that!” We called it the Spaghetti Western part, and I’m like, “You’re kidding me!” but once we learned it and put it in there, I just love it. Initially, I was like, “No way man. You are really getting outside of my comfort zone right now. Spaghetti Westerns? For Christ’s sake, we’re a rock band!”
But I think it really works in the song, and when it comes back in heavy, it comes back harder, because you’ve got this more subdued, odd, melodic thing happening. It’s like Jimmy Page said, “Light and dark.” If you want a super-evil sounding song, and all the parts are evil, then it doesn’t work quite as well as if you have something to compare it to that’s not as evil.
In terms of progressing, moving ahead stylistically, it’s interesting you said other people are writing more and things are gelling more. I think that comes out in comparing Murder The Mountains to the self-titled. It seems like there’s a lot more changes, depth in the arrangements.
Yeah, I think when we first started, it was pretty much, “Alright, here we go: Four-piece metal/punk band,” and we were just throwing it out there. Which is great, but to keep it interesting for ourselves, we had to dig a little deeper into the songwriting. I think they’re still pretty simple songs.
We do little things here and there to make it not monotonous or whatever. If you’re going to have a part that repeats four times and then goes into the next part, one of our favorite tricks is to make the third time different slightly. So there’s little things like that with us, but really, it seems like we’re still writing the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge format, with guitar solos and whatever to embellish it.
That’s been our goal from the outset, to play music that made us feel great about listening to music when we were younger. We didn’t want to write music as musicians. We wanted to write music from the standpoint of, “Well, if I was smoking a joint and listening to my stereo on a Friday night, where should this song go and what’s gonna create the maximum amount of awesomeness?”
A lot of times, we’ll come up with riffs that are really fun to play and a lot of notes, lot of moving around, and then just strip it down, say, “You know what? That’s a cool guitar part, but if we’re singing there, it’s gonna be one chord.”
If it doesn’t need the noodles, the noodles can end up mucking it up. If the vocal part is strong, everybody get out of the way. I don’t want to call it dumb-guy rock. I don’t consider it dumb, but we just try to use as much economy as possible to arrive at a song that’s worth listening to, not worth playing.
Is audience a consideration then, when you’re writing?
I don’t think about the audience, but I think that part of being in a collaborative music group is you are each other’s audience. What we’re trying to is impress each other, like, “Check out how badass this riff is.” So I guess we’re each other’s audience. You’re not gonna want to come into practice with a riff that’s flat, because everyone’s gonna be like, “Huh? What’s that crap?”
I think that we criticize ourselves enough that we don’t need to be thinking about any third parties. I trust the musical taste of my bandmates more so than my own at some times, so it’s nice to bring something in, and even if it’s a flawed idea, they’re very supportive. I think we’re all very supportive of each other and we try and find the good thing in it—say, “Well, this and this, these parts are kind of overplayed,” or whatever, if you’re doing something that you’ve heard a million times, “but this section, maybe we can repeat that, or do a chord change with it.” And then, in turn, someone else’ll be like, “Oh, if we do that, how about we do this, and what about that riff from last week? We’ll stick that on there.”
But yeah, for entertainment, I’ve been reading some of the message boards. We’re doing some tours. We’re doing the Metalliance Tour with Helmet, and Saint Vitus and Crowbar and Kylesa. Amazing lineup, I’m really excited to be a part of it. But of course there’s message boards on the Internet, and there’s some pretty slanderous stuff about us on there.
I read it mostly for entertainment, and it’s like, “Well geez, this 14-year-old kid is really mad that we’re not heavy metal enough.” Even more so for the Mayhem Festival, which we’re doing later this year, which is a lot of young people, and man, some of the fans that go to Mayhem are really rigid in what they consider to be metal enough to be acceptable for that festival.
A lot of people flipping a shit, like, “What is this jam band doing on the fest?” and I’m like, “Jam? Have you ever listened to our music? We don’t jam at all!” But if you read that stuff, you could probably chase your tail forever and you’re never going to make everybody happy. Like I say, I’ll read that stuff occasionally for entertainment, but I don’t let it get under my skin.
I suppose if I read your review and it was really harsh and took the record very seriously and picked out its flaws and put a light on them, that might affect me more, although we’ve been lucky enough to get if not positive reviews, at least C+ and better reviews. At least on our last record. So I really haven’t had to read the ones where it’s like, “Two words: Shit sandwich.” That hasn’t happened yet. But I’m sure it will. It’s just a matter of time.
What do you guys have planned for after the Mayhem Fest? Do you know what you’re going in the Fall yet?
No, we don’t. It took so long for us to put this record out. We didn’t have a home for it, first of all. When we started recording it, it was all out of our pocket, and we completely finished it before anyone agreed to put it out, so we were sitting on a pretty expensive home art project that we could hang on our wall, like, “Oh god, it’s never gonna see the light of day,” but luckily Relapse decided to pick it up.
They’re a really great home for us. I’m really excited. They just opened an office here in Portland, so we’re real tight with them. So I guess there’s a little anxiety on my part that it’s going to take another two and a half years to get another record out if we don’t start motivating. My real tentative plan was to get back from Mayhem—and that’s gonna be the better part of four months of touring in six months, so I don’t know how much we’re going to want to jump back into a van right after that.
I’m hoping we’ll come home and do songwriting for a couple of months, but we’ve been getting offers on a daily basis, and really cool ideas. Whether it works out with peoples’ families and travel and stuff. If something kickass comes down the pike, then we’ll probably do it, but it’s gonna have to be pretty good, because like I say, I can’t wait another two and a half years for a record to come out. I’ll be old and gray by the time we get a third record out, for that matter.
Red Fang hit NYC’s Irving Plaza with the Metalliance Tour on March 25, and will be back July 27 at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel and July 31 at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden with the Mayhem Festival. Murder The Mountains is due out April 12 on Relapse. More info at redfang.net.
Photo by James Rexroad.