When I think of ska bands, two in particular come to mind: Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish. To me, they are synonymous with the ‘90s culture that I grew up in. The first time I heard Reel Big Fish was when a friend of mine showed me BASEketball, the sports film written by the guys of South Park. The band had a couple of songs on the soundtrack, one of which was their cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me.” They are an incredibly hard-working group of guys that have been creating new music and taking it with them on the road for over 20 years. It just so happens that Reel Big Fish will be joined by Less Than Jake, as they tour the country and kick off the new year.
I had the opportunity to chat with Aaron Barrett, the lead singer of Reel Big Fish, where we discussed what it has been like making music consistently since the ‘90s. We also talked about the band’s latest holiday EP, Happy Skalidays. Some of the band’s favorite venues, favorite holiday films, and what it is like to engage with fans through social media were also topics of conversation. He also took the time to give some local and upcoming acts some tips on how to hone their craft, and what has helped him throughout the band’s career. Check out what Aaron had to say below:
You guys recently released Happy Skalidays, an EP with traditional and original Christmas tunes. Was a holiday record something you guys wanted to do for a while?
I have always wanted to make a holiday album, but just never got around to it. I had so many ideas over the years for new holiday songs to do and different arrangements for some of the old classics. We were originally hoping to do at least a 25-song album with half originals and half classic covers, but time ran out and our drummer Ryland [Steen] took some time off to go play with the band America. That kind of got in the way of our pre-production and recording, so it ended up just being an EP of the six songs we had finished at the time.
What was the preparation like, in terms of writing and recording? Did you have to learn and arrange all the tracks, or have you played them before in the past?
We had worked out some of the songs and been practicing them at soundchecks during our Summer 2014 tour. Like I said, we had planned to work on more songs when we got back home but Ryland went right out on the road with America after that tour, so everything was on hold for a while. He was able to come into the studio between a couple of his shows and record the songs we had worked on on our summer tour. It was already getting late in the year so we just decided to make it an EP with what we had.
Do you have a go-to Christmas movie?
I think Bad Santa is my all time favorite. It is definitely the most perfect Christmas movie ever made! It’s a little dark, twisted, ridiculous and funny, but also touching and heartwarming all at the same time. And it has the F word in it about 3,000 times!
You guys are hitting the road in January with Less Than Jake and Authority Zero. I’m sure this must be an exciting one for you guys!
Absolutely! Less Than Jake is one of our all time favorite bands to tour with! The shows are always awesome and they are just great, fun guys to be around. I believe this is our fourth or fifth time going out on the road together but it never gets old. Even though we do (laughs).
On this tour you will have VIP/meet and greet packages available. It must be great to meet some fans before the show. It adds a more personal touch to the live performance.
It’s always great to meet the people who come to the shows and who enjoy our music. We definitely appreciate them so much for making what we do possible and for letting us do this as our job for the past 20 years. Everything this band does has the fans 100 percent in mind because without them, we don’t exist (laughs).
You guys have developed an incredible cult following. Are there any stories from your fans that have really stuck with you?
We’ve heard all kinds of stories from fans. From an album or a song literally saving their life and stopping them from committing suicide to couples who met and fell in love at our show and later got married. We have had children named after us and countless fans with Reel Big Fish tattoos. We’ve heard lots of stories about how we inspired numerous bands to start and people to pick up instruments and learn to play music. It is pretty amazing how many lives we’ve touched and influenced through the years.
I bet! You guys do a wonderful job staying in touch with fans and keeping them updated on the band. What has been the most important tool in terms of engaging with your fans?
Social networking sites have been pretty amazing for us. We can get instant feedback from fans on music, videos or whatever. We can also get word out to all of our fans about upcoming tours and album releases and stuff. It is super different from the way we were doing things back in the ’90s (laughs).
Absolutely. The music industry has changed drastically over the course of your career. You guys are still playing more countries and selling out more shows than ever before. Would you say that a positive live reputation is the most important aspect for a band?
A reputation for a good live show is very important. I think that’s been a huge part of what has kept us going all this time. We always try to put on the most fun, entertaining show we can, and we want to pack it with all of the songs people want to hear.
Do you have any tips for younger acts who are still honing in on their craft and live performance? Anything you learned the hard way?
Only write hits (laughs). Always have fun, don’t play music for any other reason. But do practice and work hard and get good at your instrument. If you are lucky enough to be able to play in front of people, have fun doing that too, and keep an eye on that crowd and when you see that a particular joke or song or something goes over well, then keep doing that. That’s what I’ve always done on stage, just paid attention to the crowd and what made them react and then do more of that! Luckily for me I’ve gotten to have 23 years of trial and error playing in front of people to work on my live performances (laughs).
You have played so many types of venues from breweries, beer festivals, and colleges, to even a couple of weddings. Is there an ideal venue, or one you would like to play but haven’t yet?
I’m not really picky about the venue. I love to play anywhere and everywhere. As long as there is a crowd of people there who want to have fun and dance and be entertained then it’s awesome! We played on a cruise ship earlier this year, that was pretty fun! Although, playing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean is pretty ideal (laughs).
Anything else in the works for 2015 that you could talk about?
Well, we are going to be on tour a lot. I’ve heard rumors that there will be a second leg of our tour with Less Than Jake this summer. And hopefully we can get back in the studio and do another round of holiday songs in time for next Christmas!
Reel Big Fish will be joined by Less Than Jake and Authority Zero at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA on Jan. 24. They will then make their way to New York City and perform at the Best Buy Theater on Jan. 27. Their next stop will be at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on Jan. 30. Happy Skalidays is available now. For more information, go to reel-big-fish.com.