Few bands hold a status in the fun ska punk scene quite like Reel Big Fish, a band who’ve been going strong since 1991, carrying in tow their guitars, bass, drums, party lyrics and brass instruments for nine full-length albums to date. They’re no strangers to Slam Dunk Festival, having been a part of the festivities on several occassions now, and this year is now exception to keeping them as line-up regulars.
Whilst at the Midlands date of the festival in Wolverhampton, we caught up with frontman Aaron Barrett and trombonist Billy Kottage to talk about playing festivals, choosing their setlist via a Wheel of Fortune system, their thoughts regarding the growth and change of their fanbase during their career, and more.
DP!: You’re playing Slam Dunk later today. How do you prepare your setlist for festivals in comparison to your own shows?
Billy: We have this crazy thing; do you know what wheel of fortune is? We have like this huge wheel upstairs with all of the songs on it and we just spin. Boom!
Aaron: Especially for festivals, you want to play the “Big Hits”! The normal club show, we’ll do 75 minutes or 90 minutes. Today’s pretty long for a festival, 65 minutes, so we don’t have to cut too much.
DP!: You guys play a lot of covers within your set. How did this become such an important part of your setlist?
A: I don’t know. I think when you’re starting out as a band, you start doing covers because you don’t have enough of your own songs, and I guess there’s just so many good songs in the world.
B: It’s a lot easier to play songs that people already love than trying to get them to like your own music. (laughs) Aaron’s really good at picking songs that you would never expect from a ska band. I’m always surprised whenever we’re going through the covers, it’s like “what the hell?”, but it’s always songs that people love.
DP!: Have you guys tried any covers that didn’t work?
A: For a minute, we tried to cover ‘Fight For Your Right To Party’ by The Beastie Boys, but it was not good.
B: It didn’t translate well between genres.
DP!: You’re currently in the middle of a tour with Less Than Jake. What’s it like playing with a band you’ve known for so long?
A: It’s awesome. It’s like playing with your best friends. The only thing better than touring is touring with people you friggin’ like.
DP!: You’ve been a band for nearly 25 years now. How do you keep your live performances fresh?
A: Alcohol! (laughs) We try and do a mix of songs, old songs come into rotation that we haven’t played for a long time.
DP!: Did they come up on the wheel?
A: That’s actually a separate wheel! We have a setlist wheel, an old song wheel. We have lots of wheels, man!
DP!: What’s the strangest thing to happen at one of your shows?
A: I think the thing that blew my mind was, well, technically, it was during Less Than Jake’s set. We played two shows in a row in London with them last year at Shepard’s Bridge Empire, which is like four balconies or something like that, and some motherfucker jumps off the balcony, crowd surfed and does it, and then another dude does it right after him and face plants. The entire show stops for like over an hour, such a long time. They had to call people to move back the curfew. It’s fucked!
B: He was okay, though. He was just an idiot.
DP!: Any stupid things that you’ve done onstage?
A: Speaking of jumping and falling, Billy used to do this thing where he would run to the lip of the stage and pretend like he was going to jump into the audience, and people would throw their hands up and go “oh my god”. And, one time…
B: Are you talking about the time that I fell, or when I almost fell? The time I almost fell was at Sonisphere and that was scary, because it’s like a huge metal festival, huge stage, and I almost fell off. But then, we were doing a show at Baltimore, Maryland, and I went to jump onto a row of sub woofers, and a lot of the time they’re turned on their sides, or there’s wheels in the air, and the wheels were not locked.
A: You did like the side ways splits.
B: I had a cane for a good two weeks after that. Trying to walk around was so painful, and I’ve started smartening up about where I do things like that now.
DP!: Do you feel your demographic has changed within the last 25 years?
A: I think it has expanded, because the fans that used to like us 15 or 20 years ago, a lot of them are still coming to see us, and now there’s 30 and 40 year old people coming to see us, and there’s still like young people too. People like the energy and the fuck you songs.
B: It’s a family affair too. We just did an interview before this, and the lady was like “my dad’s here, and he’s only here to see Reel Big Fish”, and she was probably like 18 or 19 years old.
A: Whenever I hang out with my mum, we always like to have a few drinks and have a good time, you know? So, I feel like as a family environment, especially when you get a little older when your kids are a little older but your parents aren’t too old yet, the best place to go is to see Reel Big Fish. Once your kids become of drinking age, take them. I feel like your parents aren’t cool until you can start drinking with them.
DP!: You released a holiday themed album ‘Happy Skalidays’ last year. What was the inspiration behind it?
A: We’d been meaning to do a holiday album for a long time, we just never got around to it. We were too busy playing shows, going on tour, making other albums, and doing other things. Then, finally, somebody said “It’s time. You’ve got to do a holiday album”, and we was like “Ah, okay, we’ll do it now”.
DP!: Are you happy with the result?
A: I love it! I think if we knew it sounded as good as it did when we made it, we probably might have tried to record more, because I think it was more like “Ah, is this going to be good? Is this going to be alright?”, but I love it. There are a few original songs that are so fucking good. I’m usually very picky with the albums and how they sound, but I’m actually very pleased with it.
DP!: What can we expect next from Reel Big Fish?
A: More shows, more tours, more albums, a rock opera.
B: A skapra!
A: An Asian invasion! We haven’t been there enough. Reel Big Fish’s Asian invasion!
Interview by Kieran Harris
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.