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"Imagine a Spinal Tap thing happening. Remember the puppet show?" Wong asked, referring to a humiliating moment in the heavy-metal parody This Is Spinal Tap in which the band, attempting a comeback, finds itself on a bill with a puppet show. "Six hundred people like that, all about giving us the finger.... Oh well, it was fun. They had free alcohol, so it was all right."
Despite the bum gig, the members of Reel Big Fish continue to marvel at their quasi-celebrity. They recently appeared as the house band in the movie BASEketball. The actual filming process, which Wong described as 12 hours of waiting around to do ten minutes of pretending to play, was boring, but the band was wowed by the film's Hollywood premiere and intimidated by the models who played cheerleaders in the film. "They were very cute, and they were wearing skimpy outfits," was Wong's excuse for the band's not attempting to make contact.
Though the 25-year-old Wong sounds a bit like a rookie, Reel Big Fish formed eight years ago, when he, drummer Andrew Gonzales, and guitarist Aaron Barrett got together to play cover tunes by Jimi Hendrix, Poison, and Bob Marley, among others. Their lead singer, Ben Guzman, turned them onto ska, which Sublime and No Doubt were popularizing in Orange County at the time. Guzman left the band early on, but the others continued to develop their ska-based sound. Barrett took over most of the vocals, and the band gradually added horns. (Grant Barry and Dan Regan play trombone, and Tavis Werts and Scott Klopfenstein play trumpet.) Reel Big Fish released the self-produced Everything Sucks in 1995 and was signed to Mojo Records after the CD sold 3000 copies.
When Turn the Radio Off was released in 1996, the album sold more than 36,000 copies, thanks to touring and regional video-play of the song "Everything Sucks," according to Billboard Magazine. The following year, "Sell Out" was promoted heavily, the single took off, the video was aired frequently on MTV, and Turn the Radio Off went gold. The band's next CD, Why Do They Rock So Hard, is due for release next month.
Wong says the new record will offer a lot more rock and pop, along with heavy doses of irreverence and perhaps a dash of standard-issue hopelessness. When it's suggested that labeling anti-trendiness a "trend" is the band's way of saying that no matter what we do, we just can't win, Wong laughs.
"That's the overall theme to everything," he says. "I think you just about got it. As long as you understand that, I think everything we're saying makes sense."
Reel Big Fish performs at FU*BAR, 909 E. Cypress Creek Rd., Fort Lauderdale, on Thursday, September 17. Doors open at 8 p.m., with Spring Heeled Jack USA and Frenzal Rhomb opening. For information call 954-532-4035.