One of the biggest bands headlining this year's Warped Tour are ska masters Reel Big Fish. They're known for their love of cover songs and their '97 hit single "Sell Out," but they couldn't be further from that song title.
They stick to their genre and just want to make "happy music" that people can dance to -- and they don't need to be meaningful. New Times caught up with Reel Big Fish frontman Aaron Barrett, to talk the ska movement, guilty pleasures, and... his urge to perform naked?
New Times: What's it like being one of the veterans on Warped Tour this year?
The cool thing about Warped Tour is that we play in front of new people
that maybe their sisters or their brothers knew about us, and through
the miracle of the internet, they come around. We're going to be new to a
lot of people, and they're going to see us for the first time.
Are there any bands that you're looking forward to seeing?
Andrew W.K. We were on Warped Tour with him in like 2002. I had him sign an autograph and he wrote me like a story [laughs].
are a lot of bands that you've toured with before that are doing Warped
with you guys this year. That has to be cool to have so many familiar
Oh yeah. It's like summer camp [laughs].
What was it like being at like at the forefront of the third
wave Ska scene in the early 90s along with bands like Sublime and The
Mighty Mighty Bosstones?
Well you don't really feel like you're at the forefront until like
years later that you're like, "Wow, we're one of the people that
started the wave." So we don't really feel it 'til we're like, "Wow we
started band in '92 and people still kind of like it."
The fact that that started so long ago, and there's still some sort of
a ska presence at a lot of music festivals is pretty cool.
Yeah. As much as people knock it and like to make fun of it, everyone
has some sort of ska CD in their collection. It's like their comfort
food. When no one's around, they shut off the lights and listen to it.
It's like, "No one can know that I have this CD, but I love it."
[Laughs]. It's like all the hardcore kids are the ones that have the
Britney Spears CDs [laughs].
It's true. Everyone has a guilty pleasure CD, but I
wouldn't say ska is really a "guilty pleasure," 'cause there are a lot
of people that had the CDs when they were younger, and they still
listen to it every now and then.
It's not cool to like ska music, but....
It's a little cool to like ska music.
Yeah, I mean it still has a following, it's just not as glorified
as all the other scenes. But there's still a huge market for it.
I've seen a lot of people with Reel Big Fish tattoos. Obviously they're not ashamed of it.
Yeah. I dunno why, but some people are ashamed of happy music.
Like industry people see ska as like a taboo thing. If they gave it
just a little bit of push, I think the world would be happy again, and
there could be happy music mainstream.
Yeah, 'cause overall ska music is really happy. Even if the lyrics are negative, the beats are still upbeat.
Exactly. Yup and nowadays people come around and don't even play
their instruments. It's like a voice and an electric drum machine.
Yeah, button pushing is really big right now.
It's like, "Wow! I don't even need to learn how to play my
instruments! I just push a button and I can have a band!" Just press
play and [simulates drum noises] and then they have that [howling
noise] singer voice.
How do you feel the scene has changed for you since you started out?
Well before there was an actual scene. It wasn't just like go to a
ska show and get happy, but there'd be a ska show, and everybody would
go. It wouldn't be like, "I'm going to see this band," it would be more
like "I'm going because it's a ska show." And all the bands were
friends with each other... it was an actual scene. And it wasn't just
with ska, it was with everything. There was a camaraderie, like
everybody knew everybody, and you wouldn't need to call your friend to
see if he was going to the show, because he was already going. The
local bands were all like local heroes. Now you don't see that.
What do you feel it's like now, then? I'd think there would still be some sort of a ska scene left over in California at least.
There's a ska scene, but it's not really like consistent. There's just not a whole lot of ska bands out here.
then being a part of it for so long, how would you like Reel Big Fish
to be seen by the newer generations to take from the show?
I dunno [laughs]. That it's okay to not be meaningful all the
time. You're allowed to have fun and dance, and not worry what people
think when they're watching you.
I notice that you guys
are about that a lot. You don't really conform like other bands do. You
do a lot of cover songs. You even have a whole album of cover songs,
which you don't see a lot of bands do. What was the inspiration behind
Well as you know, every band's got a song that they're like, "Man I
wish I wrote this song." [Laughs]. So with a covers album, we finally
get to play these songs. We're gonna play them at sound checks, and not
in my room. It's kind of cool to get to do that with a whole album,
playing songs that I love.
Yeah, 'cause you guys sort of run the gamut through all the
genres with all the covers you've done. I mean you've even done Sinatra.
Well it's good to be Sinatra for a song [laughs]. That was a joke. We actually have a new album coming out.
I was actually going to ask you about that. It was supposed to be originally slated for late 2009, right?
Yeah. It's coming out while we're on Warped Tour. It's actually our greatest hits. It's called Best of Us for the Rest of Us.
Can you tell me anything else about it?
There are a crapload of songs. Jive released a Greatest Hits, but
this is what we think our greatest hits are. 'Cause the label never
knows what the greatest hits are. We picked based on shows and what
people have wanted to hear.
So it's a re-release of all of your best stuff. What inspired you guys to re-release it all your way?
Well, when Jive dropped us, they were like, "Well we get to do the songs the way we wanted to do them."
I don't think you guys made any profit when they released your best of album, right?
No, no, no. And plus we did the songs the way we wanted to, and now
we own all the recordings. It's a two-disc CD. We're doing one disc of
our hits, and then like we're doing acoustic. It's a 14 acoustic song
I don't think I can picture Reel Big Fish acoustically.
Neither did we, but it came out awesome [laughs].
Does it still have all of the energy that you guys normally have?
We played the acoustic songs pretty much at the same tempo that we play
them live. So it's not like a stripped down acoustic version where it's
slow and it's artsy. It's the same songs, but they're acoustic.
Are you going to perform any of the acoustic songs while you're on Warped Tour?
Umm.. I don't think we're going to play any of the acoustics on Warped
Tour. Maybe if you get us really drunk [laughs]. I dunno.
What do you guys have planned for Warped Tour? Do you have anything special lined up?
I'm sure we'll come up with something special for Warped Tour. Every
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time we play, it's special. We'll definitely do jokes, do bits.
I've noticed that you guys interact with crowds a lot.
Oh yeah. I decided I'm going to start playing naked [laughs]. I'm not even wearing a thong [laughs].