California ska-punk band Reel Big Fish are no strangers to Slam Dunk Festival, so there’s clearly something that they enjoy about it to keep them coming back. As I chat with front man Aaron Barrett at the Wolverhampton leg of the festival, he informs me that the band actually played one of the first few Slam Dunk events in Leeds in 2007. Today, fans can expect a fun set from the band at Slam Dunk 2015. “Expect the usual awesome Reel Big Fish Show; lots of fun entertainment and silliness. So much energy and great songs to dance to. We will be playing everyone’s favourite hits and wearing some very colourful outfits.” With a back catalogue of nine albums which have been released since 1995, Aaron finds it extremely difficult to choose just one favourite to play live. “It always changes. Sometimes you’re in the mood to play a song that you haven’t played in a while, and it’s really enjoyable. I think my personal favourites to play live are the ones that make people go crazy; such as Beer, Sell Out or Take On Me. Just that feeling on starting that first chord and the explosion of cheering and dancing; that’s pretty amazing.”
The band are extremely hardworking, especially since they made the decision to go independent and leave major label Mojo Records. However, this move has allowed them to go back to their roots with a renewed sense of freedom. “When we started out we were independent too for the first few years. We did everything ourselves; we recorded our own album, booked our own gigs, and we got a pretty good following. Mojo helped us get it to the next level in regards to getting our music out to more people, but I think that we went as far as we could go with the major label thing and it just didn’t work for us. We weren’t like a boy band or a pop band, that they knew how to market. Luckily we have people’s attention and so many people know about us, that now being on an independent makes sense. We can do exactly what we want to do.”
Any hardworking band need a little bit of chill out time while touring, and Reel Big Fish like to fill their spare time with reading, playing computer games, exploring the local area and also catching up on TV. Aaron points to the TV on their tour bus and explains that it is great because “It has a hard drive built in, filled with hundreds and thousands of shows and movies on it. We like to do normal stuff in our chill out time.” Touring, however; can sometimes be far from normal especially when visiting weird and wonderful venues abroad. Aaron recalls the time that they played a festival in Russia on the Black Sea; “The hotel that we stayed at was like a post-apocalyptic, Mad-Max like, crazy hotel. There were wild dogs running about, strays; and also feral cats. We felt like we were in a movie about zombies or mutants or something. However, the festival itself was amazing. Nobody knew who we were, but they all just went crazy because there was music. They were very excited!”
Before the band, Aaron was highly influenced by a huge variety of musicians, as is quite apparent in Reel Big Fish’s cross-genre music. He tells me that his favourite bands when growing up varied from Poison and Def Leppard to UB40 and Madness.“I liked all the shreddy, noodley guitar players of 80s metal, but I also loved UB40 when I was little; they were my favourite band! Then from that, I got into Madness and eventually discovered the Orange County ska-punk scene, which was like all of my favourite music mixed up; so it was only natural.” Back to present day, and Aaron recommends that one of the up and coming bands playing at Slam Dunk Festival that people should keep their eyes peeled for is the band who opened up the Desperados stage; Survay Says. “They’re really good. Kind of like the early 2000’s Drive Thru Records emo sound, but with horns and ska mixed in.” Another band that he likes at the moment, but are not on the tour today are LA’s The Interrupters, who apparently sound like “Joan Jett singing for Operation Ivy”.
After today (which is the last day of Slam Dunk Festival), the band are back out on the road for more touring across the USA with ska buddies Less Than Jake, before doing a deluxe version of their Christmas CD with some extra tracks for later in the year. As a band who like to throw in ska’d up covers of other tracks, I ask Aaron if they might cover any song by another band on today’s lineup in the future. After some consideration, he suggests “Maybe we’d cover Taking Back Sunday; but I’m not sure which song.”