At the end of last year, veteran OC ska band Reel Big Fish dropped their wonderfully fun new album Life Sucks…Let’s Dance (check out our review here). Band frontman Aaron Barrett was kind enough to answer some questions for us while on the road touring, addressing everything from his songwriting process to his favorite beers by other bands.
IndyReview (IR): First, congrats on the new album. It’s a blast, and I noticed a lot of growth and new elements compared to past RBF albums. When the band agrees to hit the studio, do you set any specific goals or have any themes in mind for what you want the album to sound like?
Aaron Barrett (AB): Awesome, thanks for noticing! Most reviews said “Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!” was same old, same old, typical Reel big Fish! Haha There really was no goal or theme or vision or anything like that, these are just the songs that I’ve written over the last five years. Finally there was enough to fill up a whole album so we went into the studio and laid ’em down!
IR: When RBF first started, did you have any rules for what a RBF song had to be? If so, have these rules changed at all over the years?
AB: I didn’t start a band so I could follow a bunch of rules! haha I’ve pretty much just always written songs that I felt like writing. They didn’t have to be ska or have horns or whatever (I’m just best at writing that kind of song). Every RBF album has a few weird experimental or just different or strange sounding songs on it…at least a couple.
IR: I’ve read that the positive outlook on the album stems from your new marriage – was it hard to write from that sunnier perspective? On “In Love Again”, it sounds like your happiness is causing you an equal amount of anxiety.
AB: I definitely do have a more positive outlook on life these days. The new album does have some cheerful and more hopeful songs on it for sure, but “In Love Again” certainly isn’t one of them! haha
IR: RBF have always expertly blended humor with a darker outlook and cynicism. Who would you say are some of your lyrical inspirations for this style of writing?
AB: That’s a good question, I’m not sure why I started doing that. I guess that’s just my sense of humor. I guess I just thought it was pretty hilarious to have the most fun, upbeat, cheerful music and then just the most pissed off, bitter, depressing lyrics. Maybe I listened to to much Morrissey when I was younger! haha
IR: The new album obviously touches upon the current dark times we’re all experiencing but doesn’t get overly political or specific – when you started writing the new album, did you ever have to pull yourself back from a song because it was going down too serious a path or was too “of the moment” to fit the band’s sound/brand?
AB: I never write about politics or current events or anything like that really, it’s always been more about internal feelings and personal stuff in my lyrics so, I never really found myself holding back about anything like that.
IR: Musically, I noticed more piano on this album than I believe I’ve heard before on a RBF record, and elements of calypso and even a hint of bluegrass. What were some of the ways you and the group experimented and stretched yourselves on Life Sucks… that excited you?
AB: I’ve always loved all kinds of music and especially over the last few years since pandora radio and spotify and stuff like that have come out, it really has allowed me to explore all kinds of different sounds so easily. I’ve been on so many musical journeys lately so I guess it’s inevitable that some of the sounds I’ve discovered would show up in the new music I’m writing. Also, our new trombone player Billy plays organ and piano so I let him go crazy on just about every song!
IR: Ska seemed to have a minor resurgence in 2018, with The Interrupters charting, and new albums from The English Beat, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and of course, you guys all making a splash. As you’ve started touring and doing press for the new album, have you noticed any changes from past tour cycles, either in press/radio interest or audiences?
AB: I definitely see that a lot more people are coming out to our shows lately, whether because they are nostalgic for the 90’s or for their old ska show days or because ska is more acceptable again and not as much of a guilty pleasure anymore or maybe because so many bands are releasing new albums and the Interrupters are all over the radio and that’s making more people talk about ska more…who knows why, but it’s definitely a good time for ska right now!
IR: Are there any new, young ska bands you’ve discovered and are loving?
AB: Well my answer to that question for a while now has been the Interrupters, but I don’t know if you’d consider them new anymore! We are the Union is pretty awesome, we took them on tour last fall and had a great time listening to them.
IR: I love the new “Another Beer Song”, and know you guys have your own brew “Reel Big Kolsch”. Have you tried any other bands’ specialty beers (ie: Hanson‘s “Mmmhops”)? Thoughts on them?
AB: Oh yea, I’ve tried some band beers! 311 has a really good beer, and Ballyhoo’s beer was good and Train has a really good wine…I still have yet to try MmmHops but I really want to!
IR: One last question: If you could make one lasting impact or change to popular music as it is now, what would it be?
The band will be playing the Back to the Beach festival at the Huntington State Beach on April 27th, and touring with Bowling for Soup starting in June. Find tour dates here.