Reel Big Fish has been on the scene since the early 1990s. With only a few original members left, the ska staples are still going strong. Accent Editor Jamie Saine spoke to trumpet player John Christianson about the band’s roots and its future after Jive records.
Reel Big Fish played at The Haunt on April 24.
Jamie Saine: There’s a rumor that ska is dead. How are you keeping it alive?
John Christianson: There’s something timeless about the Reel Big Fish, whether it’s the music and/ or the live show that we do. There’s something that resonates with all the kids that come to the shows, and anybody that comes to a Reel Big Fish show never goes away not being entertained. So I think so much of it is just the entertainment value of the band as a live show that makes a difference in peoples’ lives, that’s what keeps it fresh.
JS: There are people who have been listening to you for years and people who have just discovered ska. How do you appeal to such a varied crowd?
JC: Everybody likes to have a good time, and I think we’re one of those bands that can really show you a good time. Right now the music business is kind of really somber and everybody wants to be very serious and take themselves seriously and we’re definitely not that. We definitely come to entertain and to make people laugh and forget about what happens to them on a daily basis. We are that breath of fresh air. I think that’s part of the appeal of Reel Big Fish, why we can get such various stages of people that come to the shows and love the band.
JC: Oh it’s wonderful. My greatest compliment is when we have parents that come and bring their kids to the shows and they come up and go, ‘I had no idea that you guys were so great.’ They’re totally astounded that we could entertain them, you know having somebody that’s 45 or 50, that they could be entertained by us young whipper-snappers in our … early 30s. It just translates across a wide variation of ages; it’s awesome.
JS: You’ve been referred to as “a beacon of ska.” What’s that like?
JC: It’s definitely an honor to be able to, you know, carry the torch, the Olympic torch of ska so to speak. … A lot of our music is, you know, rock and punk and a little bit of jazz and reggae and we kind of take from all our influences, but we are definitely a band that loves traditional ska, like listening to the Skatalites or listening to the Wailers or listening to Desmond Decker. We have a thing that Aaron [Barrett] makes up on every summer tour called the reggae machine. … It’s this little speaker that’s all taped up in duct tape and painted in the Jamaican flag colors and that plays nothing but reggae and traditional ska all day long. … So we definitely are a band that knows its roots and that really appreciates those.
JS: What was it like getting cut from your record label, Jive?
JC: It was a party. We celebrated, there were many hugs, many pats on the back. I think there may have been a cake, maybe some party favors. Jive really, they didn’t know what to do with us. They, as the record labels were getting bought by this giant octopus of a business; we got shuffled lower and lower on their roster. And we were having problems contacting our A&R guy, there was no tour support, there was really no support from the label. So it was kind of a one-sided relationship. You know, we were putting all this time and effort into touring and being a band and making great records, and Jive was just kind of like ignoring us. We were definitely the black sheep of their record label, so we were really happy to get released from their record contract.
JS: “Horns just make music better” — I assume you agree.
JC: I could not agree more strongly. It’s such a cool thing to be a trumpet player, or be a brass player, and hear your instrument on the radio. I always used to love listening to Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Chicago and Tower of Power … Herb Albert, oh my gosh. My brother had the record “Rise” by Herb Albert and when I was a little kid, even before I played the trumpet, hearing the song “Rise” was … one of the coolest things that I had ever heard.
JS: I’m sure you get this all the time but does she really have a girlfriend now?
JC: [Laughs] Yes she did. That actually happened in some strange, crazy way to Aaron Barrett.
Reel Big Fish will perform at 8 p.m. tonight at The Haunt, 702 Willow Ave. $20.