There’s something about having a band like Reel Big Fish in Birmingham that always causes a stir. Outside, people are already starting to mill around, and as I walk towards the doors, a man who may as well have the word “tout” printed on his bomber jacket almost asks me if I have a ticket to sell, before he realises its only 4pm and changes his mind. The tour manager, Tom, smiles broadly as we make our way through the building. “Cold out there huh?” “I know mate” I smile back, “and I have to live here”. Shit, I’ve barely opened my mouth and I’ve already said “mate”.
Walking through the newly-decorated corridors of the Birmingham O2 academy there is an odd sense of calm, but it isn’t until I see the stage that I feel the anticipation in the room; this is the ebb before the tidal wave hits. In a couple of hours, something huge is going to be unleashed here.
Backstage, the band are relaxing and making a few preparations. We find Ryland in the hallway, warming up on a small practice kit. Derek flicks casually through his laptop and Scott reclines on the sofa. Every inch the seasoned touring band, they don’t seem tired or stressed, they just seem focused, and judging by previous Reel Big Fish shows I’ve seen, I don’t blame them for preserving their energy — they’re going to need it.
How’s the tour going so far?
Ryland: I think it’s going tremendously, we love coming to the UK. We love people who come to the shows, they’re a crazy bunch of kids and it allows us to put on a really high-energy show. It’s like, we throw our energy out at the audience and they push it back, which makes for a very fun experience.
What’s the touring situation like with the band; is it difficult living in each other’s pockets?
Ryland: I think at this point we’re just used to being with each other all the time, I’ve been with the band for five years now. I guess you just get used to pretty much living with someone six or seven months out of the year. We’re all very respectful of each other and know when to stay out of each other’s way, but we just love what we do, so it makes the whole travelling situation a lot more enjoyable.
So you never find any tension building up?
Ryland: It’s not so much personal tension, it’s just sometimes if we’ve been on tour for a long period of time, sometimes we can be a little more stressed out or more short with each other, but overall I think it’s a very good situation we have.
You’ve been in Britain just over a week now, how does it compare to touring in the States?
Ryland: I would say the UK and mainland Europe audiences can tend to get a little crazier at the shows. I think it’s because the band is from America and touring America for a couple of years before they come over to Europe. But even though we have a great group of fans in the United States, I think maybe its something to do with the culture.
Do you think audiences over here are more appreciative?
Ryland: Maybe, I don’t know. There can definitely be a sense of entitlement with a certain number of people in the United States, so maybe people are more used to it; but overall we have a wonderful fan-base worldwide. But for some reason in the UK people do get a little crazier.
Have you developed a taste for the European beers yet?
Ryland: I’m not much of a beer drinker, but my friend Derek here is a beer connoisseur [To Derek, who is busy at the computer] Are there any particular beers that you love when you come over to the UK?
Derek: Well, it seems like a lot of them, we can find at home, I always enjoy some of the Belgian beers you can get in Manchester, but I look forward to having them in Belgium as well.
Thinking of attending a beer festival?
Derek: I would love to if I had time, but coming over with the band doesn’t really leave time to come on my own or vacation, although I really want to, but I’m going to be back soon and I don’t want to get tired of it.
Ryland: We’re hoping to actually do some of the European festivals this summer, so hopefully we’ll be able to experience that and some of the local beers.
Ryland: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the band has for over a decade now built its reputation on putting on a really fun and entertaining live show. I feel like there’s only so much listening to an album you can do and then eventually you move on from it, but if there’s a band who comes through town maybe once or twice a year that you know is going to put on a good show, people tend to stay loyal to those bands for longer. And the fact that RBF has always been a touring band has been a huge help in staying relevant and always bringing in new fans. As people tend to get older and their musical tastes change, it’s always their little brother or sister who takes over where they left off, and even now on tour our main audience is still the same age group that it was when the band first broke onto the scene, like 13 up to 21 or 22 years old.
As a band you play a lot of covers, your last album was a covers record. Do you think this also helps to attract new fans?
Ryland: I suppose it can but in RBF’s case it’s just another aspect of the band that people just enjoy, I don’t think it’s necessarily something that people hold on to like “Oh I like Reel Big Fish coz they do covers” but it’s just one more thing for fans to hold on to and wonder what cover we’re going to do next.
A recent music poll indicated that Indie music is dying out, do you think there could be a chance for Ska music to experience a revival?
Ryland: I think that would be great, I would love it if it did! I think it would have a different sound though. RBF sort of came on the third wave of Ska so I guess you would call it a fourth wave. I think there would be something different about it musically but…no, I’d love that [laughs] but because there’s not a whole lot of Ska-Punk bands out there that can draw a crowd as well, its one of the things that has actually got harder over the years as far as touring goes.
So it’s pretty difficult for Ska bands at the moment?
Ryland: Well I think it’s just difficult for bands in general. But I think one of the ways for a band to build an audience and keep things going, it seems like all you really need to do is just stay together. A lot of these bands just seem to get so far and then end up breaking up, where as RBF I think has come to a sort of equilibrium, not only with each other, but we’ve gotten into a rhythm of doing our touring every year and putting out studio projects. That seems to help us, where as these bands just seem to get stuck and don’t know what to do; and they end up breaking up or trying to change their sound.
Scott: A lot of it is also to do with perseverance through the hard times. We’ve seen a lot of really difficult shit go down in our careers personally, business-wise and things like that; you have to stick it out.
So apart from beer appreciation, what do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Ryland: Well usually when I’m home I just keep playing my drums [laughs] I have a little practice space, and I try to stay busy doing other things musically and I know Scott also has his own writing projects that he does. Its funny because, this is what our life is revolved around, so when we’re back home it almost ends up being like we’re waiting for the next tour.
Is it nice to ever take a break though?
Scott: The music industry isn’t really the kind of industry where you can take a break. I mean if you’re not working then you’re not working. You become outdated and passé, and the thing is if you want to stay doing this for a living then you don’t really have free time, you just have time that you’re not dedicating to a certain project that you’re dedicating to another project. I get a few hours out of the day that I have for personal use and the rest of it is doing something else. I think a lot of the people that we look up to are people who are always working. That’s the example that’s been set forth by the successful people in this industry; always be working. If you want to make music for a living, you’ve got to prove that you’re worthy and get your work ethic.
“The thing to be said too about bands that stay successful in this job is that each one brings something unique to the genre”
Are there any bands that you haven’t toured with yet that you’d really like to?
Ryland: I suppose there would be tons of bands, I don’t know if it would make sense for Reel Big Fish to tour with any of the bands I’d love to tour with.
Anyone in particular?
Scott: [to Ryland] You can say it.
Ryland: I’d love to go on tour with the Foo Fighters, or Mars Volta.
Scott: Zappa plays Zappa.
Ryland: Yeah, there’s all sorts of bands I’d love to tour with but it wouldn’t necessarily make sense with Reel Big Fish.
How are you finding the tour with Sonic Boom Six?
Ryland: It’s going great, the audience seem to like them, and we really like them as people so it’s fun. This is our second tour with them and they’re going to do the whole thing through Europe with us as well.
Any rivalry going on between the bands?
Ryland: There tends to not be a real rivalry with us, I think because we’re so in our own world that I guess we don’t really think in terms of that. We just do what we do. I guess I can see how bands would try and outdo each other, but we just really get up on stage and just play [laughs]. It’s funny because when we toured with Less Than Jake in the States in 2007, I was wondering if there was going to be a rivalry. And it was funny because it was a co-headlining bill, so we’d alternate each night who was going to close.
Scott: Didn’t we do Australia with them too?
Ryland: We did Australia and Canada with them, hopefully we’ll do Europe and the UK with them as well.
And you guys are the two biggest names in Ska-punk as well…
Ryland: Yeah, I thought there would actually be a rivalry with them, but right away both bands were joking with each other like “you guys close tonight, no you guys close tonight, no I don’t want to” so in the end it’s just people playing music.
Scott: The thing to be said too about bands that stay successful in this job is that each one brings something unique to the genre, so we’re not like most fucking bands that sound exactly the same and are competing with fucking haircuts and tight pants, like you said Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish are the two most prevalent bands of our genre and our age group, and we’re not competing because we’re two separate bands that bring two separate vibes and energies to the stage.
So could it be said that you’ve lasted so long because you’re not afraid to do something different?
Scott; Yeah, well that’s something that’s always a part of growing up in our scene; that every band was fucking different. The bands we looked up to and the bands we dug didn’t sound anything like us, and that was awesome. It’s not like that today.
Ryland: And even if there was a band that did come out that sounded like us that started becoming popular, we’d be excited because that just means it’s another band that we can go on tour with and not to sound cheesy or anything but as a band we’d look at it as if we’re in it together, so if anything we can only help each other out.
Do you like to think you’re influencing younger Ska-punk bands that might be coming onto the scene?
Ryland: Yeah, there’s all sorts of kids that come up to us and say “we started a band because of you guys”
Scott: And not just Ska-punk bands, you’d be surprised at festivals the bands that come up to us like “dude I loved you guys when I was a kid!”
So after the tour, what’s next for the band?
Ryland: Well we’re doing Warped Tour in the states this summer, like I said hopefully we’ll be back to do some festivals in the UK and Europe, and hopefully a new record of originals. We’re also working on a Greatest Hits, so we’re working on all sorts of things.
Your old label released a Greatest Hits that the band didn’t approve of, will this one be more personal?
Ryland: Yeah we’re working on our own project, so it’ll hopefully be put together later this year.