January 31st, 2012, 11:10 am · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
A couple of weeks ago, in a small recording studio in Orange, members of Reel Big Fish were plotting world musical domination. While Aaron Barrett and Ryland Steen were hard at work recording some demos for the group’s first album of new material in five years, they were also planning out what they would say if the long-running local favorite finally scored the best world trophy at the OC Music Awards.
RBF is up for that prize (to be handed out March 3 at City National Grove of Anaheim) alongside 80 Proof, Craic Haus, the Dirty Heads and Seedless. But Barrett, group leader and sole original member, and Steen, its fourth but second-longest-lasting drummer, seemed slightly confused about what they’re actually nominated for.
“I’d like to say, on behalf of Reel Big Fish, that it’s an honor to be nominated in the best band in the world category,” Steen joked, taking a break from his kit for a quick interview.
“It’s weird being nominated for an award of any kind,” Barrett added more seriously. “We always feel like we’re fooling around playing these little songs, and they actually mean something to someone. So it makes you think about that — I guess people really do like us somewhere for some reason.”
For almost 20 years Reel Big Fish has been a local staple, steadily so since its breakthrough second album, Turn the Radio Off (1996), spawned the hit single “Sell Out.” That landed the band in nationwide airplay on radio and MTV. Two years later they appeared in the comedy BASEketball, starring and created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and contributed a cover of a-ha’s “Take on Me” to its soundtrack.
The so-called third-wave ska revival as a whole was short-lived, with only No Doubt fully breaking out of it and rising to superstar status, RBF has stuck it out, releasing another fistful of albums while continuing to play domestically and internationally to sizable audiences.
“We tour,” Barrett says matter-of-factly. “That’s what we do. We play 250 shows a year, and we’re so lucky that people all around the world want us to come to their town and will pay money to see us play. That’s incredible.”
Barrett & Co. — including long-time trumpeter John Christianson, longer-time trombonist Dan Regan, bassist Derek Gibbs and saxophonist and backing vocalist Matt Apleton — closed out 2011 with a jaunt across South America. Soon after our chat they took off for their European tour, with dates in the U.K., Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.
“It’s a lot the same (as in the States),” Barrett says of playing overseas. “There’s always lots of sweaty people jumping around, going crazy. It gets weird when they don’t speak English as their first language; sometimes our jokes don’t come across as well.”
“The music has this universal quality,” adds Steen, who joined RBF in 2005 and also drums for American Idol winner Kris Allen. “They just get it and they know it — (they) know what to do when we start playing, which is to go crazy and have fun.”
Because they’re on the road so much, both he and Barrett say there are simple comforts from home they tend to miss – like clean, properly working toilets and showers with substantial water pressure.
“Mexican food,” Steen adds. “By the time I get back from Europe, all I want is a bean burrito from Del Taco.”
O.C. is where Reel Big Fish always returns, but Barrett says so many repeat visits at a multitude of familiar stops makes it feel like the whole world is becoming RBF’s hometown.
“There ends up being a certain sort of comfort level that you get to because you’ve gone there so many times,” Steen says. “When you roll into a town you know where you can get a good cup of coffee or food, you know where you can get your favorite beer on tap at some bar. I think we’re lucky in that way because we do end up doing a lot of the same cities every year.”
As for the music coming out of the band’s actual hometown, both guys are happy to see that he sound that made them famous has a permanent place here.
“The ska scene in Orange County is still going strong,” Barrett reports. “I mean, Starpool just did a record-release party at House of Blues Anaheim and it was sold out. That’s pretty awesome. Suburban Legends still go out and play lots of big shows – there’s still ska here.”
“We definitely try to do our part to support ska music,” Steen adds. “Not just in Orange County but anywhere around the world, because there are ebbs and flows. It has almost become a novelty to have a ska band these days; there’s definitely more rock bands being formed. So when we get to know what we think is a really good ska band, we try to embrace them and help them out as much as we can.”
“The ska scene is what has allowed us to have a career in music and what’s kept us going,” Barrett says. “Long, long after the radio hit and long after most people would have forgotten about us, this scene still supports us.”
This year Reel Big Fish has more extensive touring on its schedule as well as wrapping work on its new album, a follow-up to 2009′s covers collection Fame, Fortune and Fornication. Barrett says he hopes to have it available before the Mayan calendar runs out.
“We want it to come out so people can hear it and possibly see it live before the world ends.”
Photos by Rob Inderrieden.
More O.C. Nightlife:
- Thrice and Rodney on the ROQ to get special OC Music Awards
- Video: Cory Case at Memphis Cafe
- AfterWork: The best places to watch football
- Cassadee Pope goes acoustic at Chain Reaction in Anaheim
- Slideshow: BLOK gets wild at the Continental Room
- Slide Show: OC Music Awards showcases continue at Malone’s