Reel Big interview: Aaron Barrett

This year's special guest for AC's Spring Concert is Reel Big Fish, one of the founding fathers of ska. The band has achieved fame for its upbeat sound and hit songs like "Sell Out" and "She Has a Girlfriend Now." After a decade-long struggle with Jive Records, RBF was dropped from their label in 2007. Rather than a failure, the band took this turn of events as an opportunity to finally gain control over their music. RBF's new album, Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free, is a showcase of this new freedom. The Lamron sat down with lead singer Aaron Barrett to discuss the band and its past struggles and triumphs.

The Lamron: I hate to say it, but several students have never even really heard of ska music. How would you define this genre?

Aaron Barrett: I guess the one thing that makes it ska music is the up-strokes on the guitar. That's the technical thing that makes it ska. But really, it's just a fun, danceable kind of music. It's like fast reggae, that's how we try to explain it to people who don't know what ska is.

The Lamron: Where did the name of the band come from?

AB: We were going to name ourselves after the movie The Fisher King with Robin Williams, and we made a little demo tape and the title of the tape was Reel Big Fish. We thought that sounded better and wasn't a rip-off of something.

The Lamron: Even though there is a pretty solid ska following, it seems pretty hard for new ska bands to grab a firm place in the market. What is it that has helped you guys hold on for the past 15 years?

AB: There was a pretty big scene where we were from [Orange County, Calif.]. No Doubt and Sublime were the big local bands at the time. And we got a really good record deal with the Mojo Records label, which really helped us out with promotion. And I think we just write good songs, people seem to like them.

The Lamron: Ska music has always had a difficult time trying to make it into the mainstream spotlight. Do you think this has helped or hindered the genre?

AB: While ska isn't in the mainstream, ska is bigger than ever on the underground right now. There are more ska bands now. We are bigger worldwide than we ever were. More bands are giving us their demos and it's really exciting. Even though you don't see it on TV or hear it on the radio, it's really happening.

The Lamron: Most of your music includes party songs and ones that focus around an industry that is simply looking for the next big hit. What song of yours holds the most meaning to you?

AB: We sing about bad relationships, too, don't forget that [laughs]. I think all the songs mean a lot to us because we wrote them all. It's hard to pick one song that means the most. They are all our little babies.

The Lamron: Past songs like "Sell Out," "One Hit Wonderful," and "Don't Start a Band" have displayed your animosity towards the music industry. How has splitting from Jive records affected the band?

AB: I think it's made us a lot happier being independent. It did help at first being on the label. We had a lot of promotion and it helped us get to a level we never would have gotten to, but after a while once we got on Jive records, it was ridiculous, we couldn't do anything, we couldn't get a hold of anybody. Now that we are on our own, we are free to do whatever we want. We put out a live album and we put out our first album on our own and we are connected to our fans through the Internet.

The Lamron: You guys have been playing for over 14 years. What helps you persevere in such a demanding industry?

AB: Definitely the fans. The fact that people are still coming to the shows to see us really helps us keep going. The people are there supporting us, cheering us on.

The Lamron: Reel Big Fish has seen over a dozen different members throughout its career. How are the relationships with past members?

AB: We usually end on very bad terms, so we don't talk to past members very often. Matt Wong was actually the first time somebody left the band and it was all good.

The Lamron: Since it is quite a small genre, what kind of relationship do you have with other ska bands?

AB: We know a lot of them because they're from Orange County. We've become good friends with all the bands we've been on tour with like Streetlight Manifesto and Less Than Jake. It is a small scene but there are a lot of bands we don't know.

The Lamron: If Reel Big Fish was a breakfast item, what would it be and why?

AB: [Laughs] That's a hard question. I'd say a breakfast burrito because we have all kinds of different stuff all wrapped up in a wrap. Or maybe a quiche.

The Lamron: Are there any side projects that we can expect from the members of RBF?

AB: Dan [Regan] is doing his DJ thing, Black Casper. Check that out through our Myspace top friends. That's about it.