Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish is known for its entry into the so-called "third wave" of Southern California ska. The group rode in on the coattails of more commercially successful groups from the region in the 1990s, including No Doubt and Sublime. They are perhaps best known for their single "Sell Out," which came to public attention in the summer of 1997, thanks to radio play and MTV. "Like most of their peers, the band was distinguished by their hyperkinetic stage shows, juvenile humor, ironic covers of new wave pop songs, and metallic shards of ska," wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine in All Music Guide.
"A lot of people refer to Reel Big Fish as a ska core band or ska punk band, and they're not," manager Vince Pileggi told Billboard in 1997. "They're a ska glam band." Ska is defined as "a brisk form of Jamaican-born rock derived from reggae and rock energy," according to FactMonster. Among the pioneers of the genre were Desmond Dekker, Toots & the Maytals, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and The Skatalites. Its popularity waned in the mid-1960s, when it was supplanted by rock-steady. The genre was revived in the early 1980s by British multiracial or so-called two-tone bands on the edge of the punk movement.
"The Third Wave of Ska Revival emerged in the late '80s, when certain members of the American punk underground began returning to the sounds of British ska revival and infusing it with a hardcore punk attack. During the early '80s, this third wave continued to grow—more bands continued to pop up across the country, but many of the most popular were based in California," according to All Music Guide. These bands included Rancid, considered to be the first of the so-called third wave bands.
"Most of the bands that followed Rancid into the charts emphasized metal over ska, but some—like No Doubt—drew from new wave pop roots as well, while Rancid themselves managed to stay true to both ska revival and punk. During 1996, the third wave of ska revival became one of the most popular forms of alternative music in the United States." Other groups in the genre included Goldfinger, Sublime, and Dancehall Crashers.
Reel Big Fish originally consisted of Aaron Barrett (vocals/guitar), Matt Wong (bass), and Andrew Gonzales (drums), who all called Huntington Beach, California, their home. The rock trio started covering hard rock songs from metal bands such as Warrant, L.A. Guns, and the Cult. The group also typically included classic rock and Top 40 covers among their sets.
The group continues to have a seemingly ever-changing lineup. With the departure of vocalist Ben Guzman in 1995, the band added a horn section consisting of Tavis Werts (trumpet), Scott Klopfenstein (trumpet, vocals), Grant Barry (trombone), and Dan Regan (trombone). The band has always had a diverse range of influences. Klopfenstein, who began playing trumpet at the age of 9, has cited Devo, The Pixies, The Cure, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles, for example.
Reel Big Fish recorded and self-released their debut album, Everything Sucks, in 1995. The band's popularity grew based on word of mouth, particularly among ska and punk fans and in the college-age crowd. The band was signed to Mojo Records, which enlisted John Avila (ex-Oingo Boingo) to help produce Turn the Radio Off, which was released in August of 1996.
In a review of the album, Kevin East, writing in Sensible Sound, said listeners were "advised to be firmly seated before listening to this disc," lest they "collapse after dancing wildly from start to finish."
The band slowly gained momentum until, in the spring of 1997, their single "Sell Out" began to be played on modern rock stations. MTV picked up on the trend by putting the group's video into heavy rotation, moving the album onto the modern rock charts and onto Billboard's top 200 chart. According to Billboard, independent record chain sales also helped. The label sought channels other than radio to promote the band, including live performances, based on its experience with other artists.
An EP kept fans satisified until the release of Why Do They Rock So Hard? in 1998. Why Do They Rock So Hard? was a return to rock 'n' roll, the music the band had started out playing. There was some hope on the part of record executives that moving in this musical direction would net the band a broader audience.
"It's not what [fans] will expect," Patrick McDowell, the A&R executive who signed the band, told Billboard. "Not often do you hear ripping guitar solos on a ska record or heavy, distorted guitars on top of harmonies. Hopefully, it will reach more people, and the rock aspect will help do that."
Said Wong in the same article, "It's still us…. If they're not going to like us just because we're not playing ska in a song or two, then what the hell? We play music that we like to play, whether it's ska, hip-hop, who knows. You never know where we'll go next. Our core audience knows that we're basically schizophrenic when it comes to music anyway."
Reel Big Fish had been stalwarts on the annual Warped Tour until 2004, when hardcore bands replaced the ska acts. The band launched its own "Coast to Coast Roast" tour with acts including The Rx Bandits and Catch 22.
The band has been noted for projecting a uniformly sarcastic sense of humor throughout its existence. "We're all pretty jaded and sarcastic individuals," Klopfenstein said in an interview on the website Newstimes 180. "We have our serious moments as well, but we try not to take life too seriously."
Among their various celebrity fans are reportedly "Weird" Al Yankovic, Les Claypool of the band Primus, and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Reel Big Fish has continued to have personnel changes. Among those who came and went were Werts, Carlos De La Garza, Justin Ferreria, and Tyler Jones. The most recent iteration of the band included Regan, Barrett, Klopfstein, Wong, Ferreira, and John Christianson.
By the time We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy was released in 2005, the band were considered veterans within the genre. John Ochoa, writing in the University of Southern California campus newspaper, said the band had spent "15 years of serving as the front men of the third-wave ska movement." They had ridden the popularity of ska and successfully weathered its eclipse from mainstream popularity.
For the Record …
Members include Aaron Barrett (born on August 30, 1974, in Hawaii; original member), vocals, guitar; Grant Barry (born on February 2, 1977; joined group, 1995; left group, 1998), trombone; John Christianson (joined group, 2004), trombone; Carlos de la Garza (joined group, c. 1999; left group, 2003), drums; Justin Ferreira (joined group, 2003), drums; Andrew Gonzales (born on November 1, 1972, in Hawaii; original member; left group, c. 1999), drums; Ben Guzman (joined group, c. 1994; left group, 1995), vocals; Tyler Jones (joined group, c. 1998; left group, 2004), trumpet; Scott Klopfenstein (born on May 31, 1977; joined group, 1995), trumpet, vocals; Dan Regan (born on May 9, 1977, in Long Beach, CA; joined group, 1995), trombone; Tavis Werts (born on July 8, 1977; joined band, 1995; left group, 2001), trumpet, flugelhorn; Matt Wong (born on January 12, 1974, in Hawaii; original member), bass.
Group formed in Huntington Beach, CA, c. 1994; began as rock band; added vocalist Ben Guzman shortly thereafter; Guzman left the band, 1995; replaced by horn section consisting of Tavis Werts (trumpet), Scott Klopfenstein (trumpet, vocals), Grant Barry (trombone), and Dan Regan (trombone); Everything Sucks self-released, 1995; signed to Mojo Records and released-Turn the Radio Off, 1996; single "Sell Out" charted and put in heavy rotation on MTV, 1997; Why Do They Rock So Hard? released, 1998; toured consistently, including numerous appearances as part of the Warped Tour, 1995-2004; We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy released, 2005.
Awards: California Music Awards, Outstanding World Beat/Ska Album, for Cheer Up!, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Jive Records/Zomba Recording Corporation, 137-139 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001. Publicist—Earshot Media, 2629 Manhattan Ave. PMB 301, Hermosa Beach, CA 902542447. Website—Reel Big Fish Official Website: http://www.reel-big-fish.com/.
Turn the Radio Off, Uptown/Universal, 1996.
Why Do They Rock So Hard?, Uptown/Universal, 1998.
Everything Sucks, MCA International, 2000.
Cheer Up!, Jive, 2002.
We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy, Mojo/Jive/Zomba Label Group, 2005.
The America's Intelligence Wire, July 13, 2004; November 11, 2004.
Billboard, July 5, 1997; September 19, 1998.
Sensible Sound, May 1998.
"Catch Reel Big Fish," Newstimes 180, http://www.newstimes180.com/story.php?id=960&category=SOUNDS (May 17, 2005).
"Reel Big Fish," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 13, 2005).
"Reel Big Fish Announce Line-up Change," Undercover, http://www.undercover.com.au/news/2003/20030614_reelbigfish.html (May 17, 2005).
"Reel Big Fish," Iceberg Radio, http://www.icebergradio.com/artist/8763/reel_big_fish.html (May 17, 2005).
"Reel Big Fish's new album full of self-hatred, old age…," Daily Trojan (USC) Online, http://www.dailytrojan.com/news/2005/04/05/Lifestyle/Reel-Big.Fishs.New.Album.Full.Of.SelfHatred.Old.Age-912311.shtml (April 13, 2005).
"Ska," FactMonster, http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0776052.html (May 17, 2005).
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