In the mid ’90s, there was a musical revolution of sorts. The grunge era, popular in the early part of that decade was defined by sludgy guitar chords, plaid and a certain amount of lyrical anguish. After that musical movement faded out, it opened the door for the considerably more upbeat and optimistic ska-influenced music.
In terms of popularity, California group No Doubt led this “new” ska movement but there were a number of other bands including Sublime and Reel Big Fish that also contributed to the genre’s mainstream success.
Formed in 1991, Reel Big Fish made their major label debut with their 1996 release Turn The Radio Off. A year later, their single “Sell Out” helped break the group into mainstream consciousness, where they became a modern rock and MTV favourite.
Despite building a loyal fanbase through relentless touring, it wouldn’t always be smooth sailing for the band. In the fall of 2001, their record label was bought out by another label. Suddenly, the group found themselves butting heads with those in charge over the direction of their music. This would lead to the group’s eventual exit from their record label.
Once the dust settled, Reel Big Fish trumpeter Johnny Christmas tells the Times & Transcript that they could not have been more elated to have been set free from the confines of their former record label.
“I have never seen six guys so giddy. High fives were flying all around us,” Johnny said. “Record companies are always looking for a home run. They want to sell millions of records but aren’t always willing to put money into developing an artist that isn’t selling millions of records. I truly think that they didn’t know what to do with us so as the years went on, we just got shifted lower and lower on their roster.”
As fortunate as the band feels for having been given exposure to high-profile media outlets such as MTV in the past, they have wisely focused the bulk of their energy on touring and spreading word of the band through their live show.
“Touring is very much our bread and butter these days, but I think that is the case for 95 per cent of artists. You have to get out there and hustle your music. Not that we ever sold millions upon millions of albums but no one is really selling records anymore. So when the music industry saw that sharp decline of album sales last decade, it was almost business as usual for us. We just kept our heads down and stayed on the road.”
Being the road warriors they are has come at a personal and professional cost. Because the group tours so frequently and has to endure time away from friends and family at home, the lineup of the band has undergone numerous changes over the last 23 years.
Johnny says that finding chemistry with a group of guys both on stage and off stage is necessary to forge ahead with their mission.
“When you have a band that tours as much as we do, there are just going to be some people that aren’t suited to the lifestyle because you are basically around one another almost 24 hours a day. You can’t have a scenario where you get along fine on stage but not on the tour bus. And I like to think that’s why I’m here.
“I think about a band like the Eagles literally yelling at each other on stage once upon a time about how they wanted to beat each other up – that’s just unfathomable for us. Especially if you were playing in front of 20,000 people a night, like them.”
If there is one thing that can and should be said about Reel Big Fish, it is their steadfastness in sticking to their guns. No less than a dozen musical trends have come and gone in the last 18 years since the group made their major-label debut and not once has the group compromised their musical vision for the sake of attracting a bigger audience.
Their most recent studio effort, 2012’s Candy Coated Fury, was hailed as a veritable return to the hyperkinetic ska and wit of their earliest works.
This fact is not one lost on Johnny.
“There are so many bands that, over the course of their career, have changed their style, not because they want to explore new musical avenues but because they are endlessly chasing a hit.
“Our singer-guitarist Aaron (Barrett) has said that we will always be a ska band because that is what we do. We love the music and love the history of the music. There isn’t any style of music that anyone in this band would rather be playing. The fact that this group has existed for the last 25 years is a testament to the wonderful fans that have kept the band going.”
What: Reel Big Fish with Survey Says! and The Magnificent
When: Tuesday, June 17, 7 p.m.
Where: McSweeney’s Dinner Theatre, 700 Main St., Moncton
Tickets: $23. Advance tickets are available for purchase online at tideandboar.com or at sonicconcerts.com