Interview / Red Fang
Stoner rock juggernauts Red Fang have been steadily on the rise over the past five years. This month will see them returning to Vancouver for the second time in two years to play with Black Mastiff and We Hunt Buffalo at Venue Nightclub. Not Your Scene’s Asia Fairbanks caught up drummer John Sherman beforehand for a quick chat about the magic of making music on the west coast, the band’s mastery of social media, insane music videos and more…
Not Your Scene: From your beginnings Portland to sharing stages across the globe with heavy acts such as Orange Goblin, Megadeth, and Baroness (to name a few), has your success and growing fan base exceeded your expectations? Have there been any surprises that you’ve encountered along the way?
John Sherman: We never really had many expectations, so it’s tough to say they’ve been exceeded. But we are pleasantly surprised when we notice our fan base growing, that’s for sure. Especially when we play somewhere we’ve never played before in a part of the world we’ve never been and there are fans singing along… it’s crazy! I don’t even know the lyrics to most of our songs!
NYS: After spending some time in Portland, we have noticed a few interesting parallels between the counter-cultures of your city and that of our hometown, Vancouver, BC. Prominent features in both cities include an abundant variety of food, coffee, craft beer, bikes, books and beards. Would you say this Pacific Northwest culture has helped to stoke the creative process?
JS: Yes, living in the Pacific Northwest definitely helps with the creative process. It rains for about nine months out of the year, so it’s easy to spend all day riffing in the practice space. All the grey, dreary, doomy weather seems to seep into the music, too. I guess that’s why there are so many killer heavy bands in Portland.
NYS: When it comes to underground music, it seems there are some similar sounds coming out of both places. Why do you think both cities have thriving underground scenes of such calibre?
JS: Aha! Maybe I nailed it in the last answer – the climate of the NW helps shape the sound of its bands, hence, quality heavy jams are imminent. There also seems to be a common mood and vibe between Portland and Vancouver that’s deeper than just the weather, but I can’t put my finger on it… Something mystical, magical.
NYS: We caught your set at the third annual Malt Ball this year and loved the Red Fang beer selection. What was it like being involved with the Malt Ball?
JS: It was great! It’s always fun to play shows that aren’t your normal “rock show” – like, there were tons of folks there for the beer fest, not for Red Fang, so we had a new audience to try and rock. And the bill was eclectic, so there were fans of other bands that were nothing like us there, who had probably never heard us. Mix it up, ya know? That’s what I say.
NYS: Since the ?crash? of the record industry and the rise of the digital age, there seems to have been an increase in bands representing themselves in ways beyond the music. Do you believe having these new tools at your disposal has played a role in establishing yourself as a band?
JS: I assume you are referring to the videos. Yes, absolutely, having these tools at our disposal is extremely helpful. If we didn’t have some hilarious videos out there that people wanted to share, there’s no way in hell we could play a show somewhere halfway across the world like Russia and fill a room. The internet, although it has hurt the record biz, has helped us tremendously. However, EVERYONE has these tools now. You still have to have quality content or nobody will care.
NYS: What is your philosophy when it comes to social media? While some bands are shunning it in an effort to let the music speak for itself, you guys seem to be diving right in…
JS: You can let the music speak for itself all day long, but if nobody hears it, it ain’t saying shit. That’s where the social media thing comes in. If you want your music to reach an audience, why wouldn’t you use the most powerful tool that’s ever existed? And it’s FREE! The music will still speak for itself – nobody listens to a record over and over because of a clever Facebook post – that just gets their attention. If the music is crap, it won’t survive.
NYS: Speaking of reaching your audience through the web, you have built up a lot of attention surrounding your often hilariously irreverent music videos. Could you tell us a bit about the creative process behind planning these videos?
JS: Most of our videos (?Prehistoric Dog?, ?Wires?, ?Hank is Dead?, and ?Blood Like Cream?) were conceived, written, directed and edited by our friend, Whitey McConnaughy. He is, obviously, a genius. We’ve been pals with Whitey for over a decade and he knows us pretty well. So, he takes our personalities and amplifies them and puts us in these amazing situations. He’ll have an idea and we’ll meet at the bar and laugh our asses off as he pitches it, then high five and say, “Fuck yeah!” and figure out how to make it happen. The first video, ?Prehistoric Dog?, we had zero budget. Luckily, we have a ton of creative friends who were willing to get dirty and have fun with us for nothing, and Whitey hit a home run. We’ve still never had even a fraction of the budget most “real” bands have, but Whitey is able to do way more for way less than most people. We are fucking stupid lucky to have him in our corner.
NYS: Is there a deeper meaning to your videos or is that the mystery of it all? If you were to analyze them, you could say each video contains an aspect of a battle, whether it?s with debt collectors, LARP nerds, an air guitar battle, zombies, or an obscene amount of food. There also appears to be a common theme of gluttony in your videos, for example the excessive amounts of PBR present in nearly all of them. While keeping with the theme of gluttony, your new video for ?The Meadows? is the first video to contain no beer. Was this intentional?
JS: Our videos, as with our songs, are left to interpretation by the viewer (or listener), I guess. Take from it what you will. “The Meadows” video was the first video we’ve done without Whitey. It was part of a deal with Scion AV, where they sponsored a tour, released a free 7″ and an accompanying video. There were two reasons for the “no beer” ? first, we don’t want all of our videos to be full of beer. It’s played out and we don’t really want to be know as the “beer band”. Honestly, only two of us really drink beer anyway. Secondly, since it was a Scion-sponsored video, they had a ton of rules we had to follow and one of them was ?no booze?. That was kind of a bummer, having delicious steak without wine. That would never happen in real life!
“How often do you get to share a stage with Coroner, Turbonegro and Church of Misery, drunk drive a tractor in a field, ride a mechanical bull AND get tased?” – Red Fang, on Sylak Open Air Festival
NYS: Besides the free 7? you did with Scion, you also released a free acoustic EP around the same time that you shot the video for ?The Meadows?… What was the idea behind this? Do you think it?s important to make at least some music available for free?
JS: Last time we were in London, Bryan and Aaron played a few songs acoustically on a radio station. We decided to release them as a free EP, just to keep things spicy. It’s nice to have these kinds of things to pepper the space between albums and keep people interested. Again, the Scion 7″ was also free (and probably still available online as a free download). Free is good, yes?
NYS: As purveyors of heavy, fuzz-laden riffs, with a sound reminiscent of a charging battalion on the warpath, Red Fang has certainly struck a chord with metal and stoner rock fans alike. Along this musical vein, where have you drawn influence? What bands and albums have inspired you over the years?
JS: We are all inspired by many different genres and styles of music. I think we all feel it’s important to taste all the flavours in life, not just the salty ones. By that, I mean we draw inspiration from Simon and Garfunkel as much as we do Slayer. I guess the common theme that runs through us all is the heavier side of rock, like Melvins, Soundgarden, Jesus Lizard, etc… but we also are suckers for a tasty pop hook and a chorus, ya know? Tom Petty, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Hot Snakes, Big Business, Federation X, Swervedriver, The Sweet, Led Zeppelin… I mean, I could go on all day.
NYS: You appear to take a minimalist, lo-fi approach when it comes to creating your sound. What is the reasoning behind this stripped-down approach?
JS: “Keep it simple, stupid!” has always been our motto. I guess we are just pretty simple dudes. A lot less can go wrong if there’s a lot less going on.
NYS: If we were heading down to Portland in the near future, what are some local bands, venues, etc you would recommend checking out while in the area?
JS: Some of our favourite bands are Gaytheist, Lord Dying, Rabbits, Humours, Yob, Hungry Ghost, Danava, Diesto, Drunk Dad, Longknife, Battleme, Sons of Huns, Black Pussy, Wizard Rifle, The Ax… so many! I’m leaving out dozens, but I gotta finish this interview! Eat pizza at Sizzle Pie.
NYS: You guys just got back from a summer European tour… how was it? Any favourite spots or experiences to share?
JS: It was amazing! Playing the Reading and Leeds festivals was quite the treat. I saw a band called Warpaint that I’d never seen before and they blew my mind. Having a day off in Colmar, France and spending it eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine in the heart of Alsace wine country was pretty awesome, for me. Sylak Open Air Festival in France was one of my favourites, for sure. How often do you get to share a stage with Coroner, Turbonegro and Church of Misery? And drunk drive a tractor in a field, ride a mechanical bull AND get tased? Pretty perfect evening.
NYS: What?s next for Red Fang? Do you have any plans to follow up your recent tour with writing new material, or will you just be taking it easy before your next departure with Opeth and In Flames on their upcoming North American Tour.
JS: We have a week of touring in October, a fest in CA on Nov 1st (Day of the Shred), then the tour with Opeth and In Flames. In between, we will continue writing new jams and hope to take most of January, February, and March off of touring to continue writing. We’ve been really having a blast writing in between tours and we wanna focus more on that after the Opeth tour. We are pretty excited about the way things are shaping up and want to take our time with this next record and have fun with it.
NYS: Any final comments or thoughts for your Vancouver audiences?
JS: We are fucking stoked to get back to Vancouver! It’s completely insane that we have only played there one time in our nine years of existence. Last time was a total rager – let’s make this one even better! Oh, and last time some asshole stole our sound engineer’s crew jacket. If anyone sees a jacket out there with a Red Fang skull and the word “CREW” silk-screened on the back, grab it! It belongs to Adam Pike, our Front of House magician. See ya soon!
Catch Red Fang live on October 8th at Venue Nightclub with Black Mastiff and We Hunt Buffalo. It’s going to be a thrasher… we’ll see you there!
Photos from Red Fang last year at the Rickshaw Theatre © Asia Fairbanks