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Interviews

Interview: Red Fang Talks “Only Ghosts”, Portland Music Scene, and Tour Fitness

By: Lucy Sky –

Red Fang. (Photo: James Rexroad)

Red Fang. (Photo: James Rexroad)

Melding together the sounds of hard rock, punk, blues infused metal, doom, and more, Red Fang knows no bounds when it comes to putting out hard-hitting music. The band will be playing Heavy Montreal this year on July 28th, in the midst of their Only Ghosts spring/summer tour. They’ll be sharing the stage with heavy rock legends like Ozzy Osbourne – on his final tour, Marilyn Manson, and other huge names like Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, and many more. Festivals and concert halls alike, the guys from Red Fang are just excited to be on the road sharing stages with so many great acts.

In our recent interview, Aaron Beam (bass/vocals) told us about who he’s excited to be playing shows with, how their four albums have differed from one another, gave us an insight into the Portland music scene that they came out of, and much more.

You’re playing on some pretty solid bills on this tour, with festival dates including names like Ozzy Osbourne, Queens of The Stone Age, Billy Idol, Marilyn Manson, and more. Who are some of the names you’re most excited to share the bill with and festivals you’re most excited to be a part of?

It’s always cool to… I never really have a chance to see a lot of these bands other than on these festivals, so it’s cool to be playing with Queens of The Stone Age again, as you mentioned. We’ve played a couple of arena shows with Foo Fighters, so it’ll be cool to see what a festival is like, because the only two times I’ve seen them is the two times we played with them.

You’re playing stuff like Valhalla too, which are some pretty cool metal festivals, you must be pretty excited about that.

Yeah, that’s also the guy that is the heavy rock promoter in New Zealand and his promotion company is calledValhalla. That’ll be cool. I have a really old friend from Portland who used to book this awesome club called EJ’s and she moved down to New Zealand years ago and she moved back to Portland for a while, but just moved back to New Zealand not too long ago and she said that that’s the guy you want to be going to for the kind of music we’re playing. So I’m stoked for that.

You released Only Ghosts about a year and a half ago now, but you’ve said that it was your most personal album to date. Has it gotten easier to play the songs that are so close to home for you, lyrically, in a live setting?

Yeah, for sure, at the beginning when it was so raw and it was right out after the recording experience. Sometimes it felt a little bit like… I mean I know nobody can hear what I’m saying and they don’t really know what the songs are about – I’m not writing essays to people explaining the songs – but there was definitely some moments where it was like, “this feels kind of weird to be playing this out for people.” The more you do it the easier it gets, so yeah, for sure – [I’m] a lot more comfortable playing those songs now.

Kind of like going to a therapist, in a different way, the more you talk about it – the easier it is to deal with. I’m sure it’s kind of a healing process as well.

Yeah, I think most people who play this kind of music – unless they’re playing a bunch of political anthems it’s a form of therapy for depressives. I was just reading an article with Mike Scheidt about their new album, which is awesome by the way. YOB is the band I’m talking about. [It was] about the same thing, that it’s an expression of a lot of inner demons and that it’s hard to express sometimes to your friends or in other ways than through music.

Especially when you’re doing the lyrics too. It’s a different beast when you’re writing it on a guitar and it’s of course still a release, but it’s not the same as sitting there and writing down what you’re feeling. Especially to come out and put that in front of people and play it in a live setting.

Yeah, you can’t really make art that works without having some sort of feeling behind it. It definitely takes a little bit of extra… It’s harder, for me at least, but I feel like it’s worth [it]. The best art is the stuff that takes the biggest risks. I’m not saying that we’re great artists or anything, I’m not making that claim at all, but the stuff that I like the best is the most personal.

The emotions translate into the music as well and it makes a lot more people able to relate to it, because while the experiences may be different, the expression is the same.

Yeah, exactly.

How would you compare the writing and recording process of that album to your other albums?

It was pretty different. All four of the albums have been pretty different. The very first one was really different for us. We had five or six songs that we decided to record in the living room and did that twice and put it together as one record. The second, Murder the Mountainswas the first time we recorded a full album, thinking it was going to be an album, but everything was completely done and we’d been playing all of those songs live for a year or two before we recorded them. We wrote Whales and Leeches under duress and was not super fun or a great writing process for us, but then [with] Only Ghostswe kind of got back to trying to have a lot more songs that were playable live before we went down to the studio.

The huge difference was Ross and his demands of me and Bryan as vocalists, that we had to have at least a line written for each song before we recorded. We couldn’t record drums until we had at least an idea of what the song was about, so we had to talk about the meanings of these songs before we got to tracking. That was a huge, huge difference. Having all of the music focus on what the lyrics were about instead of [it] being a bunch of instrumental songs that we threw vocals on after the fact.

Would you say you preferred that?

There’s advantages to all of the different ways. It definitely was a real learning experience and it was super memorable. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but there’s advantages to all of the different ways.

Red Fang

You’ve said that you’re not sure you’re going to take the personal approach to songwriting again and as a band that loves to have a lot of fun with their music, that wouldn’t have a negative effect on any upcoming releases. What can we expect from Red Fang in the future?

I think we’ll always have… the vocals and the content of the vocals more depends on what’s coming out of me and Bryan at the time and not on [the] process of making the record. So having that more personal approach is a function of what Ross is doing, so if we worked with him again it would be the same process. We don’t have any philosophical opposition to working that way again, but I think there’s a good chance that we will do a more traditional style recording for this one – but you never know. We’ve only written one song so far and we have a bunch of riffs, but we’re so far away from even thinking of where and with whom we’re going to record that I can’t say how the recording is going to go this time.

You all seem to have a blast with your music videos as well, Prehistoric Dogs being the first that comes to mind. What was your favourite video to record?

I guess my favourite was the Shadows video actually. [That was] the most ridiculous one, running around in the woods and playing around with big guns. It was the easiest one. Prehistoric Dogs was pretty easy too, but I don’t think I appreciated how great it was at the time. There was something about Shadows that was like, we’re just hanging out on this buddy’s property out in rural Oregon and enjoying the weather and getting to do a little bit more physical activity, so that one was really relaxed and fun for me.

You’re among many bands to come out of Portland, Oregon – most notably Modest Mouse. What does coming from and being a part of Portland’s music scene mean to you as a collective?

For me, I moved to Portland in 1991 and back then there wasn’t really much of a music scene. I mean there was, but it was like five bands, mostly punk and dirty rock bands. That scene kind of built up a little bit over the years and to me it’s pretty rad that I feel like that’s the scene that we came out of and progressed from that. That underground rock world led pretty directly to us and I’m pretty proud of that. That’s something that started long before Portland became a destination city or long before Modest Mouse moved away from Ithaca or wherever and Portland wasn’t known for pop bands, for the Decemberists or Modest Mouse or any of that kind of stuff. I guess I have a sense of pride that we are descendents of more of that Wipers lineage of bands and I feel like trying to keep some of that sensibility alive.

Yeah, because it’s not really showcased very much. I knew Modest Mouse was from there, but that was the more poppy side and when I started to look into Portland – I mean everybody knows who the Decemberists are because they got so big – but when you start to look into it there are a lot of different bands that come from there. There’s definitely an undertone of rock in there.

Yeah! I think it’s awesome. That’s one of the things that has kept me in Portland and kept me excited about Portland, that it’s such an incubator for all kinds of different art and music and that bands like Toxic Holocaust and us and Lord Dying are from there and so is STRFKR and The Helio Sequence and it works for all of those bands, which is awesome.

You don’t see that rounded music scene that has that many different genres coming out of it in many places.

No and [on top of] that many different genres, really good versions of coming out of one place. A lot of times you have… the only other place that I can think of that’s comparable as far as size of the place and the amount of noteworthy bands that are coming out of it is Iceland, but they’re way smaller and it’s crazy how many bands come out of Iceland.

You’ve been categorized in different ways, I’ve seen people attribute your sound to heavy metal, to stoner punk, and even to blues metal. How would you classify the sound that is put out in your music?

All those ways. (laughing) We don’t realy limit ourselves to any sound, any particular way, or any genre. Heavier music is all that drives us. We’re all into darker, heavier music, so sometimes we’ll write a song that feels like doom, sometimes it’ll be a silly punk song or whatever. We have one minute long punk songs and we have 10 minute long doom songs, so I think the reason why there are so many different names for us is that we haven’t tried to narrow our focus. I would never dare to describe what it is.

Of course, when there are so many different things too, you don’t really have to.

Yeah, I’ll let somebody else do that for me.

They’re all derivative of the same thing too. It’s hard to say that anything doesn’t have somewhat of a blues connotation in it, because it all came from there.

Yeah, exactly. It all starts with Black Sabbath, right?

What are some of the strongest musical influences on you guys as a band and for you personally as a vocalist and guitarist?

There’s all kind of shit that influences us as a band, so it’s hard to list that stuff. Early on, the band that we all agreed upon and being really important to us was Soundgarden. For me personally, I find myself ripping off bands that you’ve probably never heard of because they’re the bands that are around the Pacific Northwest, [like] Federation X, [and] I rip off Jesus Lizard a lot. You could say influenced, but really it’s just biting their style, but doing it in a way that… it’s my voice, so it sounds different. The Cherubs are influential, Neurois, YOB I rip off as much as possible but it’s too hard. There’s ideas that come from my girlfriend’s band Helms Alee, the list goes on. I find inspiration from little bits from all kinds of bands all over the place.

I hear a pretty distinct D.R.I. influence in there too, am I wrong?

It wouldn’t come from me if there is. Bryan is the most… I would say he’s the most versed in punk, but David and John know a lot more [too]. I grew up a metal head. I was one of those stupid kids that was like “metal’s rad and punk sucks,” so I just wouldn’t listen to punk. I’m too old I feel like now to really appreciate it. There’s so much attitude that you have when you’re a teenager that’s just like “fuck everything!” My attitude was more like “fuck me, I suck,” or whatever, so I had more of an inward fuck everything than an outward fuck everything. So I didn’t get as much into punk as everybody else in my band did.

Yeah, punk is a lot more thrashy than it is internal.

Exactly.

You’ve worked with Relapse Records on every album but your first. What has kept that relationship so strong and do you think that you’ll stick with them for your albums in the future?

Yeah, we actually re-upped our contract with them. We had a three record deal and we’ve done three records with them, but we extended it. So we went from three to seven or something. They treat us really well and they have an office in Portland which we really like to stop [into] and say hi. Their design person is in Portland [too], so it’s really handy to be able to have meetings with the designer. It seems to fit really well and it’s easy working with them. We have similar ideas about stuff most of the time, so [I’ve got] no complaints.

That’s good that it stayed so strong and a little piece of home is always good to have in there.

For sure.

I like to finish off my interviews by finding out funny quirks or stories about the person behind the musician or whomever I’m speaking to. Do any of you have quirks or anything that would surprise people about you that you haven’t spoken about publicly before?

I’m sure I have a ton of them, but to me they probably don’t seem like quirks. It used to be that, and I’m going to try to start instilling this more… it’s not really that quirky, but – I guess it was 2013 or so that I started getting into exercising on tour because it’s really hard to stay healthy when you’re on tour. At one point it was bringing ingredients for a smoothie… that video for Shadows where you see me making smoothies in my short-shorts and ridiculous shirt is not far from a reality that actually was on tour for a while. It’s not as much anymore, but I’d be working out on these totally disgusting floors and trying not to get my feet cut up by broken beer bottles and shit like that. It’s not that quirky, but if you asked my bandmates, they’d be able to come up with better quirks than I can.

Did that continue at all?

I’m on and off, I’ve gotten more into doing barbell training at home. I need a gym for that stuff, but I’m going to try to get back into it on this tour. With time constraints and shit it’s hard to get into a proper gym, so I’m going to try to do more jumping around with short-shorts on.

Well that sounds like a lot of fun.

(laughing) It can be.

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