Sit Down Series: Aaron Barrett of Reel Big Fish

I fondly remember in 2005 when my cousin Johnnie introduced me to an insanely addicting and fun song which he told me was called Sell Out by Reel Big Fish. Fast forward eight years later and I met the band’s frontman, Aaron Barrett, at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT for a sit down interview.

Later that night, I would see the band perform on the very stage that has been stood on by legendary acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan, and even The Rolling Stones! In addition to the fact that this is a wonderful venue, seeing Reel Big Fish live for the first time blew me away. I can say with confidence that they put on one of the best live shows today. From the chemistry of the bandmates to Aaron interacting with the crowd and having an impressive and engaging setlist of songs both new and old.

Alex Obert: Tell me about life in the eighties before you were in Reel Big Fish.

Aaron Barrett: Life in the eighties, that was a long time ago. In the eighties, I was a little kid, man. Well, I guess I started high school in 88, so I guess I wasn’t that little. I became a teenager. I was going to school. I was hanging around, being a kid. I wasn’t really playing any instruments until 1990.

AO: Which band did you wish you could have been apart of in the eighties?

AB: Probably would have wanted to be in Poison. I always liked their videos because they always had really bright colors and they were always playing different guitars in each scene. And I like their big hair, tight pants. That’s why I look like I do now.

AO: As it revolves around music, do you have any particular record store memories?

AB: Yeah, when I was a little kid, I would get my allowance once a week. I would get ten dollars and I would go buy a tape at Sam Goody.

AO: What was the most memorable one you bought?

AB: Maybe UB40, Labour Of Love. And that was with Red, Red Wine on it. I think that’s my first reggae experience. That was my favorite band when I was twelve. So I got all the UB40 albums that were out. And then I started hearing bands like, I didn’t know what they were called, but I would hear bands like The English Beat and Madness and stuff on the radio. And that was ska and I didn’t realize it until a lot later. I always liked ska and reggae since I was a little kid.

AO: You have a song called Thank You For Not Moshing and as it relates to moshing, how are you during concerts as a fan?

AB: Now that I’m old, I just stand in the back and nod my head and go, “Yeah…that’s cool!” Get drunk because I’m an old man. But I used to dance to every band and be out there skankin’ for like hours and hours and hours. We’d have ska shows where twenty bands would play in Orange County. I’d play trombone in some of the bands or play guitar in my own band. So, it’s very busy. That’s why I’m so tired now.

AO: Outside of ska, what are heavier bands you listen to?

AB: I like Cannibal Corpse a lot. I like death metal.

AO: What about medium-heavy?

AB: (laughs) What’s medium-heavy? Nickelback?

AO: No, don’t go there!

AB: I don’t know, I really do listen to all kinds of music. All kinds.

AO: What’s some things on your iPod?

AB: There’s like 20,000 songs on it. Actually, I’ve been listening to Pandora Radio all the time. I like the Pandora Radio. I guess you can do that with your iPod too, Genius, I just haven’t figured it out because I’m not a genius.

AO: Have you listened to Reel Big Fish Pandora?

AB: Yeah!

AO: What’s your thoughts on the connections?

AB: It’s pretty good. I like the Dance Hall Crashers Pandora. That one’s good. Bowling For Soup Pandora is awesome too. So is the Hepcat Pandora.

AO: Are you aware of The Dollyrots?

AB: Yeah. They came on every five songs in Dance Hall Crashers. They were on the Warped Tour a few years ago. I saw them. That’s the first time anyone’s ever brought them up. Ever.

AO: I interviewed the singer for The Dollyrots, Kelly.

AB: Nice! Awesome!

AO: Getting back into heavier music, I want to go into one of your more obscure tracks, a different direction, and one that was featured on The 100 Greatest Song Titles Of All Time, Rock and Roll Is Bitchin. I want to talk about the process behind that.

AB: (laughs) It was just a joke. Sort of a ridiculous Kiss-like song. Probably should have sang it really high. I sang it in a boring way. It sounds like The Muppets doing a Kiss song.

AO: Was it actually live?

AB: (laughs) No. We added the crowd noise. We all went in and sang it at the same time, like twenty times. It sounds like a whole big group of people. Recording magic! (laughs) That’s an awesome guitar solo on that.

AO: What are some of your favorite Reel Big Fish song titles?

AB: I don’t have a favorite song title. I do like the long song titles like I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend Too. That’s one of the longest. I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore.

AO: We were talking about bands that have connections and they’re partly on the Don’t Stop Skankin Tour, what’s your relationship with Goldfinger? How did that develop?

AB: I guess in 1995, the singer John Feldmann saw us playing a show with his friends in Riverside, California. And he really liked the way that I was yelling and fighting with the soundman from the stage. And then I guess he wanted our horn players to play on their album. So now, Mojo Records is a brand new record label which only had Goldfinger on it, so they’re kind of looking for other artists. So they said, “Hey, how about that band those horn players are in? Let’s sign them!” So, he brought us to the attention of Mojo. And we’ve been touring together once or twice a year ever since. People like both our bands. We’re like stepbrothers, seeing each other at the reunion every year! The family reunion.

AO: Relationships with musicians and people in general, what’s great advice you’ve received in and out of music?

AB: I don’t know, no one ever gave me any good advice! Everything’s fucked up! (laughs)

AO: Where do you get your inspiration from?

AB: I just listen to all kinds of music and somehow, it mostly turns into ska music. It’s the only thing I can do well. (laughs) So yeah, I just listen to something weird that you wouldn’t expect and then I get an idea for a song. I like a lot of comedy too. Stand up comedy or sketch comedy.

AO: Who are some of your favorites?

AB: My all-time old favorite was Steve Martin. He was so weird and random. And sketch comedy, probably my all-time favorite was The State, Kids in the Hall. I really like Tim & Eric.

AO: Are there any comedy rock bands you’re into?

AB: I don’t really like comedy music so much. I like humor in music, but not so much like joke music. And then my girlfriend says, “But your band’s a joke band!”

AO: Are you into Steel Panther?

AB: Yeah!

AO: Have you seen them live?

AB: Yeah. That’s more like a tribute to the ridiculousness of the eighties. I saw them a couple times over the years.

AO: Let’s say they did an eighties cover and invited you up on stage and you could pick which song, which would it be?

AB: Any Warrant song, as long as it’s from Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich. (laughs)

AO: With all that you’ve done in your life, would you ever write an autobiography?

AB: I’m really bad at telling stories, so an autobiography would be like, “Went to high school and then I got a guitar and then I started a band and here we are.” (laughs)

AO: Would you consider a year-long journal and turn it into a book, an on the road tour book?

AB: Maybe, might be really boring. “Today, I slept till 2, did soundcheck, sat around.” (laughs) It’s really exciting. I live an exciting life.

AO: So while you’re waking up today and you’re here, do you have any particular memories of New Haven and Connecticut?

AB: I always like to play here because our friend, Tyler Jones, who used to play trumpet in the band and he played in Spring Heeled Jack, and our friend, Chris Rhodes, who used to play in Spring Heeled Jack and plays in Mighty Mighty Bosstones always come up and play trumpets and trombone with us. I hope they’re coming tonight. That’s always fun. I saw the Spring Heeled Jack reunion here. The first time we played The Fire in front of people was here. (laughs) I don’t know, we like playing here. It’s always fun.

AO: We’ll touch up on the new album, what was the inspiration behind Everyone Else Is An Asshole? Not just lyrically, but the sound and the catchiness.

AB: I made it up in my head. I wanted to write faster ska songs, we were doing fast enough, so I tried to make it a little faster. That one kind of reminds me of Green Day in a way, in some parts. The distorted part. (laughs) It might be a little bit Less Than Jakey. It’s got a lot of words, like a Streetlight Manifesto song. It’s really long. But it’s not intentional. I never set out to write a particular kind of song. I just wait until an idea pops in my head.

AO: For this current tour, with a full set, is that your ideal opening live song?

AB: We did that earlier this year when we did the US tour and I don’t think people knew the song well enough. They kind of stared at us. I like to open up with an old favorite because that’s what they like to hear. People get extra excited instead of like, “Oh, they’re gonna play all new songs!”

AO: The song I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore, besides being influenced by Fairytale In New York, how did the song develop?

AB: I just wanted to write another duet because I thought She Has A Girlfriend Now was always just not enough of the girl singing because she sings one line by herself. So I wanted to do a duet song that’s like back and forth and back and forth. I heard Fairytale in New York and went, “That’s awesome, man!”, just insulting each other and going back and forth saying mean stuff. I like that. It doesn’t sound like that song at all. But it’s just the insults going back and forth. (laughs)

AO: If you put the albums in order from best to worst, how would you rank Candy Coated Fury? Where would it fit?

AB: That would be one of the best. I definitely am really proud of those songs. They’re really good. We’re not the kind of band that goes, “All our old stuff sucked! It was so bad!” We have lots of good songs and the old songs are awesome. Beer’s awesome, Sell Out’s awesome, all those old songs. And I always thought The Forces of Evil songs were really good until we made Candy Coated Fury. Now, “Oh, they’re not that good! Candy Coated Fury’s better!” (laughs)

AO: Which music videos have you done for the album?

AB: We did one for I Dare You to Break My Heart and one for Don’t Stop Skankin’. And then Spazkid made an animated video for I Know You To Well To Like You Anymore. We didn’t ask him to, he just did.

AO: What was your reaction when you first saw that?

AB: I said, “This is amazing!” I was very impressed. Showed everybody, we loved it. It was our favorite video, even though we had nothing to do with it.

AO: Originally, I honestly thought it was put on by your band.

AB: Yeah, he just made it on his own.

AO: You were talking about older tracks before and how you enjoy them, how did you develop the opening horn line for Sell Out?

AB: I was messing around trying to figure out how to play a Dance Hall Crashers song and that’s what came out instead. Hey, I made up my own thing! (laughs)

AO: Do you have plans for more covers?

AB: I always have ideas for covers, but we’ve done so many.

AO: What’s it like closing your set with Take On Me?

AB: It’s awesome. Everybody goes crazy. It’s one of my favorite songs ever.

AO: Is that why you close with it, because it gets the response that it does?

AB: Yeah, even though Sell Out was a hit song, kind of a hit song in the nineties, it’s not so huge. I think people would be disappointed if we didn’t play it, but they wouldn’t be like, “I can’t believe they didn’t play it! What the hell?” But Take On Me or Beer, they would not be happy!

AO: So you want a fair mix on the setlist?

AB: Yeah. And I like to play the songs that make people go crazy because that’s fun for me. I don’t enjoy when the crowd just stares at us.

AO: If you want to mix up the setlist on tour, how do you squeeze in those songs? What determines which show and which song?

AB: It’s hard because I try not to make it like a three hour set because no matter how much you like a band, you don’t really want to see them play for hours and hours and hours and hours. Unless you’re like the biggest, biggest fan ever and even then you’re like, “Oh, they’ve been playing so long!” I try to rotate different songs in and out during tours, different tours. Every time a new album comes along, it’s harder and harder to make a setlist because you want to play a few new songs and try em out. Then you have to squeeze in the old songs. And then some of the other songs that people like and try not to make the same setlist, even though it always ends up basically being the same setlist. (laughs) Eventually.

AO: As it goes for concerts, if Reel Big Fish had a spinoff of Warped Tour and their own festival, who would you have on the bill? If you personally were approached and asked who you would want to play.

AB: That’s a good question. I’d want to get Dance Hall Crashers back together, Hepcat, The Aggrolites, Vampire Weekend, Skindred, and Skankin’ Pickle.

AO: Would you add any of the eighties hair metal bands on the bill?

AB: Yeah. Poison, get Cinderella on there, Ratt. And we’ll get Warrant on there!

AO: Speaking of those bands, do you watch That Metal Show?

AB: Yeah.

AO: What’s your thoughts on that?

AB: I watch it sometimes. And then I wonder why I’m watching it.

AO: Do you wish you were a guest?

AB: Not really. I don’t know, I’m not a big discusser of things and that’s what that show’s all about. Talkin about your thoughts on this and that. Which metal song is the best and I don’t know.

AO: Were you more of an MTV kid?

AB: Yeah, I was definitely an MTV kid. Started watching in the late eighties when hair metal was taking over.

AO: What do you watch now?

AB: Now, I watch Netflix. I’m watching Cheers, this old show about a bar from the eighties. We went to the Cheers bar in Boston. That was exciting. (laughs)

AO: As it relates to movies, what’s your favorite music-related movie? Whether it has a music-related plot or it’s a musical.

AB: I definitely love Spinal Tap. And I love Little Shop Of Horrors, it’s an eighties musical comedy. Awesome. Those are probably my two favorites.

AO: Have you watched any rock documentaries lately?

AB: Yeah, I watched one about this guy named Sixto Rodriguez, it’s called Searching for Sugar Man. That was really good. He was just a failed folk singer in the sixties, made a couple albums, and everybody thought he was dead. He just disappeared off the face of the Earth. And somehow, they got hold of his albums in South Africa and he was just this huge star for the last twenty years. And these guys finally tracked him down and made him come and play and he played his first concert in thirty years in front of more than five people. He was a rockstar. It’s very touching! Check it out, it’s a good movie!

AO: Before we wrap up, do you have anything at the moment that you would like to plug?

AB: Just the latest album, Candy Coated Fury.

AO: What are your preferred sites for fans to check out?

AB: We got a website,, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, ChristianMingle. (laughs) Just Google us!

AO: I’m gonna wrap up with a Speed Round, I’ll ask you questions, answer with the first thing that comes to mind.

Song you wish you played live more often?

AB: Say Goodbye.

AO: All time favorite album?

AB: Paul Simon, Graceland.

AO: First song you learned on guitar?

AB: Free Fallin by Tom Petty.

AO: Guilty pleasure song?

AB: Call Me Maybe.

AO: Your band’s name is Reel Big Fish, what’s your favorite place for seafood?

AB: This place called The Crab Pot in Seal Beach, California. Delicious!

AO: You were featured in the film, Baseketball. What’s your opinion of Less Than Jake’s signature film, Good Burger?

AB: I’ve never seen Good Burger. I didn’t even know they had a song in it. That was news to me until last year. The We’re All Dudes song, I finally heard it. I can understand why they don’t wanna play that song. (laughs)

AO: They did play it live several years ago.

AB: Yeah? That’s awesome.

AO: Your instant opinion of RBF’s drummer, Ryland Steen, when you first met him?

AB: He seemed like a nice kid, if you like that sort of thing. Now I know better! He’s a really nice, friendly guy.

AO: Favorite band name?

AB: The Best Kissers In The World.

AO: If you could add a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone to any other band that doesn’t use that currently, which would it be?

AB: Good question. (Johnny Christmas, RBF’s trumpeter, in the background suggests Vampire Weekend) They would be good with horns! That’s a good answer! Or Megadeth. They need some horns. (In the background, Johnny responds with an excited, “Absolutely!”)

AO: And last question, favorite shirt you own?

AB: I have a t-shirt, the artwork on it was hand drawn with colored felt pens by Harland Williams. And autographed. So that’s probably my favorite t-shirt.

AO: Any last words for readers?

AB: Not all lead singers are assholes. But probably most of them are.

Johnny Christmas: Just Aaron!

AB: So, I don’t blame you for thinking that. I’m not an asshole.

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