DATE OF INTERVIEW:
REEL BIG FISH
28th January 2012
DEREK GIBBS; JOHN CHRISTIANSON
METAL DISCOVERY: I guess Aaron’s the guy to ask because he’s been there from the start but would you say this is the strongest ever lineup of Reel Big Fish right now?
JOHN: Yeah, without a doubt because the thing with when the band started twenty years ago, you’re not the player that you want to be, you’re still struggling with the instrument - any instrument, be it your voice, guitar or trumpet, trombone, saxophone, any of that stuff - and hopefully in those twenty years you’ve been practicing and trying to get good at what you do. And I think I’m still trying to practice and get good at what I do! [laughs]
(Derek Gibbs on transforming onstage misfortune into part of the show)
"...if there’s a train wreck and the song has to stop we have a way of making that part of it, like laughing at ourselves. Sometimes, people can’t even tell if we messed up or did it on purpose!"
Derek and John in Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 28th January 2012
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
MD: That’s a very humble thing to say!
JOHN: Yeah, I want to be the best trumpet player, musician, singer that I possibly can.
MD: In a ska-punk band or per se?
JOHN: In all of it but this just happens to be my main job so I want to do this as good as I possibly can.
MD: You’re renowned for being a hard touring band, as you said earlier, and through the huge amounts of shows you play would you say you’re pretty much addicted to touring?
MD: Like when a tour ends are you quite depressed or happy to get home for a bit but then get itchy feet again?
DEREK: There’s a bit of a cycle there. After this month of being out, it’ll feel really nice to be home but if we are off for more than a month or month and a half, you start to get an itch and you feel like something’s wrong. Then, when we get together and we’re on the road again, we go – “ahhhhh….”
MD: That’s an addiction then, definitely!
MD: Is there a negative aspect of life on the road for you at all or is it all fun and games?
JOHN: It can still be work at times.
DEREK: I don’t know if you can tell I’m yawning over here but I’m still trying to adjust to the eight hour time difference! That’s always rough.
MD: And you arrived here on Tuesday?
DEREK: Yeah, we left home Monday evening and got here Tuesday morning. Yeah, there’s a little bit of sleep deprivation here and there and that can wear you down, especially if you close a show and get back to the hotel at one in the morning, then the flight is a 6:30 or 7 the next morning. You basically have a quick nap, take a shower and then get back into the lobby. That can be some of the hardest stuff.
JOHN: I think the hardest thing for me is when we get sick and you still have to go out and play the show, and sound good even though you feel terrible.
MD: Have you ever cancelled a show because a band member’s been ill?
JOHN: Yes, finally that happened. Aaron has appendicitis about nine months ago or so…
DEREK: Yeah, it was the beginning of summer.
JOHN: Yeah, and his appendix burst so he had to spend a week in the hospital. We had a South American tour planned and we had to postpone that. And then we did a US tour right after that, right after he recovered and he formed an abscess in his abdomen and we had to miss two shows because he had to go back into hospital to have all that drained. He was like, after the shows, “I feel a little feverish” and this was going on for two weeks. He’s a trooper and tried to downplay it a lot and then, finally, somebody convinced him to go to the doctor and they did tests on him before soundcheck, then we soundchecked and the doctor, while we were playing the show, called our tour manager and said, “you need to get him in here NOW!” And so, right after the show, he was in the hospital for a night again. He’s a trooper!
MD: So out of the hundreds of shows you’ve played, there must’ve been one or two mishaps on stage over the years – what’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you during a show?
JOHN: There are mishaps all the time!
MD: What’s the most recent one that sticks in your mind as the most embarrassing?
DEREK: I don’t ever feel that bad or embarrassed because, usually, if there’s a train wreck and the song has to stop we have a way of making that part of it, like laughing at ourselves. Sometimes, people can’t even tell if we messed up or did it on purpose!
MD: Unless they’ve been to other shows on the tour and think, “hmmm, this didn’t happen last night”!
DEREK: Maybe, maybe, yeah.
JOHN: I watched the U2 documentary on the way over here, on the plane ride, and it was really interesting seeing them go through the same things that we go through. Like where things don’t work, all of a sudden you drop both your drum sticks for whatever reason, it just happens. Problems happen no matter what and it’s how you deal with those that really makes the person I guess.
MD: At least you always have a fall-back with the vibe you have as a live band, you can always have some banter about it which is what you do between songs anyway. A band like Dimmu Borgir, very serious black metal, they don’t really have the option to make a joke about it!
JOHN: Exactly! I fell off the stage in Canada once. We finished the set and it was pitch black on the side of the stage and there was this aluminium loading ramp that went down that you had to walk down, and I stepped right off of it and landed on my head! It was awesome… “oh my gosh!”
MD: At least you played the gig first!
JOHN: Yeah, yeah, I played the gig first! [laughs] You get hurt after!
MD: I have to say, ‘Our Live Album is Better Than Your Live Album’, like it says on the tin, is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. I’m not a fan of live albums generally but the fun vibe of a Reel Big Fish show shines through on that. Actually, were there any overdubs on that at all?
JOHN: Yeah, there was some stuff. We recorded seven shows so Aaron cherry-picked the best versions of those songs from those seven shows. So, yeah, there’s a little bit of editing. It wasn’t like this show at this time because nobody plays their best through the whole show. So he chose the best songs and the best jokes from each night. So, yeah, it was the ultimate Reel Big Fish show.
MD: Were there any actual overdubs or was it as it went down for each song?
JOHN: I think there were some re-recorded things if something didn’t sound right.
MD: You can’t tell, it all sounds very natural.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s good.
MD: Did you ever have any apprehensions about releasing a live album in that you might not have been able to capture the fun dimension to your show in an audio only format?
JOHN: Yeah, some things are so visual with us. I think it turned out good though. Aaron was very conscious of presenting a good album and having it be representative of the band so I think he did a good job.
MD: Definitely. You’ve done the ‘Skacoustic’ album, of course – have you considered incorporating any of those versions in your live set at all?
DEREK: I think once or twice we tried to play an acoustic set so to speak but I don’t think that’s really what people want to see, right?
JOHN: I would love to do one of those MTV Storytellers things…
DEREK: That could be fun.
MD: Like an unplugged thing.
DEREK: When we try and do it then we realise, well, the drums are essentially an acoustic instrument already; all the horns, they’re still blowing into their horns like normal, so really the only thing that’s electric is my bass and the guitar. So he’ll put on an acoustic guitar and for the bass, half the time, I’m playing the electric anyway but if it’s an acoustic bass we’d be miking it up.
MD: That’s a very fucking good point because I never really get the “unplugged” label as something has to be plugged in, even if it’s just miked-up acoustic instruments, otherwise no-one would be able to hear the band! Do you know what I mean?!
JOHN: Yeah, it’s just like all reality television, it’s not really reality!