Musicians in hard rock and heavy metal bands typically have the added burden of imposing a certain image or mood on people. This can be detrimental to bands because the resulting image is often a caricature of what society deems dangerous or brooding. In turn, audiences have trouble taking the music seriously, let alone the people performing it. Simply put, too many bands playing heavy music try too hard. Every so often, a band comes along with seldom seen but always refreshing, “What you see is what you get,” type of attitude.
For almost a decade now, Portland’s Red Fang has been touring the world delivering their thunderous and rowdy brand of rock ‘n’ roll. The quartet, comprised of Aaron Beam on bass and lead vocals, Bryan Giles on guitar and vocals, John Sherman on the drums and David Sullivan on lead guitar, are headlining the Situation: Awesome! Tour sponsored by Scion AV with special guests Big Business and American Sharks.
If you’ve never seen Red Fang play live before, here are a few things you should now: You will get beer spilled on you. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the front of the stage or standing by the sound board, somehow the beer will find you. Red Fang concerts are simply really fun parties. Fans mosh and dance and throw their tallboys high in the air as they sing along to every song, and generally no one gets hurt. Lastly, it will be loud. Expect a relentless ringing in your ears for the next few days following the show. In anticipation for their Detroit stop, Aaron was gracious enough to talk with Metro Times about touring, science and Red Fang’s creative process.
Metro Times: How is the tour going so far?
Aaron Beam: It’s going really, really well. It’s possibly no, it’s definitely my favorite lineup that we’ve done so far. We’re really good, old friends with Big Business and I’ve loved their band since the beginning and American Sharks are super awesome dudes and their band is really, really good. So, I’m really happy about the music and all of the people.
MT: You were just in Detroit in December. Since you guys tour so much, do you switch up the set lists to keep from getting bored?
Beam: Yeah, it kind of depends on what we’ve released most recently and we talk about songs that we’ve been playing for a really long time and we like to rotate them out. So, for this tour, Scion put out a seven inch for us for free. I mean, it’s available for free. So, we wanted to do a song off of that thing and we’re also pulling up some songs that we’ve never really played much before for exactly that same reason, just to keep ourselves entertained and also because we were just in Detroit six months ago, so we don’t want to play the exact same set list that we played last time we were there. We want people to be able to see a different show every time we come out.
MT: How did you guys come about collaborating with Scion?
Beam: I’m not sure if they approached us or if it was, usually our manager sets up a lot of that stuff. We talked to them a long time ago about doing a video or something like that at one point. So, she probably just went back to them. You know, they worked out an arrangement that worked for everybody. They’ve been involved in the heavy music scene for a pretty good, long time. They have their own festival that we actually just played in Pasadena. They support our friends’ bands, like providing vehicles even for them to drive around in. So, it’s really just a natural collaboration.
MT: You guys played Letterman in January, describe that experience.
Beam: It was incredible. It was pretty nerve racking for the time leading up to it. We had to load in at 6a.m., which is a little earlier than most of us wake up by about six or seven hours. I was expecting it to be impersonal and just like, “Alright, set up your stuff and you have two minutes to get ready before you start playing,” but, you know, they want to put on a good show. So, we actually got a lot of time to run through the song a whole bunch of times, to get the sound dialed in on the monitors and everything. I was feeling really nervous just as the show started taping because once it starts going, it’s like you’ve started up the ladder to the waterslide and you can’t really turn around and head down at that point. It was really exciting at that point, but as soon as we got out there, I felt super comfortable. The minute we finished, I just wanted to go back up to the top and go down the slide again. It was so fun.
MT: Did you get to hang out much with Paul and the band?
Beam: John talked to Anton (Fig). Oh, man Sorry, my shit is getting set up on stage right now and I just noticed one of the feet came off of my amp and that’s kind of annoying. Anyway, sorry. Paul, I guess, never does this anymore, but he came down to rehearsal, because we had asked him to play with us, and so we went through the song four or five times, and when I went back to the studio for the actual taping, he jumped into the elevator with us and was like, ”Ah, just the guys I was looking for.” He had some more questions for me about what I wanted him to play at the end of the song. So, we kind of chatted a little bit. They shoot two shows on one day on Thursdays. They shoot Thursday’s and Friday’s show all at the same time. It’s a pretty long day for those guys. So, they won’t to go home and get back to their families or whatever. So, we talked a little bit and Paul is a super nice guy.
MT: That’s huge exposure for you guys. Do you feel like you’ve reached more people after that appearance?
Beam: It’s hard to say. We did a tour in Europe pretty much immediately after that and I was pretty surprised at how many people in Europe commented on it because I had no idea how many people in Europe knew who David Letterman was. They don’t really watch Letterman over there but everyone knows who he is because he’s been around so long. You know, he’s a legend. I don’t know if it necessarily created more fans for us or if it just made people feel a little bit more like we’re I don’t know. It may have changed people’s perception of us but I don’t know.
MT: Well, you’re playing a bigger place in Detroit, this time around.
Beam: Yeah, the Magic Stick. That place is cool. I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes. I’m cautiously optimistic about all the dates on this tour. There’s a lot of bigger venues. So, we’ll see how it goes. So far, all the shows have been really, really good.
MT: Red Fang definitely has a reputation for being a kind of rowdy, beer guzzling band, but you can no longer drink beer. Is that correct?
Beam: That’s right! I don’t drink beer anymore. I had one or two beers in October and one a week or so ago. I have an issue with yeast, which means basically, I can’t drink beer. I like beer a lot, but I’m not like crying into my non-existent beer every day because I can’t have it. It caused me to make a lot of changes in my diet and exercise routine and now, I’m a much healthier and happier person, as a result. Not only do I not miss beer, but I’m actually glad that I had to stop drinking it. Sometimes, people are like, “Where’s the beer, dude?” but I can take that. I don’t really care.
MT: It’s not unusual for fans to offer to buy band members a beer after a gig. Is it an issue explaining night after night that you cannot partake?
Beam: No, I just say, “I’m sorry. I don’t drink beer anymore,” and if they really want to press, usually they don’t, usually they understand because there’s plenty of alcoholics, especially musicians, who often quit drinking entirely, so people are not insensitive enough to be like, “Fuck you, dude! Drink a fucking beer!” Mostly, they’ll just accept the fact that I’m not going to have one. I mean, I’m gracious. I’m not like, “Fuck you! I’m not drinking a beer!” I say, “Thank you very much but I don’t drink beer anymore.” Or, another thing you can do is just take it and give it to one of your bandmates.
MT: Plus, it helps that you’re in a terrifying, heavy rock band.
Beam: (Laughs) Yeah!
MT: One thing people may not know is that you have a science background
Beam: Yeah, my dad is actually part of the National Academy, so he is a pretty prestigious scientist, and I have a degree in Biology. I worked in his lab since I was fifteen and then in bunch of other labs after I finished school, but decided it wasn’t really my calling, so I pursued other things. I’m glad I have that background because it helps me make decisions that I think are better for me like health wise because I’ll actually do the due diligence of trying to discover what is actually good and bad for you instead of just following whatever the fads are.
MT: I understand that you also worked in puppet fabrication.
Beam: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s right. I had a job out at Laika Studios out in Hillsboro, just outside of Portland. They have a feature film department, where I worked first on the movieCoraline for about a year. I was basically like a production person in the puppet department. Then, I was on another movie called Paranorman for about a year, but I’m not in the credits on that one because I left early enough to where they were like, “Screw this guy!” (Laughs) No, that’s not what really happened but they had another guy who was on for a lot longer, so he got the credit. I was there; trust me!
MT: Were you actually in on the hands-on production of the figures?
Beam: No, no, no. I mean, I did a teeny bit of stuff sometimes, but mostly it was production assistant type stuff. I did a tiny bit of fixing stuff every once and a while, but no, I wasn’t making stuff. I’m not an artist in that way. It takes a really talented, very well trained artist to do that kind of stuff, because it’s all so small. It’s very detail oriented. You’re painting something that is two inches wide and it’s going to be fifteen feet wide on the screen. So, it’s got to be absolutely perfect every time. I can’t do that. I just don’t have a steady enough hand.
MT: It would be cool to see a Red Fang video with puppets.
Beam: Yeah, we’ve been talking about doing a stop motion thing for kind of a long time, but we pretty much exclusively work with Whitey(McConnaughy), who has done all of our other videos and he doesn’t do stop-motion, so we just haven’t done one yet. Somewhere down the line We’re all interested in it, so you’ll probably see one sooner or later.
MT: Does Whitey come to you guys with the ideas and then take it from there?
Beam: We pressured him for a long time to do a video for us and he was always like, “Ehh, yeah whatever.” Then, he came up with an idea that worked for us and once that “Prehistoric Dog” video came out and had as much success as it did, we just kind of rolled with that. We just keep in touch with him and whenever both our schedules are open, we try to fit a video in, but they’re always his ideas.
MT: One thing that’s evidenced in the videos is there seems to be a genuine sense of camaraderie within the band.
Beam: The characters you see in the videos are just stylized or expanded versions of what we’re like in real life. We’re not quite as crazy and irresponsible as we are in those videos as we are in real life, but they’re just exaggerated versions of ourselves.
MT: It’s got to make it easier spending so much time together on the road.
Beam: Yeah, for sure. There are plenty of bands who don’t like each other who are on the road all the time and figure out how to manage it, but it’s just way better when you get along with your bandmates.
MT: As for the Scion seven inch, were you already working on new material or did they commission something from you?
Beam: We weren’t really working on new material. We’ve been trying to make a point of staying active creatively and making sure we’re not going back into the whole we went to when we were touring Murder the Mountains. We sort of stopped writing because we were touring so much back then that we got out of the habit of writing music. It took a while to sort of jumpstart back in that mode. We’re just trying to keep doing that all the time now. So, we had some pieces and some parts, but they were just like, “Here’s the schedule, if you want to do this tour, if you can get this, make this whole thing happen,” so, we basically had a week and a half to write those two songs. Maybe it was two weeks to get them written, recorded, mixed and sent off to Scion, and actually, one of them was a song that we had already recorded for the Murder the Mountains sessions, so we just kind of re-wrote it and put some words on it. The other one, “The Shadows,” was all completely brand new, start to finish, and done in like a week and a half or whatever, and I actually really like that song.
MT: It’s pretty surprising that it was all done in a couple of weeks.
Beam: Yeah, and that’s writing, recording, mixing everything. Hopefully, that’s a sign of what the new material is going to sound like going forward because I really dig that song a lot. That was a riff that Bryan came in with and we just worked it out and turned it into a complete thing basically as fast as you possibly can.
MT: Are you working on the next album?
Beam: We’re basically trying to be working on it constantly. We’re not giving ourselves a deadline for it or anything. We just want to try to write continuously without going through a period of reduced activity and once we have enough songs for a record, we’ll record it. Instead of setting a date, then writing a bunch of music, we’re going to write a bunch of music until we’re ready to set a date.
MT: Is that how Red Fang has always done it in the past?
Beam: The last record was the first one we ever did like that, because we’ve never been on like an album cycle before. We’ve always just been a basement band who were like, “Why would you set a recording date if you didn’t have songs that were all written?” It’s just a totally different world we live in now and we’re still finding our way through it. The last record I like the way it turned out. I think it’s a good record, but the process was not as fun for us as it has been in the past. So, we’re basically trying to go back to the way we’ve always done it, which is write songs until you have enough for a record and then make your record.
Red Fang plays at 7p.m. on Monday, June 2nd at The Magic Stick; 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 313-833-9700; $15/$17 day of show.