- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

California ska/punk band Reel Big Fish has been entertaining audiences for two decades with their upbeat songs celebrating partying, drinking and slyly enjoying life — usually peppered with a rather colorful vocabulary. The band spends a good chunk of the year on the road, as most established bands must now do to turn a profit.

Bassist Derek Gibbs and trumpet player John Christianson sat down with The Washington Times during a stop at Silver Springs’ Fillmore Theater on their co-headlining tour with Less Than Jake to discuss the joys of playing, balancing the dual commitments of road and home life and the in-flux nature of the music business. (To wit, their biggest hit was a song called “Sell Out.”)

Question: You guys have had some major lineup changes lately. How is it working out?

DG: It feels the same to me.

JC: It actually feels better, because I think everybody gets along better. And after you’ve done this for so long, and you’ve had kids, some people just find that they just don’t want to do it. I respect that. Sometimes those people get really grumpy while they’re on the road. So I think we’ve gotten rid of most of that — people that don’t want to be here. And I think the band plays better than it ever has. I think everybody that’s come in is a great addition. I love [saxophone player] Matt [Appleton]. Matt sings and plays so incredibly well, and Billy [Kottage] plays great trombone. And [drummer Dave Terachi] is doing a remarkable job filling [former drummer] Ryland [Steen]’s shoes, so it’s clear sailing so far.

Q: You fellas did an album of all covers a few years back. What was the inspiration for that?

DG: Good question. I guess it was a way to practice recording and getting the process polished up a little bit more. With all the touring we do, there’s really not a lot of time to write a whole album or to make a new album.

JC: I think there’s a long history of artists doing other artists’ songs. I just think it’s a natural thing to do. You know, Elvis never wrote a song; he was getting people that were writing him songs. And in our line of work we have to write our own songs. There’s so many good tunes out there that you can’t help but want to do a whole record of other people’s materials.

Q: How did made your covers sound unique?

JC: I think that’s what you should do if you’re going to make a cover or a cover record: You really need to make it your own. And that can be a problem with some artists where they will just do the regular old arrangement that was already there. Put your personality in it, put your thumbprint on it.

Q: The music industry has changed so much. Artists used to make so much money off the record and tour to support it, but now, in order to survive, artists have to constantly tour. You guys founded your own label to get around some of those issues. What is your take on the industry as it now stands?

DG: I think you pretty much said it. Recording technology is getting so good that people can make what maybe 20 years ago would have been considered a studio album.

JC: That you would have paid hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars.

DG: And people are doing that in their bedrooms now.

JC: Yeah. It changes the way that business is done. Take [our first major album] “Turn the Radio Off.” That record cost $300,000 to make. So the record company gives you an advance, like, “I’m going to give you all this money. I’m going to give you kids $300,000. This is what you have, this is what you have to work with, and you’ve got to make a record, you’ve got to pay your rent out of it. You’ve got to buy food out of it.”

Some people can just blow through that, and of course that’s happened. The problem is that it’s not like it’s free money. All that gets “recouped,” as they say in the business. You wind up having to pay for that, sometimes for the rest of your life. That’s why a lot of artists, when they record a record with a major label, never see a dime of money from that record’s sales.

Because the record company will find clever ways of saying, “We have expenses that we need to be able to recoup.” I know that “Turn the Radio Off” was our highest-selling album, probably close to a million, and so that would take care of the recording of that record, and that should technically take care of the marketing budget, but it doesn’t work out that way. They wind up coming up with other expenses and string you on until you get a lawyer that you can pay for — another expense — to sue the record company to get back royalties. So it’s a complicated business, and you have to have the right people working for you to make it all work.

And now it’s even weirder, because now there’s no large budgets anymore to make records. You’re making records for a fraction of the cost, and record companies aren’t going to give you that huge advance. And in our case they didn’t give us anything, so we were having to pay to have our record recorded. Even when we were on Jive [Records] we were paying for it. So it wasn’t beneficial to us in any way. We were just being taken advantage of and/or forgotten.

Q: How do you balance the road life with your home lives?

DG: It’s hard. You have to find someone that’s very understanding and knows what they’re getting into. I guess some of us are luckier than others. He’s still married, so he’s pretty lucky.

JC: Barely! This life almost cost me my marriage in no uncertain terms. I think working through it with my wife made our relationship better. Now we have a 2-year-old daughter. That’s a whole other concern for me, not just being out on the road and spending time Skyping and FaceTiming with them, but being at home and trying to take care of business and practicing my instrument with a 2-year-old around is somewhat difficult. So there’s a lot of anxiety trying to just be responsible, you know, to do the dishes and have a 2-year-old.

DG: I remember someone once looked at it in a different way. They said, “OK, if you’re home working a 9-to-5 job, there’s eight to 10 hours you have to include in for the commute time that you’re not home, and then you’re tired, and probably three or four hours later — maybe five or six — you go to bed. Rinse, repeat, five days a week.” The argument against us, is “Oh, you’re gone for a month at a time.” Yeah, but then we’re home for what could be a month solid. Not going to work every day — you’re just there. I think someone said if you add up the hours, they may actually spend the same or more time with their kid than if they just had a straight, regular job.

JC: Yeah, I think I’ve had more quality time with my daughter with the way that our current schedule is, you know, taking her to the park and hanging out and just being her and I, and hiking up in the mountains up above my house. I think you’re definitely right about that, in that I do get more time with her, more bonding time with her, so we’re making it work out.

Q: You guys always look like you’re enjoying yourselves up on stage. Is it still fun?

DG: Sometimes right until the downbeat, you’re going, “Oh boy, I’m tired from yesterday. I’m tired from three days ago!” And then it all goes away. I always feel better afterward, no matter how bad I felt during the day. Minus the sweat.

JC: The sweat, the stink. [laughs]

DG: Yeah.

JC: And sometimes it’s not your [own] sweat and stink.

DG: Oh

JC: [laughs] You know, we’re really lucky that the fans that come out to see us, they want to have a good time. You know, we’re not here to all cry and say how terrible our days were. We’ve all worked regular jobs and know what that’s like, and as soon as you look out there, and those people just want to see you, you just can’t help but smile. I mean it’s really, really special. I’ve played music in many other genres as a trumpet player, and there’s nothing as fun, with a trumpet in your hands, as this band is.

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