Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


Reel Big Fish/Weston/Nerf Herder

Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ

Here's an interview I did right before this Stone Pony concert, originally for

Reel Big Fish is not just a band--it's an addiction. Their songs are quite catchy, and their style is hugely entertaining--it sounds like a bunch of guys having a great party, and you can't help wanting to crash it. It's hard not to get involved in the loopy sense of fun.

The band plays a ska-punk blend, similar to labelmates Goldfinger. Unlike their friends in Goldfinger, though, Reel Big Fish includes not only the traditional rock instruments of guitar (Aaron Barrett, who's also the lead singer), bass (Matt Wong), and drums (Andrew Gonzales), but also two trumpet players (Scott Klopfenstein and Tavis Werts) and two trombonists (Grant Barry and Dan Regan).

In 1995, Reel Big Fish put out a local record, Everything Sucks, in their native Southern California, and were quickly signed to Mojo Records soon after. Their latest effort is Turn the Radio Off, which features the strong debut single "Sell Out."

Reel Big Fish will be hitting New Jersey for several shows (May 24th at Maxwell's in Hoboken and May 25th at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park). Mike Sauter was scheduled to have a chat with the band on May 13th, but lead singer and guitarist Aaron Barrett was suddenly stricken with strep throat and had to reschedule--in fact, the band had to cancel a couple of shows in the ensuing chaos. Although playing guitar can still be done with a serious throat ailment, it's hard to sing or do interviews under such conditions.

Aaron was actually only the latest victim in a string of sick Fishmen. Tavis Werts was the first to get sick, and then the dangers of seven musicians living in a bus became evident as illness moved from player to player.

The hard-to-stop guys, though, later interrupted a jaunt to the happiest place on Earth to call Mike from a pay phone. Since Aaron was still too croaky to talk, bass player Matt Wong fielded questions and occasionally acted as interpreter for Aaron. Be forewarned, though--lovable Disney characters keep interrupting the conversation, as Matt discusses a rock band's aphrodisiac qualities, cannibalism, and Lionel Ritchie....

Mike: How did you guys get together?

Matt: I met Aaron in school, and over some chili dogs and wiener schnitzel we decided to--hmmm... [trailing off] Tweedledum is passing by us! I'm sorry, we're at Disney World! [quietly, as if relaying a big secret] And it's so ironic, because Tweedledum was actually the guy who got us all together! [laughing] No, I'm just joking!

I met Aaron in school, and we just talked about stuff and hung out. [interrupting himself] Oh, here comes Tweedledee! [back into conversational mode] We decided that we wanted to start a band to meet girls, so we did it!

I had known Andrew for twelve years--he's the drummer. We needed a drummer, so we got him and it all started.

Mike: So let me get this straight--you're at Disney World right now?

Matt: Right now! Right as we speak!

Mike: Wow!

Matt: The happiest place on Earth...

Mike: So, do you feel happy?

Matt: I'm incredibly happy! I'm gleeful...

Mike: Are you happier than you were outside of the park?

Matt: Well, yeah. If you could see me now, you'd see me doing cartwheels and somersaults and jumping-jacks. It's amazing I can talk to you on the phone and do that, too.

Mike: [laughing] Yeah, it is amazing!

Matt: It's a feat for me.

Mike: You must have a cordless.

Matt: Well, yeah! Of course!

Mike: What town is Reel Big Fish's home base?

Matt: We are from Orange County, California.

Mike: It's funny you say you created the band to meet girls, since that's quite a theme on the record--like talking about "maybe she'll like me if I play guitar, maybe she'll like me if I'm the lead singer" [from "Join the Club"]. So that's straight from real life?

Matt: [very seriously] Oh yeah! We like to deal with real subjects that people will relate to. [laughing]

Mike: [laughing] Like being a rock star!

Matt: Exactly! Isn't everybody? Everybody in their own special way is their own kind of rock star--in their room, singing into a comb, looking in the mirror...

Mike: Right. Maybe that's the goal in life--to awake the rock star within!

Matt: Oh, yeah!

Mike: So what would you give it as a rating on a scale of one to ten to pick up chicks?

Matt: Oh, it's a twelve! Or maybe thirteen... If you're cute, that is. Me, I have a little bit of trouble because I'm not that cute. I tend to have a really nice speaking voice and fresh breath, so that helps a lot.

Mike: [laughing] Fresh breath is always helpful. The Beatles had labels--there was the cute Beatle, and the smart Beatle, and so forth. What adjective would you use to describe the members of Reel Big Fish?

Matt: Well, right now Aaron Barrett is the sick Fish--The Strep Throat Fish. Andrew Gonzales is the fat Fish. [laughs] Grant is the apathetic Fish. [interrupting himself again] Oh, no! The Queen of Hearts is coming! She looks pissed, too! [returning to the conversation] Let's see. I guess I'd be the tattooed Fish. Scott Klopfenstein is the diva Fish--or sissy Fish, if you'd like. Dan Regan is the hippy Fish. Not so much anymore--I don't know, "hippy Fish" would be okay. Tavis is the... I don't know...[speaking to other members of the band] What is Tavis? The brainy Fish. And that's about it!

Mike: Very cool!

Matt: But we're all cute--don't get me wrong!

Mike: Tell me about the unlisted sixteenth track on the CD--is that the song that gave Reel Big Fish its name?

Matt: Oh, no, Aaron wrote that song after we got the name. It's called "I'm Cool."

Mike: You guys sometimes do '80s covers in your show...

Matt: Oh, yeah!

Mike: Do you do it just because you like doing it, or is it the cheese factor?

Matt: It's just a big part of where we came from. What are you talking about, cheese? [laughs] It's a big part of where we came from, and it's a big part of the music that we like. The '80s were, just in terms of pop, were like the kingpin era. The best stuff in the pop music world came out of the '80s.

Mike: I noticed in your song "Skatanic," there's a guitar riff in there which sounds just like "Don't Pay the Ferryman."

Matt: There's also one in there which sounds like "White Wedding."

Mike: Oh, yeah! That's what I was thinking of!

Matt: There's a little bit of trivia for you...

Mike: And there's a vocal part in--I can't remember which song now--but it sounds like "La Bamba."

Matt: It's in "Trendy."

Mike: Oh, that's right.... Now, who in the band has worked in fast food, a la "Sell Out."

Matt: Dan worked at Subway for a while. Grant worked at Subway. Andrew and I sold coffee--and that's not really fast food, but it might be fast food to some people. Actually to a lot of people I know... [after getting some prompting by one of the other band members] Oh, that's right! Andrew worked in Little Caesar's. That's about the fastest food you can possibly get.

Mike: Making pizzas or delivering pizzas?

Matt: Making pizzas!

Mike: I noticed in the thank you's of album, Aaron thanked "John from Goldfinger for getting us in this mess." Were you guys friends before?

Matt: This is what happened. We played a show in Riverside at this place called The Barn--it was called the "Skalloween" show. John from Goldfinger saw us, and he was then signed to Mojo. He brought the CD to Mojo, and he said, "You've got to sign these guys, you've got to sign these guys." They went out and bought a copy of the CD, and we started talking from there. So it's his fault!

Mike: So is Turn the Radio Off your first record?

Matt: It's our first real, real record. The other thing we have is called Everything Sucks, and that was kind of like a CD demo.

Mike: Are the songs you had on Everything Sucks also on Turn the Radio Off?

Matt: Not all of them. A good portion of them, though.

Mike: Like maybe "Everything Sucks"?

Matt: Actually, "Everything Sucks" wasn't on Everything Sucks.

Mike: [laughing] Really?

Matt: [laughing] Yeah! Another little tidbit of information...

Mike: You said when you grew up the '80s stuff was a big influence. Are there any specific bands you want to mention as being a major influence?

Matt: The English Beat, The Jam, and all those bands. Even the glamorous bands like Poison and Warrant...

Mike: Oh, yeah?

Matt: Oh, yeah, totally! And we were really, really heavily influenced by a lot of local bands. Like, there was a local band around called Suburban Rhythm. They used to get us a lot of shows. They were very cool to us.

Mike: Like in the song "S.R."?

Matt: Yeah, that's about that band.

Mike: Yeah, I couldn't find out anything about them after I heard "S.R."

Matt: They broke up. It was a shame. Them, and this other band called The Knuckle Brothers. They were around. And this band called The Goodwin Club. Bands like that. And Sublime. Growing up around the same area. And No Doubt, too. Growing up around Orange County, you couldn't help but see No Doubt and hear about No Doubt and hear their music and stuff. They were the first Orange County ska-influenced band to get signed.

Mike: As a note of personal recollection, what was the first real concert you ever went to?

Mike: The first concert I ever went to--the first real, real one--[laughs, and is distracted] The Queen of Hearts is staring our road manager down. I think she has a crush on him. [calling to road manager] Pretty cute, huh? Oh, yeah! Now Tweedledum is fondling our lead singer, right now! [laughs] The first real concert was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the Chili Peppers.

Mike: Wow! That was a pretty stellar bill.

Matt: Yeah, it was an awesome, awesome thing.

Mike: Probably set you in motion to wanting to be a rock star, right?

Matt: Oh, yeah! I think my desire for girls was probably stronger than that.

Mike: One of the things I thought was interesting on the record--in the title of it, obviously, but even in some of the songs--it seems like you guys have a dislike for radio stations.

Matt: I don't know if it's so much a dislike for radio stations, it's a dislike of what happens. There's lots of good bands that never get their album played, and radio stations play lots of crappy bands. That kind of sucks! If you're listening to the radio, you might hear one good song in three hours of music. That kind of sucks.

Mike: Any current CDs--

Matt: [after repeating the previous question] I'm sorry, I'm relating the question. [after a brief pause] Okay, here's the direct quote from our sick lead singer--that's just what all the kids talk about, and won't shut up about. If you don't like the radio, and you're complaining about it, then turn it off.

Mike: Right. Any current CDs that you guys listen to these days?

Matt: Well, the horn players listen to lots of jazz, and stuff like that. Personally, I fell in love with that Sublime album. I listen to that a lot, I listen to 311, I listen to lots of stuff. Oh, yeah, I'm heavily, heavily into The Commodores now, and Lionel Ritchie. As I have been all my years growing up. My mom raised me on, like, the old Hall and Oates album H20, Lionel Ritchie and The Commodores. So I listen to a lot of that stuff now. Aaron has the best of Billy Joel and the best of Elton John tapes, and we listen to those all the time.

Mike: Cool! Do you ever do any Billy Joel covers?

Matt: Actually, we're in the process of learning lots of covers. We've been playing "Easy" by The Commodores and "Stuck On You" by Lionel Ritchie. We learned "Your Song" by Elton John. We're working on a Billy Joel one right now. Hey, if you're going to cover a good song, you might as well cover a really good song.

Mike: Is it harder having more members than the typical rock band--three or four guys?

Matt: It's harder and it's easier--it depends on what's happening. If you get tired and you want to be alone, it's harder. But it's better because you get more company, and more people to talk to. It's cool like that.

Mike: You might not get on each other's nerves as much...

Matt: Exactly. You can go talk to somebody else, you can hang out with somebody else.

Mike: I noticed that Aaron has a hand in all of the songwriting--

Matt: Oh, yeah....

Mike: --but every one pretty much contributes. How does that work? Does Aaron come in with demos, and then everybody just chips in?

Matt: Usually Aaron will come up with a song--like lyrics and a song, or a melody and a song and he'll write lyrics later. And he'll bring to me and Andrew--sometimes it happens that he'll bring it to somebody else. Usually he'll give me an idea of what he wants to hear, and I'll work with that, or Andrew will work with that. The horn lines--sometimes we'll hum them out, or sometimes he'll hum them out, or sometimes the horn player will make them up. Sometimes he'll have a very distinct vision, or hear in his head what a song should sound like--you know, it's his song, he wrote it, so it's the best idea. So we'll do that. Sometimes it's just chord changes, and we'll work with that. It usually cool. Things evolve and things change.

Mike: In your official band bio, what's this deal about the Huntington Beach police [in which the police are described as parading handcuffed members of the band down the street as an example to troublemakers]?

Matt: The horn players were out after curfew. The thing about our horn players is they're young--they're like 19 and 20. They were out after curfew, and one of them made a smart-ass comment to the cop, and then the cop hauled him in. It's kind of boring--I don't even know why they put it on the bio.

Mike: One thing I wanted you to ask Aaron for me--would he really eat people if it were legal [as stated in the anti-vegetarian song "Say 'Ten' "]?

Matt: [after relaying the question] He'd try it.

Mike: [laughing] Give it a whirl?

Matt: Yeah, I don't see why not. Like a little kid sandwich. "Can I get the infant sandwich on rye?"

Mike: [laughing] Yeah, sure!

Matt: "I'd like a slice of old man," you know?

Mike: Maybe on a pizza or something...

Matt: Yeah! Why not?

Mike: All right, Matt, have a great rest of your day at Disney World--and thanks!

Matt: Yeah, we will! Thank you!

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Echo & The Bunnymen

Mercury Lounge, New York, NY

Bedbugs & Ballyhoo
People Are Strange
I Want To Be There (When You Come)
Back Of Love
The Killing Moon
I'll Fly Tonight
Just A Touch Away
The Cutter
Lips Like Sugar
Over The Wall
Nothing Lasts Forever
Do It Clean

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Violent Femmes

Birch Hill, Old Bridge, NJ

I met coworkers Jon, Betsy, and I believe also Amy to grab a bite before going to see the Femmes. However, by the time we got to the Birch Hill the place was absolutely packed, wall-to-wall. As a matter of fact, it was uncomfortably packed. Probably fire-code-violating packed.

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After just a few songs, we all decided it would be best to head out of there. That was easier said than done, and it took awhile to accomplish. We eventually made out way to a door to the back patio, and from there to the connecting door to the dance club at the Birch Hill site. So we busted a move through the sparsely-populated dance floor to get to the main entrance and fled the scene.

Disappointing not to see the whole set, but due to the enormous time it took to move through the crowd, we likely saw at least have the set despite our decision to depart.

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