Red Fang: the ultimate cure to your hangover

There is something definitely spontaneous about John Sherman, Red Fang’s drummer. Just like about his band in some way. Principally known for their music videos filled with some rock’n’roll fooling around (including beer and some hairs), it is precisely after a filming day filled with drinks that he tells us about their new album Whales And Leeches. An album bursting with a sort of urgency, composed in very short time. Because if Red Fang is instinctive and has a true rock spirit, the Portland act isn’t very at ease when it comes to writing music while being on tour, as touring is supposed to be just about having a good time.

All these topics are tackled in the following interview with the band drummer, who also explains how the band decided to have Mike Scheidt (YOB) participate to this album, but also tells us about their initiative to dive, with this piece of work, into doom metal, a style interrelated to them, and why they love playing in France so much.

« I am very pleased with the results. But I hope to not write a record like that ever again. »

Radio Metal: We’ve been told that you were sick last time we were supposed to do this interview and we had to reschedule, do you feel better now?

John Sherman (drums): I feel great yeah! I’m a little hangover right now because we were shooting a video all day yesterday in the evening and we were shooting at a bar so of course once the shooting stopped drinking started, well, continued! [Laughs]

First of all, can you give us an explanation for the record title?

Hum, I can’t give you a good one. [Laughs] For some reason, coming up with the album titles is one of the hardest thing for us, which is why our first record didn’t have one at all, and then our second record we ended up titling it after a song we’d written years ago – that never saw the light of day: Murder The Mountains – which is now on the new record. I think it might be a bonus track but I don’t know. For this record we were going back and forth about all kind of different titles and finally someone said “How about Whales And Leeches?” which is the song on our first record, and we all said “Sure, why not” [Laughs] “Who cares if it’s a song from our first record? We’ll call our third record Whales And Leeches!” it just sounded weird and creepy and heavy, so we kept it.

Murder The Mountains was quite successful and Whales And Leeches is in a certain way made of the same spirit, the same vibe, even if there are some differences. Was Murder The Mountains a starting point for the work on this new album?

Well, Murder The Mountains was written over a pretty long period of time whereas this record was written and recorded in about three months, so this record had a lot of… I don’t know, I guess there is a sense of urgency because we were spitting it out so fast. But yeah there are definitely some riffs that we had around since the Mountain days and never made it into songs and that are now songs. So, I guess. I mean yeah, I guess it was kind of a starting point.

You started working on this album at the beginning of this year, recorded and produced it this summer to put it out in October. This is actually a short period. Was it intended in order to keep it fresh and spontaneous?

Well yeah, we toured on Murder The Mountains for about two years and it’s really hard for us to write on tour, so we weren’t getting a lot of new writing done and we knew we needed to put out a record soon. So after we did Soundwave Festival in Australia at the beginning of the year, and then we had a European tour booked for June I think, so we decided to take March, April and May to do nothing, not book any shows, and do nothing but write, write and write and then record at the end of those three months. We kind of had to set a deadline for us to get it done you know? And it was pretty stressful. [Laughs] But I am very pleased with the results. But I hope to not write a record like that ever again; hopefully we can figure out a way to write, starting now until we record the next record.

« If we hadn’t had fun videos […] I’m sure that we wouldn’t be nearly as popular as we are. »

In this new album, we can feel two different vibes. One that is, let’s say traditional Red Fang: fast and rock’n’roll; and another that appears from “Dawn Rising”, with a tempo pacing down and going more into a doom atmosphere. Do you think that this duality is what Red Fang is all about?

Yeah, we’ve always been fans of long, slow songs, and the short fast songs. And it seems like usually, the shorter, faster songs are the ones that we end up playing live most and end up recording most because… I don’t know why, but I guess maybe we’re a little afraid of slowing it down too much live because we might lose the crowd or something, but we always try to put one or two longer slow songs in a live set. And luckily we have Mike Scheidt doing guest vocals on this song so it’s my favorite song of the record right now, and I’m looking forward to playing it live. Mike is going to come with us for the next couple of shows in Seattle, Washington and Vancouver BC, Canada, so we can do that song live with him. But I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it live without him or not. I hope so, but we’ll see.

About that, where did this collaboration come from and was this song made especially for him?

No, it wasn’t really made especially for him but we’ve been friends with Mike for years, since the beginning of our band – since before this band even started really – but we’ve always kind of dreamed of a collaboration with him. We tried to make it happen on the first record, I think, and there was some kind of schedule conflict so it didn’t work out. And then when we wrote this song, as soon as we wrote the music, we knew that Mike would be the perfect vocalist for this song. Bryan and Aaron, you know they don’t even write lyrics until the very last seconds anyways, but they hadn’t written any lyrics for this song, and once Mike said that he would do it – we sent him the music and then he said that he’d do it – those guys were like: “Awesome, if you want to write the lyrics also, do that too!” [Laughs] So he wrote the lyrics and sang that song.

You’ve kept the same production staff for this album; do you think that you have found the perfect team and that you won’t change in the future?

Oh, I don’t know! I mean it seemed to work so good for Murder The Mountains that we figured “Why change it?” We talked about different producers and different studios but we really wanted to stay in Portland while we recorded, so we could be in our own homes every night, you know? It just seemed like the easiest thing to do, just to keep the same studio, same engineer, same producer and we were lucky enough to get Vance Powell to mix it again. But I don’t know if we’ll keep the same team for the next one. I mean I personally feel like maybe not, like we should shake it up a little bit and do something different, but who knows? I mean this record just came out so I can’t even begin to think about what’s going to happen for the next record yet. [Laughs]

It seems that the vocal work with two voices has evolved with this album. Did you work specifically on this aspect?

The vocals are the last piece of the puzzle for us. We always write riffs first and then sometimes there won’t be any lyrics written until we’re in the studio recording the songs. And then Aaron and Bryan will work it out, to see who’s going to sing what and sometimes Bryan will sing something and then decide that maybe it’ll sound better if Aaron sings it or vice versa. So a lot of times I don’t even know how the vocals are going to sound at all until we’ve recorded something because in the practice space that we have, when we practice the vocals I can’t hear the vocals anyway because the PA is so weak. So it’s pretty interesting for us, at least for me, I’m always surprised, usually pleasantly surprised. I don’t even know if there’s really much reason to who sings what. It just depends on what they think is best for the song, without having egos getting in the way, it’s just to whoever’s voice fits that part better will end up singing it. Sometimes Bryan sings stuff that Aaron wrote, sometimes Aaron sings stuff that Bryan wrote so…

« You might feel like shit for the rest of the 23 hours of the day but on stage all that stuff kind of disappears. »

A part of your popularity comes from the famous videos that know a great success on the internet. As well as the “Prehistoric Dog” video which that was kind of an important step for the band’s career. Did you think the video would take such an important part in Red Fang recognition through the world?

I didn’t know how important they would be but I do now! Yeah, if we hadn’t had fun videos or videos that people wanted to share, and if it wasn’t so easy to do that with the internet, then I’m sure that we wouldn’t be nearly as popular as we are. We certainly owe a lot to the video success which wouldn’t be possible without the ease of the internet. You know, anyone, anywhere in the world with an internet connection can find out about bands within the click of a button so it’s a pretty mind blowing thing. But yeah, hugely successful videos are extremely important for a band’s success I think.

There is no video out yet for Whales And Leeches. Are you going to put out some videos, and if so, when, for which songs and what will it be like?

Yeah, we just started filming. Yesterday we were filming all day actually, for about 12 hours. We had hoped to get a video up before the record came out, but we wanted to work with Whitey, our buddy who did the last three videos and his schedule wouldn’t allow it, so we had to wait. But we’re filming a video right now for the song “Blood Like Cream” and we’re filming tomorrow again, all day, and it’s going to be a pretty epic, huge video. I don’t want to give too much away. [Laughs] But there will be zombies involved, and hopefully that will be out within the next couple of weeks.

One of the most famous of your videos is the video for your song “Wires” where we can see you guys spend all the money the label gave you for the video to buy some stuff and to destroy it. Is it really what happened actually? How did the label react to this?

[Laughs] Hum well, no, it’s not entirely accurate. It’s definitely not a documentary. [Laughs] For one thing, the label hardly gave us any money at all, but yeah, we did certainly take the budget that we wrangled and buy shit to destroy and it was really really fun! Luckily the video turned out really good too, but it would have been fun even if we hadn’t had filmed it, I think. But yeah, the label was thrilled with the video, of course, because as soon as it came out, it went viral! We got a lot of attention and so did the label, so yeah, they were very happy with it.

About French people: « I don’t know what it is about you guys but I fucking love it! [Laughs] »

You’ll begin touring to support this record in November in Seattle, USA and will end it in Moscow in April, which is an intensive schedule. How do you manage to keep the energy at a high level every night?

It’s tough! But you know, even if you’re tired and sick and feel super run down, there is something about getting on stage that just wipes all that away and then as soon as you get on stage you have this burst of energy. That hour that we’re on stage every night is the whole reason that we do it so… I don’t know it’s like the best cure for a hangover, it’s the best cure for sickness, it’s the best cure for depression, just getting up on stage in front of people and sweating it out. It’s why we’re there so that part is pretty easy. It’s pretty easy to get your energy back once you’re on stage. You might feel like shit for the rest of the 23 hours of the day but on stage all that stuff kind of disappears.

There will be six dates in France for this tour. In Europe, France is not the country with the biggest Rock culture and tradition and generally American bands focus their tours on Germany and the UK with only one or two dates in France. Does it mean you have a special connection with the French audience?

I think we do, yeah. France is honestly – and I am not saying this because this is a French interview – France is my favorite place to play in the world. I don’t know what it is about the crowds there but it seems like they’re always completely bat shit insane and everyone is just having like the best time ever, the best party that anyone has ever been to, every time we play a show there, so it’s amazing! I don’t know what it is about you guys but I fucking love it! [Laughs] I really do like it. And you know, France is beautiful, the people are fucking awesome, the food is amazing, and the wine is delicious, what’s not to love? It’s definitely my favorite place on tour. So hopefully we can play more and more and more and more French shows. I would like to play more than six on this next tour but we have to play elsewhere. [Laughs]

Interview conducted by phone on Novembre, 4th 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Questions: Amphisbaena
Transcription: Natacha
Introdution: Alanimal

Red Fang’s official website: redfang.net

Album Whales And Leeches, out on Octobre, 15th 2013 via Relapse Records.

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