Famous Firsts: Red Fang's Bryan Giles on how The Muppets made him a karaoke king

Red Fang's Bryan Giles wearing a trucker cap and smiling
Red Fang guitarist Bryan Giles (Image credit: Getty)

Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang make some of the most gloriously gnarly metal around, but guitarist and vocalist Bryan Giles wasn’t always the bearded rock god you see before you today. As he looks back over his formative experiences, we discover why his karaoke party piece involves The Muppets, how a run-in with a visiting German turned his first ever gig into the stuff of hometown legend, and why his early song Shitting Blood is a lost classic…

What was the first single you ever bought?

The first seven-inch I ever bought was a Sonic Youth/Mudhoney split seven-inch, and Sonic Youth did a Mudhoney cover and Mudhoney did a Sonic Youth cover. It was a Sonic Youth song called Halloween and Touch Me I’m Sick. Too cool for a first single? Yeah, well I was late to the vinyl game I guess. But the first song I really loved was The Boxer by Simon And Garfunkel. I loved that noise and the mood of it. My mother was really into Simon And Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, that kind of thing, so I guess that’s the first musical memories I have of really liking something.

What was the first album you ever bought?

The first music I ever bought was a cassette, it was The Muppet Movie soundtrack. It’s really good songwriting. I like Movin’ Right Along and The Rainbow Connection. That’s my go-to karaoke song, and I sing it in a lower register to give it my attempt at a Barry White sort of feel. I just loved that movie when I was a kid. But the first two rock albums I listened to were ZZ Top’s Eliminator and Van Halen’s Fair Warning. My brother had them. I didn’t know anything about rock music at all. But Fair Warning had a very menacing sort of mood to it, and there was just something about the way my brain grew up that went “that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”. And I’m still screaming with my guitar to this day. I joke that I’ve been trying to write my version of Sunday Afternoon In The Park. Sadly I think that song opened the door for them to play keyboards and make a bunch of watered-down stuff, but that is badass, I love that track.

What was the first gig you went to?

My first rock concert was Dio for Sacred Heart. It was amazing, I loved it! I remember my brother went to see ZZ Top a couple of months before that, and my parents wouldn’t let me go, they thought I was too young. But the same night my childhood friend’s family took me to see Dolly Parton, Kenny Rodgers and The Oak Ridge Boys. Which I did end up enjoying but I think I was still kind of “argh, I wanna see ZZ Top”. But my brother and his buddy took me to Dio, and I remember we all got the same T-shirt, and the next day I was in junior high, and I remember smelling the T-shirt because I’d worn it at the concert. I was like “this is what marijuana smells like!”. I huffed it all day. I really wanted to try marijuana after that.

What was the first gig you ever played?

I was in some really shitty bands. But the first real band I was in that played a real club was called Haus. We played a house party before we played our first show, and people described our band as having “no musical value whatsoever”. Well, that’s just your opinion Mr Smartypants! But our first real show was at the Pink Cadillac in Tuscon. We pretended we were from a town called Braunschweiger, Germany, and we called ourselves Wonderful Stationwagon. I was wearing a motorcycle helmet with a pelican skull taped to the top. A guy from Germany, who came out just to meet other Germans, came backstage and went, “You guys don’t speak German, this is bullshit.” We sort of smoothed it over with him – so we thought – and we asked him to introduce us in German so we’d seem more legit. So he comes out and he did awesome, he’s ramping it up, and the crowd went crazy. One of our songs was called Shitting Blood, it was really mature. The lyrics were ‘I swallowed a cheesegrater, I shat it out later, I was shitting blood’. Really stupid!

A year later I moved to Pittsburgh, and I had a friend who was in a German club, so I played him the tape we made to see what they guy had said. And apparently the guy, in German, was just like, “I met these guys backstage. Not only are they not German, they can’t play their instruments. They’re quite possibly the worst band you will ever see in your life. Give it up for Wonderful Stationwagon!” But no one knew so the crowd went crazy.

How was the first Red Fang tour?

Our first tour was on the west coast with our tour manager’s band, Portals. It was good, but we were kinda roughing it. We were sitting on the floor of our vehicle, there were no chairs in the old van. It was called Vera because it veered a little bit. It was a punk rock tour. I remember playing to two people just outside of San Francisco. There was a military community there and the girl that opened, she did spoken word and jazz. Anyway, she was cute, but she owned the mic, so when she finished she left and took it. And I remember sitting there and ordering a beer, and it had gone up in a couple of hours from $2 to $3. I asked why it was more, and he said, “Oh, well the extra dollar goes towards the bands.” “Yeah, but I’m in the band!” So essentially we were investing in getting some of it back. That’s how they paid us. But we were the only ones there, so it was totally pointless.

Red Fang’s new album Only Ghosts is out on October 14, via Relapse Records.

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Emma has been writing about music for 25 years, and is a regular contributor to Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. During that time her words have also appeared in publications including Kerrang!, Melody Maker, Select, The Blues Magazine and many more. She is also a professional pedant and grammar nerd and has worked as a copy editor on everything from film titles through to high-end property magazines. In her spare time, when not at gigs, you’ll find her at her local stables hanging out with a bunch of extremely characterful horses.