Reel Big Fish originally formed as a trio in Huntington Beach, California in 1991. After a short tenure playing classic rock and Top 40 covers at frat parties they added a horn section and began writing their own material, which fell distinctly into the emerging third-wave ska genre developing in Southern California during the mid-90s.
They broke into the mainstream in the summer of 1997 when their single Sell Out became a mainstay on US rock radio and the still-dominant MTV, and their second album Turn the Radio Off was certified gold. To this day they’ve released eight studio albums, as well a live album and several EPs and compilation records, and a string of recognisable hits.
But as ska-punk became a less marketable genre after the new millennium, the band retreated from the mainstream back to the underground. Nevertheless, they continue to tour successfully to a notable fan base still thirsty for their energetic live shows, riotous sense of humor, celebrated pop covers, and much loved originals - which never fail to start the party no matter where you are or what time of day it is.
We asked the band’s frontman, lead guitarist, chief songwriter and last remaining original member Aaron Barrett what his top five all-time favourite songs by Reel Big Fish are. He decided to pick the five biggest hits, and the five more obscure songs that no one talks about…
**BEER *(Everything Sucks*, 1995)
“At the time of writing this song our horn players had just quit, and I’d been listening to a lot of Sublime, which is why there’s no horn lines and just a guitar riff. Our bass player and drummer at the time were really into drinking beer as well, and I thought if I wrote a song about drinking beer they’d love it. And they did. We obviously got to play it in the BASEketball [Dir. David Zucker, 1998] movie too, which was really cool. We didn’t get to hang out with Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] that much because they were busy making the movie, but we got to be there the day they were filming the cheerleaders, which was great. And we were excited because we’d seen The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in Clueless [Dir. Amy Heckerling, 1995] a couple of years before, and now we were in a big comedy film as well.”
SELL OUT (Turn the Radio Off, 1996)
“This song was written in 1995. I was actually trying to learn a Dance Hall Crashers song called Go, and this came out instead. I was basically just goofing around on the guitar, and I made up my own song. That’s kind of the story of all our songs really: I’d be trying to learn somebody else’s songs, and then I’d make up my own instead.”
**EVERYTHING SUCKS *(Turn the Radio Off*, 1996)
“Our first album was actually called Everything Sucks, but this song was not on there. So I wrote this song in honor of the first album. I was going to make that our ‘thing’, and always have a song on the next album that was named after the last album’s title. But it was a stupid idea, so I gave up.”
**SHE HAS A GIRLFRIEND NOW *(Turn the Radio Off*, 1996)
“This was another one of those things that I was trying to make a ‘thing’, and I’d already written several songs about girlfriends, like I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend. So I thought it’d be fun to write a song about a girl that has a new girlfriend, and I wrote it specifically for Monique Powell from Save Ferris to sing with me. They were another one of those ska punk bands in a movie, which was 10 Things I Hate About You [Dir. Gil Junger, 1999]. You couldn’t get away from ska bands in the ‘90s. They had a terribly bitter break up between her and the band unfortunately, and they all ended up hating and suing each other. It was sad.”
**WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? *(Cheer Up!*, 2002)
“This was me trying to write Beer Pt II, which is why it’s almost the same chords. Someone suggested I did picking instead of the ska guitar to make it even more different than Beer, because it’s basically exactly the same tune, and so I did. There was a horn line to begin with, and it was a really cool horn line too, but it went away for some reason, probably because every album has to have two songs without horns on them - you’ll notice that if you go back and look. That’s another ‘thing’ that we do. I don’t want to say this was a midlife crisis album, but it kind of was because we were trying to do different things and not repeat the exact same thing again. The record label decided this was the single because there were no horns on it and they said horns were over, and luckily it did pretty well for us, especially over here in the UK. So there you go! Beer Part II became Where Have You Been?”
**PARTY DOWN *(Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free*, 2007)
“I wrote this song a long time ago, either just before or just after *Why Do They Rock So Hard? *. We recorded a demo of it, which didn’t have all the musical styles in it – it was just this weird, long, nonsensical rock song. I think later on I thought, ‘Oh yeah! I could do something with this if I made it a little more funny and weird.’ Then we put the SR-16 MIDI thing into it. We’re a ska band that plays all kinds of music you see. I have musical ADD, so I can’t stick to one thing.”
**S.R. *(Turn the Radio Off*, 1996)
“This was another Sublime-influenced song. I was listening to a lot of Sublime during the time of those early records. There’s some really terrible toasting on the original version, but I’m no good at it. People like the song though. It’s a fun, short little song to jump around to. Somehow over the years we’ve started playing different versions of it. Like, I decided it was too short, and it didn’t have a punk part, so we did a punk version of it for a while. And then one day I thought to myself, ‘What if it was disco?’ We’ve done it many times when we play it live, where we pretend that we’re doing it for the first time, because that actually happened one time and then it became another one of our ‘things’. So there’s lots of different versions of S.R. in being done in different musical styles.”
**TIL I HIT THE GROUND *(Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free*, 2007)
“I recently heard a band in Indonesia covering this, and there’s a video where all these people are going crazy for it. No one ever talked about this song or asked about this song, or anything. It’s a weird, almost festive, Mardis Gras sounding tune, and it was kind of influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland album, mixed with a bit of Primus. I wrote it in High School when I was 17 years old, and it was amazing to see people in Indonesia dancing to it, because no one else ever danced to it, because we never play it, because it’s a weird song. But I really like it. It’s got strange nonsensical lyrics and cool guitar riffs, and all the usual Reel Big Fish-ness to it, but it’s just weird and fun.”
**BANG! THE MOUSE EXPLODES! *(Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free*, 2007)
“This was an iTunes-only track on the Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free album, and it was kind of about the Internet getting big, and MP3s taking over and making the record labels mad. It’s a fun song though. It’s got a cool riff and the horn line is awesome – it’s one of my favourite horn lines actually. It’s more of a rock song, and it could’ve gone on the Cheer Up! Album. Bang! The House Explodes! Napster came along and everything changed. It was crazy!”
**HIDING IN MY HEADPHONES *(Candy Coated Fury*, 2012)
“This song’s like a weird musical collage. I had an idea in my head for just the chorus and nothing else, and the riff on it is actually Sell Out backwards. For years and years our drummer Ryland [Steen] would play the same beat during soundcheck for like an hour, whilst our soundman would adjust things, and that’s the beat to the song. And I couldn’t think of anything for the verses, so I asked Barney [Paul Barnes] and Laila [Khan] from Sonic Boom Six to write them for me. I’ve known those guys about ten years now. We met at Slam Dunk in 2005, and the first thing Laila said to me was, ‘Hey, can I sing on She Has a Girlfriend Now?’ I love those guys!”
Aaron Barrett was talking to Matt Stocks. Reel Big Fish are on tour now. For more details, see their official website.