Why Red Fang's Bryan Giles is completely obsessed with pinball

A photograph of Bryan Giles giving the horns next to a Sopranos pinball machine
(Image: © Alicia J. Rose)

What gets you so fired up about pinball? It’s such an old-school hobby…

“I’ve always enjoyed video games and John [Sherman], our drummer, and I play Tony Hawk 3 on PlayStation to this day. But what I like about pinball is that it’s a physical thing – there’s an actual ball and there’s physical contact. Everything’s so digitised these days so it’s nice to have a hobby that’s not too physically taxing but is still a real experience.”

Where do you play?

“I live in Portland, which is a hotspot for pinball. Almost every bar in town has at least one machine. Some local guys even made an app that’s basically a pinball map that lets you know where the machines are and users can update the locations so you know the state of the machine or if there are any problems with it.”

Does it ever get rowdy?

“It can get competitive, especially during the tournaments in town. I’ve actually won one, which I couldn’t believe, because there are so many incredible pinball players in town. Some of the top-ranked players in the world live here and playing against them can be nerve-racking. I tend to enjoy it more on a casual level.”

Bryan in his natural habitat

Bryan in his natural habitat
(Image: © Alicia J. Rose)

Any big rivalries with other players?

“In general, it’s very friendly, but there are pinball clubs. I started one called the Whiskey Dicks, or ‘WDX’ for short. We’ll get together and play and mostly it’s friendly. There are other clubs in town that we have friendly competitions with, like the Crazy Flipper Fingers. If we put up a high score on a machine, we sign ‘WBX’ and if Crazy Flipper Fingers get a high score, they put up ‘CFF’, so it’s fun to have a friendly rivalry with them, but it’s not like [rival gangs from The Outsiders novel] the Socs and Greasers! Ha ha!”

So is that you in the high score on this machine here?

“Yup. The machines will usually remember four high scores. But if they ever have to service the machine or if there are any problems with it, all of the high scores get wiped out, but the Grand Champion score stays regardless. So if they unplug a machine and move it across town, until somebody beats my score, I will remain the Grand Champion of that machine. So I got the GC here. You can see it on the display.”

Do you ever play on the road?

“Sure, and sometimes they have machines backstage at festivals and embarrassingly, I miss seeing a lot of my favourite bands because of them. At one festival, they had a Guns N’ Roses pinball machine and I skipped Duff McKagan’s band to play his pinball machine, so I didn’t feel too bad.”

Didn’t Red Fang just make their pinball machine debut?

“We did! PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon beer] just rolled out a new machine that features our music. It’s called PBR Can Crusher and it’s filled exclusively with songs from our new record. I played it a couple weeks ago and it’s super-cool. It’s like a throwback to the early days of pinball.”

On a scale of one-to-10, how metal is pinball?

“Well, if you ask the average metalhead, they’d probably say one, but I just think that it embodies the heavy metal culture from when I was a kid. You’d see the no-goodniks leaning up against the pinball machine, smoking cigarettes and generally looking like trouble and I thought, ‘Man, those dudes are cool!’ So pinball is 11, if you ask me. It’s off the scale – it’s the most metal thing in the world.”

Only Ghosts is out now via Relapse

Dedication: Bryan's pinball squad tattoo

Dedication: Bryan's pinball squad tattoo
(Image: © Alicia J. Rose)

Get involved!

The machine

If you want to actually start collecting pinball machines, you’d better start saving – these bad boys usually start at at least around a thousand pounds or so. Have a window shop on eBay and Gumtree.

The bar

More realistically, check out one of the numerous retro arcade bars popping up around the UK. We recommend London’s own Two-Bit in Shoreditch.

The league

You heard. The UK has its own Pinball League! Cool, right? Head over to www.ukpinballleague.co.uk to find out more.

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