It’s not easy being a real big deal in the music world.
Especially if you’re Reel Big Fish.
Seems the fans who liked you when you were just a guppy don’t want to share you with the rest of the world.
And now that the rest of the world wants to land you hook, line and sinker, the folks who championed you back home are miffed.
They call you sellouts because you got signed by a major record label, because your songs are catching air on the popular radio stations, because your video pops up on MTV.
So what’s a group of young Orange County guys with a kinetically catchy ska-pop-punk fusion to do? Work in fast food for the rest of their lives?
No way, man.
Here’s an idea. How ‘bout they make an album full of songs that poke fun at the trials and tribulations of “rock star” status and corporate rock success while remaining tuneful and jumpin’ enough to deliver the kind of status they just skewered.
With acid on the tongue and tongue in cheek, they could call the album “Turn the Radio Off” and make the first single a witty ditty called “Sell Out.”
Sell out, with me oh yeah, sell out, with me tonight/record company’s gonna give me lots of money and everything’s gonna be all right.
They may be young, but the seven members of Reel Big Fish - all between the ages of 19 and 24 - have already figured out that a cheeky sense of humor is the best way to deal with criticism.
At the same time, they’d like to point out that real sellouts change their style to get signed. “We’ve been playing the same music, the same songs, for three or four years,” says drummer Andrew Gonzales. “We’re doing what we’ve always done and what we love doing.”
Reel Big Fish crawled out of the same Orange County pond that spawned pop-ska stars No Doubt.
Although some of the members started in a cover band in the early ‘90s, it was in 1993 that Reel Big Fish gelled as a ska band, eventually landing a zesty four-piece horn set.
These fishies fully admit they aren’t traditional ska boys. Instead, they slather punk and pop on top of the hyper Jamaican rhythm.
After garnering a strong California following with their 1995 self-released CD, “Everything Sucks,” Reel Big Fish was picked up by Mojo Records (Universal).
That’s when the trouble started with hard-core ska fans who wanted to keep the scene underground.
“Once we got signed, we started realizing there were a lot of kids that weren’t into us getting signed and putting the message out that there was a different kind of music,” Gonzales says. “A lot of kids revolted against it and called us sellouts.”
To Gonzales and crew it all seems rather selfish.
“Hopefully one day they’ll realize the reason it’s getting so popular … is because it’s good music. It’s not the same old thing,” Gonzales says.
Indeed, such upbeat ska-influenced pop is enjoying a popularity it hasn’t seen in years. No Doubt, Sublime and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones all have albums hanging out on the Billboard chart’s top 50.
Dennis Henderson is one guy who’s plenty pleased to see it.
“I think anything that is happy and danceable and fun and accessible is always a good thing,” says the front-man for Spokane ska band Petting Zulu, which opens for Reel Big Fish at The Met Tuesday.
While the Reel Big Fish sound is grounded in ‘90s ska a la the aforementioned Bosstones and No Doubt, Petting Zulu finds its inspiration in the ‘70s and ‘80s ska of The Specials and English Beat.
“It’s the opposite of the years and years of grunge that we’ve been sort of force fed,” Henderson says.
As for the big fish, their new album “Turn the Radio Off” continues to “sell out.”
In February Rolling Stone ranked it No. 8 of the Top 10 alternative albums.
“I don’t care what anybody thinks,” Gonzales says.
“It’s a really cool thing that’s happening and it’s incredible to be where we are.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Reel Big Fish will perform Tuesday at The Met. The Investigators, Petting Zulu and 22 Jacks open. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $9 in advance ($11 the day of the show), available at G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT. Also, Reel Big Fish and 22 Jacks will play with the Warped Tour at The Gorge on July 10. Tickets are $22.55, available through Ticketmaster, (509) 928-4700.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.