Interview with Johnny Christmas of Reel Big Fish

Once again California’s ska legends Reel Big Fish have returned to the midlands of England and trumpeter extraordinaire Johnny Christmas was kind enough to sit down with The Daily Slice before the show.

You have just come off tour with Survay Says!, how did that go?
It was awesome, we did I think about five weeks all the up into Canada. We went all the way to Halifax, as far east as you can possibly go in Canada and it turned out really really good. We played a festival with Mötley Crüe and Alice in Chains in Quebec and that was totally awesome. I got to watch Alice in Chains, got to watch Primus. I wish I got to see Suicidal Tendencies and Mötley Crüe but things didn’t work out. And we just got done doing Sonisphere where I got to watch Metallica for the first time… and it was awesome! So awesome! So good. I’m deaf, my ears are still ringing from it. I purposely didn’t bring my ear plugs I would be hurt by it and I am definitely hurt by it.

You have a pretty busy festival schedule here in the UK this year, are you excited to play some new stages?
Absolutely, we are lucky enough to run the gambit venue wise and playing festivals. Playing Sonisphere I think there was probably fifty thousand plus people watching us and the next show in Milton Keynes was a hot, sweaty, three hundred sold out club and tonight playing here at the Rescue Rooms… Not Rock City (the venue next door where The Fish are usually booked) but the Rescue Rooms. It’s gonna be fun. We are lucky to be able to tour as much as we do in this country and we are really happy that we can do that. We are lucky guys.

If it weren’t for audience demand, what songs would you like to play more often?
Ohhh… Wow. Hmm. I know I can come up with an answer for this. You know we play almost everything at some time and we are lucky enough that people like our catalogue. Sometimes you don’t play things that are really obscure but I don’t think there is anything that we don’t play that makes me think “Oh we should play this”. Maybe there is a cover or two… I like ‘Mama We’re All Crazy Now‘ The Slade song that we did and we don’t play that very much. It has been in rotation but it’s not at the moment so I’d like to play that song.

Your touring schedule is relentless, what keeps you motivated? 
I want to make my house payment. That’s the way we are able to make money is to tour like crazy and this is how it is for most artists. The only way you make any money is going out and playing live shows, I wish we had some extra income so I could spend a little more time with my daughter and my wife but that’s not the way it is. But fortunately we are lucky enough to have the most wonderful fans in the world that are so much fun to be around and so cool. It is a joyous experience for all the shows so how could I not want to do that? Really.

Do you think there are any differences between the UK and US ska scenes?
Not really, I think the roots are stronger here for ska, you had the whole 2-Tone thing with The Specials and Madness and the Beat. I think there is more history here for ska but I don’t necessarily think that kids now remember those bands. I think it is more the people who grew up with those bands that love those bands, we love those bands and that is part of our history as well as Jamaican ska. I think that we are slightly more star power I guess over here because there are places that we still get played on the radio here and that really makes you magic. Being on the radio, as little as people listen to the radio now it still makes you magic for whatever reason. So that helps out. But still with us going to any country it is the same kind of kids and adults that come to our shows. You could take a crowd out of Moscow and put them at a London show and you wouldn’t know. Or you could take the show from London and put them in Buenos Aires, Argentina and aside from a little complexion differences, you really wouldn’t know the difference. Because they know what to expect from our show, that you are coming to dance, coming to laugh, coming to listen to good music and hang out with your friends. You aren’t coming to the shows to beat each other up, we are fortunate that way that we have the pseudo mosh pit where everyone is dancing and not beating each other up which is cool. I dig it.

You have always been pretty adept at doing covers, but have you ever tried any that didn’t really work?
Oh yeah, we tried ‘Brass Monkey‘ (by the Beastie Boys) before we made the covers record and that tune just fell flat on it’s face. But I remember rehearsing it, I think it was Aaron, myself, Dan and Scott, I don’t think Matt Wong was there and it just didn’t work at all. It’s not the most complex song, it’s not the most melodic song. It has one horn line and it just wasn’t as melodic as we need for our instrumentation.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 
Practising, warming up, curling up my moustache, doing my hair, putting on sweaty, stinky clothes. All my clothes are so wet right now from last night it is so gross. I hope they dry out. But we are pretty quiet around most of the day because we save it all up for the show. I mean if we were like we are on stage all of the time we would fucking hate each other, it would be terrible, my gosh it would be exhausting. So we save it all up for the show. You know I go out, go for a walk in the city, I haven’t done that yet but I am gonna do it we are done. Maybe go get a coffee and it is a great city to walk around, you can go into the caves and see what’s here. There is also a neat street music scene here which I just discovered the last time we were here and there are some really great musicians out on the street playing so that is my stuff that I do. Sometimes I read.

How has it felt having a saxophone on stage?
Oh it is so awesome. Both Matt and Billy are fantastic players and I have played in many configurations for this band over the ten years I have been in it and we definitely sound the best that we have ever sounded. Billy is an amazing trombone player, a good guy and he is a great keyboard player. Matt can play anything… Really he can play anything it is disgusting but it is definitely a section now. It wasn’t always that way, when Scott left I wanted all three of us to be together so we could play as a section. So Dan myself and Matt moved to one side and that really helped out. There was some cohesion because when Scott was way on the other side, he was off doing his own thing but now that we are all together and we are all playing as a unit it makes the band better.

How much do you think the ska scene has changed over the past ten years?
For us, I don’t think it really has. We are not one of those bands that has a fan base that ages. It always comes full circle. I think Aaron has written the soundtrack to when you are like twelve to twenty five. Like everything that happens to you in that time, we have a song about. And I think that really resonates with people that age until people get out of uni and go and try to buy a house, and you wanna cut your arm off and listen to things that are more serious for a while. And then it comes full circle because after that happens and they have their lives sorted out and have a few kids, they will come back and bring their kids to the shows because they want to have fun again, they don’t want to be so serious. They will stand in a different place, they won’t be up in the front, or in the pit any more but they will push their kids out and let them go. So there is always that group of people who are all along the back and along the edges who are old fans but the majority of them are fresh new kids. And we are so lucky that I could never say that enough, we are so lucky that the fans don’t go away. It is so awesome and also we tour relentlessly so people don’t forget that we exist.

Any hints as to if fans have something to look forward to in the near future? 
Yeah, so I think there is gonna be a Christmas record, that we are currently working on. We will see what happens but I think that will be out hopefully by late November. Hopefully, we will see.

With the recent resurgence of vinyl, have you ever thought about repressing your old records?
We did, we pressed ‘Turn The Radio Off‘, that is all pressed up and available at this show I think. So yeah we have done limited release vinyls. We did ‘Monkey’s for Nothing’‘, we have done the cover record and there is one for the latest record so yes we are fans of vinyl. But they are all like collectors edition, cool artwork and stuff so I don’t know if you really want to play them, you just want to look at it and go “Awh this is so awesome!”.

Do you have a favourite kind of pizza?
Oh I do… It’s all think crust with cheese and with loads of meat, sausage and pepperoni and stuff. But I like my pizza cold. Like fresh from the refrigerator from the night before. I don’t like it hot. For whatever reason when I was a kid, when my parents got a pizza, I would take a couple of slices and then put it in the freezer and let it get cold for a little while and then pull it out and eat it because I liked it cold. I don’t think there is any food I like more than cold pizza. Like I could eat myself to death and that is why I don’t eat it very often because I would eat myself to death.

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