Orange County, California’s ska-punk band Reel Big Fish has been producing angsty tunes since its 1995 underground hit “Everything Sucks.”
Since then, the band has released seven total studio albums and continue to tour frequently. Led by Aaron Barrett, the band is noted for its energetic live performances and juvenile humor. In 1996, the album “Turn the Radio Off” was certified gold by the RIAA and produced fan favorites “Sell Out” and “Beer.” On Nov. 29, they will perform at the Georgia Theatre.
The Red & Black talked to trombone player and background vocalist Billy Kottage while the band was touring the UK.
The Red & Black: How do you keep your energy up during touring?
Billy Kottage: Just try to not take things for granted, y’know? [Just] realize how easy this job actually is compared to other jobs. If you can’t keep your energy up for an hour then you’re really having a hard time, I guess. It’s hard for me to even understand how people can’t enjoy doing this when they’re in the band, but it happens.
R&B: The past few times you came to Georgia, you were usually at the Masquerade, right?
BK: Yeah, I feel like we’re always only at the Masquerade. Actually, the last time we were in Athens, we played a private fraternity. It was in the backyard of this fraternity party like three years ago. It was a Jewish fraternity and they had this huge stage and it was a pretty wild party. They had this menorah in the backyard and each candle was a beer funnel — so, they would line up underneath all of the candles and chug beer. That was pretty funny.
R&B: Are the audiences any different, depending on which country you’re in?
BK: Oh, for sure, even which state you’re at too. England as a whole [has] way better shows than the United States. Just the crowd energy and crowd participation. They still listen to rock’n’roll music here. Even if you go to the club here you’ll find DJs who are spinning punk rock and alternative music. In the United States, alternative music is kind of — I wouldn’t say gone — but everyone here likes their EDM and their mumble rap. We can play shows [in the UK] where people are actually like, “Oh, I love Reel Big Fish!” In the United States, a lot of places may be like, “Oh — my mom likes Reel Big Fish,” or, “Y’know, I used to like Reel Big Fish when music was cool and MTV played music videos.” It’s a different culture, you know? Punk rock and rock’n’roll culture still really exists [in the UK].
R&B: Why do you think your music is still accessible to newer generations?
BK: Because we keep doing it. It’s not like we’re a band in the late ’90s [who] broke up until 2015 and now we’re trying to do a resurgence. We’ve consistently put out albums at least every five years since the band started. We put out a new album this year — so it’s 2018 and we’re still making new music and it never stops. Even if the nostalgia factor is there, it isn’t about starting from scratch.
R&B: Do you feel your approach to songwriting has changed over the years?
BK: If anything, other members besides Aaron have a little more say now. Our saxophone player wrote our new single. [Aaron] writes a majority of songs in his head and then he gets us together and says, “This is what I’ve got,” then we go from there.
R&B: You have a new album coming out in December — is there anything new we can expect?
BK: This one’s got songs that sound like classic Reel Big Fish. We released the single about a month ago and that’s pretty much all that everybody said. This record’s got more reggae songs with a lot of keyboards, there’s some love songs — it’s not as angry as a whole. [Aaron] got married last year, so he’s all flowing with love.
R&B: Do you personally have a favorite album from the band?
BK: It’s probably “Turn the Radio Off.” It’s so good. I really like it. We did the 20th anniversary tour [a few] years ago and it’s just a cool to play back-to-back. So many good songs — it holds up, you know?
R&B: Some of the band members, like Johnny Christmas and Saxl Rose, use nicknames. Have you thought of a nickname for yourself?
BK: Aaron’s been calling me “no-nickname Bill.” Billy is my nickname though — my name is William, so I’ve already got one.
R&B: What brought you to the band?
BK: I was playing in other bands — I was in a band called Big D and the Kids Table and we were on tour with Reel Big Fish. Before that I was in a band called Pilfers and we were on tour with Reel Big Fish. Me and Dan Regan, [Reel Big Fish’s] original trombone player, were kindred souls. We’d be doing a lot of the same things like drinking and smoking weed, so we became really good friends. Then he had a couple babies and just passed the torch.
R&B: What is your drink of choice?
BK: Vodka and club soda — it’s a lot more fun to be in Reel Big Fish when you’re having a couple of drinks. Drinking beer every day with a brass instrument — it’s already hard for me to not get real fat. Vodka and club soda has no sugar in it, no calories, no anything. So, y’know, it’s the healthiest drink!