After more than 15 years of conveying negative vibes, warning listeners about the dangers of being in a band and lamenting their time in the music industry (case in point: the band's radio hit, "Sell Out"), the members of Southern California ska-punk stalwarts Reel Big Fish want to let the world know of a big change: They're finally happy.
Some of that happiness stems from being released from their former label's contract. "We're very happy to be off the major label because they didn't understand us," says front man Aaron Barrett. "They didn't know what to call us, how to market us or who to market us to. They are used to pre-packaged pop and radio-ready rock and I think we were just too weird for them to comprehend. So eventually they just ended up doing nothing."
Freed from such obligations, Reel Big Fish is finally releasing its first independent studio album since leaving its former label. The self-produced Monkeys For Nothin' And The Chimps For Free finds the members of Reel Big Fish doing things their way. In fact, it features material done their way, from quite a long ways back.
"We decided we were going to do a B-sides and rarities thing, but we didn't have anything to release, so we were going to re-record some things that we were going to call B-sides and rarities," explains Barrett. "But then we realized that most of that stuff no one had ever heard, so it wasn't really B-sides and rarities, it was just new songs. But those weren't good enough, so we wrote some new songs that were actually new, and suddenly we're making a new album."
Constantly road-bound, Reel Big Fish squeezed three weeks between tour dates to write, rehearse and record 19 songs at Music Inc. Studios in Orange County. Late night tracking sessions ensued, with some band members only hearing the songs two or three times before actually recording them. However, despite the seemingly rushed production schedule, Barrett, who also served as producer, insists that the band's latest was probably one of the easiest albums he's ever created.
"I like how it all came out," he says. "Usually when we make a new album there's so much pressure. There's the pressure you put on yourself to create something new and different and hopefully better than before. There's the record company expecting you to write a 'single' and pressure to please the fans and it feels like everyone's expecting so much from Reel Big Fish. But this time, it all happened in such a roundabout way. It's like, oh, wait, we just made a new album!? Cool! We didn't feel any pressure to do anything except go into the studio and have a good time recording!"
Some of the 17 tracks on Monkeys For Nothin' And The Chimps For Free are re-recorded versions of rejected album demos dating back to 1999. Others are culled from the band's Cheer Up! album sessions that didn't necessarily fit into the scheme of the original album, plus there are even a few re-recorded tracks from the band's debut album, Everything Sucks. Still, most of the album's tracks are brand new songs that Barrett had been brewing over the past couple years.
So, what exactly is featured on the band's latest? Expect weirder and sillier and even a little something that's missing. "Actually, this album doesn't really have any talk about being in a band," Barrett says, noting that there's just a little mention in one song. "There's not a lot of complaining and bitching. It's a lot more fun and funny."
Monkeys For Nothin' And The Chimps For Free covers classic Reel Big Fish fare, including random gibberish, love songs, hate songs and even songs about girlfriends (even though the band members are all married now) and drinking. "It's everything you ever wanted, needed and never expected from Reel Big Fish," notes Barrett.
From the insane, nonsensical "Party Down" ("Every part of the song makes me laugh out loud," says Barrett, "it's ridiculous") to the reggae-rolled "Slow Down," the profane "Another F. U. Song" ("It says the F-word about thirty times in a like, a minute-a-half," Barrett adds, "so the parents will love that one") and the time-tested ska-punk cut "A New Version Of You," Monkeys For Nothin' And The Chimps For Free is the Reel Big Fish you've known and loved, with some new attitude.
"The best thing about us now is that we're not trying so hard. We're just having fun making music," says Barrett. "I think everybody is in a good place now and we're a better band. We're happy!"