An Interview with Aaron Beam of Red Fang - October 26th, 2011
Interview by Mike Bax
Murder The Mountains by Red Fang is a sludgy fest of riffs and drumbeats set to some grizzly vocals and served up on a forty minute platter of awesome. With a plum opening slot on the Mastodon / Dillinger Escape Plan theatre tour (Montreal and Toronto dates coming third week of November) I managed to secure bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam on the phone for a chat last week. We touched on air guitar, ‘pooping’ on a tour bus and the importance of Gold Band while on the road.
Mike: Are you in Austin still, Aaron? Did you play your first date with Mastodon already?
Aaron: We haven’t started that tour yet. We are still in Portland. We start that tour on Monday. We actually aren’t playing the first couple of shows. We shot some footage for our new video last night here in Portland at a local club. We had an air guitar contest.
Mike: Oh yeah. I saw that poster on your webpage yesterday.
Aaron: It went pretty well actually.
Mike: Was it an actual gig? Did you perform last night, or just go after footage of people?
Aaron: We didn’t really play. We did one or two songs. Contractually, we aren’t supposed to play any songs before or after the Mastodon show for a few weeks. And we actually got way too drunk last night to play anything anyway.
Mike: So you are going to take that footage from last night and integrate it into a music video, correct? That’s the plan?
Aaron: Exactly. It was a real air guitar contest and we gave away real cash prizes of $1000, $350 and $150 for the top three finishers. Part of what they did was play their own song in the first round and once they got to the final, everybody had to air guitar along to the guitar solo from our song ‘Hank Is Dead’. So that footage of them air guitaring along to part of our song is going to be a part of the video. They’re going to be playing that part of the song instead of us.
Mike: So when you do something like that, do you have to get everybody in the venue to sign off on something, to say their likeness can be used in your footage?
Aaron: Yeah, there is something at the door that says basically that by entering the premises that you agree to be in a music video. And we were very explicit last night about all of the contests and all of the announcements about the event that it was for a music video. There were five or six cameras there, and an announcer the whole evening was letting people know they were being filmed.
Mike: Congratulations on the tour with Mastodon and Dillinger, which you are not a part of just yet.
Aaron: Thank you. We’re pretty excited about it. That’s pretty much a dream deal for us.
Mike: How did that tour come together for you? Was it tendered to you, or did you actively pursue it?
Aaron: We don’t really know those guys, so there’s not so much we can do there on a personal level. The Dillinger Escape Plan was already planning on doing a headlining tour basically at the same time, and our manager is friends with one of the guys in that band. They’d offered us their tour originally and then Mastodon and Dillinger combined their tours into one, and I think that our manager was already talking to Mastodon about doing that one as well. So once they got combined into one tour it was more of a situation where we thought it would just make sense to take us out. And it actually happened.
Mike: I think a live bill where you get to see two or three interesting bands is a win, especially if they sound similar. Certainly not Dillinger… nobody really sounds like Dillinger… but certainly yourselves and Mastodon. It’s a good way to see a diverse evening of music.
Aaron: Oh yeah, for sure. It’ll be nice. And people have sort of compared us to Mastodon. People feel like there are similarities there. Obviously they’re a lot more well known than we are. I kind of feel like their music feels a lot more technical, where they are certainly brutal sounding music, we just kind of bash it over the head when we play……and maybe take our clothes off while we are doing it.
Mike: Do you worry you guys might go all fan boy on bills like this one and this summer’s Mayhem Festival? You’re getting to tour with some pretty awesome bands - guys I’m sure that you’re fans of.
Aaron: Not too much. I think that we’re too old and tired to have that energy to be that kind of fan boy anymore. They are definitely bands that we are really into, but have all been playing music for long enough that we realize that the world gets smaller and smaller the older you get. Not that we’re totally over the fact that we’re playing with some big bands, but by the time you’re almost forty, you’ve met a lot of people and you realize that they’re just people, you know? Some of them are jerks, but most of them are really nice, luckily. The only time that it can get kind of a little bit strange is if somebody really has handlers and an entourage, making themselves unapproachable, then it gets a little bit harder.
Mike: I’m with you on the old and tired. I crested forty a few years ago…
You mentioned earlier that your material is in a similar genre to Mastodon’s. I do hear a bit of Mastodon in your material, along with some Melvins and Sabbath. Would you call them an influence on your sound?
Aaron: Definitely a lot of those heavier Northwest bands. The Melvins are a big influence. Bryan (Giles) is heavily influenced by a band called Cherubs, from Austin. It’s hard to say that they influence the way that we sound directly, but we’re into Soundgarden and Mudhoney and Nirvana. We all like Mastodon, but I wouldn’t say that Mastodon is in our minds as we’re writing music. I would guess that if you quizzed both of us on which bands we liked growing up that it was probably pretty similar. So I think that it would be seventies hard rock, eighties metal, and then nineties grunge and heavier sludgy doom music that influenced the way we sound.
(At this point my phone starts beeping. Bryan Giles is trying to phone me on the other line and he leaves me a message saying, “You’re probably talking to Aaron right now. Sorry about calling while you are already talking.”)
Mike: What was the most memorable thing for you on the Mayhem tour?
Aaron: There are a lot of memorable moments. Probably one of the most memorable days for me - because the schedule is so rehearsed and the days just kind of become regimented in that you do the same thing day after day; catering might be a longer walk from one day to the next, you know? The days kind of blur together. You keep quite busy and there is stuff to do from eight in the morning until eight at night. For me, and this is kind of pathetic, there was one night when I partied way too hard with Trevor from Unearth, and I’m not really a professional drinker… I’m not that good at it. We were crossing a border from Pennsylvania to Maryland or something, and I was woken up for it. I had gone to bed at four in the morning or something… way, way too drunk, and at seven o’clock I’m woken up to the sound of state troopers standing at the side of the bus saying, “Out of the bus and onto the road right now!” We get hauled out of the bus and we’re in the middle of the highway standing up against the concrete guardrail thing and I was on verge of vomiting or shitting myself… I didn't know what was going to happen. I just continued to feel worse and worse… I managed to hold it together while we were out there on the freeway and then I had to shit into a garbage bag on the bus… because you can’t actually poop on the bus. (Laughs) I tried to go back to sleep, but we got to the next venue maybe an hour after that and I got up and went over to the breakfast table; I couldn’t handle eating anything and just started puking my guts out. It was so bad I couldn’t even play the show that day. It was pretty pathetic. The moral of the story… don’t get pulled over by the cops if you are in a bus.
I blame the cops for waking me up and not letting me sleep it off.
Mike: Classic. Was it a two day hangover… or just the one day?
Aaron: Just one day, thankfully. And honestly it was my own fault. I’m not actually blaming the cops.
Mike: Do you get nervous before you start a big tour?
Aaron: For the Mayhem tour, I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but there was just more stuff to worry about. We’d never been on that kind of a thing before and we didn’t know what to expect and what would be expected of us. So we had a lot more questions about that one. But a tour like this Mastodon tour, I’m just excited. We’ve been on tours that are not quite this big, but pretty close to it. With Clutch, when we did the Metalliance tour, those were pretty big shows. This Mastodon tour will be on a larger scale, but it still just a club tour. So it’s exciting, but I wouldn’t describe it as nervous.
Mike: How did you guys all meet and start recording together?
Aaron: We all met basically from being a bunch of guys all into the same kind of music. We played in similar bands in and around Portland. We’ve all lived in Portland for quite a while before we all started playing together, and the other three guys had actually played in a band together called Party Time. That band broke up and then the remaining three people from that band got together and that’s how we formed Red Fang.
Mike: How did you guys go from Sargent House to Relapse Records? Did you have the majority of Murder The Mountains written before you signed to Relapse?
Aaron: We had a one record deal with Sargent House and we did the record all on our own and we had already done everything. It was all recorded and ready except for the mastering, and then we just started to shop it around. Relapse was a good fit for us. Obviously they’re a pretty well known label, but they also have an office in Portland now and Matt has lived in Portland for about four years now. I think his third anniversary in Portland was right around the time that we signed with them. It’s nice to be able to actually meet the people who run your label in bars and around town.
Mike: Where do you think you guys are finding your biggest audience? Is it touring, online sales, or traditional music stores?
Aaron: It seems like touring, but then when we went over to Europe and none of us had actually ever played music live over there except for John, we were pretty surprised by the number of people who knew who we were. They hadn’t come out JUST to see us of course, but they clearly were there to support our band and knew our material. So online word of mouth has a pretty big effect on getting an audience. And our videos are also getting the word out for us, I think.
Mike: When you’re touring, what's the first thing you put into your luggage for traveling, and why?
Aaron: Ummm, that’s funny, I just started packing my bag already and I’m just trying to think what the first thing was I put in there. I think it was my passport honestly. And I think it was because I don’t ever think of my passport and I know we are going through Canada on this tour. Aside from that, if it was a domestic tour, it would either be Gold Bond (the foot relief medicine) or Pepto Bismol. I think you know why.
You get pretty sweaty on tour, man.
Mike: On looking online… it seems that Murder The Mountains is only available on vinyl overseas. Are there plans to press it to vinyl over here?
Aaron: It’s available on vinyl over here.
Mike: I couldn’t find it for sale here. I would be interested in acquiring that particular item.
Aaron: Oh really? Relapse does shorter pressings of vinyl. They have already pressed it at least twice. They may have even gone into third pressing already. Instead of doing 1000, they will do 250 or 500. It may have just sold out again and they’re having to repress it. They tend to do shorter runs and each run will vary in some way - custom colours or what have you.
Mike: Are you a jam band? Do you guys make music jamming together, or do you bring your separate ideas into a collective room and build upon them?
Aaron: It’s more of the latter. We never have been able to create something out of nothing in the practice room. Someone has to bring an idea into the room and we work on it for a while. Usually somebody will have some parts or something that will go together and we will kind of mess around with them. People will have ideas to add to these things and someone might take it home and work on it a bit more.
Mike: My two favourite songs on Murder the Mountains are ‘Throw Up’ and ‘Into The Eye’. I like the Melvins/Sabbath guitar work and drums on ‘Into the Eye’ a lot.
Aaron: Cool. Yeah!
Mike: If you were put to task; what would you say is your favourite song on Mountains and why?
Aaron: Ummm. That’s a tough one. There is a difference between the ones I like playing and the ones I like to listen to. ‘Throw Up’ is pretty high up there. That one is really fun to play and we do it a little differently on stage. We have some Italian organ sounds on the record that we don’t do live, but we do some things to make up for it. We’re going to try and play that one on this tour, and we haven’t been playing it lately. I don’t think I can just pick one song, man. ‘Wires’ for sure, and I really like listening to ‘Hank Is Dead’. We’re working now on how to play ‘Hank Is Dead’ live this tour as well. We think we’ll be able to do it. Those are my three favourites on the record.
Mike: Have you ever collaborated with any musicians outside of the four of you?
Aaron: In terms of Red Fang?
Mike: Yes. I know you have all been in other bands, but I’m wondering if you have opened up the Red Fang doors for collaboration?
Aaron: We haven’t. On Murder the Mountains there were overdubs done on the album while we weren’t even there by Jenny, the organist from Decemberists. It was all basically overseen by Chris Funk the producer, so he did some stuff and Kevin Robinson and his wife Anita added some parts to the record. This was all stuff that Chris did while we were on tour and then we came back and said which (basically all) of the things we liked. So it wasn’t us creating things together… we haven’t really done that. It’s an interesting idea though.
Mike: Lastly, do you ever play any cover versions?
Aaron: Not on this tour, but we have done. We only have a thirty minute set on this upcoming tour. We want to just do all of our songs. But we’ve done tours where we’ve played a song called ‘Suicide’ by a band called Dust. It’s a seventies hard rock band. One of the Ramones (Marky) was in that band. We also did a tour where we were doing a cover of a Wipers song called ‘Over the Edge’ and we actually did that tour with Valient Thorr and Herbie who actually came out with us and was singing on that song with us when we did it. There were actually a few times when we were covering ‘Suicide’ that Wino (Scott Weinrich from Saint Vitus) actually came out and did it with us when we were doing that Metalliance tour. Which was pretty amazing.
Mike: Thanks, Aaron. I will totally see you in Toronto when you come through on that Mastodon / Dillinger tour.
Aaron: Awesome. Looking forward to it.
Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang play the Kool Haus in Toronto on Friday, November 25th, 2011. Don’t miss it!