Reel Big Fish Biography

An engaging, scruffy collection of musical misfits, the ethos of seven-piece Reel Big Fish is immediately apparent from their punning name and rampaging, good-time ska music. The band was formed in Huntington Beach, California, USA, in the early 90s by Aaron Barrett (30 August 1974; guitar, vocals), Matt Wong (b. 12 January 1974; bass), Andrew Gonzales (b. 1 November 1973; drums), and Ben Guzman (vocals). They performed mainly cover versions of rock-based hits, until Guzman, then the lead singer, introduced his bandmates to ska. Ironically, by 1995 Guzman had left the band to pursue a rock-based career, while the remaining members enrolled Scott Klopfenstein (b. 31 May 1977; trumpet, vocals), Tavis Werts (b. 8 July 1977; trumpet), Dan Regan (b. 9 May 1977; trombone) and Grant Barry (b. 2 February 1977; trombone), and continued playing ska. The new line-up performed in and around California where other third-wave ska bands were breaking, including No Doubt. While No Doubt abandoned the ska sound, Reel Big Fish remained faithful to the music, inspired by their heroes the Specials. Particularly impressive were the live performances at this time, which usually featured a wide variety of cover versions, ranging from A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ to ska and 2-Tone standards. The band released demos and cassettes to sell at their concerts, an enterprising move, but one that lacked major backing. Asserting the influence of the Skatalites and the 2-Tone sound, the band secured a recording contract with Mojo Records that led to the release of the excellent Turn The Radio Off in late 1996. The album helped push the band to the forefront of the emergent southern California punk ska scene, alongside labelmates Goldfinger, and they broke into the mainstream the following year when ‘Sell Out’ (a riposte to fans who been accusing them of doing just that since their earliest gigs) became a modern rock radio and MTV hit. The band’s apparent overnight success led to the release of Keep Your Receipt, an EP that featured some of their early recordings, including ‘I’m Cool’ and ‘Why Do All Girls Think They’re Fat?’. The unprecedented success of this release probably owed something to the fact that the enhanced CD was one of the first to include video footage. Why Do They Rock So Hard? was a surprisingly good follow-up, although by now the ska boom was showing signs of fading. The band has carried on regardless, despite the departures of Gonzales, Barry and Werts (the former was replaced by Carlos De La Garza) and, safe in the knowledge that they still have a loyal underground following. Their independently released 1995 debut was finally made widely available in 2000. Two years later Reel Big Fish made a welcome return to the music scene with their debut for Jive Records, Cheer Up! Since then they have found a loyal audience for their live gigs, which are often much more exciting events than listening to their studio recorded material, as clearly demonstrated by the 2007 release Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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