RED FANG Talk Over-The-Top Videos, Early KISS Fandom, Tragic BISON B.C. Story And The Stoner Rock Label
June 5, 2021, a month ago
Portland’s masters of stoned out sludgy riffs and piss-your-pants-funny music videos Red Fang are back with their long-awaited fifth studio album, Arrows.
Recorded with longtime producer Chris Funk, Arrows serves as a callback to self-titled era Red Fang, with a darker, grimy edge best served with a slice of contempt for the COVID-19 era. Yet one look at the bands’ gonzo music videos from long-time friend and collaborator Whitey McConnaughy – complete with samurai swords slashing through bongs and records – will introduce you to a lighter side of Oregon’s preeminent four piece.
Guitarist David Sullivan sat-down with Brave Words for a crash course on Arrows, his thoughts on the stoner rock label, early love of KISS, bombastic music videos and much more!
BraveWords: My major takeaway every time I think of Red Fang is it seems like you guys just have a blast. From the videos, to the live performance, does it feel like you guys are still enjoying yourselves some 15 years into Red Fang?
David Sullivan: “Yeah, I still have a good time every time we play. I still get nervous before we play and I’m not tired of any of the songs. I still love playing songs from our very first record. I still love it. I was thinking about this the other day. I think it’s 16 years, or this is the 16th year of Red Fang. So we’ve been doing it for a long time and this past year was kind of tough because of the pandemic shit and we weren’t able to get together hardly at all.
“We basically took a whole year without even practicing. So that sucked. And then when we finally got back together, our practice space was big enough where we can kind of have some space between us and we all wore masks. But the first time we got back together it was like, yes, this feels great. It’s like I didn’t even realize how much I missed it, you know? But yeah, I love it. We are having a good time.”
BraveWords: So when did the process start for recording and mixing and mastering everything? Was any of Arrows worked on during the pandemic?
David Sullivan: “It was all before the pandemic. We had basically the whole album done. We had all the stuff written and then recorded it and then we were like yeah what happens now? I was like should we just put it out anyway? I’m sure this is the same for most bands. You know, you can’t really make money selling records anymore because streaming and everything. I mean, you make a little bit, but where we make our money is touring. To tour, you want something like an album release so people are talking about you and your tour can do better. So this was all October 2019 that we recorded everything and it was finished back then.
“Even the video for ‘Arrows’, that was shot in March and April of 2020. So that was kind of like at the beginning of it. We knew about it but we weren’t really sure. And I remember there was a guy at the video shoot. We did some high speed camera stuff and so the director Whitey McConaughey, he had this guy who knew how to operate this high speed camera, and the guy was hung over and everybody was like, oh, he’s sick! He’s got COVID or whatever because nobody really knew what to look for, what the symptoms were, anything. But he was fine. He was just hung over. So we recorded this back in October 2019 and then had just been like sitting on it all through 2020. I kind of wanted it to come out, but I’m glad now that it’s out and then we’re able to start touring again, get the ball rolling. But yeah nothing really happened during the pandemic.”
BraveWords: Re-teaming with Chris Funk on the production side of things I know you guys have a great relationship with him. For me listening to this record, it does have kind of that really sludgy, really fuzzy old school type feel maybe like early like self-titled Red Fang. How much of that did he bring to the table? And how was that process of getting back with Chris and how it’s like working with him as opposed to someone like Ross Robinson?
David Sullivan: “I mean, I love both styles, but yeah, Ross Robinson definitely has kind of a process that he wants you to be a part of and that’s what he does. And Chris is more like, OK, I’m here to facilitate whatever you guys want to do, and then he’s kind of maybe a tie breaker or whatever. As far as the sound on this one, it just kind of happened. We decided that instead of leaving town we had talked about going and recording in a studio away from Portland, like we did with Ross down in California again. But it’s expensive and it just felt better to do it right here in town with someone that we had already worked with. Chris did Murder the Mountains also.
“The sound is more grungy and maybe a little darker than some of our stuff. I actually really like that. I like that sound. When we were mixing it, it was like it was too dark? And to me it sounds great because I like that sort of sludgy, grungy sound. So I like how it turned out. But as far as did I have that in mind when we went to record? Not really. I had an idea for the songs and what they should be, but I don’t think I was thinking that far ahead. Like, how should it be mixed or what’s the final product going to sound like? But I guess somewhere in there that’s just something that I like so it’s going to come through. But yeah, it wasn’t like let’s go for the first album sound. It wasn’t that deliberate, I don’t think. Chris recorded, engineered with an assistant and mixed this one. But yeah I don’t know if we really had it planned out. It was just kind of what we got and then at the end of it I’d listen to, it was like I like it. It sounds good. So I hope people like it.”
BraveWords: Take me through the process of picking things like an album title or lead single. All of the different albums and you land on things like “Blood Like Cream”, “Prehistoric Dog”, “Wires”, what have you. “Arrows” to me is super sludgy and grimy, but is also anthemic and has little bit of a crossover appeal.
David Sullivan: “Yeah for me that was the obvious lead song for the record because, like you said, it’s grungy and sludgy, but it’s catchy. It’s got that kind of poppy accessible thing, which is something that I really like. I mean, Nirvana had that. You could hum the songs. They were super catchy, but it sounded awesome. And a lot of stuff that I really like has that. Not that we always do that, but this song just kind of had that.
“Aaron, our bass player, was responsible for most of the writing on Arrows. We had a bunch of ideas for the title of the album, some older ideas that kind of came up and then I was just thinking about it because for Only Ghosts, I wanted that one to be called four as kind of a tribute to Led Zeppelin’s four. You know they did the one, two, three, four. So I wanted that one to be four. And then this one was like five or the Roman numeral V and then I just was looking at the list of the songs and I was like Arrows? That’s a simple, just good title. We did have some other ideas, but it just did seem like the obvious one. This is the title track.”
BraveWords: I’m curious for you personally as well as the band in general, coming up in Portland and in Oregon itself, it’s always been such a unique and interesting place in terms of music. Being situated between Seattle and then California not far. I think of bands like Agalloch, Toxic Holocaust, Bewitcher and then Oregon, of course, Yob. Coming up was there much of a heavier scene in Portland?
David Sullivan: “I mean yeah, there was some heavy stuff here. When we were first starting out, oh man. I’m going to blank on all the bands. There was Black Elk and Yob was happening back then. I love Yob. Yob is my desktop background. Those guys are just amazing. But yeah there’s always a lot of punk and heavier metal stuff in Portland and actually all kinds of other stuff too. And I like all kinds of stuff.
“Portland’s got all kinds of music happening here. There’s lots of venues and it’s just a good place for music. You can kind of do whatever you want. And at the time I was living in a house that had a large basement. It was like me and five other roommates, five dudes. And so we had that to practice in, which was awesome, especially awesome for me since I lived there. I just had to wake up, go downstairs and practice. I didn’t have to drive across town, which I do now. But yeah, Portland, I don’t know why it is, but it’s just always been a good place for music and all kinds of music.”
BraveWords: Going through Red Fang’s videos and I remember seeing you wearing a Bison shirt. Those guys are so unbelievably underrated. Any kind of hidden gems for you or bands folks need to know that they’re maybe not as familiar with?
David Sullivan: “Yes, I agree. I forgot I wore that shirt in that video. I’ve actually had that shirt for, I don’t know, a long, long time. Actually, now I’m wondering where it is. I need to find that! But yeah, I love those guys. Not too long ago, I don’t know, maybe 2018-19, we played with them (Bison B.C.). They hadn’t played in a while and they had kids and stuff, but we were in Vancouver and played with them at a show. The guitar player dude, he likes to do this thing at the end of the show where it’s kind of a big encore and he’ll give his guitar to the audience and let them just make noise on it. And it came back to him with the neck broken. And I was like ahhhhh and he was really devastated because it was like his baby, the guitar he loved. But yeah, I remember that and feeling like oh man, that’s got to suck ... But Bison B.C. is an amazing band. People know Yob, and they’re amazing and super nice dudes.
“Let’s see. Underrated bands people need to know more. That’s tough. It’s hard to keep up even with local bands in town. To be honest I’m totally out of the loop with what’s going on currently in Portland. Just because it’s crazy and it’s hard to keep up with. Maybe these aren’t unknown bands, but C Average, a band from Olympia, Washington. You should check them out. They are great, I like all their stuff, but that first record, which I think is just called C Average, is really great. Another band that people might not know, I think they’re from the UK, is called Wolf People. There’s like a billion bands with like an animal and a color or animal and something. But, Wolf People, they really remind me of like Cream, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, you know, old school stuff. Some of their stuff is amazing. I’m looking at a playlist here right now because I can’t remember stuff. This is one that people know, but I also really love Torche. I think they’re great, like heavy, but they’re catchy and super nice dudes. Would love to tour with them again. Goatsnake also. People know them but Goatsnake is great.”
BraveWords: Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I really think that what put you guys on the map were those early music videos. We think of hard rock and metal and it feels like a lot of bands really distanced themselves from that or the idea of getting really creative with videos that might have been done in the MTV and MuchMusic days. How important was that? The whole ideology of we’re going to embrace this, we’re going to enjoy ourselves and this is going to be something different for people.
David Sullivan: “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. The videos really did help us out, especially the first one ‘Prehistoric Dog’ ... The videos really helped us out. I mean, I hope that people like us also because of the music. But I understand that just to get a lot of eyes on you and get people talking about it, the video is super helpful. Basically our buddy Whitey McConaughey, he’s been doing videos and films and stuff for years. He started out doing snowboard videos and skate videos and stuff. And he was like, I want to do a video for you guys. We were like, yeah, let’s do it! And then he’s just got the right eye for everything. But yeah, the videos really gave us a boost for sure.
“We wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities we got without those videos getting shared and spread around and people talking about it. And so now we kind of feel like we have to one up the video. It’s got to be like what are we going to do after we smashed a bunch of milk with a car? What are we going to do after this? So it’s kind of like how are we going to top the previous video? And to be honest, the videos, it’s a little bit of our input and we’ve worked with a few other directors besides Whitey, but most of that is his genius, the video side of it. I mean, we write the songs, of course, and we’ll have some input. He’s presented some ideas and we’re like, yeah, and some that are like yeahhhh!!”
BraveWords: How much fun is that? The idea of sitting back and thinking what’s the goofiest shit we can do with a Katana? I love the line from the beginning of “Arrows”, “Do you think KISS would spend their entire budget on a sword?” That’s just hysterical to me.
David Sullivan: “You know, we had a debate about the band. When I was a kid, I’ll tell you a little KISS story. It sort of related to the video. So when I was a kid I went to live with my step mom and dad. My dad, we were at Kmart or something, and he was like, you can buy a record, pick any record you want. And so I picked KISS Alive. I didn’t really know anything about it. I think I was like nine or ten years old. Anyway, I got the record, took it home and listened to it. I was like, this is amazing! And then my step mom, she was really strict and religious. She was like, you can’t have that! He’s got to take it back! You’re not allowed to have the KISS record! So then of course I really got into KISS. You’re not going to take this away from me! I really want to have KISS! So I loved KISS when I was younger.
“So back to the video about KISS, we debated like if we’re going to kind of insult another band’s videos, like, I don’t really want to insult KISS, you know? Those guys seem like they might sue you. They might! So we were like what bands should it be? And then we finally decided, OK, it’s KISS, but we’re going to say because their videos are idiots, not because they’re idiots. Anyway, we worried about insulting them and also that just makes it funnier to just kind of phrase it in a weird way. And then also later in the video KISS had Casablanca as their label. There’s a shot later in the video where we actually slice a record with a sword. It’s a Kiss record, Casablanca record. It’s kind of hard to catch it. But I do love KISS even though we kind of talk shit about it in the video.”
BraveWords: Is there a favorite Red Fang video at this point? I think about the beer zombies, the LARPing, the running over milk trucks, fighting with each other. So many wild ideas.
David Sullivan: “Well, the ‘Wire’”s video where we smash shit with the car. It was like, you know, getting to play Grand Theft Auto in real life. And we didn’t really know. We’re not stunt people or professional drivers or anything, so we didn’t really know how it’s going to go. But yeah, there’s kind of nothing that’s really topped that then intentionally smashing into shit with a car. We had our buddy build kind of a battering ram thing on the front. We hit a wall of milk. I don’t remember how many gallons, like forty or fifty gallons of milk. I didn’t know what the impact was going to be. And it felt amazing, to be honest, to smash into stuff with a car on purpose. I mean, kids don’t go and do that. So that’s probably the most fun.
“Chopping stuff up with the sword was really fun too, although actually really hard. I’ve never really played with a sword like that. Also just trying to slice through something when you’re trying to get a shot of something and trying to slice through it nice and even at a certain spot, it actually does take some practice, which we don’t really have. But that was also real fun. But it’s kind of hard to beat smashing things up with a car. That was probably the most fun.”
BraveWords: I can’t leave this interview without bringing up weed and Red Fang. You guys often get tagged with the stoner rock label. To you is it just odd time signatures and down-tempo guitars? Is it a mix with the idea of being cool with cannabis? We know you guys are down with the herb. What’s your feeling on the whole label?
David Sullivan: “Yeah. I mean I guess there is a cannabis connection there because it’s stoner rock. But to me the stoner rock genre is kind of meaningless. I mean, it helps when you’re trying to talk about whether you like this kind of music or whatever, but it’s just a label on something. Because to me, stoner rock is just kind of an extension of doom, which is just kind of an extension of Black Sabbath. To me it all kind of comes from Black Sabbath. I mean, they were the original stoner rock to me. It’s not exactly the same. And then there’s bands that do really specific stoner rock where the songs are all about weed; Sleep, Weedeater. But I just kind of think it’s basically just doom. I don’t know. I love it. To me Goatsnake, I would call that stoner rock and I love what they do, but really it all just kind of comes back to Black Sabbath. It’s just heavy blues turned into metal, however that happens.
“But yeah, I don’t have a problem with that label. We get called that. It’s not like we’re setting out to write stoner rock. There’s definitely some overlap sometimes in what we do, but we kind of do a lot of different things. I don’t have a problem with the label, and yeah, I like weed, although I have kind of taken a break from it recently, but I’m glad that it’s legal here and becoming legal in more places.”
(Top photo - James Rexroad)