Reel Big Fish is an American ska punk band that, along with groups such as No Doubt and Sublime, are one of the big successes of the Orange County ska scene in The '90s. The group began as a standard Hard Rock trio featuring Aaron Barrett on guitar and vocals, Matt "Mattwong" Wong on bass and Andrew Gonzales on drums, before going through a fluctuating roster of additional guitarists, singers and - after the fledgling band switched from straightforward rock to Ska Punk - horn sections. By the time they got around to recording their first album, Reel Big Fish consisted of Barrett, Wong and Gonzales with Grant Barry and Dan Regan on trombones and Tavis Werts and Scott Klopfenstein on trumpets.
This line-up had a hit single on the Modern Rock Chart with "Sell Out" and recorded two well-received albums; Turn the Radio Off and Why Do They Rock So Hard?. However, after the recording of the second album Tavis Werts and Grant Barry were both sacked and Andrew Gonzales decided to leave. For a second time, the band went through several line-up changes, went independent and continued to record and perform live, at which point Matt Wong left to spend more time with his family. In 2011, Scott left much like Matt Wong did to spend time with his family, and Dan did the same in 2013.
The membership seemed to settle in the mid-2010s after drummer Ryland "Rabbit" Steen departed after nine years with the band, with Aaron as the remaining founding member along with John "Little Johnny Christmas" Christianson on trumpet, Ed "Smokey Beach" Larsen on drums, Derek Gibbs on bass guitar, and Matt Appleton (formerly of Goldfinger) on sax. While not as mainstream as they were twenty years ago, they remain very popular and consistently awesome.
Notable songs include:
- Everything Sucks (1995)
- Turn the Radio Off (1996)
- Why Do They Rock So Hard? (1998)
- Cheer Up! (2002)
- We're Not Happy 'til You're Not Happy (2005)
- Our Live Album is Better than Your Live Album (2006)
- Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free (2007)
- Fame, Fortune and Fornication (2009)
- Candy Coated Fury (2012)
- Life Sucks... Let's Dance! (2018)
Reel Big Fish provides examples of:
- A Cappella: Cheer Up! has an a cappella cover of Liza Minelli's "New York, New York".
- Album Title Drop: Aaron has stated that he wanted each album to have a song with the same title as the album that preceded it, hence "Everything Sucks" on Turn The Radio Off. It didn't quite work out, although a song called "Turn the Radio Off" shows up three albums later on We're Not Happy 'til You're Not Happy.
- Anime Theme Song: They did "Rave-o-lution", the opening theme music for the English dub of Rave Master.
- Anti-Love Song: "Where Have You Been" is a poignantly brutal one, while "All I Want Is More" is more upbeat. A lot of the other songs will often bring up similar themes in passing.
- "I Dare You To Break My Heart" is another one and, like "All I Want Is More", is surprisingly upbeat as it's more about being content single than risk heartbreak again.
- "Suckers" is another upbeat one that mostly seems mildly amused that there are still "Suckers who still believe in love, this one's for you!"
- Audience Participation Song: On the DVD included with the live album, John attempts to get the crowd to sing "Cheer Up" with him, Call-and-Response Song style. It doesn't go as well as hoped.
- The Bus Came Back: Scott has occasionally performed with them as a guest after formally leaving the line-up.
- Celebrity Is Overrated: The song "Don't Start A Band" vitriolically points out the reasons it sucks. The music video plays it straight and averts it - the scene may shift from the band sitting in a hot tub with champagne and models to their van breaking down and having to hitchhike.
- Christmas Songs: They have a Christmas-themed EP called Happy Skalidays. Naturally contains one Ode to Intoxication in "Carol of the Beers".
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Hey kids! It's time to use the F-word!"
"This song has the F-word in it. A lot."
- Also "Nothin".
- Cool Shades: Aaron wears checkered sunglasses in the music videos for "Sell Out" and "Everything Sucks."
- Cover Version: They're well known for doing ska-influenced versions of pop songs. "Take On Me" is the best known; similarly weird song choices include "Hungry Like the Wolf", "Another Day In Paradise", "The Promise" (originally by When In Rome), and an a capella version of "New York, New York".
- Their 2009 CD, Fame, Fortune and Fornication is all covers.
- Dissimile: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the meanest song I ever wrote." "You mean mean like Michael Jackson's mean?" "When I wrote this song, I was in a bad mood, and it wouldn't stop." "You mean 'bad' like Michael Jackson's bad?" "No, I mean pissed off!" "Like Michael Jackson is pissed off?"
- Evil Is Petty: In the "Don't Start A Band" video, when their contract is cancelled, the execs back out of the room, but quickly come back in to take back Ryland's can of cola.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Rock and Roll is Bitchin!" is a hard rock number about how completely bitchin' Rock and Roll is, in fact those are pretty much the only words used in the song.
- Full-Name Basis: Aaron Barrett always referred to former bassist Matt Wong by his full name in concerts.
- Genre Shift: Live performances of "Suburban Rhythm" feature the band performing the song in multiple genres, including: punk rock, blues, country, disco, death metal, and emo.
- Aaron: "And now for this next song, which is, in fact, the same song..."
- Not to mention "Party Down," with its multi-genre breakdowns (ska, disco-ish, country, reggae, hip hop, and death metal) while the majority of the song is straight up rock n' roll but with a horn section.
- Their earlier music, especially the Turn The Radio Off album, has much more of a reggae feel to it than anything after it, but the more popular songs from the album (namely "Beer", "Sell Out", "She Has A Girlfriend Now" and "Everything Sucks") are of the ska punk style the band has since become known for. Since then, they have experimented with other genres here and there on their albums, such as a capella ("New York, New York") or straight rock ("Where Have You Been").
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: "She Has a Girlfriend Now".Aaron Barrett:"This is a song about a girl who left me for another girl. And it can happen to you, too, if you follow your hopes and dreams!"Scott Klopfenstein: "Don't quit believing!"
- Hypocritical Humor: In "Another F.U. Song":Fuck laughingFuck cryingFuck cursingBut mostly, Fuck You
- Instrumentals: The earlier albums each contain one, such as "241" or "Sayonara Senorita". Life Sucks...Let's Dance! brought it back with "Walter's Highlife", named for Aaron's dog.
- Last Note Nightmare: The hidden track "You're Gonna Die" at the end of We're Not Happy Til' You're Not Happy.
- Leave Me Alone!: Hiding in my Headphones is effectively an anthem to this mindset, sung from the perspective of an introvert who Hates Small Talk and would rather drown out the world with music.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Crops up in a lot of their songs, although it's often Played for Laughs.
- Manipulative Bastard: The narrator of "What Are Friends For" seems to be one.But don't think that I'll feel guilty or that I'll apologize
'Cause I got my way, and that means I was right
I'm not your friend, you don't know me, and I don't
I don't care about you
- Midword Rhyme: "Somebody Hates Me"Did you mis-
-understand something that I did, or
was it one
of my jokes that you didn't get
- Motor Mouth: "Nothin"
- Ode to Intoxication: Both "Everybody's Drunk" and "Drinkin".
- And, of course, "Beer", in which the singer drowns his sorrows over a failed romance.
- Oh, Crap!: "Hate You", from Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free, begins with Aaron saying in apprehension "Oh, shitfuck!"
- Precision F-Strike: John Christianson's catchphrase for rousing the audience is "Make some fucking noise!" although he doesn't often swear outside of that phrase.
- Pun-Based Title: Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free is a pun on the refrain from "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits.
- "The Reason You Suck" Song: When a song isn't an Anti-Love Song there's a good chance it's this. Sometimes both rolled into one.
- Quarreling Song: "I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore"
- Revolving Door Band: The band has cycled through over a dozen members at this point, with only two albums (Why Do They Rock So Hard, Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album) having the same line-up as their predecessor.
- Rock-Star Song: "Sell Out" and "Don't Start a Band." The titles should let you know where they stand on the Sliding Scale.
- Running Gag: Dan Regan changes his hairstyle every so often so he always looks like the newest guy in the band.
- Self-Deprecation: In spades.
- Self-Plagiarism: Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free featured updated versions of the band's earlier songs from the Everything Sucks demo album. Additionally, Ska Show from Life Sucks...Let's Dance! was originally recorded by Aaron and John's side project band, The Forces of Evil.
- Shout-Out: "Everybody's Drunk" features a brief change to the tune of "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Dee Snider.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Playfully cynical.
- Special Guest: Monique Powell of Save Ferris sings the female lead vocal on "She Has A Girlfriend Now".
- While touring, they'll use different female vocalists (For example, during the 2010 Warped Tour they got the lead from Tip The Van to do it).
- Stage Names: Ryland "The Rabbit" Steen and John "Little Johnny Christmas" Christianson.
- Step Up to the Microphone: In concert, Aaron will urge a different member of the band each time to sing the final line of "Where Have You Been". Additionally, Cheer Up features "Drunk Again", a slow ballad sung by Scott. Some editions of the disc even have a lead-in where, again, Aaron tells him to get up and sing.
- Story Arc: Turn the Radio Off, Why Do They Rock So Hard and We're Not Happy 'Till You're Not Happy are about a band getting into the music business, being famous and being older and jaded respectively.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: Candy Coated Fury, an album loaded with hatred and bile-filled songs, ends with a cover of "The Promise" by When In Rome, wherein the character of the song pledges to be the best person he can for the love of his life. It's also performed in a straight-up Ska/Reggae style rather than their usual Ska Punk.
- Take That!: "Your Guts (I Hate 'Em)" is the most obvious one. "We Care" and "You Don't Know" from Why Do They Rock So Hard? are all about how annoying the band thought their fanbase was.
- On the receiving end from their former label, who still own the songs the band produced while working for them. After the split, the label released a greatest hits album which the band received no money for, and to show how much the label thought of them as a One-Hit Wonder, named the album Greatest Hit...And More! Neither the band nor their fans were impressed.
- Unplugged Version: A Best of Us for the Rest of Us is their official 2-disc greatest hits album; the second disc is ALL acoustic re-recordings.