Interview with Bryan Giles of Red Fang

When listening to Portland’s very own Red Fang, one has a tendency to either swill a bunch of PBRs or smoke a ton of reefer…in some cases, it may be a little of both. The extracurricular activities notwithstanding, Red Fang brings forth the stoner rock sound reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age peppered with a touch of the prog-rock styling often found in Mastodon.

Red Fang’s 2009 debut album – the appropriately titled Red Fang – is filled with crunchy guitar riffs, a thunderous backbeat and some tasty dual leads sprinkled throughout. The band is led by guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles and rounded out by bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam, guitarist/vocalist David Sullivan, and drummer John Sherman. I picked Bryan’s brain to find out what makes him – and Red Fang – rock!

Bryan Giles, David Sullivan, John Sherman (top), Aaron Beam (bottom)

photo by Todd Warnock

One Louder: October 7th marks the first stop of Red Fang’s third tour, this time with Valient Thorr. What do you hope to gain on this tour? What are your goals?

Bryan Giles: As it is with any tour, we hope to expose new people to our music as well as rocking out with our existing fans. We’re really looking forward to traveling with VT since we did some east coast dates with them and they are killer dudes.

OL: What are the best and worst things about being on the road?

BG: The best thing for me on tour is playing music night after night. It’s the other 23 hours a day that you have to worry about.

OL: 23 hours is quite awhile. How do you pass the time?

BG: We play shitloads of scrabble in the van. We make crap jokes. Sometimes I will pick mile markers that we have to reach before I allow myself to smoke. I read some. Our “road chief” Chris and I are getting pretty serious about pinball, so he and I will spend much of our time between sound check and show by seeking out machines. Our club tag is WDX (Whiskey Dicks!)… look for us fellow pinball nerds!

OL: A “pinball wizard”, so to speak. Do any pinball machines (or pinball markets) stand out in particular? Do you prefer the old-school, original pinball machines, or newer, fancier ones? What tips do you have to getting higher pinball scores or is that a WDX trade secret?

BG: I try to keep an open mind about pinball machines. They are all challenging in their own way. Chris and I plan on visiting the pinball museum in Las Vegas this October. They have a TON of machines! I’m really into Scared Stiff, World Cup, and Black Rose right now. I’m sort of late to the pinball party so there are still lots of machines I haven’t tried. I’m no expert, but I think a solid basic for any game is to slow down the action by catching the ball whenever possible…and plan your shots.

photo by Chris Coyle

OL: You have now played shows with (or toured with) The Melvins, Baroness, 3 Inches of Blood, Big Business and Valient Thorr. That must be pretty exciting! Are there any shows in particular that stand out, good or bad? Why?

BG: Our first show ever was a New Years Eve party in the basement where we practice. Two days shy of our anniversary of that show, we opened for The Melvins at the Roseland in Portland. That show is still a highlight because it really impressed upon me how far we’d come in such a short time, and gave me hope that this band could have legs.

OL: Red Fang has played several hundred shows by now. Do you still get the pre-show butterflies?

BG: If by butterflies you mean barfing, then the answer is yes.

OL: The band has a pre-show handshake ritual. What’s up with that?

BG: I think that started on tour, because we spent so much time in the van together that as soon as we hit a town, we would get as far away from each other as possible. It started to feel like we weren’t a band, as in, a group of people sharing a vision. This was our way of saying to each other, “I believe in you, let’s fucking do this.”

OL: Let’s talk about your new, still unreleased, album. It’s finished, but not yet released. Why the delay?

BG: The songs took a long time to put together, and we dropped a lot of our own money into the process of recording them the way we wanted them. This put us in the mindset that we didn’t want to just throw it out there and let it be another forgotten record.

OL: Is there any expected release date available yet?

BG: It looks like we will finally be signing to a new record label as soon as this week, so a March 2011 release seems plausible. Fingers crossed. [Ed note: Red Fang signed to Relapse Records shortly after this interview took place. The expected release date is early 2011].

OL: Do you prefer working on a new album in the studio or do you prefer the live setting? Why?

BG: I think they’re completely different animals so a comparison is hard. I like the creative process of the studio, but playing live is where you really get your “ya-ya’s” out.

OL: What are your thoughts on YouTube and other mediums for people to post music, videos, etc? Is it a cheap way for extra exposure or is it pirating?

BG: It seems like album sales are the smallest part of how a band makes money these days, so I’m all for piracy. If 20 servers are offering your album, it means that someone still gives a crap about you, and will hopefully be at your next show.

photo by Chris Coyle

OL: How is the songwriting done? Do you write lyrics first and write the music to match? Is the music written first and lyrics are written to match? Or do you write both ways?

BG: We continue to try new things with songwriting. For the most part, it’s creating a riff that we can make to get along with another one, and the bridge and lyrics are the final deal. We have done some cutting and pasting on the computer to do this, as well as hours of trial and error in our practice spot. Since everyone contributes to the process, it’s always a bit different.

OL: When you’re off the road and out of the studio, what do you like to do? What are some of your hobbies?

BG: Hanging out with my lady, going to the movies, playing too much pinball and watching Jeopardy and Law and Order re-runs.

OL: Tell us a little bit about the history of Red Fang. How did you four meet?

BG: We’ve all been in a band or two sharing one or more members over the years. I think it came down to who was still staying true to music in our group of friends.

OL: How long has Red Fang been together?

BG: I could be wrong, but I believe that come December, it’ll be 5 years now.

photo by Shannon Corr

OL: Tell me a little about YOUR history. When did you start playing guitar? What was the motivation behind that? How about singing? Do you remember your first gig (when, where, and any memories)?

BG: I started playing guitar when I was 13 or so. My brother turned me on to ZZ Top and Van Halen.  I just wanted to do what they did. My singing is still a work in progress, but I started singing in church and elementary school chorus. The first time I played in front of people in a rock band was in 1988. It was at a house party. Some kids from GIT [Guitar Institute of Technology] were there and described our band as having “no potential”. That band really did suck.

OL: So you were playing ZZ Top and Van Halen songs growing up? Do those bands still do it for you or have you “graduated”?

BG: As far as “graduating” from those bands, I’d have to say that will never happen. I still love the crap out of those bands (maybe not the 80’s stuff, but everybody cheesed out in the 80’s a little.) Oh, and I can barely play anything that those guys put on record to this day. Insane guitar shit they did. It was more that they inspired me to start playing because they showed me how much you could do if you really practiced.

OL: Who are some of your other influences?

BG: Automatic washing machines, Slayer, Jesus Christ Superstar, angst.

OL: Red Fang is not yet your full-time career. What are you currently doing to make ends meet?

BG: I’m a bartender at Shanghai Tunnel in Portland.

OL: A bartender, huh? What’s your poison? How about your favorite (and least favorite) drink to make?

BG: I drink Jim Beam, mostly. I love pouring shots and hate umbrellas.

OL: There is an awesome video for the song ‘Prehistoric Dog’. How did that come about?

BG: Our friend Whitey is a local filmmaker. I was totally blown away by a video he’d done for another Portland band, ‘Panther’. So we collectively started hassling him about doing something for us. Finally, he met with us at a local bar and pitched the idea. We were sold and three months later it was in the bag.

OL: It became a viral video seemingly overnight. How did that happen?

BG: I think that it helped that it debuted on Pitchfork’s website. They are, from what I know, taste makers. I believe the continued growth of the video comes down to the comedy of the thing. It is something a lot of people can connect with. Oh yeah, the song ain’t half bad either.

OL: Ok, so did you really drink all those beers shown in the video?

BG: All the ones we kept down.

OL: Who took the time to make all that armor?

BG: Whitey made all the armor, we cut up some cans for him, but he’s the man.

OL: Has anyone in the band ever been into medieval live action role playing / Dungeons and Dragons?

BG: I played the shit out of some AD&D in 6th and 7th grade. Then I discovered weed.

OL: You discovered weed in 7th grade?

BG: Well, the summer between 7th and 8th. It wasn’t hard in Tucson; that shit was everywhere.

OL: But it has to be better in the Pacific Northwest than in Tucson, right?

BG: The quality of the marijuana up here is much higher (no pun intended), but its availability is about the same. I miss the old Mexican brick stuff; you could smoke a whole joint by yourself and relax. The pot in the northwest is so strong it makes me insane. Not a feeling I care to pay for.

OL: Moving on…what are your long-term goals for the band?

BG: We really want to tour outside of the states, since most of us have had limited experience with that. That, and just stay creative and as prolific as our lives permit.

OL: Who are you listening to now?

BG: My dog licking himself… so gross.

OL: Who is your guilty listening pleasure?

BG: Anything by Simon and Garfunkel, and I love “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake.

OL: If you weren’t a musician, you would be…?

BG: Bummed!

OL: The desert island question: if you could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be?

BG: Tough one. I think I would have to try and explore jazz and classical more because those genres are so much more complex than rock or punk. [Igor] Stravinsky maybe, since it’s really layered so you could be finding new things for years, and his shit is DARK.

OL: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Bryan…last question! How can people check out Red Fang audio/video clips, find a list of upcoming gigs, or read the latest RF news?

BG: We have a myspace page , facebook page and our own site at www.redfang.net

photo by Shannon Corr

On a personal note, Bryan and I met in our late teens at High School in Tucson. We both brought our guitars and amps to school and jammed in the Senior Lounge. He taught me Misfits and Black Flag songs and I showed him how to play Iron Maiden and The Scorpions. We lost touch after graduating, but have since re-connected (nearly 20 years later!) thanks to the onslaught of social networking sites. It is so good to see Bryan still rocking out all these years later…be sure to catch Bryan and the boys of Red Fang when they hit your town, you won’t be disappointed!

Upcoming Show dates:

October 07 – El Corazon – Seattle, WA

October 08 – Dante’s – Portland, OR

October 09 – Domino Room – Bend, OR

October 10 – The Alley – Sparks, NV

October 11 – Bottom of the Hill – San Francisco, CA

October 12 – Storyland – Fresno, CA

October 12 – Audies Olympic Tavern – Fresno, CA

October 13 – Velvet Jones – Santa Barbara, CA

October 14 – Detroit Bar – Costa Mesa, CA

October 15 – LVCS – Las Vegas, NV

October 16 – ECHO – Los Angeles, CA

October 17 – The Casbah – San Diego, CA

October 18 – Yucca Tap Room – Tempe, AZ

October 19 – Launchpad – Albuquerque, NM

October 21 – Trophy’s – Austin, TX

October 22 – House of Rock – Corpus Christi, TX

October 23 – Double Wide – Dallas, TX

October 24 – Rudyard’s Pub – Houston, TX

October 26 – 3 Kings – Denver, CO

October 27 – Burt’s Tiki Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT

October 28 – Neurolux – Boise, ID
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