Interview with Bryan Giles of Red Fang
A little over four years ago – Sunday, July 19th, 2009 to be exact – a friend and I gathered the courage to battle crappy Seattle parking and a late “school night” to catch a show at The Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill. We knew only one thing about Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang: Our friend Bryan Giles was in the band and we hadn’t seen him since High School. We didn’t go to see the band; we went to see and support our friend. There must’ve been 40-50 people there [a good crowd for a Sunday night] and we were treated to a great show of their trademark sludgy stoner rock. Needless to say, this would be the first of many Red Fang shows for us.
Having been in and out of bands throughout my life, I know how difficult being in a band can be…it can drain you mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and more. Knowing the toll it takes to be in a band, the least I could do is buy some merch to support my friend Bryan and his merry bandmates. So after the final chord rang out, my friend and I headed to the merch table to get some shirts, vinyl and posters while the band shut down their amps and loaded the gear into the van. Then Bryan, Joel and I headed to the bar where we threw back a shot of Jameson and caught up on the previous 20-something years.
Before Bryan joined up with the other Fang’ers – bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam, guitarist David Sullivan and drummer John Sherman – I asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview with One Louder Magazine. Again, anything to help my bro out….right?! He obliged [here’s the original interview from October 2010], but I suppose he was doing me a favor rather than the other way around!
After non-stop touring, the band started playing high profile tours such as 2011’s Metalliance tour and Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. By the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, Red Fang toured throughout the United States and Europe opening for Mastodon and The Dillinger Escape Plan. A few months later, the band headed back to Europe and Russia, but this time as the headliner. Since then, Red Fang has been to Europe at least half a dozen times, playing a bevy of festivals such as Graspop Festival, Download Festival, Sonisphere, Hellfest, Metalfest, Full Force Festival and more. Earlier this year the band was invited to play Australia’s prestigious Soundwave Festival alongside the biggest rock acts. But perhaps the crème de la crème of shows for the band was being handpicked by Metallica to perform at their annual Orion Music + More Festival!
Ok, so the band tours a lot. As in a lot a lot! They’re never home! But fans were getting itchy for some new material and the band finally delivered the goods in the form of Whales and Leeches. It is packed with songs that are uncompromising and punishing with a heavy attack…yet satisfyingly memorable and ultimately very enjoyable! I met up with Bryan again on November 9th, 2013, before their gig at a packed Showbox Market gig in Seattle, WA. We discussed, among other things, Whales and Leeches, life on the road, and much, much more.
Thanks to my bro, Bryan Giles, for taking time out of his overwhelmingly busy life to answer some questions and to (the also very busy) Mike Savoia for taking some amazing pictures and video of the Red Fang show. Thank you, guys!!
One Louder Magazine: Red Fang’s latest album, Whale and Leeches, was just released, so let’s talk about it. Whales and Leeches. What does it mean? What’s the story behind the name?
Bryan Giles: Whales and Leeches is the title of a song from our first LP. It doesn’t have any real meaning other than we like the imagery of big and creepy and think that is reflective of the music. Yeah, big and creepy; just like our songs…and my beer gut [laughs]!
OLM: Who did the cover art and what were you going for?
BG: Orion Landau did the cover art. He works for Relapse and he did the album art for Murder the Mountains, which we were very happy with, so we just gave him the album and let him have free reign with it. The only thing we were hoping for was something that was reflective of the Pacific Northwest where we live…and I think it turned out pretty good. There’s animals and trees and stuff…but I think the art is awesome. It’s gross and pretty rad!
OLM: It’s also quite intricate. Are there any “Easter Eggs”, anything hidden in the cover art?
BG: Nothing he’s told me about, but probably. There’s probably at least one penis in there, I’d guess [laughs]! [Note: I reached out to Orion Landau who stated that “There are personal jokes in there that only I would get!”].
OLM: For the gearheads: What was your studio setup?
BG: [Producer] Chris Funk brought in some amps. I know we used an Orange Thunderverb for bass, as well as the Sunn heads. Everything went through a Sunn head, as well as additional amps for the tracking.
OLM: This is your third album and second with Relapse. What do you like best about working with them?
BG: Having beers with them and not talking about work. They live in Portland, so I see them at bars.
OLM: What was the songwriting process like for Whales and Leeches? Did you write songs on the road? Soundcheck? Other?
BG: Not a whole lot of songwriting on the road. We were on tour, did the Soundwave Tour in Australia and that was the end of February, early March…then we got home and had three months. We had a studio booked and basically crammed in as much songwriting as possible and argued a lot and pulled our hair out…and I’m happy with the results! I think it was good. It was stressful, but I think it made the songs a little more energetic, a little less fancy and more to the point.
OLM: Let’s go over the songs that make up Whales and Leeches, shall we…
BG: DOEN – [pronounced “dough in”] – It means “Dead of Endless Night” and it was inspired by the movie 30 Days of Night, a movie about vampires who descend on a small town in Alaska where the sun doesn’t come up for 30 days and everyone dies. So the lyrics are pretty directly related to that. It’s heavy metal: blood, guts, darkness; all those kinds of things.
Blood Like Cream – It’s Aaron juggling being a parent and living life on the road. And blood like cream is a reference to bloody lactation.
No Hope – Another cheerful song about kittens and optimism.
Crows in Swine – We like to joke that it’s like a turducken, but with only two animals that you slice up like a loaf. That title doesn’t really mean anything. We name our songs after animals all the time. That song is about alcoholism.
Voices of the Dead – Apocalypse. Another positive number [laughs]!
Behind the Light – I didn’t write those lyrics, but I think it’s about touring.
Dawn Rising w/Mike Scheidt of Yob – We wrote that song and when it came time to start writing lyrics and vocal melodies, Aaron and I couldn’t come up with anything. That song was very inspired by Yob. We’ve become friends with Mike by playing shows with them, so he was willing to do it. He came up, wrote all the lyrics and vocal melody in about 45 minutes and I love that song! It’s probably my favorite one on the record.
Failure – Failure is about a serial killer.
1516 – I think that’s about scuba diving and damnation.
This Animal – The lyrics to This Animal were inspired by the original Alien movie with Sigourney Weaver.
Every Little Twist – I don’t know what that one’s about. It’s sort of mysterious. I’m not sure [laughs]!
Murder the Mountains – That one is about being angry.
Black Water – That’s a nautical-themed song about war at sea and black water is a reference to solid waste in RVs.
OLM: Other than a couple of tunes, the pace of the songs on this album seem faster than on the previous two releases. Was that a conscious effort?
BG: No. I think because we had such a short period of time to write the album, maybe we were “hopped up”. But no…we just write songs about how we’re feeling at the time, so I guess that’s how we were feeling at the time. There are slow songs – Dawn Rising is maybe one of the slower songs we’ve ever written and Failure’s slow – but our philosophy is “hit it ‘n quit it”! Trim the fat.
OLM: Whales and Leeches was just released, but have you guys discussed album number four yet?
BG: We have discussed doing it, yes. We plan on making one.
OLM: Would you consider releasing a live album? An all-covers album? An all-acoustic album? An album with a symphony?
OLM: If you were to do an all-covers album, what songs would you like to do and why?
BG: Well, we already did an all-covers EP [The Wipers’ ‘Over the Edge’, No Talent’s ‘Through’, Cherubs’ ‘Carjack Fairy’, ‘Pawn Everything’]. I like doing songs that are a little more obscure. I don’t like doing songs that everyone knows because it seems a little too easy. And it’s more fun to play songs that maybe people didn’t hear enough when it was current.
OLM: Are there any unreleased songs? B-sides? Rarities?
BG: I think we’ve released almost everything that exists. I think there may be one more left…I think…maybe. Oh wait, we did a song for the Portland Timbers [American professional soccer club] which was a cover of Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’ which I’m pretty excited about! It doesn’t sound anything like the original. None of us are huge Elvis fans, so we felt like we had carte blanche to destroy it…and I think we succeeded [laughs]!
OLM: If/When there is a Tribute to Red Fang, what bands would you like to see represented and what Red Fang song would you like to hear them cover?
BG: How about Simon & Garfunkel? I’d love to see what they did with Failure.
OLM: Enough about Whales and Leeches, let’s talk about the band. Red Fang has been a band now for nearly a decade. What do you think contributes to the longevity?
BG: I think we started the band because we were all friends with each other…friends that have similar musical tastes. We are still a band because we still get along and we still enjoy it.
OLM: Have you had a chance to reflect on the growth/success of the band?
BG: Haven’t had a chance. I’m just so busy I’ve had no time to reflect [laughs]. No, it’s pretty exciting! I’m waiting for the rollercoaster to end.
OLM: How would you say your guitar playing is similar (and different) than David’s?
BG: I would say he’s more like a scalpel and I’m more like a hammer.
OLM: How would you say your vocal delivery is similar (and different) then Aaron’s?
BG: Same [laughs]. I’m more of a blunt object where Aaron has more nuanced singing.
OLM: I have seen comparisons to QOTSA, Kyuss, Clutch, Melvins, Mastodon, Baroness, The Sword, Kylesa, Torche and even Black Sabbath. That’s great company! Thoughts?
BG: Yeah, I don’t mind any of those comparisons. I mean, if you think we sound like tuna salad that’s fine with me, too, as long as you enjoy listening to tuna salad. The food, not the band [laughs].
OLM: Who would you say are your influences?
BG: I have a lot of stuff. I have tons of influences. I like all kinds of things. I really do like Simon & Garfunkel. I really like Queens of the Stone Age. The Melvins influence is obvious. We’re all huge fans of Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden. Some noisier bands like the ones we covered, like The Cherubs who I think are terrific. I don’t know; I always forget the bands that I like until after these things are over…but I listed some [laughs].
OLM: You’re working on a video for Blood Like Cream. Your videos have been hilarious in the past. What can we expect from this one?
BG: From the little I’ve seen, I think it’ll be entertaining. There are zombies. There will probably be some beer drinking, too [laughs]. Shocking!
OLM: What is the expected release date?
BG: I’m not really sure. I would like to be optimistic and say it’ll be out before we tour in December, but it’s really up to Whitey [McConnaughy, director] and his availability. I thought we were wrapped, but apparently he was talking with our tour manager about doing some additional shooting, so…I’d say definitely by the end of the year.
[Note: The video is now live!]
OLM: Let’s talk about Red Fang live. For the gearheads: What is your live setup?
BG: My rig is just a Sunn Beta Lead and Marshall cabinet, a tuning pedal and my guitar. I play two Fender Mustangs. One is a 5-string tuned to E-A-D-G-G, so it’s a glorified 4-string. The other one I set up for drop-C [C-G-C-F-A-D] and it has six strings.
OLM: You’ve been to Europe several times over, played shows in Russia, South America, Australia and crisscrossed all over the United States and Canada. Where haven’t you played that you would like to?
BG: I really want to play Japan and Indonesia. I think Indonesia would be amazing and I think it’s really important that we try to play Japan once. Well, we’ve tried, but we have yet to succeed at getting over there.
OLM: Why is that?
BG: You have to find a promoter that believes in you that’s willing to have you over there and potentially lose a lot of money. We haven’t found one that’s willing to take the risk, but I think we’d do fine. That’s what I think, but, of course, I’m being optimistic.
OLM: You’ve played shows and/or toured with a ton of great bands. Who haven’t you played/toured with that you would like to and why?
BG: I’ve always wanted to tour with Soundgarden because I love that band. I think it would be great for us because our sound is similar enough to theirs that we would play to a lot of people that have never heard of us that might like it. Slayer wouldn’t be bad. Motörhead would be great. Make that happen…triple-bill, we’ll open!
OLM: Last time we spoke, a highlight for you was opening for The Melvins at the Roseland in Portland, OR. What are some new highlights for you?
BG: We got to play Orion Music + More Festival. It was cool! We went out to New Jersey to play that…and so, just being invited was incredible. We were told that the bands were hand-picked by Metallica which I didn’t really believe until James Hetfield came and met us backstage right before our set which really scared the shit out of me. I was really star struck, but that was definitely a highlight and will probably stand for a long time.
OLM: Ah, yes, I was going to ask if you’ve been “star struck” yet. Any other name drops to share?
BG: Meeting James Hetfield was terrifying and exciting! I did shots with [Slayer guitarist] Kerry King. That was exciting! Aaron and I got to play the last song with Down at the Full Force Festival. That was pretty exciting because I didn’t know the song and Pepper’s guitar tech didn’t show me how to play it until the song was halfway over. I was like, “This would probably be a good time to show me how to play the song” and he was like, “no, no, you’re fine, just hang in there!” I swear to you, there were like 20,000 people and I was playing a song I’d never heard and had never played and didn’t know it and I was looking out at a sea of 20,000 people. As far as sheer terror, that was definitely a highlight [laughs]!
OLM: Do you have much of a chance to sightsee when on tour? Any cool places/stories to share?
BG: No. We rarely get to sightsee at all. I got to walk around Lisbon, Portugal and I thought that city was beautiful. I like Spain a lot. I don’t get to see as much as I would like to. We made sure to go see the Eiffel Tower. I mean, I know that’s the most touristy thing ever, but that is a cool building. It’s really goth and kind of scary. You see pictures and postcards and it looks all cheerful, but I don’t think that architect was very cheerful…or at least not when he was making it.
And swimming…I try to do as much of that as possible. I swam in the Mediterranean. In Southern Russia I got to swim in a body of water that was the cooling system for Chernobyl, which apparently, is still mildly radioactive…but nothing’s fallen off yet [laughs]!
OLM: What/where are some of your favorite venues in the world? Why?
BG: I like the Bastard Club in Osnabrück, Germany. I love it because the people there are rad. The lady that owns it makes excellent chili. I look forward to the chili and the people are really nice. It’s just a good time and it’s a filthy, dirty punk club that reminds me of small clubs I played when I was in my 20’s.
OLM: So you eat this awesome chili and then you’re stuck in a van with each other for the next X number of hours to the next show and…..
BG: [Laughs]…no, no, it’s healthy chili, though. It’s homemade and we don’t fart much in Europe. We fart a lot more in the states because of Taco Bell, fast food, that kind of thing… Also, because vans in Europe almost never have windows that open, so if there was a flatulence issue, we’d all be doomed [laughs]!
OLM: What’s the craziest thing you’ve had happen at one of your shows (whether you actually saw it or heard about it later)?
BG: A couple of naked people got up on stage in Geneva…a naked couple and they danced around for the whole song. I thought that was nice, youthful exuberance. We played a show at Les Combustibles in Paris that was so hot it was unbearable. Aaron took off his shirt, then dropped his pants down to his ankles, so he was just in his underwear just to stay alive because it was so brutal. There was no moving air at all, no fans, and it inspired one of the fans to get naked – this young kid – who was completely naked except for his sneakers and he crowd-surfed for about four songs…which I thought was kind of gross because everyone is super sweaty and this dude’s testicles are dragging over your head and I don’t know….it was exciting and I saw it and was like “holy crap, that’s happening” [laughs]! So I guess nudity.
OLM: What’s been your most embarrassing moment?
BG: I don’t know, I have so many. Generally not playing as well as I’d like…those are embarrassing moments. I just had three tuning pedals worked on. I was super angry that they kept breaking on me. I was complaining about the brand. Aaron took them to where we were getting our guitars set up and said “give me your pedals and I’ll have them take a look”. Apparently, one of the lead wires to the battery was broken (which I should have been able to see myself) and the other two had dead batteries in them. If you think something is broken because the batteries are dead, you’re really not thinking too much. What can you do? But now I have three working tuners! I was thinking about running them all so I’m really in tune [laughs]!
OLM: When we last spoke a couple years back you mentioned that you had pre-show butterflies…barfing to be specific. Still today or a thing of the past?
BG: Occasionally. Sometimes it gets to me, sometimes not.
OLM: What’s the most unique dish you’ve had on the road? How was it?
BG: I had kangaroo and I had it in a salad in Australia…and I thought it was alright. It wasn’t great, but it was alright. Apparently, it’s not good for tourism, so they don’t really advertise it, but kangaroo for them is like deer for us. It’s way overpopulated, so it’s “helpful” to eat kangaroo – and people should – so I encourage anyone going there to try kangaroo to reduce the kangaroo population. That and I tried Pinko Whale in Iceland. Before people start sending me angry letters, it is also like the deer of Iceland. This particular breed of whale is in really high concentration and is in no danger of being endangered. I am strongly against the eating of whale of any other type. I had that sashimi style and barbequed and I preferred it sashimi. It was really good! It was dark purple, flavorful and delicious.
OLM: The band has a pre-show ritual of shaking hands prior to the performance. Have you ever missed a pre-show handshake? If so, why?
BG: I don’t think we’ve ever missed one.
OLM: What other pre- (or post-)show rituals do you have?
BG: We take crowd photos after the show and post them on our social media for a couple years now. It’s fun because it keeps it as more of a community and interactive with the crowd. Plus, it’s just neat…”wow, that was a big crowd!” Years down the road when I’m a janitor, I can go “oh man, look at that; I played a show that big!”
OLM: All the guys have a girlfriend or wife. How does being on the road for 6+ months out of the year affect those relationships?
BG: They strain them. It’s difficult. Aaron and his wife – I’m sure that it creates tension with them, but I think it’s helpful because she toured in rock bands for years, so she knows what it’s like to have that as a dream and to pursue it. In general I think it’s hard and I think sometimes people who haven’t toured have this impression that it’s like being on vacation, which it is not. I mean, some totally fun things happen, but it’s 90% work.
OLM: Being in such close quarters, how does being on the road for 6+ months out of the year affect your relationship with each other?
BG: We get on each other’s nerves sometimes, but we also know each other well enough that we can kind of see it coming when you know that you’re driving someone crazy and you give them a break from yourself, go do something else. I think we know each other’s buttons and try our best not to push them. We do try and do our own thing as much as possible when we’re on tour. When we get out of the van we all go four different directions until soundcheck. Then we’ll do soundcheck. Give ourselves room whenever possible.
OLM: The band is very approachable and you meet fans all over the world. What would you say are good do’s and don’t’s when fans want pictures, autographs, etc.?
BG: Don’t say “just one picture” and take 10. Just realize that it takes energy. I’m really flattered that they want a picture taken with me. Here’s a “don’t”: Don’t ask to take a picture and not know how to use your camera. Take a picture of something beforehand, so you’re like “ah yes, that’s the camera function of my phone” instead of going “oh, wait, hang on. Let me open up the thing,” not know what you’re doing and take 10 pictures of the floor [laughs].
OLM: You’re doing great, Bryan, just a few more questions and I’ll cut you loose! There are a lot of folks out there with a tattoo of the Red Fang logo. If you were to get a tattoo of your favorite band, who would it be and where would it be?
BG: I have a band tattoo of a band called Opinion Zero – a punk band from Tucson, AZ – and I have it on my arm over a cigarette burn because I’m so punk rock [laughs]!
OLM: Last we spoke, you were also working as a bartender at Shanghai Tunnel in Portland. I assume your days of slinging whiskey are now over?
BG: Yeah, but I’ve been in there and the owner says that if I ever need to pick up shifts that the door is open, so we’ll see. I prefer not go back into the service industry, but it’s very possible that I will at some point.
OLM: Pabst Blue Ribbon seems to be the beer of choice for the band. What would be the next four after PBR?
BG: Pacifico, Amstel Light, Tecate and Stella Artois.
OLM: Who in the band can drink the most beer?
BG: That’s probably me. Aaron can’t drink it at all because he has a yeast problem in his rectum, so he has massive dietary restrictions, one of which is he can’t drink. They’re self-imposed, but apparently it helps.
OLM: I can print this?
BG: Yeah, he doesn’t care. John just doesn’t like beer that much any more. I’ll bet that David can give me a run for the money, but he just doesn’t drink as much as I do.
OLM: One more beer question…sort of. Pizza goes well with beer! As such, I imagine that you’ve had pizza all over the world. What/where are some of your favorite pizza joints?
BG: Sizzle Pie in Portland, OR, I love! One of the owners of Sizzle Pie is one of the main guys that started Relapse. I would support it, anyway, but it is really good. It is the best non-gourmet pizza I’ve had. Then I’ve had really good pizza in Italy. Crazy [laughs]! And, of course, New York.
OLM: What have been some of your favorite releases this year?
BG: Lord Dying – Summon the Faithless, Big Business – Battlefields Forever…that just killed me; I thought that it just sounded awesome! Federation X just came out with a record this year [We Do What We Must] which I think is stellar and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Mind Control. That stuff’s really good!
OLM: I always ask every interviewee the following…The desert island question: if you could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be? You mentioned jazz, classical and Stravinsky last time. Has that changed at all?
BG: No, I think that is still the case. I hope not to ever be stranded on a deserted island, but if I were I would probably search for more complex music so that it would keep my interest for longer.
OLM: I also ask about guilty listening pleasures. Last time you mentioned Simon and Garfunkel…
BG: That’s not really a guilty listening pleasure. I love them!
OLM: And Justin Timberlake…
BG: I don’t feel guilty about that, either!
OLM: Are there any guilty listening pleasures?
BG: Oh, I don’t know. Not really. If there’s something I like, I like it. When I was a kid I was a closet goth. All my friends were punk rock and we were listening to D.R.I and all that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t tell anyone, but through my headphones I would listen to, say, Siouxsie & the Banshees or Bauhaus…stuff like that; which I liked, but it wasn’t cool with my buddies. It didn’t go well with my mohawk. But nowadays, I don’t care…and I still listen to that stuff! Goth is cool. Variety. You’d go crazy listening to one style of music.