Reel Big Fish’s Ryland Steen: “I wanna be an undercover police officer”

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Hayley Taulbut caught up with Ryland Steen, drummer for Huntington based ska superstars Reel Big Fish, during their spring tour which concluded at SUSU’s garden court in March. Looking incredibly sprightly for someone who has been on tour for a long time, Steen was charming and entertaining, even telling Hayley that he “liked her questions” because they were “the best kind – not too challenging”. Here’s what they talked about:

1. So, it’s the last day of the UK part of the tour, how has it been?

It’s been terrific. We have an amazing fan base worldwide, but the UK is one of the few places that when we go there, our fans seem to embody this heightened fanaticism that we don’t necessarily get in other places, so it’s a lot of fun for us to come and play to the English folk.

2. You do appear to be over here a lot – do you do the same amount in the US and mainland Europe?

Well, we try to make an annual trip out of the UK tours, and in the states we will always do our one big tour there, usually in the summertime. But with mainland Europe, what we do is pretty extensive – you can play in one country for a few days, then be in another country for another few days. We usually do a week in Germany, few dates in Austria, couple in France, but we definitely thoroughly tour the UK. This is actually quite a short tour for us. We tell friends that are in other bands how much we tour the UK, and they are like “what?! we do like six shows there and we’re done!”, but it’s amazing for us that we can play such small venues and so many different markets. Like, we can play in Preston which is like 30 miles away from Manchester, play to 1000 kids there, then drive another 30 miles and play to a different 1000 kids

3. Do you prefer playing here or the US? Or do you not have a preference, are they simply different?

Yeah, of course, the scenery changes, but we can play a show here and in Moscow and they will have a similar kind of energy and vibe. That’s one thing that is universal with our fanbases, they just kinda come to dance around and go crazy. So whether your English or German or Russian or American, that’s the one common thread between all cultures is that people just want to have fun, and we are there to supply that fun for the evening.

4. So, this is a 20 year anniversary tour – can you beleive the band has been going for so long?

I’ve been in the band about six years now, but the band was formed, yeah, 20 years ago, and it’s amazing because it’s been through a lot of line-up changes. I mean, Aaron and Dan have kinda been here the longest, and Scott Kloppfenstein recently left the band because him and his wife want to start a family. So yeah, a lot of line-up chances, but it seems that Reel Big Fish has become something not tied to any one person. People come to see Reel Big Fish, and Reel Big Fish songs, so it’s amazing that after all the line-up chances, we still are Reel Big Fish. Also, given that we don’t get played on the radio, it’s amazing that people still come to see us to have fun, as that’s what we have built our reputation on over the years, and of course, it works out great for us [laughs].

5. Given that you’ve been around for so long, and despite all the line-up changes, not a lot has actually changed in the sound you guys are producing, which is amazing. Have you felt any need or felt under pressure to change your sound?

I think that’s one of the main things that has kept the band going is that we are very loud and proud about the fact that we are a ska band, and we never try to adhere to a certain musical trend at any time. We just sort of say ‘we’re a ska band, this is what we do’ and I think our fans appreciate that. At the end of the day, when we put out a new record, or play a show, it means we are putting out something honest. There are a lot of pressures for new young bands to sound like what’s hip right now or have the right haircut or have the right clothes, whereas we just go out there and do what we do. We do what comes naturally to us, and it’s what our fans like: if you wanna do something different then go start a side project.

6. Do you see yourselves as fitting it with the current ska scene at all? To a lot of fans, you still seem to be pretty 90s as that’s what they have grown up with.

That was when the band really got going, that was when Turn the Radio Off and then a few years later, Why do They Rock So Hard? being released. They really figured out their sound and stuck with it – not only did the fans start to latch onto it, but that was the sound that made them form the band in the first place, which was playing fun and exciting music. And as far as fitting with the current scene – I’d say we are one of the few bands left that are at the level we are at, whilst maintaining our own kind of sound. It’s weird, because even though we are playing music that goes back to the 90s, we still seem to be influencing young bands today, so hopefully we can keep influencing them and then maybe bring that sound back again.

6. So, you guys are playing Slam Dunk in the summer –

Yeah, we are, and we did the very first one in Leeds. It was with Sonic Boom 6, and Paramore before they really blew up. And now, 10 years on, we are doing the two in London and one in Leeds.

– cool, so who are you most looking forward to seeing of playing alongside at Slam Dunk, or do you not get a chance?

I myself don’t get much of a chance to see any live music because we tour so much, which is why I love doing festivals so much, cuz you get to watch other bands play. I mean, I love the bands we are touring with at the moment, but when you’re on tour, you see the same bands a few times over, whereas at festivals, you get to hang out with some new ones for a few days. Makes a change from saying every night ‘man, I love you guys, but I sure have seen you a lot recently’ [laughs]

7. So, what can we expect from you guys in the near future?

So, we are always on tour, we are always somewhere in the world playing shows. But later in the spring I think we want to start recording again, but some new originals – we have been doing a lot of re-recording, cover albums, live albums, and I think that is now out of our system, so we are ready to put out a good ol’ album o’ original music.

8. How long do you think that will take?

Well, we’ve got recording our albums down to a science now really, so we will probably spend about a month on recording, but then we may spend three months on mixing. We try not to put any dates on things, but we do hope somewhen before 2011, or at least that’s my hope…

Ryan, we are in 2011… [laughs]

So we are, oh I’m sorry! [laughs]2012! 2012! Happy new year.

9. And just a few to finish up – what would you be doing with yourself if you weren’t a musician?

I’d wanna be an undercover police officer. As a kid I loved watching action movies, and cop movies. I wouldn’t wanna be the guy who wore the uniform, I’d wanna be the plain clothes guy who infiltrates the gangs. The kind where you are going into situations where you might be killed on a daily basis.

8. Never have sex again, or never make music again?

[whistles][very very long pause]I would have to go with never have sex again. Yeah.

9. Metal or hip hop?

Wow, that is a good question, because I do have a place in my heart for both. If I had to chose one I guess I would probably go hip-hop. But I DO love metal

10. OK, and lastly – CDs or mp3s?

I’m at a point now where it’s all been mp3s, legally purchased that is! I’ve actually never illegally downloaded a record – I don’t even know how! I’ve got to the point where there isn’t enough room in my house, so I started getting rid of CDs, plus, it’s better for the environment. See, I’m torn, it’s better for the enviroment, but it’s bad, because more people become unemployed – if there’s no CD manufacturing plants, then so many jobs would end up being eliminated. But for my own selfish reasons, and for having more room around the house, I would say mp3s.

Check out the live review of Reel Big Fish at the Garden Court here.

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