It’s not something that most reporters will write about; their first big interview. You can often hear them recount their most thrilling or most famous interview conquest, but few will want to relive or share their first real interview. Although a rite of passage all journalists must go through, there is nothing more terrifying than the thought of stuttering, stumbling over questions, getting your facts wrong or insulting, offending or, perhaps worse, boring your interviewee.
These fears and more were pouring over me in waves as I sat in my lounge room Tuesday morning, staring at my phone expectantly. As a journalism student I had done my share of interviews already for assignments; other students, lecturers, fellow reporters and local music acts. But that morning I was faced with my first distinctly “big” interview, with Johnny Christianson, the trumpeter of American ska reggae band Reel Big Fish.
Following their release of Candy Coated Fury earlier this year and their impending Australian tour with fellow ska powerhouses Goldfinger and Zebrahead, Reel Big Fish were doing interviews with practically everyone, including myself in 5 minutes time.
I had written all my questions out in preparation and read pages and pages of previous interviews and fact pages about the band. I was as prepared as someone could be, but I could still feel my heart beat in my earlobes.
Suddenly, my ringtone filled the room. I swallowed and answered in the most professional manner I could muster, considering I was sitting on my couch in my pajamas. After trading formalities with the media operator, I was informed that Johnny was about to wrap up a radio interview early, so I was up next.
Following more formalities, I was eventually connected to Johnny. After hearing his heavy American accent and friendly voice, my worries immediately evaporated and exchanging initial pleasantries became easy.
After discussing the weather (no, really), I turned to their approaching tour with Zebrahead and Goldfinger and asking what the guys would have in store for Australian fans.
“Oh, it will be hours of hilarity and rock music. And possibly a couple of funny, funny jokes for you. There will be lots of sweating. And dancing! Because that’s what happens when you come to our shows”, Johnny promised.
What followed was a discussion of what it means to be in a moshpit: that is, being covered in the sweat of strangers and sometimes blood.
“Fortunately our crowd is not the blood type.”
Having been in a Reel Big Fish moshpit during their stint at Soundwave festival in 2010 I was familiar with the antics of the regular Reel Big Fish crowd. This made me wonder: How will people survive with three massive ska bands in the one night?
Johnny warned that not many will survive.
“Yeah, you may not survive. Unfortunately, we may have to have ambulances waiting outside to carry you to hospital. And you may die. We will have oxygen ready for you. Also we will have salted crackers ready for you and vegemite in case anybody has got low blood sugar! Just in case.”
I took this to be mighty considerate since Johnny himself had “unfortunately” tried vegemite.
2012 marks the 21st anniversary of Reel Big Fish being a band, although Johnny maintains that the message behind their music has not changed since their first album Everything Sucks in 1995.
“I think we’re still dealing with all the same problems that every one deals with …. daily interactions with other human beings that’s really, really difficult. … Saying F-you to the world because we’re out there trying to do something really important. Not only to us, but to fans all over the world. It’s really special…”
Reel Big Fish front man Aaron Barrett has revealed in past interviews that the inspiration for the 2005 album We’re Not Happy ‘Til You’re Not Happy was tensions within the band formed in the face of pressure and the harsh reality of the music industry. Looking at the specific inspiration for Candy Coated Fury, Johnny claims that Reel Big Fish are still focused on fighting for their place in the world.
“[We’re fighting] to be able to still do this, to be able to tour and bring a little happiness to everyone. We’re still fighting it out and saying F-You to everybody that doesn’t like our music or doesn’t get what we do and just try to be the best entertainers we can.”
In light of coming to Australia, Johnny admitted he was excited to come to Australia and share some “adult beverages” with fans. Considering the fame of their 1995 single Beer (Video below), I had to question if that was the beverage of choice when it comes to meeting fans.
“Oh! I wish it was that way! … No, when we go into bars it’s ‘Let me buy you a shot!’ So what winds up happening is you have ten people who want to buy you a shot instead of ten people that want to buy you beers and so you wind up getting sick! So it’s dangerous”, Johnny laments.
On a lighter note, we turned to discussing Reel Big Fish fans, of which Johnny was extremely proud. He fondly discussed a pair of Australian fans that were at an American show the previous night.
“We had two Australian fans at the show last night and this brother and sister, and the brother had some kind of congenital heart defect and so this sister was crying and [so we came out to] sign stuff for him and take pictures and they were both sweet. And how amazing is that we get to do that for someone…. We’re the luckiest guys in the world.”
Despite some technological glitches midway through the conversation, Johnny expressed his excitement for getting to see Australian fans again, although he was not impressed when I offered to buy him a shot after the show.
“Argh! No! You can buy me a beer!!”
Reel Big Fish will be touring Australia this year with Goldfinger and Zebrahead in late November/ early December.
To read the full interview check out the 59th Sound!
To listen to the full interview below: