Reel Big Fish brings Ska to The Rave

Radio interview by Ian Schrank and Matt Froelich


After more than two decades of creating music packed with trumpets, horns, trombones and saxophones, the band Reel Big Fish has stayed true to their infectious Ska rhythms. On Saturday, Feb. 13, Reel Big Fish will appear at The Rave with Suburban Legends and The Maxies, ready to bring their toe-tapping music to the ears of Milwaukee.

The band reached mainstream success with their songs “Sell Out” and “Beer” by entrancing the public with their syncopated guitar work and poppy brass.

“Milwaukee has always been one of our favorite places to play,” said Johnny “Christmas” Christianson, the band’s trumpet player since 2005, “The crowd is always ecstatic, it’s electric.”

Over the years, Reel Big Fish has seen many lineup changes – a total of 23 people have been band members. Guitarist and vocalist Arin Barrett remains the only original member of the group.

Christianson joined the band through the former trombonist Dan Regan when the former trumpet player left to become a Jehovah’s Witness. Both of them have been friends since the age of 13 when they met in their high school’s band program.

However, Christianson’s interest in Ska music developed much earlier. He first got introduced to the genre by listening to the radio during his childhood. Later in college, Christianson knew a friend in a Ska band and went to their shows.

“It was neat to see shows where people were having fun, because we’d play jazz gigs and classical gigs and it had a different crowd,” Christianson said.

Bands like The Specials and Fishbone spurred Christianson’s curiosity and showed him that the trumpet adds a unique sound to the guitar and the drums.

Unfortunately, Ska is no longer a well-known musical genre, but Christianson has a theory why.

“(It’s) because people want to take themselves too seriously,” Christianson said. “One good thing about Reel Big Fish is that it allows people to laugh at themselves and look at life in a lighter way, and the rest of the music industry wanted to take themselves seriously for some reason.”

In 2006, Reel Big Fish broke off from their record label Jive Records. The departure from the label was messy and left the band resentful due to the fact that it could still sell Reel Big Fish records and the band would receive little to no royalties.

Since then the group has become independent and and are now free from the omnipresence of a record label.

“Indie records is the way to go,” Christianson said. The move has given the band more freedom to experiment with their art and it has streamlined the creative process.

Since going indie, Reel Big Fish has not had to send their demos to a record label and wait for its opinions of whether it can be published or not.

Now, it’s purely the collaboration of the band that decides how its music should be created. And thanks to the digital age, recording tracks has never been easier. The only outside source the band has to interact with is the distributor Rock Ridge Music.

With tours planned, Reel Big Fish shows no signs of stopping.

“This is the best job I could ever ask for,” Christianson said.