Oregon is home to a thriving metal and hard rock music scene. And for the past decade, the Portland-based outfit red fang has been at the forefront of this movement.
After a five-year hiatus, the band is back with a new album titled “Arrows” via Relapse Records, an effort that reunites them with longtime producer Chris Funk.
While probably best known as a member of folk-rock band The Decemberists, Funk has carved out an impressive and eclectic resume with his behind-the-scenes work. He is currently based at Halfling Studio in Northwest Portland, which is located on the grounds of the nonprofit Bodecker Foundation. His building has some serious quirks, including an empty swimming pool where Red Fang’s John Sherman recorded his drum parts for much of the album.
“The pool is there because the building was built by a guy called Sandy Bodecker who was the mastermind behind the Nike skateboard,” says Red Fang bassist and singer Aaron Beam. “So the bowl wasn’t really set up with the music in mind. But Chris had discovered working in that space for a long time that if you put some drums in there, there is this gigantic amount of reverb. “
According to Beam, it’s a unique and booming echo that’s nearly impossible to replicate with electronic magic.
“You can just get the biggest sound imaginable,” he proudly recalls the results of an unusual recording setup.
This cacophony is fully visible throughout “Arrows”, including in the album’s title track. It’s a grimy, crisp ball of anger that showcases the best the band has to offer. For the savage katana sword-themed music video that accompanies the track, the band reconnected with another longtime collaborator – music video director and former Jackass stunt mastermind Whitey McConaughey.
“He has a great sensitivity for character, humor and taste without being too cheesy,” Beam said of the director.
Marked with quirky humor and dangerous feats, McConaughey’s previous work with the band made them go viral on YouTube. But despite their online fame, cult international fanbase, and critical acclaim, they still don’t make the headlines in their hometown.
Red Fang embraces this somewhat underground status.
“[M]etal isn’t the most accessible music – and by design in many ways, ”Beam explained. “These are people who feel separated from society and therefore they make music that reflects that. And also, in some ways [it’s] an intentional distancing from the dominant society.
OPB recently caught up with Red Fang singer and bassist Aaron Beam to discuss his deep love for Sub Pop (the iconic Seattle label that launched the early ’90s career. grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden), the production process behind his band’s infamous viral music videos and more.
Jerad Walker: This record is the continuation of a long-term collaboration with producer Chris Funk, who is also a musician and probably best known as a member of The Decemberists. I think a lot of people might be surprised to learn that he did a high level job with a metal band of your caliber. His work with The Decemberists is so sonically different. How did this relationship start?
Aaron’s bundle: I got to know Chris thanks to his ex-wife Seann [McKeel] who I worked with when I was at the Portland Mercury many years ago. And just because Portland was such a small world in the late 90s and early 2000s, I just got to know Chris through new musical connections. Yeah he told us to make a record [in 2011] and I think it took a bit of selling to the band. But he made a pretty solid argument for – it’s a rock record. You know? He’s a musician, he understands music in general, so the music he plays personally doesn’t really make a difference with his ear in terms of what he can hear and what he can remember from a group like us.
Walker: And you have had great success with it.
You recorded this new album here in Portland, didn’t you?
Beam: Yes. We recorded it at Halfling Studio in Northwest Portland.
Walker: One interesting thing I read about this place is that there is a swimming pool. And your drummer John Sherman apparently followed his games from inside the pool bowl area.
The pool is there because the building was built by a guy called Sandy Bodecker, who was the mastermind behind Nike skateboarding. So the bowl wasn’t really set up with music in mind. But Chris had discovered working in this space for a long time that if you put drums in it, there is a gigantic amount of reverberation. You can’t use a fake reverb to make it sound like that. So it only works for slower songs. But if you have a song with a lot of space between the drums, you might just get the biggest sound imaginable.
Walker: You’re part of a pretty solid heavy music scene in Oregon that includes bands like Blackwater Holylight, Yob, and Help. This scene has, however, been somewhat marginalized in Portland historically. Loud bands don’t seem to have a lot of regional press and it’s hard to find venues dedicated to this space. Why do you think it is?
Beam: I think part of that is because Portland is blessed with so many amazingly good bands that the ones that are most likely to gain national attention are the ones that the local press pays a little more attention to. . I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.
I mean, it’s pretty normal for more accessible – metal isn’t the most accessible music, and by design in a lot of ways it’s people who feel separated from society and so they make music. music that reflects that. And also, in some ways [it’s] an intentional distancing from the dominant society.
Walker: Most people call Red Fang a metal band and some throw you into exotic subcategories like stoner rock or sludge metal, but I think that’s only because your sound is pretty hard to categorize. You are a preteen.
And you kind of remind me of another rock band from the Northwest, Soundgarden. Did Seattle rock from the late ’80s and early’ 90s have as much influence on you as the usual heavy metal suspects?
Beam: Oh, absolutely. The driving force for me to move to the Pacific Northwest was really Sub Pop [Records] and kind of a late 80’s and early 90’s grunge. So I applied to Reed College because it was the closest school that I felt like, you know, okay I can go to this school and i’ll only be three hours from Sub Pop. So Nirvana, Tad, Mudhoney, Soundgarden – are all like huge influences.
And one of the main bonding elements for the four of us at Red Fang is actually our mutual love for Soundgarden. So it’s an interesting thing that you pointed out that you’ve heard those similarities, because it’s like the one group that I think all four of us are also very attached.
Walker: Confession. I have a poster of this group in my childhood bedroom.
Beam: I have a signed poster. They were like the first band I ever met at a concert. I was like, “What ?! Can you really go talk to the band?
Walker: Red Fang’s music videos are legendary and I don’t use that word lightly. You get millions of views on YouTube. They are not expensive. It’s kind of the common joke you have with productions. They are hilarious and bodily injuries almost always happen to someone in the band or sound team. Your latest video for the title song “Arrows” continues this tradition. Tell me about this production.
Beam: Well, he was still one of the brilliant brain children of our friend Whitey McConaughey. He’s been a videographer and photographer for years and years and years doing snowboarding stuff for Big Brother and then doing a lot of stuff for Jackass.
Walker: It makes so much sense!
Beam: Yeah, and if you also understand that he had a lot of ideas for the stunts they did on [Jackass]. But he has a great sensitivity for character and for humor and taste without being too old-fashioned.
Therefore [with the storyline for “Arrows”], basically we get a video budget from the label and instead of doing something smart with it, [our guitarist] David [Sullivan] everything explodes by buying a katana [sword] in the mail and now we have no money for a video budget. Instead, we just cut up a bunch of stuff with the sword and ended up destroying our tour director’s house.
Walker: Aaron, you shaved your back with a sword in this video.
Beam: [Red Fang guitarist Bryan Giles] shaved my back with the sword in this video.
Walker: So where did you and Whitey get these ideas? Are there brainstorming sessions or do you just let it go wild?
Beam: There’s a lot of improvisation on the specific things we’re going to do, but the setting is still his idea.
At the top of this article: a press photo of the Red Fang group.