Red Fang’s Guitarist David O’Sullivan interviewed by Lead Singer/Guitarist Jimbob Isaac from Hark.
Portland’s Red Fang are on the cusp of releasing their fourth album, ‘Only Ghosts’ on Relapse Records (In fact it’s released today 14th October 2016) and are currently touring Europe promoting it. Whilst Hark are finishing off their second album to be released early next year on Season Of Mist. Both bands have toured together with Jimbob also contributed his incredible graphic artist skills to a poster design for the band. (See Below)
During their UK tour, Jimbob caught up with them at the Bristol Bierkeller for a chat before the show, talking about influences, touring, the writing process and of course the new album.
Jim: One thing I am interested in is how bands can record so quickly. You guys have been rattling albums out pretty quick.
David O’Sullivan (Guitarist): Yeah, we have been roughly on a schedule of an album every two years. Once we started touring a lot we were like, “Are we gonna have time to write new stuff?”
It used to be more like, we would get together at practice, “I got an idea, I got a thing”, and when we had a batch of songs we’d be like, “Let’s record all this and do an album”. Then, I guess after ‘Murder The Mountains’ on ‘Whales And Leeches’, we had three months and it wasn’t as organic as it used to be. This new one (‘Only Ghosts’), we planned it out a bit ahead but even that, it’s like we have separate touring time and writing time.
For one thing, there’s no big bus so we can’t sit down with the guitar and play and also for me, if we are playing a show every night, I get all my musical urges out and then I don’t feel like sitting down and writing, so it’s two separate mindsets and spaces I have to be in to write.
It’s not like we have a long term plan or anything but roughly every two years, we try to put something out and then every once in a while we will put out an E.P. or 7″ in between. You know as a creative person, it’s not like you can flip on a switch and a song comes out, it just has to come. You can do things to make it happen like when we were making this record we dedicated our practices to working on the new ideas, so you can focus on it but you can’t really force it.
Jim: Have you encountered creative blocks, to the point where you’re worried that you won’t make the album deadline?
David: Yeah, sometimes. Not so much on this last one, I felt like we had enough material, although I do remember at one point thinking we’re not going to ready and by the time we went to the studio we had fourteen songs that were close to done, some of them pretty much done and then a few others. We actually tracked two more songs that didn’t make it onto the album because we didn’t have time to finish the vocals. The way we recorded with Ross (Robinson legendary producer of Slayer, Slipknot and At the Drive to name a few), we would track the drums first, then go back and add guitars, vocals and re-do everything live so it was all of in the room together, playing live which is how I prefer to do it, rather than everyone being separated. It just gives you a better ‘feel’. So, there are still a couple I would like to get back to and finish.
I’ve definitely encountered some blocks and one thing I’ll do is different tunings and patterns. One thing I used to do, I haven’t done it in a while, maybe because my guitars are a little nicer now. If I would break and string, I would leave the string off and force myself to play around the missing string and that would make me do some different things. Now I change my strings often enough, it doesn’t really happen but maybe I should just take a string off. It was a fun thing to do because you can’t do the normal power chord thing here, gotta do something different. I find smoking a little bit of weed helps sometimes. I don’t really like to do that when we’re playing live, I wanna be doing well when I’m playing and not in outer space, but for the creative part of it, sometimes I find that’s good…And it’s legal now where we live, totally legal!
Jim: Congratulations! Haha.
David: It’s nice.
Jim: How was it to work with Ross Robinson? He seems like a very interactive producer.
David: He was great. I didn’t know that much about him when we first started talking about this album. We we’re all talking about who we would like to record with. Well, the first record was half recorded in the living room of a house I used to live in, and half recorded in a small recording studio in Portland. The next two were recorded at the Type Foundry also in Portland and this time we thought, maybe can go somewhere else. Go to another city, go to another studio and be totally immersed in the record. So our manager suggested Ross Robinson and he is known for Korn, Slipknot and Sepultura and he has done a lot of other stuff like, he’s done an album with The Cure.
I didn’t know much about him and I was hesitant because I didn’t want to sound like Korn or Slipknot, but he didn’t push that on us at all. That’s just what he became known for he doesn’t force you to do a certain thing. Working with Ross was great, he a lot more involved than Chris Funk the producer of the last two records. Ross was in the room as we were rehearsing the songs and he would suggest arrangements and his musical ideas we connected with really well. Sometimes he would be, “Let’s take this end part and make that the intro”. Some things we just wouldn’t have thought of, so he was almost like the fifth member of the band for a little bit.
Jim: Was that cool for you guys? A scary, new experience?
Dave: Yeah, it was a little bit at first because we’ve never had an outside person come in and be so close to writing the songs. We got along with him really well, he’s a great guy and we stayed at his house. The studio is in the basement of his house and it’s right on the beach, so it was a really nice place to be and we were there for a whole month. I didn’t know what it was going to be like but we were open to the experience and turned out really great. Nice to work with someone who is more involved.
Jim: Could you imagine doing that again, with a different person and allowing that person to come in that much?
Dave: Yeah, yeah I am open to it. It was more like he would suggest things and almost always we would try his suggestions and be like, “That works great!” It wasn’t like he was trying to change what we were doing or make us be a different type of band, “You guys need to be more accessible”. I think people will think this album is more accessible, more poppy maybe a little bit but we had done that before we got to Rob, so it’s not like Rob influenced us to do that.
Jim: I think for any creative person, we can be precious about it. You’re putting so much of your heart into it, it can be difficult to let go.
David: No, I am open to it and in Red Fang, there isn’t one person whose the main songwriter, so it’s already very collaborative. So bringing in another person and helping out with arrangements, it’s totally fine with me.
Jim: Allowing yourself to let go that much, you can discover things you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
David: Sure, yeah.
Jim: Destruction of the ego. Letting go, is so important.
David: I know exactly what you mean about being ‘protective’ because one of the songs that didn’t make it onto the record was a riff I wrote and I was really anxious about it. I was like, their not going to like this, I should just not worry about that but it’s hard to do that sometimes because, like you said it’s your creation and it’s hard to let it go and let everyone else share in it. So I was like, why are you being so precious about this song, it’s just another song.
Jim: So, we were chatting before the interview about the evolution of society. Whether we’re talking about the economy or the movement of people, gentrification and whatnot. Do you notice how that can affect a touring band. Maybe in terms of the touring costs or the way local scenes change, how people might attend shows in different areas, do you notice peaks and troughs?
David: Yeah, maybe, it’s hard for me to say but what that makes me think of is when I tell people we tour and travel, they’re like “Oh, you get to see all these cities and places” but really we only get to see a small piece of it. We get to see the venue and maybe a little bit of the neighborhood, it’s not like we really get to know what’s happening in that place. We see how that affects a place, it does I’m sure but we really don’t have much time to know what’s really happening. Talking to people you get to hear a little bit of it but I don’t really know if I am aware of those factors. Things are definitely changing. In Portland, a lot of people are moving in and some old clubs get torn down because they can’t survive anymore, and the new ones happen. I don’t really know if it affects our shows and the people who come. Some clubs are struggling and some are doing better because of economics or whatever, but I don’t really know. I’m just here to ‘Rock’!
Jim: Rock and roll. So, I think we’re both from a similar generation, with some similar influences…lots of late 80s/early 90s stuff. I lucked out with access to my Dad’s Zeppelin, Cream and Uriah Heep albums at an early age, then the metal gates flooded for me with Metallica in ’88 with all sorts of thrash, hardcore and 90s rock/metal to follow.
David: Yeah, when I was first getting into music it was basically the records my mom had like, The Beatles, Neil Young, a lot of 60’s stuff because that was what my mom was into and then as I got a little older, an older friend of mine showed me the first Black Sabbath album. He showed me the album cover and told me, “That’s a real witch!” I was like eleven or twelve years old so I was like, “Woah! A real witch.” So, it was kinda scary. Then I listened to the music and was like, “It really is scary!”
Jim: Hearing the first Black Sabbath album at 11yrs and my footballing buddy’s house, via his pot smoking Dad’s vinyl collection, was terrifyingly religious.
David: Then in High School, a friend of mine who I used to go skateboarding with, he had an older brother who gave him a mixtape of Punk Rock stuff, and I didn’t know anything about Punk Rock but it had X, Television, Pere Ubu, The Buzzcocks, The Ramones and The Descendants, stuff I had never heard before and I was like, “Wow! This is cool stuff” because you didn’t hear that stuff on the radio, you had to get through someone you knew. Some friends of mine had MTV and I would go to their house because I didn’t have cable. I remember hearing The Cure, REM, Alternative Rock or whatever it was called. Echo & The Bunnymen, Bauhaus, that kind of stuff.
Then I went through a phase of ignoring radio, just because it was on the radio, some of it was cool but just because it was on the radio I was like, “Nah!” Then in college, there was Nirvana and Soundgarden and College Rock became mainstream and that was cool because I liked a lot of that stuff. So that sort of my musical path, oh no wait, before the Punk stuff I had a phase of Metal like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath or course. Ratt! I was really into Ratt as a kid. This was right at the beginning of learning guitar so Van Halen of course. Judas Priest’s ‘Scream For Vengeance was the first album of theirs I heard. I rejected the mainstream back then but now I like all kinds of stuff. There some really good stuff that becomes mainstream. A lot of Grunge and Alternative stuff was very influential on Red Fang.
Check out Red Fang’s website https://redfang.net/
Like their on Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/redfangband
Tweet them on Twitter https://twitter.com/redfang
Check out Hark’s website www.harkband.com
Like their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/harktheband
Tweet them on Twitter https://twitter.com/HarkbandHark
Check out Jimbob’s artwork here www.jimbobisaac.com
All words by Philip Allen. You can read more from Philip by checking out his Louder than War Author’s Archive.