Red Fang’s fifth album Arrows is out today, a record that displays arrangements full of gripping riffs and a surprising new way to record drum tracks. In addition to the release of their latest LP, the band just announced a fall 2021 tour that’s a stacked bill: Red Fang with opening acts Starcrawler, Here Lies Man and Warish. Drummer John Sherman took the time to talk to mxdwn about working with producer Chris Funk on the new album, recording drums in a swimming pool and the anticipation of getting on the road and unveiling what Arrows has to offer in front of their fans.
mxdwn: Do you believe the introduction to the first song, “Take It Back,” lets the listeners know right away what the album will be like?
John Sherman: No, but we kind of did that on purpose. The intro is a little departure from our normal sound, I think, but hopefully, the payoff is worth it if you stick it out for a few more minutes. But that intro on “Take It Back” is really only half of the song also. We didn’t know what to do with that whole song. We weren’t sure where to put it on the record. So, someone had the bright idea, why don’t we just start the record with it, but just kind of only use about half of the song and make it more like a weird creepy, spooky intro.
mxdwn: That’s exactly what it was. It almost reminded me a little bit of Pink Floyd. How is Chris Funk’s production different from Ross Robinson’s?
JS: Oh, wow, where to begin. It’s like apples and oranges. It’s very, very, very different styles. I mean, when we recorded with Ross, we recorded in the studio in his house in Venice Beach and lived there the whole time. We were completely immersed in the recording experience, like 24/7, and it was really intense. Ross is really involved; I don’t know how to describe it exactly. He’s involved to the point where before you press record on each song, he’ll come in, we’ll all sit down and talk about, like, “Why are we recording the song?” Which is something that I’ve never thought of before recording with Ross. He’ll ask, “All right, before we do this, tell me why we’re doing it. Why should the song live?” So that was a really intense and sometimes uncomfortable but rewarding experience. More uncomfortable for the guys who wrote the lyrics, not me, because then they would have to talk about why they were saying these things that they’re saying. And, they’ve never had to do that before. So, for many reasons, that was a very, very different experience. Chris Funk is really laid back. He’s not super involved; he’s definitely involved, but not like that. Not in the same way and definitely not with the same intensity. With this record, we really wanted to record it in Portland to stay home for a lot of reasons. One, some of us had personal issues with family and stuff that we needed to be nearby to take care of and just not be out of town. We were able to go home every night and sleep in our own beds; that was definitely different. Also, sometimes if there was just guitar overdub day, maybe I wouldn’t even go in, or I just dropped by. Whereas with the Ross Robinson experience, we were all there all the time. So, I felt more connected to that record, but just totally different styles.
mxdwn: Interesting, it definitely sounds like they’re different. I know the album was supposed to be released in 2020 before the pandemic but was there a reason that you guys decided to wait four years to release another album after Only Ghosts?
JS: No, there wasn’t really a reason we decided to wait that long, it just ended up that way. With our band, we tend to put it on a record and then tour the hell out of it. All of a sudden, we realized it’s been a couple of years, and we’re like, “Oh man, we should put out another record.” And we’re always writing, but we always have a lot of homeless riffs that aren’t quite songs yet that we can’t figure out how to turn into songs without tons and tons of risks. It’s not until we really get the push from somebody, like a record label or manager, that says, why don’t you set a deadline and book some studio time? That way, you have to have some of your shit dialed in by then, and we’ll buckle down and make some decisions. I think that’s the thing it’s hard for us to make decisions because it’s such a collaborative effort. There’s no shot-caller in the band; it’s four equal opinions, so not everything works all the time. Every Red Fang song has to be okayed by everybody. Sometimes it takes a while to mold something into a song that we’re all happy with, but with a deadline, it kind of makes us work a little harder at that, I think. Also, maybe compromise a little more. It’s like, alright, that’s not my favorite thing in the world right now, but you guys all like it, so there must be a reason, and I’ll come around. It always happens too. Almost every time we go into the studio, we don’t have the whole record written. We’ll usually have like 70% of it written, and then the rest will just kind of happen in the studio. Sometimes those are my favorite moments, or my favorite songs, the ones that just came out of nowhere that we didn’t overthink for six years.
mxdwn: “Interop-Mod” is a great display of how much skill can be fit into such a short amount of time. Why’d you guys decide to have this break in the album with a song with no lyrics?
JS: I think we just have little riffs and ideas that aren’t full songs that we don’t know what to do with. This time we decided to just let some of them stand on their own and not try to “finish it.” Not everything has to be intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, outro or whatever. Sometimes, we figure, why not just let this cool little thing live on its own and not try to squeeze it into something else or force it into another song, which is what we usually do with little ideas that we are having trouble figuring out what to do with. We just kind of figured why not have a little interlude kind of moments on this one. Listening to albums, I think, is so different from seeing a live show, especially with the music that our band plays. So you could do these little things on an album that are cool and fun to listen to on a record, that aren’t necessarily going to translate to the live show, but that’s okay because it’s a different experience.
Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado
mxdwn: Your album is a perfect album to listen from front to back and reminds me of an era when people bought vinyl and listened to full albums, versus, nowadays when people just kind of listen to singles by themselves. I feel like sometimes artists don’t think about a whole album as a piece. Is that something you guys were purposely doing?
JS: When we’re writing a record, we never really set out to write a record. We just write songs and try to hopefully get enough songs to make a record. We don’t think about the album before it’s written. We don’t sit down with a roadmap or chart out how we want the album to flow. Once we get a bunch of songs recorded, sometimes they’ll say, well, record 15 songs, then pick maybe 10 or 11 or so we think will make the best record. Then we’ll think about how that should flow because we’re, you know, not super young dudes. We grew up listening to albums and not digital singles. We still think about, “Alright side A, let’s have it start like this and then, oh, this song would be good somewhere in the middle, and it should definitely end with this song. Then side B should be like this.” So we think about the sequence, for sure. We don’t think about the songs as digital singles.
mxdwn: What was it like recording some of the drum parts at the bottom of a pool? Do you think you’ll ever do that again?
JS: I hope so. It was awesome. I don’t have them yet, but I’m hoping that I can just get all those raw tracks that are just the drums in the pool because they sound huge. It sounds so crazy. I can’t even remember which songs I recorded drums in the pool for. I know that not all of those tracks made them onto the tracks because I recorded everything “normal style” and then went down into the pool and recorded four or five songs. I think they were kind of trying to either mix them in a little bit or replace the other drums. I think there’s a nice mix of pool drums, but I would like to just go in and just only do pool drums one day because it’s so huge. They don’t really make sense in a song that’s too fast or has a lot of other things going on because you won’t notice all of the insane reverb and decay that happens. So it’s gotta be like a slower, pretty open song to really benefit from the pool. It was awesome. It was hard to get in and out of.
mxdwn: I was reading in one of the press releases that you guys don’t really name your albums after songs on the record. So what made you decide to name this album after a song that’s on the album, and is there significance to the title?
JS: I don’t know if there’s a significance to the title, just because Aaron named the song. Every time it comes time to name an album, everyone throws out dozens of hilarious joke names because we can’t ever take ourselves too seriously. Then we’ll try to whittle it down to something that isn’t too jokey and that everyone can agree on. We just couldn’t think of anything awesome for this record. So, we went with Arrows. We didn’t know that at that time that “Arrows” was going to be the first single either, but that was one of the first songs we finished writing for this record. It was one of the first songs we played live in front of anyone. So, it was probably the most familiar song to us. It just seemed like the path of least resistance, the easiest name that everyone would agree on, and we’d never done it before.
mxdwn: I read that Aaron started meditating. Have you noticed a change in him since he started meditating?
JS: I don’t meditate because I just haven’t found the time to do it, but I think that I’m a fan of meditation. I’m a fan of other people doing it, and maybe I’ll do it one day. So yeah, I’ll say that it’s worked wonders for Aaron. He doesn’t yell at me as much as he used to. He doesn’t scream and break things like he was always real bad about breaking things and screaming all the time… I’m just kidding. I haven’t noticed much of a change, but I’m sure that he would tell you that maybe he’s noticed a change inward.
mxdwn: Do you think that writing this album before the pandemic is going to be beneficial for the listeners?
JS: I don’t know. It was beneficial for me having so much time between finishing the album and it finally coming out because there’s enough space between me and the album now that I can kind of appreciate it just as a new Red Fang record and get so excited that it’s coming out and not overanalyze it. I just will definitely overanalyze and critique whatever work we’ve done, and it’s hard for me to just enjoy it. Now that it’s been so much time, I’m over that stuff, so now I can just have fun with it.
mxdwn: What are you expecting from the audience when you go on tour with this album?
JS: I assume that people are going to be really excited to be going to shows again. I have no idea what it’s going to be like in October for COVID protocol. I don’t know if people are going to be wearing masks still or venues are going to be at full capacity; I have no idea. I’m curious and a little anxious to see how it’s gonna play out COVID-wise, but I’m really excited to get back on the road. A couple months ago, I would have thought that it wouldn’t happen for even longer, but now that people are getting vaccinated, the band’s all vaccinated and we’re ready to rock. We just started practicing without masks on for the first time this week. It was awesome because it sucks to play drums with a mask on.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado