Photo by James Rexroad

Battle-tested, Red Fang embark upon another long round of touring

Some bands proclaim to be road warriors but Portland, Ore.’s sludge metal heroes Red Fang doesn’t have to proclaim anything. The band’s actions speak for themselves. When Submerge spoke with the band’s guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles he was savoring a rare moment of hanging out in Portland. By the end of the month, Red Fang will be out on the road once more. Their U.S. tour with Black Tusk kicks off in Sacramento on Oct. 26, 2012 and finishes up just before Thanksgiving. Again, actions speak louder than words, and so does Red Fang’s music.

The band has been so busy touring that it’s hard to believe it’s been just about a year and a half since Red Fang’s latest album, 2011’s Murder the Mountains, was released. On Sept. 26, 2012 the band released a new song online, “Crows in Swine,” “primarily just to let people know what we’ve been up to as far as some of our new stuff,” Giles says of the track. “We just put it out there to remind people that we’re still a band.”

Giles reports that he hopes “Crows in Swine” will end up on a split 7-inch and that the savagely shredding track is indicative of what the band has been working on. He has been using this rare down time in Red Fang’s schedule to work on new material.

“I’d say two or three tracks are aggressive like that,” he says. “They’re a work out. It’s good. It’s keeping me on my toes–a lot of notes.”

Home cooking is important to Giles’ songwriting process. He admits that he and Red Fang have yet to figure out how to write while they’re on the road, though he knows at some point it’ll probably be a necessity.

“We don’t travel in buses. If I wanted to have the guitar in the van, I’d be knocking somebody in the head with the headstock, and that wouldn’t go well,” he says. “Plus, the way I do songwriting is that I do a lot of endless repetition, so people would probably try to strangle me with my guitar strings after having to hear the same riff over and over for an hour and a half.”

As it turns out, the band’s familial commitments have aided Red Fang in having time home to write. Aaron Beam, the band’s co-vocalist and bassist, is married and has a child with Sara Lund, a member of The Corin Tucker Band. When Lund is on the road, Beam is at home with the kid, which means Red Fang gets to work on music.

“It’s actually worked out great, because she can take time on the road with her band, and we can be at home woodshedding,” Giles says.

After Red Fang’s U.S. tour finishes up in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 21, the band will take off just six days before embarking to Europe on a tour built around an invitation to play All Tomorrow’s Parties. It will be the band’s second headlining tour of Europe. The first, a mammoth excursion with Black Tusk, has been documented in a series of short films co-sponsored by Decibel Magazine and Converse. Giles discusses Red Fang’s previous jaunt to Europe and previews its upcoming journey in the following interview.

I was watching some of the Converse documentaries of Red Fang’s European tour… There were a few clips of you guys saying how few tickets you had pre-sold for the gigs, but then it would cut to the live concert footage and the venues were packed. Were you surprised at the turnouts?
I think Aaron said it in the documentary, and it’s true, people just don’t buy presale tickets for us so much. It’s a walk-up crowd. Although, that was only our third tour in Europe, so it’s not like we had a whole lot of experience…and having it be our first headlining tour, we had no idea what to expect. We were very pleasantly surprised. I think a lot of it was due to touring with Mastodon in the States in late 2011 and had already planned on that tour that our next European tour would be as a headliner, but I think three and a half weeks before Mastodon was going to Europe, they still didn’t have an opener. They asked us, and it didn’t really seem possible, but it didn’t seem like there was any way we couldn’t do it. A big reason [our headlining tour] was so successful was that we got to play in front of so many people. Mastodon is doing really well right now. They’re filling huge rooms, and we got to do main support from them all through out Europe. That was an awesome opportunity, and we went back like a month and a half later. It was really good timing.

When you were playing the Mastodon tour, did you see a lot of people in the audience who may not have been familiar with you being won over?
Sometimes it’s really hard to read a crowd. Sometimes we’ll play a crowd, and they’ll seem really sedate, but then you’ll look at how many T-shirts you sold, and you did better than when people were going batshit crazy. I don’t know. People appreciate music in different ways. There were definitely people who were looking at us the first three or four songs going, “Do I like this or don’t I?” It’s a challenge, that’s for sure. They’re not there to see you, they’re there to see Mastodon. It’s your job to convince them that they’re there to see Red Fang and Mastodon.

One other clip from the documentaries I liked was in the last part of the documentary when you were at a stop in Moscow, and you were looking at the Marshall stack you hadn’t used before.
There were so many buttons. I was like, “What the fuck?” Usually I can figure those things out. I just hit the button that makes it sound the most distorted and then turn all the knobs to the right, and that’s usually fine. And in that case, it was fine as well. Some Marshalls they’ve got that classic Marshall sound, but it just doesn’t work for us. It sounds more like AC/DC. It’s sort of a clean distortion. I like the real nutty distortion.

You’re going back to Europe in a couple months. Are you heading to places you didn’t hit the first time?
Yeah, we got invited to do All Tomorrow’s Parties, which we were blown away and flattered to be able to do that. It’s curated by Shellack, who I’m a big fan of, so we built a tour around it. Just getting over there is pretty expensive. You make a tour out of it so you can rationalize going all the way over there. We’re doing that, and I think we get two days off, so we’ll get to enjoy that whole event. It’s a three-day festival. Another amazing thing we get to do is a BBC Session, so I’m thrilled and terrified at the prospect of that as well.

Why do you say terrified?
Well, it’s a studio without a net. I guess you get a couple of runs at the song, but it’s live, man. If you flub, it’s out there, and people know it because it’s studio quality.

It sounds like a nice trip. It must be nice to have a couple of days off this time, too. Last time around it was 33 shows in 35 days. It didn’t seem like you had too much time to take in the sights.
The last tour we did before that, I think we had one day off, and that was a longer tour. We’re finally realizing we start going crazy if we don’t get a day off here or there, so the two days off on the last tour were very intentional. Where would be the most relaxing place to be, and what the shortest drives to and from would be, so we could maximize those days off. I think our second day off was in Budapest, and we got to go to the hot springs, the baths there, and it was a full-bore vacation day. It was really nice. I hope that trend continues.

You might as well enjoy yourselves.
You’re in some beautiful city and you show up for sound check–I like to call the club “the black hole,” because once you walk in, it’s almost impossible to get out and see the sights or anything, because you end up having to do stuff.

From your music videos, I saw that PBR was featured pretty heavily. While you were in Europe, were you able to find a cheap beer equivalent?
The swill you mean?

I was trying to be diplomatic.
No, but the clubs found it for us. We’d say, “We need a lot of beer,” and they’d be, “Alrighty, what’s on sale?” But truthfully, I think they take their beer pretty seriously over there, so even their bad beer is pretty good. My only complaint is that sometimes the inexpensive beer has a stronger flavor, and they’re not really into cold beer, they’re into cool beer. So when it’s not your favorite, you can really taste it when it’s floating around at 60 degrees, in a can to begin with. You’re like, “Oh yeah…beer…”

You won’t want to miss Red Fang and Black Tusk when they play Harlow’s in Sacramento on Oct. 26., 2012 It’s the band’s first stop on their latest U.S. tour, so help them kick it off in style. Lord Dying will also perform. Check with Harlows.com to purchase tickets. Listen to “Crows in Swine” at http://soundcloud.com/RelapseRecords.

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