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Why The World Needs More Ska

1 October 2015 | 12:45 pm | Steve Bell

"I think ska-punk's popularity was part of people wanting to have a bit of fun and lighten up a little bit"

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For over two decades now Californian ska-punk pin-up boys Reel Big Fish and their Florida-bred counterparts Less Than Jake have been at the vanguard of the popular movement — both wowing fans in the live realm with their irreverent upbeat party music and requisitely crazy antics — but it's only in more recent times that they've joined forces and taken to touring together. Both bands have of late been sharing stages all around North America and the UK, and now they're bringing the united party down to the Southern Hemisphere to double the fun for both the bands and their ravenous fans.

"We just did two different tours with Less Than Jake recently, there's two more legs and then we're bringing it down to you guys," explains Reel Big Fish's frontman and founding member Aaron Barrett. "We did the UK with them as well, we've been on the road with them all of this year and some of last year too.

"I think [it works really well] because people love both bands and both bands are really fun and have a reputation for being crazy live and putting on a good show, and you put the two of us together and it's even more fun and more excitement for everybody. I think most of the people who come along love both bands - we're both beloved ska-punk bands from the '90s," he laughs uproariously. "I think there's a few fans [at these shows] who haven't already known the other band and make a cool discovery from each band playing together, which is cool too."

And while the Reel Big Fish/Less Than Jake juggernaut has been to Australia before many moons ago for a Christmas tour in 2007, that was in fact one of the first times that the bands specifically played together.

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"Actually we didn't really play together that much in the '90s," Barrett recalls. "We did a couple of radio festivals and a couple of random one-off shows, but we never did any touring together until 2007 — that's when we did our first big run through the US and Canada and we went down to Australia during that one too. I don't know what took so long, but it's finally happened."

The ska-punk scene is notoriously cyclical — coming in and out of flavour like the changing of the seasons — but Barrett believes that there's been a recent upswing in the genre's popularity in the States.

"It's still going strong, there's still a lot of ska bands," he offers. "We played with a lot of local ska bands on this last [US] tour and most of them were pretty good. I think there's a lot of traditional ska bands — like ones influenced by the 2 Tone ska bands — starting up, and I think that scene is growing a little bit more, especially on the east coast. I guess it's just the way things go — there's ska-punk and ska-metal and all of the different mixings of ska with different genres, and they probably took that as far as it could go and now they're going back to being more traditional and all ska instead of, 'Hey, look at this metal part in this ska song! Look at this fast part!' That's just a theory, I don't know."

So what were Reel Big Fish's touchstones when they were starting out in the fertile Orange County scene in the early-'90s?

"In the scene around here there were a lot of traditional bands, but I got more into acts like Skankin' Pickle and Operation Ivy and Mighty Mighty Bosstones and that sort of stuff," Barrett smiles. "That's what really grabbed me. And I guess when I was little I liked Madness and The Specials and The English Beat and English stuff from the '80s. But I dunno, I loved the wackiness and weirdness of the ska-punk. When I was a kid I had a lot of energy and a lot of ADD, so different genres switching in a single must have really grabbed me."

The music that was popular around that era was pretty grim for the most part, which must have made the levity and catchiness of ska-punk appealing to youngsters.

"Yeah, definitely in the early '90s the grunge thing was happening and it was all over the radio and everywhere, and I think ska-punk's popularity was part of people wanting to have a bit of fun and lighten up a little bit," Barrett admits. "And then the boy bands came, oh boy! We opened the door up and in they came!"