Drummer John Sherman wanted to bring something different to the next Red Fang album, so he set up his kit at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, designed by professional skateboarder Lance Mountain, and recorded several tracks. Interspersed “pool drums” are one of the elements of surprise on the 13 tracks off Red Fang’s fifth album Arrows (Relapse).
Recorded at Halfling Studios in the band’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, experimentation was central on Arrows for the band, who also reunited with producer Chris Funk, and worked with the band for more than a decade since the 2011 release of Murder the Mountains and their third album Whales and Leeches in 2013.
“I wouldn’t want to be in this band if we kept doing the same thing over and over again,” vocalist Bryan Giles tells American Songwriter. “Chris is a major influencer as far as the weird ambient stuff in between the songs and the creepy incidental noises… he definitely creates an added layer of atmosphere that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Written and recorded during the fall of 2019, Arrows coincidentally captured a state of escapism, or the after effects of isolation, right from the discordant intro on “Take It Back.”
“It reminds me of a time before people listened to music digitally, and they listened to full albums,” says Sherman. “There were often cool, spooky intros… There are some weird sounds at the beginning to get you in the mood before it blasts off.”
Arrows leaves a mind-and music-altered sense of state from the title track, raging through “My Disaster” and “Two High,” the desert-drenched “Anondyne,” and atmospheric drone of “Why.” Nothing is as it seems with “Fonzi Scheme,” not a play on the money-laundering “Ponzi” but an ode to the Happy Days’ character Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli, swelling around the Portland Cello Project’s strings.
“I’m a big fan of pushing something creatively, whatever direction grabs you,” says Giles. “It’s a testament to why we’re still a band, and from a creative point of view, I like to push and pull with a song, but at some point, there are factors that are beyond my control. How long can you work on something before it’s overworked?”
On Arrows, some song ideas were archived for as long as a decade or more, including the opening riff of closing track “Funeral Coach,” written more than 11 years ago and used in live performances since 2007.
“It just never got a home, so we finally found a one for it,” says Giles of the track. “If we come up with an idea that we like, but we just can’t seem to make it work, we don’t give up on it. Sometimes they just need rest for a really long time.”
Once the band began writing, there was a natural cohesiveness to album. “There’s this strong and weird ambience that draws the songs together,” says Giles. “There’s a collective mood in this production.”
Now, five years since the band’s fourth release of Only Ghosts, the band leans on one another more to build, or break, tracks.
“We’ve been around a while, so our personalities and our our ideas are a little more rigid, but I think that’s the key to our band, that we trust each other,” he says. “We’ve had ideas we thought were terrible, and I used to fret over that—no pun intended. Actually, I love puns, but over the years of playing together if someone is really driven, then I will do my best to hear something, even if I don’t see the grand scheme of things.”
Giles adds, ”Sometimes it’s like I’m listening to another band, and that’s the exciting part about the recording process. It’s when people’s ideas really get crystallized, because it’s going to be this way forever. It’s kind of like Christmas.”
In retrospect, more than 15 years since forming and their 2009, self-titled debut, Red Fang unfolds in two parts for Giles: when it was his job and after it was his job. “I honestly get nervous even talking about it, like I’m going to ruin it and be bartending next month,” jokes Giles. “It’s just really exciting to be able to spend all the time and energy I have doing something that I really enjoy, and in America that’s a tall order. In America, there are usually two questions: what do you do, and what do you like to do? It should be the same question, but it’s not. Instead, it’s how do you make your money, and what do you wish you were doing?”
He adds, “I still get some form of awe that the world is allowing me to do this, all these years later.”