Many first became aware of Portland riff merchants Red Fang via their innovative video for “Prehistoric Dog.” That song (and video) served as a perfect introduction to the band. It proved that they write catchy, heavy rock, don’t take themselves too seriously, and enjoy beer. Since then, the band has signed to Relapse and recorded a follow up to their debut album. Murder the Mountains was produced by Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk, and despite the producer’s indie-rock leanings, is still full of muscular songs that wouldn’t set foot anywhere near a Decemberists album. On the eve of their tour with Mastodon and the Dillinger Escape Plan, Metal Insider caught up with drummer John Sherman to chat about the band’s DIY attitude, their decision to go with a non-metal producer and what the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
When you think of the Portland music scene, heavy music doesn’t necessarily come to mind.
Yeah, it might not for the people who don’t live here, but there is certainly a heavy music scene here just a lot of those bands might be part of the Northwest. I’ve always thought of the Northwest as a good stop for heavy music because it’s so – it breathes heavy because it is so gloomy here, you know? Melvins come from up this way, Yob, you know the whole ’90s Seattle thing, some of that stuff was actually pretty good and heavy.
Yeah, absolutely. But I guess because of The Decemberists and Portlandia, it just seems like more of an indie kind of neo-hippieish kind of town.
Well it’s certainly got that element to it and, and it seems like any of the bands that break out of Portland that get pretty big aren’t of the heavier persuasion for sure, but maybe we can change that.
So for this record, you made the switch to Relapse from Sargent House. Were you looking for a bigger label from the get-go, and how was the transition?
Not really a bigger label, we just had a one-record deal with Sargent House and we weren’t sure what we wanted to with the next record so we got the record pretty much finished on our own and shopped it around to see who was interested and luckily Relapse was. We were like ‘fuck yeah, we want to be on Relapse.’ So far it has been working great and especially because those guys have an office in Portland. They moved out here over a year ago so they’re local guys now. We run into them at the bars and we can just pop by the office and say what’s up and it’s nice to have that neighbor connection, you know?
Definitely. I’m originally from just outside of Philly so the same thing would happen with me and the Relapse dudes because their main office is in Philly.
Yeah, and they’re super cool dudes too, I mean when I run into them at bars it’s not like ‘oh there is our label guy, lets go talk about label shit.’ It’s like ‘hey what’s up? What movies have you been watching? What strip clubs have you been to?’ You know, normal bar shit.
Did you have any concerns about signing with Relapse, which is primarily known as a metal label?
To be honest I was a little nervous at first just because their roster is pretty extreme compared to what we do.
Yeah, you’re not Agoraphobic Nosebleed.
Right, but that said, they also have a pretty good variety if you look closely. Their name recognition is great and their distribution is great.
And you can look at bands like your tour-mates Mastodon that transcend the straight-up metal tag. Have you met or played with them before?
No, we haven’t. We are extremely excited about this upcoming tour so I am sure they will be some wild party nights ahead. I’ve heard good stories.
Yeah, my band toured with them and Clutch a few years back. There were some interesting late nights.
That sounds like a fun tour. We have toured with Clutch a couple of years ago too. Those guys are great.
So Chris Funk produced Murder the Mountains. Was that a conscious effort to go outside the mold of a heavy producer or was it just someone who is from the Portland scene that was into it?
It wasn’t a conscious decision at all, I mean he had talked about working on a record with us and we had never worked with a producer, so we had never actually thought about it. At first I was like ‘what?’ And it wasn’t about heavy music, it just seemed weird to me, but then we met and we were like ‘ok let’s talk to him and see what he has to say’ and he is cool as shit. He is a super cool guy and while the band he is in probably makes a shit ton of money, they are certainly nothing like us and not heavy at all. But it’s not like that’s the only thing he listens to, so he understands heavy music and he was really easy to work with, especially since we had never worked with a producer before. It was a joy, It was a treat.
I think the first way many people heard of the band is through your video for “Prehistoric Dog” and the “Wires” video is also pretty fun, innovative, cool, and kind of D.I.Y. How do you come up with the ideas for videos?
We are super lucky to be friends with a guy named Whitey McConnaughy who wrote and directed both of those videos and he is just one of those dudes who has these crazy ideas and somehow knows how to get it done. We had kind of been begging him to do a video for us for a long time and finally he was like “ok I have an idea for “Prehistoric Dog,”” pitched it to us and of course we all laughed and we said ‘yes that sounds perfect, but there is no way you are going to be able to do it, no way you are going to pull this off,’ ’cause we had no money either. He got all upset and was like “I have never not pulled something off,”and sure as shit, he pulled it off and that first video, like I said, we didn’t have a budget at all, and he pretty much paid for that whole thing out of his own pocket. It was nice to have somewhat of a budget for the video, albeit very small budget.
I would guess it was more than the $5,000 it says in the video.
Yeah, it probably was!
Did you call in a favor to get Brian Posehn in there or was it just a label thing?
No, we got really lucky. We met him once before on tour and we happened to be playing right around the corner from where he was performing in Tampa a few years ago. and we were on tour with Early Man, and some of our camp went over and saw his show and told him to come see our show and so he came saw our show and we are all huge fans. One of the weekends that we were shooting, I noticed he was going to be in town and thought that if we could get him, that would just put this video over the top. So we just figured out a way to get in touch with him and asked him and he was like “sure I can do that.” It was nice.
And there is some product placement in the video as well. Did that help finance the cost of it?
A little bit, yeah. It did, I am not going to lie, but we have some friends at Monster Energy Drink and because we ended up using so much Pabst in both the videos just because, well just because we drink a lot of Pabst, they reached out and helped us out a little bit on our last tour too so that was nice. It’s good to have friends in the beer business.
It seems like you’ve gotten where you are by not spending a lot of money and doing a lot of pre-D.I.Y. stuff. Do you have any advice for bands that are starting now that may want to follow in your footsteps?
It’s pretty easy to not spend money when you don’t have any, but if you want to get some shit done and you don’t have money you just have to figure out other ways. That is one awesome thing about Portland, there are so many creative people in this town. They kind of get up and go and you have to surround yourself with people that know how to different things and are excited to do it. You find people who if you need to get some welding done and you can’t afford to pay for it, find someone who is awesome at it and hopefully they are already friends with you, you get them drunk and say “Dude you just have to weld this shit for us” and they will be like “OK” and they do it for free. It’s great.
Do you feel limited at all by the stoner rock tag that some people have thrown on you?
I don’t personally feel limited by any of the tags. I mean because everyone has different ears and everybody thinks we sound like somebody different and sometimes people say stoner rock, sometimes people say grunge, sometimes people say metal, and then some will say hard rock. We just consider ourselves loud and heavy rock but there is nothing you can do to prevent those labels from being attached, you just have to kind of shrug them off I guess.