Judging from their imaginative, humorous, and low-budget music videos, the gents in Red Fang – Aaron Beam (vocals, bass), Bryan Giles (vocals, guitar), David Sullivan (guitar), and John Sherman (drums) – have a side to them that does not take things too seriously. But musically, they continue to rock ferociously – as heard throughout their new album, Arrows.
As it turns out, their fifth full-length outing was recorded, finished, and ready to go in the spring of 2020, before Covid hit. Since Red Fang is a hard-touring band, it seemed pointless to release the album without a substantial amount of dates on the road to support it. But now, after letting it hibernate for a year, the band have decided the time is right to unleash Arrows, in hopes that touring will return sooner rather than later.
When Guitar World spoke to Sullivan and Giles, Red Fang’s guitar duo spoke about the new album, the equipment they used for its recording, and just how much fun it was wielding swords in the Arrows music video.
First off, I have to ask, is it okay to feel scared when listening to the spooky opening of the album, Take It Back?
Sullivan: “It’s perfectly fine to feel scared.”
Giles: “It’s a perfectly natural feeling. Go with it!”
Which guitars, effects, and amps did you use on Arrows?
Sullivan: “We did something unusual for us on this record – we used Kemper Profiler amps, both me and Bryan. We profiled our Sunn Betas – the Beta Leads and the Beta Bass – and then used Kempers when we were in the studio.
"At first, I was like, ‘Ah…I don’t know.’ But it sounded fine – it sounded just like playing right through the Sunn.”
Giles: “That was what we used to track – we basically created a monitor sound with the Kempers. I was dubious that it would be any good.
“But I stood in the room after they sampled our amps, and I was like, ‘Just go back and forth between the Kemper and the actual amp, and I’ll tell you when you switched.’
"I was playing with my back to the amp, and I was like, ‘Go ahead and do it,’ and they said, ‘We’ve switched it four or five times now’ – and I couldn’t hear the difference. So, I thought it was a pretty good facsimile.
“But we just saved the dry signal and re-amped everything. So, what you’re hearing is actual Sunn amps through Orange cabs.”
Sullivan: “And we both played our Nik Huber guitars for pretty much everything. I don’t think I ever switched from the Nik Huber Krautster – I think Bryan used his Krautster the whole time, too.
“There were all kinds of effects. One effect that I remember using a lot was the Dream Reaper from Adventure Audio. It’s a feedbacking kind of freak-out machine. It’s got way too many knobs, and it really freaks out and responds to your volume knob – like some old fuzzes do.
“And then just my normal pedals – we both use Drop pedals, so I have a DigiTech Drop, and Bryan uses an Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork. We use them mostly for an octave effect.
“I’ve got an EarthQuaker Dispatch Master – which is reverb and delay in one. And I do remember we did some weird stuff – [producer] Chris Funk has a hurdy-gurdy, and we messed around with that for a while.”
Giles: “I finally went to pick up the equipment that we’d left there [in the studio] – it sat in the studio for at least nine months. One of the things I picked up was David’s pedals, and they were in two medium-sized duffel bags. I still have them in my house – if I need inspiration, I go digging around in David’s pedal bag.
“But it was really fun. It was like, ‘Let’s try this thing!’ Some of the experiments were horrible, but I think that’s one of my favorite parts of recording in the studio – happy accidents.
"Just freaking out on something. Maybe nothing works at all, but except they happened to be recording when you were tuning your guitar, and there was a little tweak that happened with the tuning peg, and that noise gets used.
“That’s the kind of thing that really excites me about the recording process, especially because we have a limited budget and a limited amount of time. It’s not like we had everything mapped out exactly like what we were going to do. It’s the ‘question marks’ that get me excited about the recording process.”
What makes Nik Huber guitars your go-to instruments?
Sullivan: “They’re really nice to play, they sound great, they’re really well-built. They are a little expensive compared to some things you can buy, but I think they’re worth it. The craftsmanship in them is really great. They just feel and play excellent.”
Giles: “They play fantastically. The reason why I play the Krautster is because the airport lost my guitar. We were over in Europe for like a four-day weekend, and the airport employees may have been on strike, so there was no way I was getting my guitar back.
“Luckily, David had gotten his guitars, so he had a second guitar for alternate tunings, and I used that for a weekend. I have a ’64 Mustang that I’ve been playing for 30 years, and that was floating around in an airplane or a hangar somewhere that weekend. But at the end of the week, I was like, ‘These guitars play great.’ They’re awesome.
“I just got my ’64 back – it was in the shop for over a year. It looks beautiful – it’s been refinished and everything. It’s back! Anyway, 30 years – same guitar.”
Which songs on Arrows are you most proud of from a guitar perspective?
Sullivan: “I really like Arrows a lot – that song is great. It’s really fun to play and it’s got a lot going on in it.”
Giles: “I’m a huge fan of the intro to Funeral Coach. That riff had been in a ‘homeless situation’ for like ten years or something, and we finally got it into a song. I was real happy about that.”
Sullivan: “And I really like Unreal Estate and Fonzi Scheme. I really like those riffs. One thing that I like about this record is that it has got a lot of different flavors from song to song.
"There’s heavy Melvins-y stuff, more upbeat punk rock kinda stuff, and some really weird mellow things. It’s kind of all over the place.”
Was filming the video for the song Arrows as fun as the clip looks?
Giles: “It was super-fun – we got to chop the shit out of things! It was great!”
Sullivan: “It was fun. I’m glad nobody got hurt. Because it could have been dangerous.”
Giles: “None of us are swordsmen, naturally, although I know from that video we look really good. I did actually look on YouTube, ‘How to use a katana sword.’ [Laughs] I was like, ‘If I’m going to be throwing around a deadly instrument, I should probably look at some things.’
“The information I got from that was rapidly thrown out the window. It’s an art form that takes more than six minutes on YouTube to perfect. So, if you’re going to become a swordsman, maybe spend a little more time than I did learning how.”
Does Red Fang hope to tour soon?
Sullivan: “Yeah. We would love to – once it’s okay for people to be all together in one place. I’m really looking forward to being able to tour again.
“But it seems kind of unknown. Things felt like they were getting better and we were going to be able to tour. We had been planning some tours, and then everything got worse again. But yeah, definitely looking forward to it.
“It’s just, when is it going to happen? I don’t know.”
Giles: “I think the major issue is just no-one in the band has any interest in being a part of something that causes other people to be ill. We don’t want to be an impetus for someone to get in a crowded space and get sick.
“So, even if we’re all vaccinated, I’m not playing music to kill people, y’know? I want to slay them… but I don’t want to kill them. We love our fans, we want them to be healthy, so, we don’t want to generate any further reasons to break protocols and give this virus its last hurrah.
“I think its last hurrah should be on the funny pages in the back of the paper – not the front page.”
- Red Fang's Arrows is out on June 4 via Relapse Records (opens in new tab).