Musical genres and especially sub-genres can be excruciatingly tricky things to maneuver around. On one hand, they’re widely considered necessary in order to offer some context to people who have never heard a band when trying to figure out if they are likely to enjoy them or not. On the other, artists tend to detest them. Sub-genres can be oppressive, limiting, and breed a terribly precious, snobbish attitude in fans.
Portland’s Red Fang are often labelled “stoner metal” — a tag that has come to mean less and less as time has passed. Everyone from Black Sabbath to Queens of the Stone Age to Cathedral to Monster Magnet has been tarred with that particularly sticky brush, and Red Fang frontman Bryan Giles isn’t particularly fond of the practice.
“I think all of us agree that we don’t think we fit in the stoner rock genre as much as we’re put there,” Giles says. “If you ask me what stoner rock is, it’s a very broad term, but it’s more about taking one or two riffs and really ruminating on them, exploring them, and doing different things dynamically. Sort of turning one concept on all sides like a Rubik’s Cube. Whereas I think we’re too ADD to sit still that long. We write a part and after four repetitions we’re like, “Alright, what’s next?” So I guess we’re like the Ritalin kid of the stoner rock genre.”
Red Fang is 12 years old this year, having formed in 2005. Rather refreshingly, and contrary to most bands who are keen to point at self-perceived signs of growth, Giles is happy to say that he doesn’t feel like his band has grown a considerable amount. Rather, it found its groove early on and has been happy to stay in it (much like a Motorhead or an AC/DC). They try new things, but not at the expense of their established sound.
“I think we’ve grown in not a very noticeable way to us, but I think that our music has probably gone through some changes,” Giles says. “When you’re living it every day, it’s hard to see where the drastic differences are musically. I’m glad we’re still doing it, I’m glad we still get along. I think that the one thing we‘ve always tried to do as a band is be open to new ideas, and I feel like we’ve tried some new things. The new record has some new dimensions to it, and that’s exciting because I think that’s what keeps a band going.”
That stability is aided massively by the fact that the same four guys who formed the band are still in (alongside Giles, bassist Aaron Beam, guitarist David Sullivan and drummer John Sherman). No members have shifted out, even in the early days. That’s rare, though partly explained by the fact that they got together in their 30’s, when they had all already been in other bands.
“We’ve been through some pretty stressful tour situations, days and days on end where we don’t leave the club till 2 a.m. and we’ve got to be at the airport at 4,” Giles says. “This is insane. That we didn’t rip each other’s heads off is something. I’m glad to still have my head on my body.”
Last year, Red Fang released Only Ghosts, the band’s fourth full-length album. Giles says that he’s been pleased with the response from fans and critics, but then he says he’s amazed that anyone listens at all. That incredibly, almost ludicrously, humble; Red Fang has an enviable fanbase and an arsenal of excellent material to pull from, with everything from 2011’s sophomore Murder the Mountains onwards released on celebrated metal label Relapse.
“After some arm-twisting by various people, they finally gave us a shot and it’s been great,” Giles says. “They still have offices in Philly but they have a home office here in Portland, so we see the guys around socially and they’re super-laid back, and super-helpful. It’s been great being with them. We signed the contract with them years back, but I don’t think it’s ever come out of the desk drawer since then. We’re all on the same page, so it’s been more of a friendship-based thing than a business deal. So I’m perfectly happy. We just resigned with them, and I’m glad they’re still onboard with us.”
Having lived in San Diego on and off for five years in the past, Giles is always happy to return to return to California, enjoying the laid-back attitude and corner burrito shops. Red Fang plays Alex’s Bar in Long Beach on Wednesday, October 25, and the singer says that the set will see the band juggling the old and the new.
“We really enjoy the whole new album, but it’s tough – we do about an hour and ten minutes, maybe sometimes longer if people are digging it, just try to make a balance of having all of our albums represented,” Giles says. “I feel like we do a pretty good job of that. We look at it and say how many songs are we doing? We don’t want to weigh it too heavily in brand new stuff or really early stuff. I think we have some fans that are more centric on one record or another. They’re all our babies so I’m perfectly happy playing them all. We haven’t sat down and put together a set for this tour yet, but I anticipate a pretty even distribution of jams.”
When this current tour is over, Red Fang will prepare for dates with prog-thrash giants Mastodon in Europe, as well as shows in South America and Australia. There are busy times ahead, and much can be achieved. Typically though, Giles’ aspirations are modest.
“One of the most exciting things about being in a band is getting to explore the planet,” he says. “Whether you make a million dollars or not has never been the point for me. I just want to eat every culture’s burrito if I can.”
Red Fang plays with Fireball Ministry and BigPig at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 25 at Alex’s Bar; 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; 562-434-8292; $18-$20; 21+.