Red Fang Still Have A Sense Of Humour

Red Fang interview with Northern Transmissions
Red Fang photo by James Rexrod

Red Fang’s fifth studio full-length, Arrows, is primed to pierce your psyche. It’s a record that finds the Portland foursome trafficking in nasty washes of experimental fuzz (“Take It Back”, “Interop-Mod”), symphonic stoner metal (“Fonzi Scheme”), and melodious Pacific Northwest sludge-pop (“Arrows”).

Just as impressive is the band’s ongoing, often hilarious videography. While Red Fang’s songbook can lean towards the sinister, their videos are generally silly—in the best way possible. It all started with the video for “Prehistoric Dog,” off the band’s self-titled 2009 release, wherein Red Fang crush the cut and a stack of beers in their kitchen/practice space, fashion themselves PBR-plated body armour, and head out to a local park to brawl with some LARP-ers. It’s only gotten weirder over the years, with Red Fang gorily chopping their way through a zombie apocalypse, or getting tracked by an out-for-blood Predator in an Oregon State forest.

Most recently, the “Arrows” video found the band blowing their budget on a katana blade, proceeding to spend the clip slicing through watermelons, and shaving each other’s backs. The video for the new album’s “Why?”, meanwhile, is a bacchanalian tragedy that covers the downward spiral of Arnie Von Party, a Chuck E. Cheese-styled pizza restaurant mascot whom loses his job, goes on a parmesan bender, and ultimately ends up immolated under a bridge within a tomb of discarded pizza boxes.

Speaking with Northern Transmissions, Red Fang drummer John Sherman details the sense of humour, animatronics magic, and minor bloodshed that goes into making one of metal’s wildest highlight reels.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Northern Transmissions: Red Fang has a pretty wild videography— “Blood Like Cream” had the zombie invasion; “Shadows” had the Predator conceit; there was the daredevil car smash-ups in the “Wires” video. How do you remember that all starting?

John Sherman: It all started with out good buddy Whitey McConnaughy, who has directed most of our videos. He’s been a buddy of ours for years, and back when Bryan [Giles, guitar], David [Sullivan, guitar] and I were in another band called Party Time, Whitey was always around taking pictures. He made snowboard movies; he had a production company called Kingpin Productions, and [then] he started to make music videos. They were awesome! We were begging him to do a music video for us.

Finally, when Red Fang was around, he had an idea for the “Prehistoric Dog” video and pitched it to us, and we were like ‘Yes, of course! That sounds insane!’ We didn’t have any money to pay him, [but] he figured out how to do it on the cheap— totally guerrilla-style filmmaking. Ever since then, he’s just been our go-to guy. He had this idea for “character versions” of us, basically just us amped up by 100. We can’t really escape that image now, but its fine. It’s served us well, and we’re not too far from those idiots in real life.

NT: Does making videos ever feel Sisyphean, like you have to outdo yourselves each time? Is there pressure to top the previous video?

JS: Not so much. I mean, after we did “Prehistoric Dog” and Whitey wanted to do another video, we were like, “How can you top that? Maybe we should just stop now.” Then he did the “Wires” video, which might be even better than “Prehistoric Dog.” The pressure is really on Whitey to make up crazier videos. The latest one that Whitey did for “Arrows,” we’re basically [remaking] the “Wires” video, just with a new spin.

NT. I get that; they’re both centred on the idea of a blowing the video budget. With both the song and album being titled “Arrows,” why did you go with the katana, as opposed to a quiver and bow, or even a crossbow?

JS: Because we’re idiots! We never even connected that. This is the first album that has a title track that’s actually on the record— We have other albums that are titled after songs that aren’t on those particular records, which is weird [ed. After releasing their Murder the Mountains album in 2011, Red Fang released a song called “Murder the Mountains” as a bonus track for 2013’s Whales and Leeches]. It’s hard for us to draw straight lines between two thoughts, I guess.

NT: Had you ever held onto a sword prior to the shoot?

JS: No, we were all very inexperienced swordsmen prior to the shoot. Now, of course, we’re extremely experienced. It’s a trip, man— if you’ve never swung a sword and [then] tried to slice something, it’s not as easy as it looks. Once you get the hang of it, though, it‘s super fun. A lot of times while we were filming, someone would throw something at you and you’d try to hit it, but you’d miss. And when you finally got the hang of it, it’s someone else’s turn [to hold the sword]. “Aw shit, throw some more stuff at me! I’m ready!”

NT: What all did you cut through, then?

JS: I don’t even remember what all made it into the video. I might’ve cut a ham— like a ham loaf—but we cut so much stuff. That’s also Whitey’s style: he will film so many stunts or gags, and then he edits it down into this concise, easy-to-ingest video. I’m always like, “Aw man, what about all that other shit we did?” I’m always slightly disappointed when we see the first cut of the video, but of course you can’t fit 20 hours of footage into a four-minute song. I hope a blooper reel surfaces one day.

NT: Were there any safety concerns around wielding such a gnarly weapon for the first time?

JS: I mean…you don’t want to stand right next to someone who’s swinging a sword wildly while a record is being thrown at them— especially one of us— but as long as [they] don’t let go of the sword, everything’s fine. Hardly any bloodshed on the set—minor nicks and cuts, but nothing major. That sword was no joke, though. It was the real deal.

NT: Getting back to video budgets, and looking at “Why” in particular, there’s got to have been some serious money spent on the costumes for the Party Pizza mascot characters. And then at the end, the Arnie Von Party suit gets set on fire…

JS: As with all of our videos, we were extremely lucky to work with people who are wildly talented and willing to do stuff on the cheap. For example, the animatronic head for Arnie Von Party—that’s a one-of-a-kind, handmade-and-sculpted, kick-ass animatronic head with radio-controlled eyes, and all that. The guy [Kevin Gorby at Luna’s Puppets] did it for a lot less than he should have, but he was willing to do it for what we could afford. But because it’s such a labour of love, when he found out it was going to be destroyed at the end of the video, he insisted on making a dummy head [to burn]. It looked exactly like
the animatronic head; it just didn’t have all the bells and whistles. Luckily the animatronic head wasn’t set on fire, like the other one was, under a bridge late at night.

NT: That potentially leaves things open to a sequel!

JS: Yeah! There you go.

NT: Have you ever considered acting outside of the Red Fang videography?

JS: I don’t think any of us are very good actors, but we’re comfortable with reacting, you know? Most of our screen time is just us reacting to shit that’s happening around us. I wouldn’t be comfortable if I actually had to act. I don’t think I could pull it off…unless you’re offering me a show. Then, yes, I’ll do it.

NT: There are naturally splatter and gore elements to videos about zombie apocalypses, or about things getting stabbed and sliced in half, but behind all that there’s a rich sense of humour found in the Red Fang videos. How important is it to get that across in these videos?

JS: It’s not that it’s important; it’s just easier for us to be on camera if we’re just goofing off. I don’t think any of us really have the confidence to be in front of a camera and talk about how bad-ass we are. It’s easier to fuck around! And, to me, it’s more fun to watch people goofing off in a video than watch some dudes acting all serious in a dark and gloomy one.

Red Fang’s John Sherman recommends five comedies and a horror movie

The Jerk (1979)
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Pineapple Express (2008)
Caddyshack (1980)
Brewster’s Millions (1985)
Hereditary (2018)

Order Arrows by Red Fang HERE