Interview with Fishbone

By: Tiffany Janay

Fishbone is a band that has been rocking stages and inspiring upcoming rock stars for over 25 years. They’ve been given credit for inspiring such musicians and bands as Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Even after all these years of releasing albums and performing live, Fishbone is still captivating fans and will continue to do so with their new documentary Everyday Sunshine, which currently plays at numerous film festivals. The film summarizes their journey over all these years and illustrates that vulnerable side of the band that most people don’t normally get to be apart of.

With over 15 different band members coming in and out over time, Fishbone has managed to keep 3 of the original members together: Angelo Moore (vocals, saxophone, and Theremin), Norwood Fisher (bass), and Dirty Walt (trumpet and vocals). Completing the current band is John McKnight (trombone, guitar, and keys), Rocky George (guitar and formerly of Suicidal Tendencies), John Steward (drums), and Dre Gibson (keys and vocals).

One of the things that Fishbone takes great pride in is their dedication to keep moving forward and being creative; they are aware that they stand as a point of reference to aspiring musicians. Being a good and professional musician takes lots of dedication, “There are young punk rock bands that go out, tour, and suffer.  They suffer for the music and the art. They take pennies and guarantees, and grind it out until the band comes up.  That’s what Fishbone did.  Even though we had a major label behind us, we would have done it anyways because that was the scene we were in.  You go out and take your lumps, and then you come back harder and stronger because you took that punishment.”

With a band that has inspired so many others to find their inner greatness, I decided it was best to present this article to the musicians out there that need their dose of inspiration and guidance. What better choice would I have made if I hadn’t picked a band that has so gracefully explored all aspects of the music industry?

How do you guys all create together?
There is the process of spontaneous combustion where we don’t know what’s going to happen and we just start playing…and it happens.  Making something out of nothing is a great process. There’s also the process where guys write songs individually and bring it to the band, and we either play it as it is or we kind of pick it apart and everybody adds their own pieces to it, which allows each person in the band to have a part in making it their own.

When bringing in new members, do you try to keep the same sound or create something new?
As a legacy, you have to actually be able to express the root before you can expand.  We allow for people to express themselves in any song, but you have to learn the root – the original intention and expand from there.

Are you signed with a major label or an independent label?

We are actually not signed to any label in particular. We can always lean on Controlled Substance. I’d actually like to do something with Miles and Kyle, and Stoopid Records, whether it’s a single or whatever.  In the big picture, we really don’t know and I’m not stressin’ about it.  We can put it out ourselves on iTunes and if something comes along that makes sense, then we’ll go in that direction.  A major label situation is not a concern at all.

Has it always been that way?  You’ve had a record deal since you were 18 right?

We actually signed that deal at 19.  That was with Columbia Records, which then became Sony Records, and that lasted about 10 years. Then we went to Arista Records with Dallas Austin under Rowdy Records, which is Dallas’ label.  We had a good time doing those recordings with Dallas and I look back at those as very fond memories.  And then there was Hollywood Records, which was an ill fit because they were a Disney label  that was afraid of us from the very beginning.  They said they understood what they were getting into, but…we got a good recording out of it.

Do you prefer your situation now?  Are you able to be more creative now that you’re freer in a business sense?
That’s kind of ironic because creatively there is the idea that you can do anything, but in the real world, money creates freedom.  If I have to work really hard to make sure my rent is paid and my daughter is fed, then I have less time to write. So it’s kind of funny, but I do like the situation as it is because it makes us responsible for our own situation rather than reliant on a machine. We’re kind of in the middle passage of the old model, and the new model is still being created. I honestly can look at my own career and say that there’s something that the major label did, which was putting the name Fishbone everywhere at once, that enables me to have the career that I have today.  As much as the beauty of the music and the power of our live performances stood out, it was everything working together that created the idea in people’s minds that Fishbone was something to love.

Some people believe the band didn’t reach a high level of mainstream success.  What are your thoughts on that?
There is a mainstream success that some of our peers have enjoyed and we didn’t reap those monetary kickbacks. But there’s a place where we were, and had we made some different choices and maintained better at that level, I’d still be able to buy my mom a house and would have taken advantage of the things that come with being at a certain level.

How do you plan to obtain that level?

I’m going to try to make my art as beautiful as I can.  I believe in my heart that the deeper I’m able to dig and give of myself, there will be a return.  We used to go out with 2 tour buses, semi-trucks, and all kinds of stuff – we were doing it big like that monetary success promised.  We were at a level where we had the big lights, the stage sound, and props.  We had a 14-foot mechanical fish where the eyes lit up and opened, and smoke came out of the mouth.  We spent our money on that you know. We could have divided that money instead. I believe in what I’m doing, I believe in Fishbone, and as long as our intentions are in the right place, then we can achieve anything that we can imagine.

Where do you think the money is at today in the music industry?  Where do you think artists can get the majority of their money from?
Most bands are going to do the majority in live performances.  People aren’t selling as many records as they used to. Most bands are selling a lot less overall because of downloads.  Maybe that’s just the paradigm that we live in at the moment until something else gets figured out about the game with the Internet in mind.

Do you enjoy touring and being out on the road all the time?

Very fortunately, I love touring. –It’s gratifying. You get an immediate response that you are doing a good job. And after all these years, we can still be brand new.

When you guys had that vision in the beginning to create this band, has the vision played out how you imagined?  Have you accomplished what you set out to do?

We accomplished more.  We have expanded upon the dream, that’s how I look at it.  Once you achieve your goal you usually ask yourself, can I dream bigger, can I achieve more?

What was the original goal?

We just wanted to be a band.  I don’t ever remember having a conversation about being rich or buying cars – that wasn’t the thing.  We were straight-out musicians who were dedicated and practiced all the time. We wanted to be original, and that’s what we wanted to do. And we thought that if we were original, then there would be a stage that would be for us. The other part about the mansions, yachts, and all that stuff; I don’t remember that being part of the conversation and maybe that’s what was missing…hahaha! That part wasn’t important.  We were discovering music and that’s what mattered.

How do you guys keep such good synergy as a band?

Everybody in the band respects the entity itself for the most part. They actually see the cultural value of the band, and really, no matter how hard it is when we go on tour every night, it’s like “dude, we are making people happy”.  Every night there are 2, 3, 5, or 10 people with Fishbone tattoos somewhere on their body and saying “I love you guys so much!”  We’re doing something that’s good, beyond our financial difficulties!  Those kind of things give you the fuel to do it one more day.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

Related Articles