Red Fang’s Aaron Beam on ‘Immersive’ Collaboration with Producer Ross Robinson

Beam discusses the recording of 'Only Ghosts' with Ross Robinson, the moment he knew Red Fang was here to stay, and more

red fang interview aaron beam

Photo by James Rexroad

Red Fang are a Portland metal band specializing in lager-soaked riffs, playful humor, and all-American rock vigor. Their new album, Only Ghosts (released in October on Relapse Records), was produced by Ross Robinson. Ross’ place in the producers’ pantheon is unique. He built his reputation channeling emotional performances onto high-octane albums by Korn, Slipknot, At the Drive-In and more. Ross is known for his commitment in the studio and for pushing bands out of their comfort zone (sometimes literally: one band filmed Robinson shoving its members mid-performance).

Red Fang bassist & vocalist Aaron Beam caught up with Culture Creature via phone during a tour stop in Philadelphia for a conversation about working with Robinson, the moment he knew Red Fang was a full-time band, and much more. Read the interview here:

Dan Redding: I want to talk about the recording process of Only Ghosts. Red Fang recorded the album in producer Ross Robinson’s beachfront home studio in Los Angeles – and I think you stayed there during the process, is that right?

Aaron Beam: Yes. His studio is on the ground floor, and he has a couple spare bedrooms and a mattress… We were sleepin’ upstairs and then we’d run downstairs to do our parts. It was an immersive experience.

That sounds fun as hell. Can you describe a typical day of what that experience was like?

Sure. The first ten or eleven days was about getting all the drum tracks…. On the drum tracking days, we’d probably get into the studio right around noon or so, after everybody was up and had their coffee. Well actually – first thing was, Ross would go for a bike ride. Almost every morning, he rides his mountain bike up into the hills, north of Santa Monica.

It’s so fuckin’ beautiful over there.

Yeah, it’s amazing. Often times, we’d go for a run to get nine dollar juices kind of in more of the center of Venice. About noon or so, we’d get to work. It usually would be us practicing through whatever song we wanted to do next a couple times, until we felt ready to have Ross come in. He’d come into the room with us and we’d play through it a couple times, and he’d sort of listen and think about stuff. And we’d play it through maybe a third time, and he’d start stopping us, and say, ‘What if the drums did this here instead of what it’s doing now, or what if you moved that part that you’re doing now to the front of the song,’ and we’d just kind of start working on fine-tuning the arrangement and the way that the drums were accentuating the different parts. We’d do that for a while, until we had a satisfactory, new and improved version of the song, then practice it through til we were ready to track it.

When we were about to track, then we would shut everything down, and we’d lock ourselves in the room with Ross and then talk about what the lyrics were about, and spend a good ten minutes to forty-five minutes talking about what the song was about, and what it meant to all of us to hear what Bryan was thinking with his lyrics or what I was thinking with my lyrics. And try to get John to focus his energy and his playing into communicating the same sort of feeling that the lyrics were talking about. Then we turned the tape on, and we’d just start rolling, and we tracked the drums that way – and we’re all playing, and we’re all sweating like crazy, and we’re singing along, while we’re playing – which we’ve never done before, so it was a challenge and it put a lot more pressure on me and Brian to actually have vocal parts done before we even got into the studio….

red fang interview aaron beam2

Red Fang. Photo by James Rexroad

After the drums were done, we took turns – we would go one song at a time. I would go in and put the bass down, and then it was both the guitars, and then the vocals came last, so it was just like each person kinda coming in and out. We’d sit and listen to each other while we’re playing and have suggestions. It got kind of more relaxed once the drums were done, but same thing.… Near the end, it was like one in the afternoon until four in the morning.


Yeah, they were long days, and it was thirty days in a row with no break. Ross got super sick and was drinking like four of those nine-dollar juices a day. He was going really hard. We were inspired by him… He wouldn’t quit at all. He was working harder than any of us. He had to be at the desk constantly, he was working the entire time – he’d take short breaks to walk his dog or go get a juice or whatever. I would come in and do my bass, and it would be half an hour or something, and I’d be like, ‘Alright, see you later, I’m gonna go get some food.’ And then David would do his [parts] – but Ross was there the whole time. It made us work harder too.

Do you think Ross just has that innate personality that he’s kind of a sparkplug and never stops going?

Oh yeah, for sure. His sister came by one day to the studio, and was telling stories about Ross – he was a troublemaker in high school, and he was really into riding dirtbikes. She was saying that when he was in high school, he basically had a little gang and could pretty much talk anybody into doing anything he wanted. He wasn’t like an evil mastermind, but basically he was like, ‘I just wanna make my life more fun and it would be cool if this crazy thing happened,’ and he’d get people to do stuff. He’s definitely a sparkplug, that’s a good description.

He’s just a persuasive leader, I guess. So when Red Fang had that hour, or however much time, where you’re talking about the lyrics and all of the band members are immersing themselves in the concept of the song, what effect did that have? What were the results of that time?

One thing is that it brought us closer together as a band, cuz we’re sharing pretty deep emotional crap with each other – which we do sometimes, but only when some real big thing is happening when we’re on tour…

To give an example of a time when that didn’t happen, we played a show on Halloween a long time ago. We loaded in at soundcheck and then I ran off and had to take my cat to the vet to be put to sleep. I came back and played the show and kind of played badly, and had this temper tantrum and blew up and was screaming at everybody. We’ve gotten to the point now where we actually share those things with each other – if we’re having something that’s stressing us emotionally. But it’s really just like, if there’s emotional distress, then we share it with each other – but we’re not getting deep about the history of our lives and shit like that, generally. So that brought us closer together as a band, as people, and made us feel more tightly-knit as humans, which then had the result – at least to my ear – of making the songs sound more focused. I feel like you can hear – at least I can – even in John’s drumming, everything is focused more on the feeling that the lyrics are trying to express.

A lot of people, when they’ve been writing about the record, say that it sounds darker. We are mostly pretty cheerful dudes on a daily basis. But the stuff that Brian and I write about is stuff that troubles us from our past or whatever – just stuff in our brains. I feel like musically, the result of that process of Ross having us talk about ‘The Why’ – that’s what he called it – made the album sound darker because it reflects the lyrical themes a lot more.

Only Ghosts is great – and I do think you can hear a focused energy in those songs. Did Ross have any sort of pep talks? What were those kind of speeches that he made during the process of working together?

They’re not exactly pep talks – it’s just his personality and the way that he’s just super excited about everything. It was just part of the flow – it wasn’t like a football team at halftime… It was more like, when one of us was getting frustrated or feeling like we should be able to do something but couldn’t get it done or whatever… Whenever somebody was getting mad and was yelling or whatever, Ross would be like, ‘That’s awesome!’ He’d get super excited. His mantra was like, anytime you’re having that kind of trouble, it’s a positive thing because you’re stretching your ability and growing as a performer and as a musician in the way that you express your instrument. Anytime anything like that happened, he was like, ‘This is great, this is a really good thing.’ He’d get really excited about it. That’s his positive attitude. Repeating that kind of mantra about [challenges] being a thing about growth was sort of his pep talk I guess.

As a musician yourself, did you feel like you did grow or push through boundaries, as a player or writer or otherwise during that process?

I think mainly, vocally, he made me feel more confident to push myself and push my vocals harder in the studio. Every other time, I’ve been pretty conservative, and just tried to make sure that I’m getting the notes right. I think that I can probably go further still. I’d love to work with him again. I definitely feel like I grew as a vocalist in the studio. Live, I definitely push it very hard – it’s just the excitement of the live show, it happens naturally. In the studio, in the past, I’ve always worried that it quote-unquote sounds right, and not about, like, going for it. That was the biggest thing for me.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Seattle. We moved to New Haven, Connecticut when I was not even one. When I was about four and a half, we moved to Iowa City, Iowa. I grew up there until I was almost thirteen, then moved to Colorado. I’ve been in Portland since I was seventeen.

What was your first band called?

Ohhh, god.

[laughter] That good, huh?

Yeah…. The first band that I was in that we actually did our own songs – this was in high school – it was called Bloated Roaches.

That’s heavy man. Was that a metal band?

No, it was more like a grunge band. We were super into Soundgarden and Mudhoney and Tad and Nirvana’s Bleach. We actually did a couple Soundgarden covers and a Mudhoney cover. We were a full-on grunge band. That was in like 1989.

What year did Red Fang form?

Right around 2005.

Do you recall if there was a moment when you realized that Red Fang could be a full-time band and be successful?

Yeah. It was pretty much when we basically all had to leave our jobs in March of 2011 – maybe it was 2010 – we had so many tours coming up that none of our jobs would let us stay. They were like, ‘Well no, you can’t come back after three-and-a-half months and expect to have jobs still.’ It was during that stretch that we went to Europe for the first time. It was playing in Athens, Greece that was kind of the ultimate proof to me. On that whole tour, we had to keep reordering shirts. I was like, what the hell? We were playing first of four or something. We had to order more and more shirts because we kept running out. Then we were playing in Athens and people were going completely crazy and singing along to ‘Prehistoric Dog’ and doing soccer chants in between songs. I was like, ‘Okay, I think we made the right decision by leaving our jobs and doing this.’

There was further proof at the very end of that tour – we played Hellfest for the first time. We were playing at like noon on a Sunday. I just thought, okay, we’re gonna just be breaking into this festival, there’s gonna be nobody there. There was a five-thousand-person tent that was completely filled. That was kinda the last moment of like, ‘Okay, this is gonna happen, I think it’s gonna work out.’

So that wasn’t that long ago that you that you all left your jobs to commit to the band. Now, in 2016, what goals remain for you and Red Fang?

I think we all refocused around this record. We sort of already achieved one goal, which was to refocus on making the band fun, and doing stuff that feels natural to us as far as the types of venues we play and the types of shows we decide to do, and how much we go on tour. We spent a couple years there doing stuff that was more about growing the band, you know? Stuff that maybe we wouldn’t have chosen to do if it weren’t presented as like, increasing your visibility or whatever. That stuff is important – it’s a good idea to do it if you wanna make music your living – but it gets to the point where you have to balance it…. My goal would be to get to a point where, at least from a business side, if where we can play big enough shows to where we don’t have to be on tour for six months out of the year to make a living. But on a more personal side, my goal is just to continue having fun being in this band, and to continue making music that I feel strongly is reflective of me as a person, and in some cases that might mean that fewer people are gonna be interested in it. But I just wanna make sure that – at least for me – that I’m communicating something that feels like it’s true and that it’s me. Not doing stuff just because it’s gonna be attractive to more people. That’s my goal.

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