INTERVIEW: Tavis Werts (trumpet player for Reel Big Fish)
January 9, 1997
By: Alex Steininger
Alex: What are some of your musical influences?
Tavis: Well me personally. I listen to a lot of jazz trumpet players. Lou Morgan, Pepper Brown, Dizzy Gilespy (?), and as far as the band goes, um...I'm not really sure, uh...Suburban Rhythm, Sublime, a lot of bands from Orange County area, uh...and I guess English Beat. I don't think we have a lot of serious influences.
Alex: Is there any music you listen to you these days that doesn't influence you, but you just like to listen to, relax to, or have fun to?
Tavis: Um...well I listen to a lot of music, but I think it all kinda influences me in certain ways. So, I listen to a lot of different styles. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Beastie Boys, and a whole range of things. (Andrew Gonzales yells Squirrel Nut Zippers.) Yeah...Squirrel Nut Zippers, their one of my favorite bands.
Alex: Do you have a favorite album that was ever recorded?
Tavis: Uh...that changes every week. (Andrew Gonzales shouts "Thriller." (Laughs)...Thriller, no right now it would be Lee Morgan Cornbread. But by next week it will probably be different, so who knows?
Alex: What are your band goals for 1997?
Tavis: 97? Um...we would like to tour Europe, Japan, and outside the country. And we would like to start making money.
Alex: What do you do on the road for fun?
Tavis: We spend a lot of time doing hurry up and wait type of stuff. So...um...we play a lot of pool and a lot of pinball. I read a lot. That's about it.
Alex: What is your favorite city to play and why?
Alex: Say Portland!
Tavis: Right, Portland is always our favorite to play because everyone here is so cool. No, um...we really don't have a favorite city. I really like San Francisco, New York, and I like New Orleans, even though we didn't get to see much of it. Probably one of our best shows ever, outside of Southern California, was in Beausmen, Montana. Which we played...it was great. We played there. Because nothing ever happens there, when something does everyone goes to see it. Fifteen hundred people came to see us, and they were just going completely nuts. That was fun!
Alex: Were you headlining?
Tavis: No...I think the Cherry Poppin' Daddies were headlining that one. That was on the tour with the Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Lets Go Bowling.
Alex: Did you enjoy the Cherry Poppin' Daddies?
Tavis: Yeah, that was a great tour. Both the Daddies and Let's Go Bowling are great guys. We got along very well. Still, whenever they come down to play in the L.A. area, we go to see them. We were in Eugene last night, and the Daddies came to see us. It was pretty cool. It was a lot of fun.
Alex: What goes into good music making for you?
Tavis: For us, Um...we try and write stuff that is upbeat and catchy. The kind of stuff you hear and get stuck in your head the rest of the week. So, our goal is to write the song that will be more catchy than "It's a Small World." I think if we can do that, we will be set.
Alex: What in the music business do you like, and what annoys you?
Tavis: Um...well I like being able to travel, meeting different people, and being a part of this little scene, meeting other musicians and that kind of thing. There is a lot of back stabbing and deceit in the business that I'm not into.
Alex: Have you ever had it happen to you yet?
Tavis: We have had a little of it happen to our band. Just all kinds of things. Playing for promoters who tried to rip us off, and working with people who at first seemed nice, but try to get as much out of it as they can and basically try to screw you.
Alex: If you could change anything on the current CD, is there anything you would change?
Tavis: Yeah! I think, personally I don't like "Join The Club." I don't think we played that well. It's a good song, I just don't like the way it came out when we recorded it. Overall I think I would have the horns less compressed. I think too often they sound like a keyboard.
Alex: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Tavis: I like 241. That's one of my favorites. Alternative Baby.
Alex: That's my favorite.
Tavis: I like all of them, but I don't have one that sticks out as my personal favorite.
Alex: What are the highest & lowest points you have experienced while being in the band?
Tavis: Our highest point is somewhere in between signing a record deal and opening up for Kiss. Those are both pretty high points.
Alex: When did you open up for Kiss?
Tavis: October 31st, no November 1st. It was at Irvine Meadows. It was one of those shows that got accidentally set up. They said your opening up for Kiss, and we went, "yeah right," but we actually did. So that was cool. That was the biggest crowd we played in front of before. About 5000 people.
Alex: Did the crowd enjoy it?
Tavis: Most of them seemed, we figured we would just get booed off stage, but most people actually seemed to live to it. Our lowest point, I really don't know. We have had a lot of bad shows, but we haven't had any really bad experiences with people or anything like that. I don't know if we have had a lowest point.
Alex: That's good.
Tavis: Yeah, so far.
Alex: Is there a road experience that stands out in your mind?
Tavis: Last night we got into an accident?
Tavis. Yeah. Um...it wasn't much of an accident really. I was driving and we were on a little twisty road trying to get to the freeway. And we came to this really tight corned, and I slowed down to like 5mph, and we hit black ice. And so I stepped on the brakes and turned the wheel. Absolutely nothing happened. We just started to roll into a ditch.
Alex: Was that in Eugene?
Tavis. Yeah, that was actually in, yeah we were still in Eugene getting onto the freeway. Actually there was that, and last night in Eugene we saw "Night of the Living Elvises." Five different Elvis impersonators at one bar. That was pretty good. It was because yesterday was Elvis' birthday. And in Tahoe we met Mr. Clean. The actual Mr. Clean that posed for the bottle. We were eating at a restaurant, and we asked what was up with this picture on the wall. They said he lived right around the corner and asked if they wanted us to call him and meet him. We said, alright sure.
Alex: Is he as muscular as he is on the bottle?
Tavis: No, well, he is now seventy years old. And he looks like a big yota. Still bold, and his ears kinda stick out. He still is pretty big, could probably kick my ass no problem. But he is not as big as he was.
Alex: Imagine the money he made off that.
Tavis: Actually he didn't make any.
Tavis: He was working at muscle beach in Venice, and some guy came and took a couple pictures. But they changed his eye color and something else, so he ended up making absolutely no money off that.
Alex: That's wrong.
Tavis: Yeah...it's pretty bad. That kind of thing happens pretty much, that's the same thing that happens in the music business. You have to be very careful. He was trying to get a penny for a bottle, that is what he wanted. That is all he wanted. Which isn't that much. He would have probably made $10,000, for forty years.
Alex: It's not like he was trying to milk them. He deserves it, they owe him.
Tavis: Yeah, and he got a lawyer, and they ended up winning and said they changed it enough so it's not you.
Alex: America has a crummy law system sometimes.
Tavis: Yeah, it does. Although he did open a gym in Hawaii, that he named after, he just got some publicity because of Mr. Clean, but didn't make any money directly off of it.
Alex: If you could tour with any band, who would it be?
Tavis: Any band? (pause) Do they have to still be around?
Alex: Definitely Not! Give me one that isn't around and one that is around, if you could also pick one that is still around.
Tavis: Well...let's see. Who wouldn't be around. I would like to have toured with Sublime. And someone like the Beattles. Someone really huge. I think it would be a great experience. Right now...I would like to tour with, I don't know, the Cardigans, No Doubt, Tower of Power would be cool.
Alex: The Cardigans would be pretty unusual.
Tavis: It would be kinda of, no I think it would mix pretty well. But who knows. Maybe it will happen.
Alex: What made you want to be in a band?
Tavis: I was born. Um...when I actually joined the band it was my junior year in High School, and I didn't really have, pretty much all my friends were in music, and I wasn't doing that much outside of school, so I picked up a flyer that said "Reel Big Fish needs horns," and I thought it would be kind of fun and I actually seen them once, the weekend before I was hired, and I went and auditioned and made it in.
Alex: I heard they started out as a Warrant cover band, so what made them to want to add horns?
Tavis: Well their original singer, they were doing Warrant, Poison, Jimmy Hendrix, and that whole thing. Then they went in to a cheesy R.E.M. white boy funk, and their singer was into ska, so he said listen to this stuff. So they listened to it and liked it. Then they kicked out that singer and got horns. Then the line-up kept changing until it was the way it is now.
Alex: I heard they released some tapes of the old material.
Tavis: Yeah...they did release one of those tapes. Actually I have never heard it.
Tavis: I have heard bits of it. Um...it's pretty bad. They released it as a joke. They only made 500 tapes of it. And sold it at some of our shows.
Alex: At Ska shows?
Tavis: Yeah...they did that probably two years ago. And we have been playing the style we do now for 3 1/2, almost four years.
Alex: Do they feel bad about their past, do they regret it?
Tavis: No, actually, Aaron will still readily admit to listening to Warrant and Poison. The new Warrant album is kinda cool, completely different, but I don't think they regret it. They talk about it too much in interviews to regret it.
Alex: There is a lot of controversy about "Selling Out." What do you have to say to those people that don't understand music is a job too.
Tavis: A lot of people don't understand that in order to make music and tour, the stuff we have been doing, you need to make money. Otherwise, you know, we can't eat. But, I think also, a lot of people, I think selling doesn't exist. I think selling out is when you start changing your musical style just to fit, changing your music style to fit what is going on in the scene, whatever is big. And, we haven't done that. We have been playing the same stuff for a couple of years, before ska was big, and before anyone was making money on it.
Alex: Right now, if you make a video, or if someone says, "hey...he was wearing green shoes the other day, now he's wearing black shoes. He's a sell-out."
Tavis: Yeah, there's a lot of that. Especially right now, and I'm not sure what's causing it, are really kinda protective of what their into, and want to be the only ones that know about it. So I think a lot of people, as soon as your getting popular, see your CD at the Wherehouse and your video on MTV, and your being played on a major radio station. So they decide your no good anymore, because other people know about you.
Alex: There is a lot of controversy going around about that on alt.music.ska.
Tavis: Yeah, um...I don't know. It's a weird scene.
Alex: Remember that rebuttal you wanted me to post about you guys...
Tavis: Yeah, I remember.
Alex: Saying that you guys aren't traditional ska. Some guy just totally flamed me, telling me to shut up and he just wanted Tavis to say they were traditional ska so he could have a reason to kick Tavis' ass. And I said, "what's the point of that?"
Tavis: I know as well as anyone were not traditional ska. I actually, the way I was first introduced to ska was a traditional skinhead. So he introduced me to older stuff like Desmond Dekker, so I know were not traditional. We have never said we were traditional. We have a semi-traditional song, 241 is fairly traditional. I don't even know where that came from, it was pretty ridiculous.
Alex: Some people make up anything!
Alex: Do you think you have gained more experience and maturity as a band since "Everything Sucks?"
Tavis: Oh yeah, definitely! Between the time the two albums were released. We started playing a lot more. Before Everything Sucks was released, if we were playing two or three times a month that was pretty good. Five shows a month was unheard of. Since, Everything Sucks was released, we started touring, so we would be playing a show every night. So, just playing like that got use a lot tighter. We learned to hear, to step out side the music, and ask ourselves how could it sound better? Personally, for me, I have just gained a lot of experience. I think I play a lot better. Overall, we have definitely have matured a lot.
Alex: Do you think between Turn the Radio Off and your next album more maturity will be shown?
Tavis: I think so. Because of all the production and rehearsal that went into our last album, as we are writing songs, we are a lot more aware of what we need to do. When we did the pre-production, where we had to basically had to go in and listen to our songs and say I don't think that will work. A lot of times the bass drums and the bass parts wouldn't quite match up, it would just kinda be conflicting. So we are more aware of that and pay more attention to that. Just the experience of playing every night for six weeks straight, we have become a lot more consistent. We don't really have as much really good and really bad nights. Everything is pretty much mellowed out. So, everything is pretty much the same. We still have some pretty good nights, and others that are just plain ugly.
Alex: How has the tour with Goldfinger been going so far?
Tavis: So far it has been going pretty good. We have had good crowds at all the shows, and Goldfinger is pretty cool to hang out with. We did part of the tour with Blink-182, and they are all cools guys, and now with the Skeletones, and their cools guys. So far it has been going pretty well.
Alex: Any plans for a solo tour?
Tavis: Eventually! Right now we are still don't think we could really headline a tour outside, probably on the West Coast we could do it and in few other cities we could headline shows that draw a decent crowd. But, I think if we were to just headline a tour now, we would have a lot of shows were only twenty people show up. I mean, those are cool shows to play and a lot of fun, but those little small shows, but you really can't afford to be on tour. With a band of seven people with seven people and gas money, you end up losing a ton of money.
Alex: Kind of like, we have played eight shows, finally we can afford a bean burrito from Taco Bell to spilt between us all.
Tavis: Yeah, that kind of thing. Or, well I guess we can all go to different corners to see if we can make enough gas money to make it to the next town. We are thinking the end of March to do a headlining tour.
Alex: In closing, Is there anything we haven't covered that you would like to address?
Tavis: Um...no I think we have pretty much address all of it. I guess I would just say to people, that they should try to make up their own mind about what kind of music they like and don't like, and get over the fact that your not the only one who is going to be listening to ska. Like it or not, it is getting big, and there are a lot of ska bands who are on the radio now.
Alex: Also, ska influenced bands.
Tavis: There are not really a lot of traditional bands who are getting popular. Hepcat, they are pretty traditional, and they are really good, and they are getting kinda popular. And the Skeletones are more traditional ska style, but yeah, for the most part it is a hybrid. But people need to realize that it is going to evolve. Look at any music that has been around for close to forty years, and it's going to change over the years. And so, I think, people just need to open up there mind a little bit to see what they are going to listen to.
Alex: Thank you very much.
Tavis: No problem.