Interview: Fishbone

Interview: Fishbone

After more than 25 years of breaking down barriers of punk rock, funk, ska and everything in between, Fishbone took the time to chat with The Pier about their journey in the musical game. From their start in 1979, until their most recent release of the Crazy Glue EP, Norwood Fisher discussed it all. The inspiration other bands received from Fishbone while watching the documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, thinking back to their first live performance ever, the difference between Gwen Stefani, Flea and Norwood at lunch, Donald Trump and plenty more topics. Afterall, it is Fishbone, so you never know what to expect. However, it’s great to honor Fishbone with The Pier’s Lifetime Achievement Award, but it’s even better to experience the response from Norwood. Enjoy!

The Pier: It is great to catch up with Fishbone for an exclusive interview. Everyone is so grateful for the opportunity. But to get into it, the band formed in 1979 while the original members were still in high school. How was the rise and breakthrough for Fishbone at such a young age?
Fishbone: At the time we were only 14-years-old. We were so young and naive. Our first show wasn’t in 1979, but we formed and started playing together and really practicing daily to get to a new level as a band. We didn’t know what to think or how the whole band thing would work out, but after all this time has gone by, we are still playing, year after year.

The Pier: Not many bands can stick together and continue touring after a few months, let alone over 25 years. What do you attribute Fishbone’s longevity to?
Fishbone: Every part of the machine that built us had a contributing factor and shaped us into who were are. It literally was everything it took, man. We played our first show in 1983 and put out our first EP in 1985. All we did was rehearse from 1979 to 1983, and really haven’t stopped since then. It took the songs, the producers, all the members of the band and all the preparation we put into our first show to really jump off for from the beginning. I really think without all of that rehearsing over the years before our first show, if we did any less in anticipation of our first show it would never have been as tight, and as a band, our journey might not have unfolded like it did. We were dedicated. All of a sudden we were signed to Columbia Records and got a major boost from that. But beyond the record label, it was every single supporter at our live shows, every fan that bought a record that truly made this happen.

The Pier: You mentioned Fishbone’s first live show, correct me if I’m wrong, but the show took place at Madame Wong’s in Downtown L.A., which was a platform for the punk-rock scene about to explode in the 1980s.
Fishbone: Yeah, man! That was our first live performance ever! When we played there, I don’t know if they even sold food there at all, but it used to be a little restaurant that just so happened to have shows at night. It was really like an underground punk rock Mecca, and that was even before we got there and played. That’s where The Dead Kennedys got their start, and the Go-Go’s played there… I can keep naming bands but it would take forever to list them all. The site of our first show was absolutely L.A. punk rock to the fullest. We were really happy to just play there once, and to have our first show there was such a great feeling. None of us at that time knew how to book a show or play a gig at a nightclub. I was around 17, and most of the band was around that age too. Eventually we met Mitchell Odah, who let us rehearse at his space on Jefferson and Adams. His band was playing that night and got us onto the bill. That’s what got us into the show. Like I said, I would not have known how to book a show. We were still in high school. I was only seventeen; most of the band was around seventeen.

The Pier: Dating back to that first night, Fishbone’s first performance, can you remember any highlights or memorable moments from the inception of the band’s first live show?
Fishbone: Oh, I definitely remember the first night. One thing that I will always remember is we played for like two hours. That’s our first show. We really didn’t know. We were just giving a concert and having fun. The other thing that stands out from that night, all of us were fans of a band called the Bus Boys, and we went and met the band a week earlier at a George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars show. So, we were trying to meet George Clinton and Bootsy at the back door afterwards. We ended up becoming good friends with Brian O’Neal (vocals and keys for the Bus Boys) that night while waiting and tried to get everyone we knew out to the first show. Brian was there at the first show. It’s really cool to look back to the start and see who was there.

The Pier: Starting from the beginning with Fishbone’s first release, Party At Ground Zero, the band has always been conscious of society within the lyrics, both positively and negatively. Did you ever think that the band’s lyrics and songs would be so prevalent decades later?
Fishbone: None of us really knew how it would pan out. The lyrics applied then and they apply today. Back then, when the Soviet Union fell, for a moment there were these kids that didn’t have to really be afraid of nuclear annihilation, and were now free. Locally, we played a few colleges at that point, and the response was wild. It was definitely relevant then, and then all of a sudden, it’s relevant again and it’s not a happy thing. With the whole “Twin Towers”, it just wasn’t fun, so we wrapped that one up for awhile. We still play it live today, and will always play it. For a little bit, it was tough to play, but the fans still go crazy when we play it.

The Pier: For the select fans that have never experienced a Fishbone show, how would you describe the live performance of Fishbone?
Fishbone: That’s easy… like a lightning ball! (laughs) Fishbone is like a sonic lightning ball with all of this incredible energy coming physically out of everybody onstage. Actually, maintaining that level with the audience is the best feeling, and that is when we are at our best.

The Pier: Being that your live performances are so energetic and emotionally driven, how is Fishbone able to translate that onstage charisma into the studio to record?
Fishbone: That’s the hard part. When I am in the studio, I just try and get a mental picture of that energy I want to bring into the song. I just try to get my “Harry Potter” on musically, and make it all come through my fingers into the instrument. It becomes like a game, bringing it in from another way, and capturing that feeling of being onstage. You hope that it comes across in the recordings. Sometimes it is like a mental meditation to get into that zone, other times when you’re onstage, it feels like a full contact Ultimate Fighting Championship battle. The recording studio is almost like internal martial arts, where you do slow meditative moves to find that live sound.

The Pier: Now, how have the recording sessions changed since the beginning rehearsal sessions from 1979, to the first EP in 1985, all the way to the most recent release of Crazy Glue?
Fishbone: Well, the original lineup is not fully intact, but I always felt that it was easier building upon legacy. It’s almost automatic, you know? There is already this idea that once you come into the band, you have to live up to a certain standard. With me and Angelo, and now Walt, original members being back in the band, it’s actually us being profoundly related to the roots of what it means to be in Fishbone. It brings everyone else up to that standard. From the beginning all the way to the Crazy Glue recordings, we have always wanted to make fun music, and that hasn’t changed.

The Pier: Crazy Glue was just an EP, not a full-length album. I heard that there might be a couple more releases in the near future? Will they be EPs as well or a full-length releases?
Fishbone: Yeah! We have some material backed up. We don’t really ever stop writing. Whether we are on tour, in between tours, in between studio time, we are always thinking of new material. Just the idea of getting the music out and using the new technology that iTunes provides has helped. Also, the idea that maybe you don’t need to have twelve songs or fifteen songs on an album. It just feels good to put out new material. It is something we are going to be doing a lot more of in the future. The material is definitely backed up, so the fans will get a taste soon.

The Pier: Along with the new Crazy Glue EP, you guys also have the documentary, “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” playing across the country. How has that been so far?
Fishbone: It has been an amazing ride to see that unfold. To see so many people come out of the woodwork has been great. They have had showings in the cities we have toured in, so we got to meet the fans and people we have inspired. It’s really been great to see. It felt ridiculously awesome to hear the compliments from so many people that have inspired us and made this journey special. The first time I saw the documentary, it was truly a fantastic moment. Most of the people in the movie we know on a personal level and have told us what we meant to them one time or another, but to see that type of footage with Flea telling people what our sound made him feel like or, Gwen Stefani giving us praise. It was almost breathtaking to see on the screen. Something within a condensed version with all their opinions and thoughts about Fishbone is just awesome to see. And, for me, I have kids. This is something that they can see and understand the impact that our band has on the music scene.

The Pier: When I got to sit down with Kyle from Slightly Stoopid earlier this year, he told me, “If I had five minutes with a camera I would unload on Fishbone… They’re legends!” What does that mean to hear that from bands of the past and present musical peers?
Fishbone: Word! See that’s good stuff. We love Slightly Stoopid. Just to experience those heartfelt moments with your brothers is what music is all about. If we inspired other bands to be who they are, then great! But, nothing feels better than to hear the kudos from friends. It’s just awesome!

The Pier: Not to take this to a darker side, but one of the prevalent quotes regarding the documentary was “An inspirational, happy film about failure.” That can’t be true can it after 25-years of playing music?
Fishbone: The quote is coming from someone who obviously judges success on what some of our peers have done. Maybe that person judges success on monetary gain, you know? If I am sitting at lunch with Gwen Stefani and Flea, my wallet might not be as heavy as his wallet or her purse. But, I am still in a badass band that is having a ball when we tour, and we are still putting out records. None of that is promised. It is all hard work that we enjoy. There are all different levels of success. I am a surfer. I like to jog and go running. I am more about personal best efforts, you know? Success is often times measured in self-satisfaction within your own life. If I can do what I do and enjoy my time on this planet with my friends and my family, that’s all you need. Donald Trump might not be calling me for dinner, but maybe I don’t want to go out to dinner with Donald Trump.

The Pier: Speaking of Donald Trump and popular culture, recently The Roots covered a Fishbone classic, “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon when Michele Bachmann appeared. How has that changed the response or perception at live shows?
Fishbone: I thought the skit was brilliant. I love the fact that they chose that song for the introduction. The impact that it had was amazing. Originally, the song was written in a time of pain. That’s really what the song is about. As soon as they played that, we have been playing that so much more at our live shows. We had to put that back in the set! It made a lot of people go out and almost rediscover it, or listen to it for the first time. The response has been great at live shows, which always makes us happy.

The Pier: Now just to wrap it up, The Pier recently awarded Fishbone with the Lifetime Achievement Award. It only feels proper to grant the band with this award after 25-years, right?
Fishbone: Hell yeah, dude! That’s just another one of those things to cherish. It’s just an awesome feeling. It makes me happy that I stayed in the game long enough to be able to enjoy these moments and live them out in real time. To be a living, breathing band and live out this story is just great. So many bands just come and go, and don’t stay around too long. It makes it worth it just to be recognized out of so many bands. Each show that we play makes it worth it to the fans, and that’s all we can ask.

Interview by: Kris Siuta
Photos by: Jenni Anspach

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Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone Trailer…Pick up this DVD!