Cosmic Heavy Thing- Red Fang’s John Sherman


The last few years have been huge for Portland rockers Red Fang. Easily one of the fastest rising riff rock bands on the music scene today, they made their impact felt immediately and fans were attracted in droves. Whales and Leeches is Red Fang’s latest opus and fans were eagerly awaiting its release. While they toured extensively behind 2011’s Murder the Mountains, they somehow found time to work on newer material and record their latest record.

Drummer John Sherman explained how they managed to work on new material while very few fans noticed they were away from the scene: “We toured the last record for so long. We toured for about two years on Murder the Mountains. Somewhere into the second year of touring, we’re like ‘we need to get a new record. We can’t tour on this record forever.’ So far we haven’t been able to write on the road because we’re not a big enough band where we have a bus and a back lounge so we can break out guitars and chill out. When we tour the States, we’re in a little fucking van driving ourselves. Most of the time is spent either on the road or in a club. So we decided if we’re ever gonna write another record, we should stop touring and just hunker down. So we stopped accepting tours and for three months, just stayed home, go to the rehearsal studio almost every single day, and pound out all the old and new ideas and make a record out of it. It’s the only time I thought being in a band was a hard job. It took a while after we finished the record for me to be able to listen to it, and not be super close to it. I am close to it, but can’t judge it. I’m pretty happy with what we came up with.”



Despite the success of Murder the Mountains, Sherman felt the band neglected pressuring themselves into writing a record that topped their predecessor. Instead, they took the natural approach and just let it happen naturally.

We’re pretty evident as to lofty expectations because we don’t want to be super disappointed. We just have a good time doing what we’re doing. Right now we’re at a point where we never thought we’d be at or anywhere close to. Whatever happens to this record we’re gonna still be writing music. If people dig it and they buy it, awesome. But if they don’t, of course I’ll be like ah man…well…what’s wrong with it? I don’t have any expectations. I don’t want to expect everything is awesome and then everything sucks. I just assume everything’s gonna suck and then be stoked if everything’s awesome!”

While the album title comes from a previously unreleased song, Red Fang found that this formula worked in their favor. While this method may not be the most exciting way for a band to title their records, the band found it to work well for the time being:

There’s not much of a tie really between the title and the record. Titles of songs are hard to come up with, and titles of records almost as hard to come up with, for us as band names.”

I don’t know if you ever started a band before. When you try to come up with a name for your band that’s the hardest part – that’s how it is for us with album titles. We had a list of titles that we all liked. ‘Whales and Leeches’ was a title of a song off our first record (2009’s Red Fang) and the last record we did (Murder The Mountains), that was the title of a song that we have had since before our first record but never recorded. So we’re like fuck it. If we’re going to be that stupid and name our last record Murder the Mountains after a song that wasn’t even on the record, let’s name the album Whales and Leeches after a song on the first record, especially because we like the name. It’s a heavy sounding name I think. Then someone asks ‘what does this name mean?’ and hopefully nobody listens to my last answer! They can make up their own minds…some kind of weird, crazy cosmic heavy thing. Maybe I should have made up a better answer for that. “


They found a wide array of fans from all of the different audiences they played in front of. From touring with Helmet and Crowbar to The Dillinger Escape Plan to taking part on the Rockstar Mayhem Festival Tour, they found new fans everywhere they hit, and did it without sticking to the typical rock audiences they were used to:

That’s a good question and a tough question to answer, especially when we did Mayhem Festival, we all looked at each other and went ‘what the fuck man! We’re so out of place.’ We’re also in the biggest crowds we’ve ever played in front of, so why not,” Sherman said.

We’re gonna try to win them over even if they’re used to listening to screamo bands or whatever, but see what kind of reaction we could get out of our shit. We had a blast. Sometimes it’s tough and scary playing in front of an audience who you think is going to hate you. It’s also a challenge. We think we can win them over, and often we do. I’d like to think that our band is versatile enough. I have a hard time classifying ourselves so we can play with bands like Mastodon and we could also play with bands like Clutch. It doesn’t have to be super heavy but it can be. It’s whoever we’re playing with.”

Much like the audiences they play with, Red Fang’s songwriting process isn’t as disciplined as one may think. Being part jam session and part structured, they found it to work well for them and creating some rather heavy rocking tunes.

It’s a total meshing of both. Some songs we labor over for months. Some of the riffs that ended up on the last record we’ve been working on for years. Some of the riffs that ended up on this record we were working on for years. Then other songs are just those spontaneous moments of just everyone hanging out at the practice space being happy and playing something and someone goes ‘what was that? Do that again.’ Within ten minutes you have a whole song. There’s the super over thought out ones and the spontaneous ones. We tend to do both.”

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While Red Fang is known to rock hard, they still managed to keep fans humored with their animated videos. Comedian Fred Armisen (of Saturday Night Live and Live Night With Seth Meyers fame) made a cameo in their ‘Blood Like Cream’ video. But somehow fans find ways of discovering Red Fang and the videos did play a part in that.

I don’t know. I certainly think our videos helped spread the word a lot. It’s the normal heavy metal videos. Not that we compare ourselves to a heavy metal band. We’re a heavy rock band. The videos are funny and even if you’re not super into the music at first, you like the videos and then “oh the music’s pretty good too” hopefully. Also I think the videos helped us come across as normal, approachable guys. I think people like that.”

Red Fang has ventured across the globe and has seen many audiences, they do have their favorites. “Moscow in St. Petersburg, Russia were some of the best crowds. Athens, Greece is a fantastic crowd every time. We just played Iceland for the first time. That was completely insane. That was up there with the Moscow crowd. There are good crowds everywhere. There are good crowds in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We’ve always had good crowds in Chicago. It really doesn’t matter the size of the crowd. It matters if the crowd’s into it. It’s way easier to be into it if the crowd’s into it.”


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Rei Nishimoto