Interview: Red Fang Guitarist David Sullivan Shares ‘Tricky’ Process Making New LP, ‘Arrows’

Delayed gratification sucks, man. They (pompous, patient assholes) say good things come to those who wait, but they made up those silly rules way before dial-up internet. The sheer amount of music we’ve had to wait for due to the pandemic is truly mind-blowing, but can you imagine having to wait a year-and-a-half to release your best record yet (my words)? That’s what happened to legendary Portland riff rock group Red Fang and their -beloved Arrows, out June 4 via Relapse Records. 

It’s a record that finds the group’s beloved stoner jams at their highest (in quality only, allegedly … ) peak yet, climbing and murdering all of the mountains, while offering up wisps of sonic callbacks (ghosts?) to their past. Red Fang’s trademark ability to pair the sounds of the old heavy metal gods with a Sargent House-style math rock energy and enthusiasm takes aim at your heart like Cupid’s arrows.

There’s also a simmering, ’70s, psychedelic vibe to everything about the record that whispers ever so softly into your ear soothing mantras like, “Isn’t this record FUCKING AWESOME?!” It’s brilliant stuff that’s only frustrating when realizing we could have had Arrows last year.  

Guitarist David Sullivan shares how the record’s formation required some tricky and unusual timing from the long-running band: 

“Well, this one took up a little longer than we wanted. Basically, we got close to a chunk of songs where we had enough to record [but not quite], so we actually gave ourselves a deadline. It had been a while. I don’t know if we’re going to get in the studio unless we just went ahead and booked studio time. Even before we were really ready, we went ahead and booked time with Chris Funk. We decided we wanted to work with Chris again and do it here in Portland, and gave ourselves this arbitrary deadline, so that way we had to be productive and write enough stuff so that we weren’t wasting our studio time.”

“To be honest, it’s a little scary to me,” Sullivan continues. “I don’t like doing that, but it worked, and it just gave us that nudge that we needed to stay productive. That was kind of how we made ourselves do it. Also, we decided we’re not going to restrict ourselves to just one style, just because that gets boring. I know that there’s a lot of bands that do one thing, and they are amazing, like AC/DC and the Ramones. We want to be able to explore more, especially on this record with textures, tones, and styles.”
Red Fang

One of the key exploration points is the fact that Red Fang somehow sound reinvigorated and revitalized, like they’ve combed over all the things they do well and amplified them on Arrows. There’s a lot of fun little rhythmic touches throughout the big riffs. So, what exactly were some of the goals with this record?  

“I think, like you mentioned math rock,” Sullivan answers. “I think that’s part of our roots. I feel actually weird about saying the word roots [laughs], but it is. I think that just comes out, even though our philosophy in Red Fang is just keep it simple. You don’t have to be all intentionally angular, or mathy, or whatever, but it’s just something that we naturally turn towards.

Again, it’s not like we’re setting out saying, ‘We’re going to make a weird record. We’re going to make this song be real tricky, or thrown in curve balls.’ It’s not that we’re trying to do it. It’s just kind of what we do and what we like. That’s just kind of what comes out, I guess.” Sullivan has alluded in the past to this idea that the band really want to keep things simple when they write, but the weirdness almost oozes out of them unknowingly.  

“That makes me think of this one other thing,” he adds. “That, I’m sure, is a thing for all musicians, but it’s knowing what the tempo of a song should be. We’ll play a song and sometimes you don’t even realize it, you’re like, ‘Oh, we’re actually playing that way slower than we do on the record,’ or vice versa. It’s just one of those things where we’re constantly like, ‘Am I playing this too fast or am I playing this too slow?’ It’s really hard to know where you’re supposed to be tempo-wise. Maybe that’s partially lack of any formal training, but I basically just try not to worry about it, just do what feels right.” 

The only thing Red Fang are known for more than high-quality riff-craft is their sense of humor. Whether it’s hilarious music videos—their latest katana-wielding adventures are hysterical—or witty song titles, the group recognize the need for levity in a too-serious world. The latter was put to good use with album-standout “Fonzi Scheme,” as Sullivan explains: 

“Oh yeah, [we gave it that title] was because the tuning was an A, so we were like, ‘AYYY!’ I think part of that is because we like to be silly, and in the songwriting process, lyrics usually happen at the very end, so we won’t have a title for a song that comes from lyrics because that doesn’t really happen until the end. When we’re just trying to refer to a song that’s the ‘AYYY’ song. That’s the one in A, so it became just like Fonzie, or whatever.” 

To the point of delayed gratification, the pandemic required a long holding pattern where Red Fang were separated and not practicing. Sullivan recalls what that first time they got the gang back together to play was like. 

“It felt really good, yeah. I mean I was a little anxious about just remembering the songs, especially the newer songs, but it felt awesome actually. I think we were all starting to feel bummed out about not being able to play. Any creative thing that you do, if you stop doing it, at least for me anyway, music is … I don’t know, it helps me just deal with depression. It just feels good to do it, so I hadn’t done that in a long time, getting together with the band to play, so yeah, it felt really great to get back together.” 

The other aspect Red Fang are notorious for is their admiration for getting together and housing a pack of beer, but that’s not the drink of choice for Sullivan, surprisingly.

“My thing that I cannot be without is coffee,” he says. “I love coffee. I drink way too much coffee. I mean I drink, I don’t know, several cups, half a pot, a whole pot a day of coffee. I really love coffee. Yeah, as far as alcohol, I’ve kind of been chilling out on the drinking. I think the videos make it seem like we’re heavy drinkers, but we’re not all. It’s just kind of the spectacle. It is fun to drink; don’t get me wrong, but yeah, really, coffee is what I love and can’t live without, basically. Coffee, I’ve got to have my coffee.” 

Watch the video for “Arrows” here:

For more from Red Fang, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and their official website.

Photos courtesy of Red Fang and James Rexroad.

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