Mr. Wizard was right--it’s all about science. It must be. There’s an “ology” to fit every occasion. There’s the sociology of sports, social psychology, cultural anthropology and, for the purposes of this column, ichthyological musicology. Huh?
Translation: Why are there so damn many rock ‘n’ roll fish bands? There’s An Emotional Fish, Fishbone, Jellyfish, Country Joe & the Fish, Vicious Fish and, even locally, we have Sinister Fisch or those Fabulous Fish.
“I don’t know why there are so many ‘fish’ bands,” said Mike Ward, a guy who would know. He’s the guitar player and one of the singers in School of Fish.
“When we started, the only fish band we knew about was Fishbone. And now, there’s all these fish jokes. They’re all really bad. A lot of really terrible fish jokes are in our bio from Capitol. They say things like ‘We’re swimming upstream’ or ‘We’re jumping from a small pond into a bigger pond,’ stuff like that. So all I can say is ‘Why don’t you go into the record store and pick up our album just for the halibut.’ ”
School of Fish is a quartet of musicians embodying that same old story: They all moved here from someplace else, don’t care about the Rams or the Dodgers or all of the traffic, but at least have a new album on the same label as Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
“Hey, so what are they going to do when the 101 Freeway is so crowded the speed limit is only 10 m.p.h.?” said Ward, sharing his Minnesota perspective. “Maybe they’ll make you pay to park at the market in an effort to make you stay home. Back in Minnesota, it’s very much a flannel shirt, sit in the bar, very casual scene. But, hey, those Twins are in the World Series. The Vikings aren’t so hot, so we won’t talk about them.”
So let’s talk music--fish may be good for you, but they stink, and baseball season (for Dodger fans) is over anyway.
School of Fish do these Beatlesque (sort of) pop tunes with plenty of gnarly (yet very tasteful) guitar jams courtesy of Ward, who harmonizes with Boston-born Josh Clayton-Felt. These guys sound spiffier than the Incredible Mr. Limpet impersonating Andy Devine doing a Prince song underwater.
“I guess Josh and I are both into harmonies. He grew up listening to the Beatles, Elvis Costello and all sorts of folk music his parents were into. I was always into harder rock stuff like KISS. Harmonies are just another texture to be taken advantage of,” said Ward, ending with a preposition, but not a fish joke.
The band’s biggie (although you’d never know it from local radio) is “Three Strange Days,” a tune that sounds like it wafted out of the time warp after falling off a Beatles album.
“It was Josh’s idea to write a song about these words that were just stuck in his head,” Ward said. “It began with a real simple chord progression, then we hashed it out a bit. It cost us some potential record deals because there was not a chorus in it.” But having a hit record, a swell van, a big-time tour and a supportive record company doesn’t always add up to blue skies, green lights and a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
“A couple of nights ago, we were in Ottawa, and there were only eight or nine people in this huge club. So the owner asked us not to play so he wouldn’t have to pay us. We played for about half an hour for free.
“Yet, most other times, we meet people who are really into it. It’s amazing to realize that there are people who have actually walked into a record store somewhere, bought our record and it means something to them, and they want to talk to us about it after the show.”
So what’s next? A commercial for Mrs. Paul or Starkist, or maybe the soundtrack for “Jaws XXI” or the next remake of “Moby Dick” starring Kevin Costner? Probably not.
“We have this one album, but you tend to grow away from it as you play the same old stuff night after night when you want to play new stuff,” said Ward, getting a good head start on Jaded Rock Star 101.
“We’ve got four or five new songs, but it’s stifling on the road as far as working on new stuff. Some bands say they can write on the road, but they must not have soundmen that yell at them. For now, we just want people to come and see us and admire my new haircut and have a rollickin’ good time.”
* WHERE AND WHEN
School of Fish, House of Freaks, Beach Shack, 500 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, 8 p.m. Saturday. For information, call 966-1634.