Like some of the band's songs, Red Fang started with a couple of riffs.
Living in San Diego after playing in Portland, Ore., hard-rock bands like Party Time, Bryan Giles heard from his former bandmates David Sullivan (guitar) and John Sherman (drums), who had started playing with bassist Aaron Beam. They sent Giles some riffs, and that was all he needed to pack his bags to return to Portland.
"We've all been playing in bands since we were teenagers. It's something we do," Giles says. "What ties us together is the type of music we all grew up on. That was the goal of the band, to make music that was the type of music that inspired us to become musicians. It's about trying to capture the fun of music."
Fun for Red Fang is loud, fast, hard and heavy. The band draws comparisons to the Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age and early Metallica, sacrificing neither heaviness nor melody.
"We've been described as a lot of stuff, most often stoner rock, which is fine, although I don't really think that describes what we do. That's a popular genre now, so it's good to be in a genre people are listening to," he says. "We're just a hard-rock band, and we could be described as a different band, depending on the song."
Giles grew up in Tucson, playing house parties in bands that drew on influences like Iggy Pop, Devo and the Misfits. He also admits to joining a ska band "for about 45 seconds." But it was always the heavier stuff that attracted Giles, who started Last of the Juanitas, moving from Tucson to San Diego and then Portland.
What sets Red Fang apart is not only the two decades of experience the musicians bring to the band, but also long friendships and a sense of humor that's played right into a series of must-see music videos. Partnering with filmmaker Whitey McConnaughy, Red Fang first put out a video for "Prehistoric Dog," from the band's self-titled debut album on Sargent House Records.
Centering on live-action role players, the video's concept and direction comes from McConnaughy, who built suits of beer-can armor for the band to wear in an ill-fated attack on the LARPers. The brilliant battle scene borrows more from Monty Python than from hard-rock conventions.
"Wires," the lead video from Red Fang's next record, 2011's Murder the Mountains (Relapse Records), is a giddy celebration of pure destruction (with a Brian Posehn cameo), and "Hank Is Dead" is air-guitar glory. The videos have millions of views on YouTube, which is responsible for a good share of the band's exposure.
"When ('Prehistoric Dog') hit 10,000, I was blown away. It's pretty amazing. We're just four dudes from Portland," says Giles, giving all the credit to McConnaughy's creativity. "We play characters in our videos that are very similar to ourselves. We're not quite as zany as the people we portray, but we're kind of zany.
"The videos, even if you're not a fan of the music, they're entertaining. Watching stuff get killed with a car, whether you like Tom Jones or Iron Maiden, is cool."
"Wires" and Murder the Mountains also marked a bit of a departure for the band musically.
"The first one, I was doing a little more of the songwriting and the majority of the singing. Some of the songs on the second album were written before the songs on the first album," Giles says. "The big difference between the first and second was we got more comfortable with each other and trying new ideas.
"There are some riffs or parts of songs I would've never imagined myself playing. The mellow breakdown in 'Wires,' we called the spaghetti-Western part, and I thought there's no way I'm ever playing that. But it works, the calm-before-the-storm type of thing. We're just more comfortable to try different ideas, and I'm happy with it. You don't know if it's going to be terrible until you try."
Murder the Mountains also found the band working with an outside producer for the first time, the seemingly incongruous choice of Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk.
"Aaron was a friend of Chris', but none of the rest of us had ever met him. He sent us an email a good year and a half before we started the record, saying that he wanted to produce us. It seemed pretty off the wall to me. I'd never even recorded an album with a producer, so I didn't know what that entailed, never mind someone in an alternative folk band, so that didn't make sense at all," Giles says.
"But closer to starting recording, we had a meeting at a bar in town, and it turns out he was really knowledgeable about hard rock and really understanding of where we were coming from. Plus, he shreds. He can really play hard rock and fast solos and stuff; it's just not something he does in that band. It seems weird, but it wasn't at all."
Murder the Mountains found Red Fang playing in front of bigger and bigger crowds, as openers for Mastodon and as headliners themselves, both in Europe and the United States.
The steady touring—"It's our job," Giles says—hasn't left much time to work on new songs, but the band just spent about two months at home, writing and recording demos for a new record.
"We've been in the studio several times to record rough versions so we can listen to them without having to play them," Giles says. "It's really difficult to find the time to write while on the road, so we really don't do it. If we continue to tour like we are, we're going to have to figure that out."
For this tour—the band is coming to Plush on Halloween with Black Tusk and Lord Dying—Red Fang has a brand-new single, "Crows in Swine," recorded this summer in Portland. There's no video yet, but the band is eager to strike up another effort with McConnaughy.
"We'll wait to see if Whitey's got an idea," Giles says. "I'd love to do another video with him."