MD: What brought the band back together?
Fish: The members that are here today had a burning desire to hear the music played with an integrity that at a minimum was where we left it in the late ’90s. [It might not have happened] if it wasn’t for my brother giving me the call saying, “Hey, come take this chair back,” and then after being back, reaching out to original members Chris Dowd and John Bigham, saying, “I can’t make this thing do what it’s supposed to do without you.” We all grew up together, and therefore we all speak the same language, and that is what Fishbone is. Also, after playing with so many other artists, I realized that there is no other music in which I get to express myself as much as Fishbone.
MD: What caused you to leave Fishbone in the first place?
Fish: The band wasn’t in a good place when I left. We were in between records, and it was difficult to get along much less write a three-and-a-half-minute song. The infighting in the band was more than I could endure. There wasn’t a lot of income at the time, and I’m not the type of guy to do a job other than drumming. Drumming is how I take care of my family. I also had a fight with my brother Norwood, and no situation is more important than my relationship with my brother, so because of those things I left.
MD: Was it easy to jump back in the chair?
Fish: Hell, no! The band was in the middle of a tour where they were playing the music of our record Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge when the drummer walked off the gig. That’s when Norwood called me and asked me to get back with the band. Of all of our records, this is the one that I never really listened to, and after saying yes to filling in, I listened to it and thought to myself, Wow, there’s a lot of music in these songs! There’s so much “ear candy” that we put into these tunes that I really had to listen back to get it all right. The challenge was remembering the goals of my drumming and how the music was built and getting the parts to lock up, because I always try to make music with my drumming, not just for the sake of it but for the musical situation, and that becomes challenging to recreate.
MD: Fishbone’s music is so fun to listen to, and the drumming is always interesting. Talk about your process of creating parts.
Fish: Sometimes it just happens, and then there are the times when we say, “Let’s go ahead and make some fun ear candy.” We’re always working from some riff or idea and thinking about how we want the drums to fit along with the other bits and pieces. But once you learn it, it’s got to breathe at some point, it’s gotta live at some point, and we gotta find what the spirit of the song is and always be able to evoke the spirit of that song. And then we try to milk it and add those little things that will help you remember that section of the song or the sound in that section, the nuances. I did a Hendrix tribute gig recently and was listening back, and I’m still hearing new things! We’re just trying to do that with our records.
MD: You started out with a band, and then you became independent. What does it take to be an independent drummer?
Fish: I’m not a guy who plays a single genre of music. I would encourage drummers to be as diverse as possible, because that’s going to increase your ability to work. But if you’re setting yourself out to do one genre, you’ve got to learn the full parameters of what that is and milk it for what it’s worth. It’s not something I would recommend. It will eventually limit your longevity, because creators are looking outside their genre for influence and inspiration.
In my experience, nobody only listens to one thing. I’m always practicing, and whatever I’m listening to, I’ll get right in and just play it, and it’s always something different. Today it’s Fela’s “Lady”; tomorrow it’s some math metal. Take all the gigs you can get, because you never know who’s going to be there or what it’s going to lead to. Just make sure you do the preparations and know your records. I live by the phrase “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.” You gotta dream big and head in that direction, without doubt. Also, study the history of genres, because that will add depth to what you play.
MD: What’s your main goal for your students?
Fish: I want to teach them and empower them to creatively fly fearlessly in their purpose and actualize their fullest potential. I’m trying to open people’s minds to the beauty of music from all around the world. I want to prevent them from ever having callused hands, tendinitis, or carpal tunnel.
MD: How about bettering yourself as a drummer?
Fish: I looked at as much footage as I could find, from the oldest to the newest, to see what the greats looked like when they played soft dynamics or loud dynamics, and what techniques they were using. I tried to see how they were breathing and what their composure was. I did nothing in [the three years] between [1988’s] Truth and Soul and The Reality of My Surroundings except study and practice.
Phillip “Fish” Fisher plays DW drums and Zildjian cymbals. He uses Promark sticks, Remo heads, and DW hardware.