Music Reel Big Fish, with Ryland Steen second from left.

Reel Big Fish, with Ryland Steen second from left.

Des Moines native returns as Big Fish

Published on March 18th, 2014 | by Joe Lawler

Drummer Ryland Steen wasn’t a member of Reel Big Fish during the California ska band’s “Sell Out” heyday. He didn’t join the band until 2005, and when the ska revival was happening in the mid-late ’90s, he was still a high school student in Lincoln, Neb.

At the time, he wasn’t the biggest fan.

“Growing up, my dad was a musician and I was raised on old R&B, jazz music and also traditional ska and reggae,” Steen said during a phone interview. “I was also hearing some of 2 Tone English ska bands. So when I heard the newer stuff as a snobby jazzer kid, I said ‘What is this? This isn’t ska. They’re butchering it!’ and turned my nose up to it.”

“It was only as I started getting older and learned how to have fun and not be so serious all the time that I grew to love the music. I love playing all types of music, but playing in Reel Big Fish is the most fun I’ll ever have playing drums.”

Steen joined Reel Big Fish shortly before the band was dropped by Jive, which had supported Reel Big Fish when ska was hot, but then shuffled the band around as the style cooled off. But the band had never taken money from the label for anything other than recording and had built up a following with constant touring. When Jive released the band, Reel Big Fish already had its own studio going to minimize recording costs. The band signed a deal with a distribution company and Steen said business has been good for the band for the last eight years.

“Because Reel Big Fish toured so much, the band built its reputation off the live show, which is sort of the crazy energy, fun time, dance your ass off show,” he said. “I think ‘Beer’ is actually the biggest hit with our fans, people love ‘Sell Out,’ but it’s funny because people go crazier for other songs. That song was just big enough to let the world know who Reel Big Fish is, but not so massive that it defines the band.”

Monday’s show will also be a homecoming of sorts for Ryland. He was born in Des Moines and lived in Webster City until he was 4 when his family moved to Nebraska. But he comes back on a regular basis and is looking forward to seeing familiar faces in the area.

“Iowa is where my family is from. I’m going to go visit my grandparents,” Ryland said. “I’m supposed to have a lunch date at an old cafeteria I used to go to when I was a kid. I’m definitely excited to revisit old haunts.”

Reel Big Fish

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Wooly’s, 504 E. Locust St.

Cost: $20 in advance, $22 at the door


About the Author

Joe Lawler covers music and more for Juice Magazine. E-mail him at or follow his updates on Twitter @JoeLawler

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