Interview with guitarist/vocalist Mark "The Shark" Shelton
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: June 22, 2013
MetalMike: Congratulations on the new album, Mysterium! How has the reception been from the fans?
Shark: So far I have heard nothing but praise for Mysterium. Everyone likes the production and it appears the music also. It seems that the response overall is really good and of course this makes me very happy because we put a lot of work and money into this album and it is nice to see that it is paying off.
MetalMike: You have been at this Heavy Metal thing for a long time. What keeps you going after nearly 35 years?
Shark: Our fans are what keep us going. If not for the love and support that we get from them we could not do what we do. I hope that we never forget that either because it is the faith that our fans put in us that makes it possible for Manilla Road to stay alive. They are the ones that give us the faith in ourselves to continue on even when times get tough for us.
MetalMike: There have been some fairly long pauses between albums over Manilla Road's career but the turnaround time from 2011's Playground of the Damned to Mysterium, in 2013 was relatively short. What inspired you to get back in the studio so quickly after Playground? (To say nothing of your participation on Hellwell's Beyond the Boundaries of Sin in between!)
Shark: That is because I have a lineup that can keep up with that type of pace now. Cory and Vince were the reason it took so long to put out Playground of the Damned. Now I have musicians that are so professional that they work fast and efficiently. With this lineup that I have now it's like "game on." I'm not getting any younger so it is important to me to be able to move at a good pace with touring and releasing new material. I seem to not have a problem with coming up with new and aggressive material so it's all a matter of how fast we can get the projects recorded and produced well. Now the problem is having enough time between touring to write and record the music.
MetalMike: Playground of the Damned had an unusual sound for Manilla Road whereas Mysterium has more of a "traditional" MR sound. Can you tell us about the differences between the two?
Shark: Playground sounded really good to me except for the drum mix. But it was Cory that demanded that the drums were treated the way they were in the mix. I kept trying to give them a bigger and more reverbed sound but Cory really wanted them to be dry like they are on the album. As for the project sounding so much different than Mysterium I think a lot of that is due to us using a different studio and engineer to mix the album. We still recorded the new one at my studio, Midgard Sound Labs. My studio is a great tracking studio but I am a little bit old school when it comes to mixing. I was educated in the old days when there was no digital recording equipment and so I still have that old analog approach to recording and mixing. I am still learning new things when it comes to the digital stuff and I think Mysterium proves that an old dog can still be taught new tricks.
MetalMike: How does a Manilla Road song typically come together? Are you the sole songwriter or do the other guys bring ideas to the table that make their way on to the albums? I assume you handle all the lyrics?
Shark: Yep, I handle all of the lyrics and I write pretty much all of the music also. But Bryan and our engineer at Midgard Sound Labs (Derek "Dr. Doom" Brubaker) give me a lot of input as to what sounds cool and what does not. Josh and Neudi give their input on arrangement ideas and sometimes direction ideas that lead to things changing a bit on some songs. For the most part, though, I write everything and then present the material to the other band members after it is written. Bryan and Derek have a little more input because they are at the studio more when I am working on the musical ideas, since they both engineer for me.
MetalMike: What are some of the literary works that are currently on your reading list? Do you see a future Manilla Road album in any of them?
Shark: Well I have already written the next Manilla Road album and it is about half finished as far as the recording goes. The guitar and drum tracks are mostly done at this point and all of the lyrics are finished with rough tracks already recorded. I don't really want to give out too many details about what the album is about yet because I want the topic to be fresh for everyone when it is released. I will say that it is a full concept album that is based on really ancient stuff with a lot of my own philosophy put into the lyrics. I am hoping to have it all finished and ready to release by the first part of 2014.
MetalMike: In the bio on your website you mention learning music at a young age and that you tried several different instruments before discovering the guitar. Have you ever considered bringing in an instrument not normally associated with Heavy Metal, similar to how The Who employed John Entwistle's French Horn on Tommy?
Shark: I have sort of done that a few times already actually you might say. The first instrument I ever learned was piano and organ and we have used both in a few songs over the years. I did the cathedral organ piece on the Voyager album and I have done some of the percussion stuff on the song "Sands of Time" on the Spiral Castle album. We used an auto harp on Atlantis Rising at one point, which is an instrument that is taught in our grade schools at a very early age. It is a really easy instrument to learn. My mother also played the violin part on "Sands of Time." I had to have her do it because I never learned how to play the violin. I'm sure that we will experiment with more instrumentation as time goes on also.
MetalMike: You point out on your website that you were using your own recording equipment fairly early on in your career. How has the recording process changed over the years? Is there anything about "the old days" you'd like to go back to?
Shark: Well, the recording process is a lot different now that digital recording devices are what are mainly used in the industry. Analog recording on tape was all that was available back in the old days and that is a totally different sound and approach than what is going on now. As for what I would like to see make a comeback from the old days is recording drums without digital help. What I am talking about is triggers and drums. I don't like triggered drums at all and think that digital drums work well in techno and synthesizer music but they do not belong in Heavy Metal. I think drums should sound like real drums and they should be played by real drummers. Most albums today are recorded using samples that are triggered. And not only that but they are quantized which means that if you play a little off time the machine fixes it for you and puts it right on the beat. It just seems to be a little too fake for me. I want real musicians playing real instruments on my albums without machines doing all the work.
MetalMike: What are your favorite songs from Mysterium? Which do you think will translate best in the live setting?
Shark: I actually like all the songs on Mysterium but the title track holds a special place in my heart because it is about my great uncle Ludwig von Leichhardt, who was a German explorer in Australia. As far as which songs will translate the best live we are doing "Only the Brave," "The Gray God Passes" and "Stand Your Ground" in our live sets right now and they seem to sound just like the album recordings. As a matter of fact, all of the songs, except for "The Calling," can easily be done live without losing any content. We also do "The Fountain" when we do our acoustic shows.
MetalMike: Where are your favorite places to play and is there anywhere you haven't played that you'd like to?
Shark: My favorite place to play; wow, I don't think I can answer that because I have played so many places that I just totally love. Almost all of our shows were very memorable for me because I love playing live and anytime there is a metal audience in front of me that appreciates good epic heavy stuff it puts me in my own heaven. When it comes to where I want to play that I have not yet that would have to be anywhere we have not played. I'm cool with playing anywhere that they want to hear Manilla Road. Hell, we are going to be playing in Dubai later on this year and I would have never figured on being able to play there. Totally cool mate.
MetalMike: Heavy Metal never went away but its popularity has certainly been on the rise over the past several years, especially in Europe. Do you see Manilla Road touring extensively at any time in the future or do the big festivals present the best opportunity for the band?
Shark: Well we are for sure touring more this year than we ever have before but that is because we are able to do it more with the lineup we have and since my kids are pretty much grown up now and I feel like I can spend more time away from home. The festivals are a great way for us to expose the band to more metal heads that have not heard of Manilla Road, that is for sure, but I also love playing clubs and small halls. It is more of a personal experience in those settings. We intend on touring as much as we can now and in the future and once again I don't really care where just as long as there are metal heads there ready to rock out. I expect us to be touring a lot more in the States in the future because the classic metal sound is for sure growing in the US again.
MetalMike: I'm sure you speak with lots of fans at shows but are you able to interact with fans when the band is not on the road?
Shark: I do that through our website and a bit through Facebook. I tend to be hidden away in my studio working on music though when we are not touring so I don't interact with our fans that much when I'm in the studio which is almost all the time that I am not on the road.
MetalMike: Are there any bands out there today that you like or would like to play with?
Shark: I've been very lucky to share the bill with a lot of bands that I love so far. Bands like Angel Witch, Candlemass, Argus, Grand Magus, Midnight, Battleroar, Battleram, Doomsword, Accept, Saxon, Doro, Orchid and wow the list really goes on and on. Rush and ZZ Top are among the bands that we will be playing with in the near future. Hell, the list is going to be too big to keep putting them all on here. Bands I would really like to share the bill with though are Judas Priest, Motorhead and Iron Maiden and well that list is going to be a long one also, so I better just stop now. Haha.
MetalMike: What kind of guitar/guitars do you play these days? Any favorite instruments from the past?
Shark: The axe I love the most in my hands is the B. C. Rich Warlock. We call it the magik wand. I also have a Celtic Stratocaster that I really like and for acoustic it has to be my Taylor 6 string and my Alvarez 12 string. The Warlock is my favorite from the past.
MetalMike: I've always wondered about the decision to share vocal duties with Bryan "Hellroadie" Patrick. Not that there's anything wrong with his singing but you handled all the vocals on the early Manilla Road albums and, more recently, sang on each track of Hellwell's Beyond the Boundaries of Sin album. What does having two singers bring to Manilla Road?
Shark: Actually Bryan sang on two of the tracks on the Hellwell album. "Deadly Nightshade" and "The Heart of Ahriman" were both sung by Bryan. The reason for him singing so much with the Road is because, one, he is very much like my doppelganger when it comes to vocals. Two, I have struggled with chronic laryngitis since 1984 and having him on board makes it much easier to continue touring live without destroying my voice completely. I'm not getting any younger and there are some songs from the past that he can sing that I just can't do any more because of the high notes. So he is actually very important to keeping Manilla Road on the road live.
MetalMike: Manilla Road has had its ups and downs with record labels over the years. What lessons have you learned in your dealings with labels and are you happy with your current situation with Shadow Kingdom here in US?
Shark: I have learned a lot in the past and most likely the biggest lesson is to not trust anyone until you really get to work with the label and know how they are going to treat you. As for our situation right now so far I am very happy with Shadow Kingdom in the US and ZYX/Golden Core in Europe. They have both treated us very fair....so far.
MetalMike: Do you own any of Manilla Road's past albums or are they still licensed to various labels? Most of your back catalog seems to be widely available these days, so perhaps that isn't the issue it was in the past...
Shark: I actually own the rights to the whole catalog but most of them are licensed to various labels for re-issue. Those labels include Monster/RockaDrome, Shadow Kingdom and ZYX/Golden Core. Sentinel Steel Records has had the Mystification re-issue for a long time but that contract has just run out so I will be placing it with another label soon. Most likely ZYX/Golden Core for Europe and Shadow Kingdom for the states. As for our vinyl LPs they are all either available or becoming available on High Roller Records out of Germany. They are putting out really high quality stuff and I am very pleased with the way they are handling the product and really happy with all of my business dealings with them.
MetalMike: Are you happy that Manilla Road's second album, Metal, is getting a proper reissue from Shadow Kingdom?
Shark: It has a good start with the re-issue from Shadow Kingdom and will also be re-issued on ZYX/Golden Core in the near future in Europe. So yes I am happy with where it is at right now. The art was redone by Alexander von Wieding of Germany who has done a lot of work for us on re-issues and has also done the art for Hellwell and our Mysterium album. We met him through our dealings with High Roller Records and he has done a fantastic job on everything that he has worked on for us.
MetalMike: What are some of the highlights from your career?
Shark: There have been many over the last 35 years that is for sure. Getting the song "Flaming Metal Systems" signed to Shrapnel Records for the US Metal Volume III release was a really huge thing for us back in the day. That deal is what brought Manilla Road to the attention of the metal audience originally. Getting signed to Black Dragon Records in 1984 was for sure a big thing for us. Playing the Bang Your Head Festival in 2000 for our first European show was a gigantic thing for us. Finally making it to headline status in the underground market was a great moment for the Road. Crystal Logic being recognized as a classic album was pretty big for us. Bringing Randy Foxe into the fold in 1984 was a great move back then. Reforming the band in 2000 and 2001 was a highlight for sure. Getting signed to ZYX, a major European label with really great distribution was a high point for us. Bringing Josh and Neudi into the lineup was a big deal and finding out Bryan could sound almost like me was a great moment back in 2001. Having Mysterium so well accepted upon release has been a cool thing. Headlining the KIT, Hammer of Doom and Metal Assault festivals in Germany has been an honor as well as Headlining two Up The Hammers festivals in Greece and headlining the Pounding Metal festival in Spain was big for us. And being invited to the Maryland Deathfest was really a big thing for us because that was the first really large festival in the US that we have played. Being a co-headliner in the Chaos in Tejas festival in Austin was an honor as well. And of course being in the Sweden Rock Festival and the Hellfest this year as well has been a big boost to our career. Hell I still have not hit upon all the highlights of the Road's career but my brain is getting tired from trying to remember them all so I will stop there.
MetalMike: When you aren't creating music (which doesn't seem like very often!), where can Mark Shelton be found? What are your other interests outside of music?
Shark: I play golf with Bryan and my son as often as possible, which is not very often anymore. I still read a lot. I spend time with my two kids, Ian and Aly, as often as I can. Other than those things you can find me with my hair in the wind riding my motorcycle. But most of my time is spent in the studio working on music and trying to find the lost chord.
MetalMike: On your website you mention that Crystal Logic is thought, by most, to be the "best" Manilla Road album. Most, but not you. Which is your favorite and why?
Shark: My favorites are from oldest to newest and not necessarily in this order, because it's really hard for me to rank my own work:
- The Deluge – because it was the first album that we did that I was really happy with all aspects of the recording; songs, lyrics, production, performance and packaging.
- Atlantis Rising – because it was such an ambitious concept and we managed to pull it off.
- Gates of Fire – because it was another album that I was happy with the whole project from top to bottom.
- Voyager – because it was another really ambitious concept that I managed to pull off.
- Mysterium – because it really is the very best sounding album that we have ever done. And once again an album that I am happy with all aspects of the project.
Now I know that I left several albums out of this list, including Crystal Logic, and don't get me wrong, I like everything that I have ever released, for the most part, but in my mind some are just better than others.
MetalMike: Well, I really appreciate you taking some time to answer these questions and let the readers of The Metal Crypt know what is going on with Manilla Road, Mark! Good luck with Mysterium and I hope to see the Road on the road here in the States! Any last words or things we didn't cover that you'd like to talk about?
Shark: Well I'm on tour right now in Europe and just got finished playing at the Sweden Rock Festival and what comes to mind at the moment is what I am always feeling and that is the love of our fans. Of course, thanks to you for doing this interview and I put all the journalists that I have worked with, including yourself, among those I am speaking of right now. It is our supporters, like yourself, and the fans that continue to make it possible for me to live my musical dreams. I am eternally grateful to all of you who have made it possible for me to continue recording and releasing and touring my music throughout the world. I'm actually on a train right now traveling from Copenhagen to Hamburg and loving the scenery. I have been touring the world thanks to all of you. I am going to be playing at the Hellfest with bands like ZZ Top, Kiss, Def Leopard and Candlemass in a couple of weeks. I'm headed to Germany to headline a show and I am loving every bloody minute of my life right now. Hell, I'm going to be co-headlining a show with Pagan Altar in Dubai this year. I would have never figured that to happen back in the day. I have had bands that I idolized in years past open up for me and I have met so many of my musical idols. I almost don't know how to react to this sometimes. After 35 years of working on making Manilla Road a force to be reckoned with it still seems like a dream. Well, I guess it is. It's a dream come true. And I suppose what I should be saying to everyone is to stand your ground and don't give up on your dreams because it appears that if you have undying faith in yourself and you really believe in what you are doing and give it your best shot,.well, anything is possible. Blessed Be to you all and of course Up The Hammers & Down The Nails. May the Lords of Light be with you all.
Mark "The Shark" Shelton
|Other information about Manilla Road on this site|
|Review: Atlantis Rising|
|Review: Crystal Logic|
|Review: Spiral Castle|
|Review: The Courts Of Chaos|
|Review: The Deluge|
|Review: Open The Gates|
|Review: Mark Of The Beast|
|Review: Out of the Abyss|
|Review: Gates of Fire|
|Review: Gates of Fire|
|Review: Crystal Logic|
|Review: Playground of the Damned|
|Review: Playground of the Damned|
|Review: The Blessed Curse|
|Review: The Blessed Curse Tour|
|Review: The Blessed Curse|
|Review: To Kill a King|
|Review: To Kill a King|
|Review: 40th Anniversary Tour|
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