There are One-Hit-Wonders who reach fame in a very short time – and are as easily and quickly forgotten, and then there are those acts that never quite make it into the mainstream limelight – but retain there respectable status for decades. Manilla Road from Kansas, USA, is one of the latter – soon to be seen on a short EU visit (June 1st – Helsinki, Finland, June 2nd – Muskelrock Festival – Alvesta, Sweden, June 3rd – London, UK). Founded in 1977, Manilla Road delivered their major distributions to Metal history between 1983-1992 (incl. Must-Have albums „Open The Gates“, „The Deluge“), disappeaed for a decade and then slowly re-emered after the turn of the Millenium. Band mastermind Mark „The Shark“ Shelton himself reveals what happened „back then“ and which special relationship he has with Scandinavia – and cattle …
Hi Mark, hope you´re fine! It was actually a huge suprise seeing that Manilla Road is not only “alive and kicking” but also coming to Finland soon! You mentioned it´s the second time in FIN – so when was the first time, which club?
It was at the Metal Warning Festival in Kouvola, Finland in 2009. It was a blast of a show.
You mention your Swedish grandmother – any influences/memories from there,e.g. vocabulary, food (tried this Swedish x-mas fish once – horrible…) Any other special connection with “the North” / “Scandinavia”?
I remember my grandmother made the best Swedish Meatballs. My other grandmother was Norse and my grandfather on my mothers side was German and my grandfather on my fathers side was English, Irish & Scottish. My whole family was very proud of our northern Europe ancestors. The Viking spirit was very much in my family and we were taught as children that Vikings discovered America and not Columbus. So I have always had a very special sense of connection to Scandinavia.
You had this long career hiatus (when I also lost track of the band) – so what happened then (you mention briefly another band of yours, The Circus Maximus, in the band bio…)
Circus Maximus was together from about 1991 to 1993. We did one album and a bunch of shows live in Kansas. After that during that long period that everybody outside of Wichita Kansas thought to be time off I put Manilla Road back together with Randy Foxe and Harvey Patrick. We did several shows locally and started writing music for a new Manilla Road album. But times were tough then and we did not have any label support from anywhere. As far as we could tell we had no future in the outside world even though we were still legends in our own back yard. After a few years Randy and Harvey decided they could not stand each other anymore and the band sort of crumbled again. For the next couple of years I did nothing but work a regular job, got married and started raising a family.
But I was going nuts not playing and recording music so I started working on a project with Bryan Patrick and Mark Anderson that eventually turned into the Atlantis Rising album that was the resurrection of Manilla Road in the worlds eye.
What was the reason you picked up the “shattered pieces” of MR again? You even tried to get one original band member back for this legendary Bang Your Head gig…
Well see that´s just it…Randy had been playing with me for all those years up until Harvey called it quits. I did try to get him to do the Bang Your Head festival and at first he wanted to but then a few days after I had already booked the show he changed his mind. The reason I started doing it again was because of the amount of pressure I was getting from our fans and also just the fact that I was going crazy not pursuing my life´s dream which was Manilla Road.
I have to admit that although reading the online bio, I got a bit confused in the end – so which line up will be coming ot EU and play the upcoming festival gigs? Can you introduce those guys a bit?
Yeah, our lineup has always had everyone mixed up haha. I think I have had more band members than any other band…well maybe Hawkwind has had more. You see I am actually a succubi and after a period of time I consume my band mates so I have to get new ones. The players for now are Myself on guitars and vocals, Bryan Hellroadie Patrick on vocals, Josh Castillo on Bass and our newest addition is Andreas Neuderth from Germany on Drums. It is the same lineup that we had when we did the Hammer Of Doom festival back in October 2011. I promise it will be killer.
The legendary MR line-up „back then“: Scott Park,b, Mark Shelton,voc+git, Rick Fisher, dr+back voc
Manilla Road has never been in the limelight of mainstream so far, but in EU you always had the status “one of those you just have to know + must-have (at least 1 album)” – the word rather spreading mouth-to-mouth / underground media than the official Metal media. So did you receive any feedback from other bands (EU, USA) who mention MR as important influence on them?
(There is even a tribute album out, which means a lot in terms of “popularity among bands” – The Riddle Masters: A Tribute to Manilla Road 2007 – none of the featured bands ring a bell, though – have you even ever seen it, any feedback you received from it?)
Yes, I have a copy of that tribute release. It was a huge honor to see that done. I am familiar with a lot of those bands and many of them are very well known in the underground. I have seen over the years a plethora of bands that have listed Manilla Road as an influence. That is the highest form of flattery that I can think of when someone like your music so much that they want to imitate your style. Very cool and unexpected for me.
What is your view of the internet / digital technology development – personally and as musician?
It´s fantastic for communicating with other people. It is great for promoting the band but it is a double edged sword also because digital bootlegging is killing the industry. Everyone in the music business is seeing falling sales due to free bootlegged digital downloads and CDs being ripped and shared on peoples computers. Musicians are not making a very good living just selling recordings anymore. That is why you see ticket and merchandise costs going sky high. So I love the internet and hate it all in the same breath.
Nowadays Vinyl and record players have this huge come-back – is that a surprise for you?
Not really. The package is so much cooler with an LP. You don´t have to use a magnifying glass to read the lyrics and sometimes you get cool posters in the albums too. Of course digital is higher quality but there is something to say about the analog sound of a LP on a turntable. Nothing quite compares to it.
Which “outdated” device / classic you would predict having a huge come-back, too?
The Hula Hoop haha.
It seems you had no idea that MR was much more popular in EU than in USA, you never played in EU before the 2nd millenium although you had a EU label… so what was the biggest surprise for you when you visited the continent first?
It was a huge surprise to find out that we were as well known as we were. We had no clue that Manilla Road was that big of a thing. That sea of red Manilla Road shirts in front of me at the Bang Your Head festival was just amazing.
When did you discover that you have headliner status in Greece (again this year you will be headlining the Up The Hammers Festival) – how often have you been playing there?
The first show we ever did in Greece we headlined. That would have been in 2001 or 2002. We have played in Greece several times and it is always really fantastic. The fans there are really nuts but it´s funny because when we played in Kouvola Finland in 2009 the audience was maybe even more crazy than that of the Greeks. And it seems like everyone went sort of nuts at the Hammer Of Doom festival this last year also. We just happen to have the best fans in the world I think. They are what keep me going.
How about your family, your own kids – are they Metalheads, too, do they like your band(s) or is it rather Lady Gaga for them?
My son is 17 years old and plays guitar and keyboards. He loves metal and really loves Manilla Road and my other band Hellwell. My daughter is 14 years old and she is more into Katy Perry and stuff like that. She really does not care that much for Manilla Road but strangely enough her she does have a favorite Manilla Road song and that is Riddle of Steel from our Gates Of Fire release. It´s really heavy and fast so I am surprised that is her favorite. Most of the time she just ignores my music and likes to tease me saying your music sucks and nobody likes it. She is a really sweet thing as you can tell haha.
What is the situation now – the internet has made interaction between fans etc so much easier – and you don´t actually need a label any more „to get out there”. So now I am again a bit confused – I understood you have your own label (studio etc) now, but seems at least 3 different labels re-released the MR back catalogue…
Just spreading the wealth haha. No actually it really does help to have a label behind you even these days. I don´t actually have a label that is active right now but I do have the studio you mentioned. The different labels that we are on take care of different things. For example High Roller has been releasing all the re-issue LPs but Shadow Kingdom has been putting out all the CDs for those re-issues. Sentinel Steel has had the re-issue of Mystification for years and it is the same for Rockadrome Records and Mark of the Beast.
“Back then” you told me that you rather make a living as studio engineer / producer than being a musician “only” (the fate many other musicians in EU + US are faced with). So is this still the case, and which other jobs did you do just to survive? What was the crappiest job? Or was there a job you considered a realistic alternative to music biz (I mean giving up music totally + doing that instead)?
Well at one point I was getting good enough at golf and winning enough on the amateur circuit locally that I considered giving everything up for trying out for the PGA. But I came to my senses very fast and gave that idea up. I still like engineering but more and more as time has gone on I really just love playing the most. whether it be in the studio or live just having the amps cranked up and the guitar screaming is really what I live for these days. In order to survive over the years I have worked many a job. The worst one was most likely when I was working on a cattle ranch and had to inseminate cattle. That sucked big time.
As one of the pioneers of Epic Metal, you´ve always had quite sophisticated lyrics, and you mentioned “back then” the influences of Anthropology studies and classic horror/fantasy literature (Lovecraft, Burroughs, Doyle) – even Shakespeare and the Bible 😀 Any more recent influences, books you would recommend? (And how about Tolkien, by the way?)
Sure I love the Lord of the Rings stuff. My favorite author is Robert E. Howard. That is who I would always recommend to anyone. Clive Barker is a good read for horror stories. But you really just can´t do any better than the classics for example Sir Walter Scott. Virgil and Homer. Robert Graves is hard to read but full of cool philosophy and information.
When it comes to new “myth” phenomena (literature, film), I am a bit stunned about the Twilight hype, for me it´s just extremely boring and one dimensional (talking about the 1. film, never wanted to touch a book after that experience, or watch the movie sequels). I like the Harry Potter stuff, though (the books more than the movies). Anything you find extremely annoying + would like “to go back in time to erase every trace of it completely so that it never happens”?
Well I´m not too impressed with the Twilight thing either. The thing that bugs me the most in the music industry is the dreaded Rap disease known as triggers and samples. Drums don´t seem to sound like drums anymore for some reason. It´s because electronic drums that helped make Rap popular have infected the metal music industry and now it appears that most are alright with the drums on their favorite bands album being fake and digitally quantized and reproduced. I´m not impressed and just want to hear a real drummer playing real drums.
Anything in your life / your career you would like to do the same “go-back+erase”?
No because then I would create a paradox and time would unravel and then everything would change and we might not even exist. I think I´ll just leave that shit alone. Hehe.
According to your website I count 15 official studio + 2 live-albums (starting with 1979 live album After Midnight Live) – what´s your favorite one, which one would you rather wish not to have released at all?
My favorites are The Deluge and Gates of Fire and the one we are working on right now haha. I don´t think there are any albums that I would not want to have release,d but there is one song that I would take back if I could and that would be Feeling Free Again on Crystal Logic. I can´t believe I actually sang the words “hey baby”. What the hell was I thinking, haha.
Looking back, what was the most crucial decision, the turning point, that eventually defined MR as well as and you as a person?
That would be whenever it was that I decided that I would not give up on Manilla Road and would continue to keep the band alive as long as there was an audience for the music.
Looking back, what is it that you miss the most “from the old times”? Or don´t you miss anything at all and rather embrace the change+future?
Change is eminent. So you might as well embrace it. Adapt, improvise and overcome is what I always say.
Which advice would you give to a young musician just starting a band, e.g. which mistakes + traps to avoid?
Always follow your dreams. And only measure success by your own standards, not someone else. But most of all, don´t give up and practice your ass off.
Your new project Hellwell – can you tell us more about it?
Hellwell is sort of like Manilla Roads evil twin. If you like the heavy and dark sort of evil side of Manilla Road then you will really like Hellwell. It has a few similarities to MR but it is vastly different also. Sort of like Deep Purple meets the Road. It´s really heavy and bombastic with really dark and sometimes just downright evil lyric content. Our first album Beyond The Boundaries of Sin will be released on High Roller and Shadow Kingdom somewhere around August or September 2012.
How did you get the nickname “the Shark” ?
I was given that name by the band Stygian Shore back in 1983 when I was producing their first project. For some reason it stuck with everyone I knew and before long everyone just called me Shark.
We talked many years ago about the band, when DM wave was in full swing, back then you said sth like “waves come and go, the band remains” and that you would continue making music “even if they have to put me on stage in a wheelchair“ … rings very true now (although I hope you don´t need a wheelchair any time soon :D) – what is a new trendy genre you consider “survivable”?
Yep I´m still here and thank the gods I don´t need a wheelchair yet, haha. Now what I like to tell people is that I will even find a way to still make music from the grave, haha. As for what new trend might still be able to hang in there…hummmm….the Hula Hoop…no wait….it´s coming to me….Air Guitar championships. Yep that´s it. I saw a show about it on TV and you know that if it´s on the internet or TV it´s got to be the truth…..right?
“Famous Last Words”?
As always my last words are to our fans, friends and supporters. Thanks to all of you for your undying devotion and for giving me the chance to continue to play the music that I love. I just hope you love it as much as I do.
Up The Hammers & Down The Nails
Mark The Shark Shelton
Manilla Road / Hellwell