40 years ago Manilla Road were departing for their long journey in the seas of madness and the oceans of Heavy Metal having as comrades their few remorseless fans. On the occasion of their anniversary tour for these 40 magic Manilla years, but also the release of the new album from Hellwell, we spoke with Mark Shelton few days before their appearance in Greece.
Which were the ambitions of the band, when you started 40 years ago?
Shark:To be honestI think the general purpose back then was to party and have a good time.You know…sex, drugs and rock and roll. For me I have always been intrigued by music and it was my lifelong ambition to become a composer and lyricist. We all wanted to get rich and famous but I’m not sure any of us ever really expected the band to last this long. We gained some of that fame we were looking for but the wealth part of the story has been very illusive.
At what age did you start playing? How old were you guys, when you first took the stage?
Shark: I started playing piano at age 4 or 5. I didn’t pick up a guitar till I was around 16 and I didn’t become serious about the guitar until I was about 20 which was my age when Manilla Road played our first show.
Why did you pick that particular style? In which genre do you feel you belong to?
Shark: I don’t think an actual genre was picked as much as it was just playing what we felt. When we started there was Rock and Roll, Country Rock and Hard Rock in our community. There wasn’t this endless list of styles that exists today. I myself have made it part of my musical goal to be as open minded as possible about music and to experiment with the fusion of styles. So it’s really difficult for me to pinpoint a specific style to label myself with. Epic Metal still comes the closest I suppose.
Which are the Best/Worst gigs you’ve ever played?
Shark: It’s really hard to pick just one show that I liked the best from all these years but one that sticks out for Bryan and I both was playing at Hellfest in 2013. It was the largest audience that we had ever played in front of. As for worst gig I think that it would be the really early shows back in the late 70’s.
Besides your own music, which genres and bands are you listening to?
Shark: I’ve been listening to everything from classical music to doom lately. Been checking out Doomsday Kingdom and Snowchild.
In the early days of Manilla Road, now considered to be legendary, songs such as “The Riddle Master”, “Cage of Mirrors” and “Time Trap” were all based on Hellwell’s stories. How important is it to have a good friend or a comparison to work your ideas?
Shark: There are many people behind the scenes that contribute to the continuance of Manilla Road over all these years. I would say that it is very important to have a small army of friends who are interested in keeping the band alive. If not for my brothers like Bryan Patrick, Rick Fisher, Derek Brubaker or Richard Cathey, just to name a few, the fire may have gone out years ago. It has never been a one man show and Manilla Road could not exist without that kind of support. More than anything it is our fans that keep the band going.
“Crystal Logic” is the jewel on your crown. But it wasn’t always like that. Besides some loyal fans and some fanzines, big magazines like Kerrang and Rock Hard (Germany) said some bad things about you. How do you feel about that now that everyone bows to your music?
Shark:I just laugh about it. And I think I laughed about those bad reviews when they came out. We still get bad reviews at times but you just can’t make everyone happy and I have never really written music for anyone besides myself. I’ve just been lucky that there are some others out there that enjoy what I do also.
Were you ever associated with any other project, besides Hellwell, or your personal acoustical solo album ’Obsidian Dreams’?
Shark: I have engineered many projects for other artists but as far as being in any other bands the answer is no not since 1977 when I started Manilla Road. I played in several bands before Manilla Road but none worth mentioning. Rick Fisher and I have just finished recording a project that we are calling Riddlemaster. It will be out this year.
You ‘ve been also a guest on some other bands albums in the past, such as Battleroar, Iron Sword and Axecuter. How do you feel when a younger band asks you to participate in their album?
Shark: It’s always an honor to be asked such a thing. It’s very flattering to say the least.
What would you do if there was no music?
Shark: I would invent music.
How important are your fans to you and what’s the funniest/most memorable thing, a fan has done for you?
Shark: Our fans are the very core of what we are about. If not for them and their support Manilla Road does not go on. So they are the most important thing to us right after air and food ha ha. Funniest thing to me I think is the kissing of my boots.
How did you start Hellwell and how important was the reading of ‘Acheronomicon’ in order to take the decision to start the project?
Shark: We got the idea for the project while we were recording the Playground of the Damned album.Using the Acheronomiconstory for some of the content was something we decided later. Ernest was recording bass parts for us and I think it was Dr. Doom Brubaker that said we should do some really evil sounding stuff and that the last name Hellwell would be a great name of a band.
Why haven’t you released it under the name of Manilla Road?
Shark:Because of the extensive use of the keyboards and synthesizers. Manilla Road has used stuff like that before but used very sparingly where Hellwell is very dependent on the keyboards at times.
Hellwell has a similar line-up to Manilla Road, but it has a more eerie and dark approaching, both musically and lyrically. Which are the main differences of these two bands for Mark Shelton?
Shark: Once again the inclusion of keys in every song is a huge difference. Also the nature of the material is all dark and focused primarily in one direction where the Road is all over the place with the concepts. I think Hellwell is a little moreprogressive in some ways but the main difference is there are no happy endings in Hellwell songs.
Which old Manilla Road albums resemble the sound of Hellwell?
Shark: I hear a little bit of ‘Out of the Abyss’ in the new one Behind the Demon’s Eyes.
Your favorite authors are Poe, Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Have you ever thought how would Manilla road have sounded, in a less mythical environment? Did you ever think of dealing with ‘every day’ issues on your lyrics?
Shark: We have a few songs that have a more modern topic at times but it is rare.It’s more about entertainment than politics to me. Every once in awhile I feel like I have a moral point of view that needs to be out there but more than anything it’s about what sounds cool.
Hellwell’s debut was heavily influenced by Uriah Heep, Blue Oyster Cult and mainly Deep Purple. The new album sounds much heavier. Why did you pick this musical direction?
Shark: I think the topics demanded it. Plus with Randy Foxe on board on this album it was really easy to go heavy. I guess I have a lot of pent up aggression in me that keeps building ha ha.
In the first album, you had ‘The Strange Case of Dr Henry Howard Holmes’, now you have ‘The Last Rites of Edward Hawthorn’. What’s up with these song titles?
Shark: Cool are they not? You’ re lucky I didn’t do something like that with Karl Denke and the tittle of ‘To Serve Man’. Epic as hell if you ask me or maybe I should say epic as Hellwell.
Is there any chance that Hellwell will be an opening act to a Manilla Road gig or tour?
Shark: No. Hellwell most likely will never tour. Ernie won’t tour or play live and I have my hands full with Manilla Road anyway which will always be my main focus.
What future holds for Mark Shelton?
Shark: Leaving on a plane tomorrow for a tour in Europe doing what I love best of all, playing live music. Up The Hammers.