Saturday, May 2, 2015

Interview:--> Mark Shelton (Manilla Road) -- Part Two

"I remember well
the oath I made that fall..."
~ Manilla Road ~

"Manilla Road is one of America's -- make that the world's -- great cult heavy metal bands. Geographically isolated, fiercely independent, and highly original."
- All Music Guide

"Manilla Road has never been mainstream.  Never been a GPS point of interest on the corporate music map.  Yet fans are very much wise to the game and find them anyway."
- The College Crowd Digs Me

(click here for part one)

Casey Chambers:  During the 80s, Manilla Road were knocking down pins.  You ran the table for the rest of the decade with..."Open The Gates", "The Deluge", "Mystification" (my fav), "Out Of The Abyss" and opened the 90s with..."The Courts Of Chaos" (1990).  And then suddenly, Manilla Road just sorta fell off the face of the earth...

Mark Shelton:  That was when we thought we were dead.  Or I thought I was dead. (laughs)  Because no label wanted to touch us for quite awhile in the '90s.

Casey Chambers:  So what went south after your wall-crumbling "...Courts Of Chaos"?

Mark Shelton:  I had disbanded Manilla Road after that and formed another band called Circus Maximus with Andy Coss  and Aaron Brown.  We made a really fantastic album.  But our Black Dragon label decided that it should be a Manilla Road album because it would sell better.  They didn't want to have to go through the pangs of launching a new band.

And, so sure enough, the album came out and it was marketed as a Manilla Road album.  But it didn't sound anything like Manilla Road.  Maybe one song or two had some similarities, but for the most part..."Circus Maximus" (1992)...was a progressive rock album.  So after that, there just wasn't any support from any labels.

"Circus Maximus" - Manilla Road (1992)

There was just nothing happening.  It seemed like the metal market was dying at that point.  I kept playing, but I sorta resigned myself to being a dad, raising my family and being a husband.  Worked a regular job at a golf course.  And I played a lot of golf. (laughs)

I remember playing golf with Bryan "Hellroadie" Patrick and he knew I was miserable because we hadn't been playing.  Bryan wasn't in the band at that point.  He'd been on the road crew and road manager for us.  He said, 'Man, you gotta get outta this funk.'  And I told him, 'Hey, it's not like that.  I got great kids.  I'm not really unhappy, but I feel like I'm spinning my wheels in life.  I'm just not doing what I want to be doing.'  So he said, 'Well, quit fucking not doing it and let's start working on a project.'

"Dig Me No Grave" - Manilla Road / "The Courts Of Chaos" (1990)

So I went and bought myself a digital recording unit and we started working on putting some songs together.  It was just ourselves and a drum machine just to see how it would turn out.  We didn't really have the band together yet.  We made it through about six or seven songs when we got a call from the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany.

They asked us...Manilla come and play.  Well, I'd been working with another bass player, Mark Anderson, and he was all game for it.  Then I called Randy (Foxe) 'cause I didn't know any other drummers who I thought could play the parts.

But a couple of  days later, after I had already told the promoters we were gonna do it, Randy ended up in a situation where he couldn't do it without jeopardizing his job.  I didn't want to back out of the show, because the organizers were already making the arrangements.  Airplane tickets.  Hotel arrangements.  Blah, blah, blah.

I quickly found Troy Olson, and he learned the drum parts as best he could in a very short period of time and we went and did the show.

Casey Chambers:  Excellent!  This is good stuff.  Manilla Road...wailing the stage again.

Mark Shelton:  It was an eyeopener for me when I got over there.  Just as this was happening, Iron Glory Records in Germany had made an offer to reissue "Crystal Logic."

So it was just coming out when we did Bang Your Head.  Perfect timing.  And Iron Glory had pressed up like a thousand of the red Smiling Jack T-shirts.  Y'know, the skull with the viking helmet on it?

And on Friday, the first day of the festival, they had sold out of those t-shirts in about two hours.  So when we actually played on Saturday, there was a sea of Manilla Road shirts in front of us.  And it was a huge festival.  There was like 40,000 people there.  The largest audience I had ever played for.

There were people from all over Europe.  A contingent from Greece, Italy, France...people had come from all over.  And this was the first time we had ever played in Europe.

I found out right away even though I didn't have any of the other original members, everybody was cool with it.  They figured, if I was still the one singing and playing guitar and writing the music, it was still Manilla Road.  That's when we started getting offers again, and we took the best deal with Iron Glory.

Casey Chambers:  Ten years is a long lay-off.  It must have been exciting, if not just a bit unnerving, hitting the studio again.  But you guys brought it...with "Atlantis Rising" (2001)...quickly followed by "Spiral Castle" (2002).  Both powder kegs.  It must have been very gratifying seeing your fans hadn't deserted you.

Mark Shelton:  Yeah, it was very exciting.  I've been continuing to stretch the boundaries of our music.  Fusing genres.  Trying to educate.  I don't think we should be so specific in our likes and dislikes.

Metal didn't just spring out of itself.  It came from all sorts of other styles of music.  Doom metal is like the old heavy psychedelic rock that I grew up with.  We have doom metal fans that love us.  We have death metal fans that love us.  We  have thrash and prog-metal...all these fans of different genres that like Manilla Road.  So it's cool that we've split genres and crossed over into so many.

Casey Chambers:  Right.  Expanding our appreciation of differences rather than closing the windows.

Mark Shelton:  Exactly.  There's a band called Darkthrone down in Scandinavia headed up by a guy named Fenriz.  Really progressive death metal, black metal type group.  And he's a huge Manilla Road fan.  And because somebody of his standing has said this, fans into that genre are taking the time to at least go to Youtube and check out some Manilla Road.

Casey Chambers:  Didn't they mention Manilla Road in one of their songs?

Mark Shelton:  Yeah.  Yeah, they did  He was real cool about that.  "Raised On Rock" was the name of the song.  "We sold our souls for Manilla Road" is the line.

Casey Chambers:  There's probably a tattoo walking around somewhere...

Mark Shelton:  Yeah, that'd be great.

Casey Chambers:  I recently heard "Necropolis" covered by the band Visigoth.  Have you heard that yet?

Mark Shelton:  I have!  I thought they did a real good job.  There's also another band...Cauldron...young guys that did a version of "Necropolis".  It's like a new age punk version of it. It sounds really good, too.

I was really impressed because "Necropolis" was almost a punk song to me anyway.  Strangely enough, and I'm probably setting myself up for the slaughterhouse here...but I'm actually an old Sex Pistols fan.  Dead Kennedys.  Stuff like that.  I used to listen to a lot of punk.  That's why Motorhead was so cool, because I thought they were like the perfect in-between of punk and metal.

Casey Chambers:  What was the very first concert you went to?

Mark Shelton:  The first rock event I ever went to...hmm.   When I was a little kid, I used to go and listen to Rick Hodges' band Crank practice in the basement of a neighbors house near my grandparents.  This was up in College Hill.  Well, they were doing a free gig in a basement/auditorium thing at this church.  And that's probably the first actual rock and roll show I ever went to.

But as far as big concerts go, right after that, Black Sabbath was coming into town.  They had just released "Paranoid".  I had no clue who these guys were.  I got talked into going with some friends.  Stood right in front of Tony Iommi all night and was like, 'that's what I want to do.  I want to do that.'  I was a drummer at the time.  I wasn't even a guitar player yet at that point.

Casey Chambers:  Some early Sab!

Mark Shelton:  Yeah, and it was just as loud as could be.  I'd never heard anything like it.  Those thunderous, interval bar chords, they became so famous for...that nobody was doing until he came along.  Tony Iommi set the pace for what turned out to be the "metal riff".  I know they never called themselves metal back then and they may still not...but the truth is...if it wasn't for those interval bar chords he made famous in songs like "Iron Man" and "War Pigs", we wouldn't have metal sounding the way it does.  And I was just amazed.  And I kept on watching him all night going, 'I think I can do that.'  (laughs)

"Brethren Of The Hammer" - Manilla Road / "Playground of the Damned" (2011)

Casey Chambers:  What was the first album you picked up and a few of your influences?

Mark Shelton:  "Meet The Beatles".  The second one was The Monkees' first album.  After that, I'm not sure.  I was buying lots of Beatles albums.  I remember I wore out my Beatles' "White Album".  I wore out all four sides so bad, I had to go buy another copy.  At that point, once I started really getting interested in music, I started going to record stores.

And basically, my eyes led my direction.  If the song titles sounded cool and the cover art was really neat, I would buy it just to see what it sounded like.  I've got a huge collection of vinyl and some of it's stuff I've only played once.  If I didn't really like it, it stayed on the shelf.  Then I started getting into Pink Floyd.  The Who.  Led Zeppelin.  Deep Purple.  Deep Purple, especially.  Black Sabbath, of course.

But I was also into my environment.  Most of my family were farmers and ranchers.  Not my immediate family, but whenever we'd go to a family function, it was usually on a farm or at a ranch.  I rode horses.  I worked for a cattle company for awhile.  I'm very much a cowboy at heart.  So it was pretty normal for me, I think, to like bands like Johnny Winter, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead.  I definitely drifted toward the homestyle sound.

My grandfather used to be a cattle drover and he listened to country and western music.  Hank Williams.  My mom was into easy listening jazz and classical.  My stepfather was into big band and combo jazz.  I had stepbrothers who were into rock and roll.  One of them was into bluegrass.  So I had music from all genres coming at me all the time.

And bands like UFO, Scorpions, early Judas Priest, early Iron Maiden.  Stuff like that.  They all made impressions on me throughout the years of my life.

When I finally got around to learning guitar, I taught myself.   I learned to play differently than most.  It's not your standard using all your fingers all the time.  I tend to noodle around on my guitar.  I spin and stretch and do all these weird tricks that I learned by watching videos of other guys.  My chord placings are not necessarily fingered the way you'd finger them out of a book.  It turns out I've even  invented a couple of chord voicings over the years, because there's some we can't find in books. (laughs)

I've always had this idea that if it's theoretically wrong, but it sounds cool, it's cool.  No matter what.  It's like...people always ask me why I write about vikings so much.  'Because vikings are fucking cool.' (laughs)  My style is based off a hundred other guitar players...and I just take pieces of what they do and incorporate it into what I do.

"Tree Of Life" - Manilla Road / "Voyager" (2008)

Casey Chambers:  It has to make you feel pretty good.  Your musical sweat appreciated.

Mark Shelton:  I've been around doing this for a long time.  I've worked really hard for the last 38 years to make Manilla Road what it is.  And I'm not afraid to tell anybody that...yeah, I've got an ego.  So, it's just a fantastic dream come true that I'm actually sitting here talking about these things.

My goal has been, for all these years, to have reassurance and acknowledgement that I'm a professional musician.  This is what I do.  This is my livelihood.  I don't have to have another job.  I'm actually making a living being a musician and that's a really big thing for me.

Casey Chambers:  So far, the new century has seen Manilla Road continue to dispatch albums like..."Gates of Fire""Voyager" and "Playground of the Damned" with a maleficent seduction.  They keep sounding fresh without losing the "Manilla Road" passion.

Mark Shelton:  I try to keep my mind open to new ideas and new directions.  That's what really keeps me going.  I'm always investigating new ways to entwine other music styles into metal.  I have the attitude that there's gotta be something different over the next horizon.  Something around the next corner that I haven't found yet.

Casey Chambers:  Finally, I saw where your latest album..."The Blessed Curse" just dropped.  When's it hitting Spektrum or the other record stores?

Mark Shelton:  Yeah, "The Blessed Curse" just came out.   The vinyl won't hit until later this month.  But the CD's out.  And the digital.  It's cool to see the LP coming back.   And yeah, Spektrum.  Phil and Adam.  Love those guys.  It's great seeing them doing what they're doing.

"The Blessed Curse" (2015)

Casey Chambers:  So tell me a little bit about..."The Blessed Curse".  I've been reading good things about it.

Mark Shelton:  Yeah, we're having good luck with the new album.  It's being accepted as classic Manilla Road right off the bat.

"The Blessed Curse" is a double-album for one thing.  And it's got a huge variety of what the band does and has done throughout its career and what we're still attempting to do as far as new evolution of our style.

There is a huge variety of heavy, fast, thrash, and also acoustic music on it.  Nice, spacey atmospheric things.  It's the album, I think, would give people the best idea of how wide spanning the berth of the band really is.

"The Blessed Curse" - Manilla Road / "The Blessed Curse" (2015)

It's definitely the best produced album we've ever put out.  The performances on it are as perfect as I can get.  The other guys played really great on it.

I'm really proud of this one.  This is like a milestone for me.  I'm really excited to see "The Blessed Curse" being embraced by our hardcore fan base as well as the media.

Casey Chambers:  Well, I really want to thank you for hangin' out with me.  I enjoyed talking with you.

Mark Shelton:  Before we sign off,  I just want to say thanks to all the home base fans here.  And just all of our fans.  No matter how narcissistic or egotistical I am, the truth is, I know full well the only reason I'm able to do what I do is because I've got people out there supporting me and loving the music.  And without them, I wouldn't get to do what I want to do with my life.  I totally appreciate everyone who supports Manilla Road.  And's been my pleasure. Thank you.

The Official Manilla Road Website

Look for Mark Shelton's new acoustical solo album..."Obsidian Dreams"...later this year.

Good stuff!

Casey Chambers
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Enjoyed reading the interview. Keep them coming.