Manilla Road is one of the greatest bands ever. Their new album “Playground of the Damned” is out and I took the chance to talk with Mark “The Shark” Shelton about the album and other interesting things.
Three years after the “Voyager” you came up with a new album entitled “Playground of the Damned”. What is the story behind every song?
Shark: The first song is “Jackhammer” and it is basically a song about our mascot Smiling Jack (the skull guy we use in art all the time). Song #2 is “Into the Maelström” which is based off of a Poe story called “A Descent Into the Maelström”. I have always liked putting Poe stories to music. Started doing that back in 1987 with the “Mystification” album and a new Poe related song pops up every once in awhile on MR albums after that. Just keeping the tradition going. Song #3 is the title cut “Playground of the Damned” and it is sort of an apocalyptic warning song notating that earth is the playground of the damned. Song #4 is called “Grindhouse” and is a tribute to the old Grindhouse theaters that I grew up with in the old days. Love those old b-movies. Song #5 is “Abattoir de la Mort” which is a song about Midgard Sound Labs and all of us that have worked and bled in the studio over the last several years. Song #6 is “The Fire of Asshurbanipal” which is based off an Indiana Jones type horror story by Robert E. Howard. Another author that MR have borrowed ideas from over the career of the band. Song #7 is “Brethren of the Hammer” which is a Metal Anthem and song #8 is sort of a Metal power ballad called “Art of War” which is just a reminder to all of us that we should not forget how to stand our ground when needed. I did not want to do a concept album this time because both of our last releases were conceptual albums and I thought it was time to take a short break from the really long winded concept thing.
Vinyl edition is released from High Roller records and cd is coming from Shadow Kingdom rec. How was the producing process of the album and how did you get in touch with these labels?
Shark: I have been dealing with both of these labels for awhile now and have had really good luck with our business dealings. High Roller has the highest quality releases on LP anywhere and so working with them is a no-brainer and Shadow Kingdom has been in our network for a long time and we are friends with the owner which helps also. Each of the labels is sort of putting together their own version of the release and I think that is cool because you don't have just a copy of the other if you buy both.
Are there any plans for live shows to promote the album?
Shark: We are doing one show in 2011 (I guess we think we are Pink Floyd now or something) at the Hammer of Doom Festival during October in Germany. So if you want to see Manilla Road live in 2011 you better go to that show. We hope to do a lot more touring in 2012.
Your mother was a Professor of Music at a University and you are playing music since you were a child. What was your music background before you form Manilla Road?
Shark: Classical, Jazz, Folk, Country and Rock music. Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, UFO and Black Sabbath ruled for me back then.
What does the name Manilla Road stands for and poetically where the Road leads?
Shark: It was simply The Road of Light to us at first and it still primarily means that to me.
“Mark of the Beast” and “After Midnight – Live” are two albums with unreleased material from the early years of the band, which finally released officially. I know that you are not very enthusiastic with this stuff, but are there any other songs from the late 70s-early 80s? Also, is there any unreleased material from the 80s?
Shark: I never thought that the material or the performance back then was that good but then I guess that is normal for me to feel that way and I have, over time, developed a bit of an appreciation for the old stuff realizing that if not for those endeavors I would not have progressed into other styles and performances later on in my career. There are still many reel to reel tapes in the studio from the old days that we are going to hopefully be able to listen to one of these days and see if there is any more stuff that would be interesting to put out there. There is one demo tape release we did on cassette that I am hoping to find the masters of eventually. It was a 3 song demo with the very first version of “Far Side of the Sun”, the studio version of “Herman Hill” which finally appeared on “After Midnight Live” and an early MR epic style song entitled “Manilla Road”. Yes there was a song called “Manilla Road” at the first of all of this… These were the first songs ever recorded in a studio setting by the band. Other than that demo, I don't think there is anything else out there that I would want to release. I would never want to release something old just to try and make money. The only reason we put out “After Midnight Live” is because none of the songs on it were ever released before so even though the recording was really old the material had never been heard by most of our fans. If it had not had a decent sound quality to it I would have never let be released.
“If I was an ordinary man, I would live a life of luxury, but I don’t believe in simple truths, I believe in sincerity”… Who is the chromaphobian man?
Shark: I guess it was me at the time. A man of metal music in a time that it was not fashionable to be a metal head. At least not where I lived at that time. Manilla Road was the first of its kind in Kansas. That is an epic metal band. We helped carve out the metal industry in Wichita along with a few other bands but it seems we were the only one that really stood up to the test of time.
How you really dreamt of the end of the world? Do you think that man will be responsible for the Dreams of Eschaton? What Crystal Logic stands for?
Shark: Who knows how the end will come. There are so many ways that the world could meet its end that the law of averages will catch up to the earth before too long. It's really not a matter of if the world as we know it will end. It's more a question of when. All I really want to say about that is if we are to survive as a race of beings in the universe we should start figuring out how to expand our pioneering efforts into space. If we never explore the possibility of getting off this rock and being able to live in space then our race will eventually be doomed. As for what Crystal Logic is: It is the type of wisdom that understands and creates the magik of the mind and spirit. It is the understanding of the flow of life and existence itself. It is the highest form of knowledge that can be achieved by man. Plus crystals make great memory chips.
What are the Veils of Negative Existence?
Shark: It is the thin curtain that separates us from the other outer and inner worlds of existence. Like a barrier between dimensions.
What’s your occupation at the moment and since in Greece we have a major problem with the economical crisis, how are things in the United States?
Shark: I am the Operations Manager for a corporation in Wichita, Kansas. The economy is rather down here in the states but it is not terrible. I think your financial problems in Greece are much bigger than ours are at the moment.
Who do you think are the "Weavers of the Web"?
Shark: Well I was not talking about the internet, haha. We are all weavers of the web. Anyone who contributes to the web of magik in the universe is a weaver of the web. The ancient gods, the old ones, the heroes throughout history, the bards and poets and musicians that have understood that art is magik and that it talks to all of us in our minds and our hearts. Anyone who realizes that our minds are capable of magik and the more of us that work toward a common goal the more likely it is to become reality. Anything is possible if you summon enough magik to make it real.
What is the story with the chronic laryngitis and how did you ripped your vocal cords? How did you came up with the screams in “Out of the Abyss” album or “Dig Me No Grave”? By the way, your vocal work in the “Courts of Chaos” is my favorite from Manilla Road…
Shark: When we were recording “Open The Gates” I was very sick during the days that we were supposed to be recording the vocals. I should have just canceled the studio time and done at a later date but the studio was booked solid for like another month or two and we sort of had a deadline with our label to get the album done. So I pushed through the vocals while being deathly ill and it turned out that I really strained my vocal chords during that session. I struggled with laryngitis problems for years after that and visited several specialists about it. I was put on steroids several times which helped to keep the vocals going throughout the next several albums until I was doing a string of shows with “Circus Maximus” and one night I was letting out one of my Rob Halford screams and all of a sudden I felt a sharp pain in my throat and had to nurse my voice through the rest of the show that night. I went back to one of the vocal specialists and they found that I had ripped one of my vocal cords. It took forever to heal and when it did heal I was left with scar tissue on my vocal cord that has made it impossible for me to use my falsetto voice ever since. They told me they could operate to remove the scar tissue but they could not guarantee that my voice would sound the same ever again. So I decided to live with the situation and just push on and do the best that I can to sing without injuring myself again. That is why we brought Bryan Patrick into the ranks as a singer for the band. He sounds enough like me to do the job and he can still hit those falsetto notes that I can't.
How was a Manilla Road live show in the 80s?
Shark: Chaos and music. Our live shows were always a bit crazy back then. We would blow up and set fire to anything on stage and we still dressed up in spandex and leather with chains on the boots and metal armbands and spikes and hair and the whole nine yards. Well I still wear leather and I still have a full head of long hair but the rest of it has changed a bit. Randy had a big cage that the drums were in that was interesting because he would climb all over the thing in between songs. It was wild and crazy most of the time. We had to stop blowing stuff up because we started blowing ourselves up too. Now we rely more on the music and the performance than the special effects but I still love a great light show with cool fog.
Do you believe that if you could manage to tour in Europe back then or had a proper distribution of your albums, Manilla Road could be bigger or you meant to be for few but devoted fans?
Shark: I think we might have been a bit bigger if we had a little better luck back in the day but then again, who knows. We could have scored a big deal with a big label and signed our lives away to them and it not worked out and then it would have been the end of Manilla Road a long time ago. The music will always have a different sound and mix to it when we are doing it all ourselves instead of leaving it up to someone else to decide what Manilla Road should sound like. I am not unhappy with where I am at with Manilla Road today. Even if I died today I would feel I have done my part to enhance the metal music of our day. Success is only what one makes of it. I may not have gotten filthy rich playing metal but I have had the best time of my life doing it and I feel that I have been extremely successful because I have so many friends and supporters that love what Manilla Road has done. So I have done what I set out to do with my life. The first day that someone told me that my music helped them to get through some very rough times in their life was when I became successful.
I know that you have many friends in Greece and we all want a Manilla Road concert again and very soon. Which are your most memorable moments from Greece?
Shark: Well, first of all there is still one woman in Greece that stole my heart. She just doesn't know it. The Acropolis is a big thing for me. I have been there twice now and both times it was like standing on hallowed ground. Like I could hear the whispering voices of the gods, the poets and politicians of ancient Greece. The other great memories of Greece are the fans and the shows. I love playing in Greece and I can't wait to get back to the land of the gods and crank it up again.
To all of our fans, friends and supporters. Thank you so much for your undying support of Manilla Road. If not for you this could not all be.
Up The Hammers & Down The Nails
Manilla Road on Fountain Street Productions
The Drums of Chaos
Cory: In the winter of 2003 Mark Shelton recorded some songs of my former band and afterward he asked me if I wanted to play drums for him. I turned the offer down a few times after hearing the works of Randy Foxe and the reputation that Manilla Road had… Eventually I gave in and said “ok, I’ll give it a shot” and I am sooo glad I did it! It has been an amazing 7 or 8 years and I am honored to be the drummer of Manilla Road.
Randy “Thrasher” Foxe was the legendary drummer of the Road back in the 80s
Along with Mark Zonder, you are my favourite drummer. Which was your music background and how did you learn to play drums?
Thrasher: I played snare drum, learning the rudiments, in primary school. I began to play the drum set in high school (secondary school). I would stay after school and practice for five or six hours a night. Most of this practice was drums but I also played piano, guitar and bass. Even back then I would sometimes put a piano or some percussion to my left and play drums with my right hand and another instrument with my left. Probably the biggest change to my style came when I began playing in pitch darkness. It improved my accuracy but, more importantly, it created a disconnect between thinking about what I think to play and what I feel. I still play a lot with my eyes closed to recreate this.
Which are your memories from Manilla Road in the 80s?
Thrasher: I loved seeing the reactions of the fans when they would see me playing something very difficult... like playing keys and drums together on songs like “The Prophecy”, the drum part to “Dementia”, the beginning of “Old Ones”, etc. That gave me a real sense of accomplishment.
The story so far…
Manilla Road hail from Wichita, Kansas (USA) and they are one of the greatest bands in metal music. The journey started in 1977 when Mark Shelton (vocals-guitar) decided to form a band with his high school friend Scott Park (bass guitar) after he left the Marine Corp. In the first incarnation of the band, there are also Ben Munkirs on drums and Robert Park (Scott’s brother) on guitar. Later Ben left the band and with Myles Sipe they recorded their first 3-song demo tape in 1979 and after a while Rick Fisher joins the Road. They started to perform their first live shows, writing lot of material and by the end of 1979 they entered the studio to record their debut album "Invasion". During the recordings, they fired Robert because of problems he caused in the band and they continued as a three-piece. It was difficult back then to find a record company to release their material, so in early 1980, “Invasion” was released in their own label Roadster Records. The band kept playing live, composing lots of new songs and they were one of the heaviest bands back then in the States.
At the time, Shelton was in stuff like Black Sabbath, Rush, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Judas Priest among others, but they kept listening to new artists and getting inspired from them all along the time. Their music developed in the years to come and it was getting heavier and faster during the 80s and even if every album was different than the previous one, each and every single one had the unique personal style of Manilla Road. While touring all over the Midwest, the band recorded another album called “The Dreams of Eschaton” but it was never officially released until 2002, renamed as "Mark of the Beast". At the time, after these songs, they recorded another album and they considered the new songs better than the other ones, so in 1982 their second album, simply entitled "Metal", was released again from their own label and that year they opened for the Wichita concerts of Krokus and Ted Nugent.
Mark Shelton, which studied anthropology in the university, was deeply into the stories of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, Edgar Allan Poe, ancient philosophy and mythology and all of this is floating in his lyrics, another MR trademark but he also wanted something different for the music. In their next effort, "Crystal Logic", music is more heavy and epic and it’s getting closer to what Mark had on his mind. The album was released again from Roadster but it also led to the signing with Black Dragon Records and they got distribution in Europe and the United States. Rick Fisher wasn’t pleased with the heaviest approach Mark had in mind for the next album and he was replaced by Randy Foxe. Among many fans, “Crystal Logic” is the first masterpiece of Manilla Road and some of them consider it their best album.
In 1985, "Open The Gates" was issued from Black Dragon and the whole album is filled with a mystique feeling, great leads and solos and epic metal supremacy. The mixture of Norse mythology, legends and the other literature readings of Shelton, created something like a private mythology and spiritual poetry in his lyrics and it was developed in the next album and on. "The Deluge" was also released from Black Dragon in 1986 and along with “Open The Gates” it also has the great art of Eric Larnoy on the cover. The band kept playing heavier and faster than the previous album and the complex aggressive style of Randy “Thrasher” Foxe helps the band to reach new levels and takes the listener by storm. The songwriting is once again supreme but the promotion and their record company started to have problems, especially after the next album in 1987.
The production of "Mystification" was a mess, the band wasn’t able again to tour in Europe and the first distribution problems appear but what about the music? With tales of gore and terror in the night, the album pays tribute to the poet who found the key, Edgar Allan Poe. The unique characteristic mystic sound of Manilla Road is still here, still outstanding, harsh and powerful. A U.S. tour followed the album and Manilla Road played with Liege Lord. They toured from Midwest to the East Coast and during these shows they recorded the "Roadkill" live album.
In 1988 they signed to Leviathan Records and they release "Out of the Abyss". MR kept the pact, to make every album faster and heavier than the last and they almost play thrash metal in “Out of the Abyss”. Raw and complex with weird riffs, horror lyrics and the first high pitched screams from the Shark, but there are also epic anthems like “Helicon”. The problem is that Leviathan Records licensed it to Black Dragon for distribution in Europe but they couldn’t do a proper job with it and along with the follow-up album, they were almost impossible to found in Europe back then. Despite that, the band kept touring around the States, this time with Chastain. The next album, "The Courts of Chaos" was released in 1990 and it was the most experimental MR album to date. They kept exploring horror themes and the music is darker with keyboards creating a strange atmosphere evoking chaos from beyond.
After the Courts of Chaos, Shelton wanted to create a solo album, different from the sound of Manilla Road and he found Aaron Brown and Andrew Coss for the project. They started bringing their own ideas and then they realized that this wasn’t a Mark Shelton solo project anymore and they called it Circus Maximus. They signed to Black Dragon but the company decided to keep the Manilla Road name and called the album "The Circus Maximus" despite the disagreement of the band. The band played a few gigs around Kansas and then split up but this wasn’t a MR record… because MR kept playing live after that for months. Scott Park had drinking problems and he was replaced by Harvey Patrick but after a while he left the Road. The next years and until the end of the 90s, Mark and Randy kept working together a bit but they also got married and started raising families and even if the Shark never stopped playing or writing music, MR was somehow left on ice.
In 2000, Iron Glory Records re-released “Crystal Logic” and they also asked for a new Manilla Road album and next year "Atlantis Rising" came out. Before that, in 2000, MR gave their first European show at Bang Your Head Festival in Germany and also their back catalogue was re-released from various record labels (Iron Glory, Sentinel Steel, Dragonheart, Underground Symphony) and a brand new fan base was built. Randy Foxe wasn’t able to follow the Road and so the line-up back then was: Mark “The Shark” Shelton (guitars – vocals), Bryan “Hellroadie” Patrick (vocals), Mark Anderson (bass) and Scott Peters (drums). “Atlantis Rising” was well received from many fans and the press and in 2002 another new album came out from Iron Glory called "Spiral Castle". Many of these songs were written from the late 90s and from this time, the band was able to do more shows in Europe and also played in more festivals everywhere.
In 2005 the "Gates of Fire" opened, introducing Cory Christner on drums. He followed the Road in the 2004 European shows also but this was his first MR studio performance. The album is separated in three parts, lyrically based on Robert E. Howard’s “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”, Virgil’s Aeneid and the battle of Thermopylae and it is pure epic metal. In early 2008 "Voyager" was issued from My Graveyard Productions with a concept of a marauding band of Vikings standing against Christianity and sailing for a place to live without religion persecution. This is the first album from 2000 without Bryan Patrick, with Shelton taking care of all vocals. In the last album, "Playground of the Damned", released in mid-2011 from Shadow Kingdom Records, Bryan is back and the spirit still follows the Road of Light…
From the first show of Manilla Road in Athens, GR (October 27th, 2002)