2014/08/25 - Mark 'The Shark' Shelton (Manilla Road)

1. Painkiller: When did you first pick up playing an instrument? What was metal like in Kansas back in those days? In what ways were those days difficult for you to live through?

I first started playing piano at age 4 or 5 thanks to my mother being a Professor of Music in the educational system in Wichita Kansas. Metal did not really exist yet when I was first learning music...unless you are speaking of Wagner of course ha ha. Hard Rock was pretty much what people referred to heavy fast paced music as when I was in my high school years. Bands that really sort of started the metal thing for us in Wichita were Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Rush crept in there in time also.

As for the scene itself in Kansas there was not much of a metal scene at all until Manilla Road and a few other bands built the local metal scene. It was good and bad both. Good that it was exciting to be on the cutting edge of something so powerful as the metal music movement but difficult because it was a hard brand of music to sell to the club owners to get live gigs. Most club owners around Kansas wanted there patrons to dance a lot so that they work up a thirst and buy more drinks. Well metal ain't really what I would call dance music. I remember being paid to pack up early and get the hell off the stage because of the music a couple of times ha ha. Where we found most of the audience that would always accept our style of music was in the biker bars.

Eventually we became a household name when it came to metal music and the industry in our local area. Now we only play in our home town every year or so but there is still a good sized metal scene here in Kansas now days. It was very interesting and challenging to try and carve out a living as a metal musician in Kansas in the old days though.

2. Painkiller: How did you come across Scott "Scooter" Park in Manilla Road's early years? Who were the other original members of the band?

Scott and I went to the same high School and that is where I originally met him. We did not actually hook up to play music together until a few years later after I got out of the Marine Corps.

The actual first lineup of Manilla Road was myself, Scott Park and Ben Munkirs. Ben is dead now and he was replaced by Miles Sype and then Rick Fisher joined just as we were getting ready to record our first album Invasion. Right after Scott and Ben started MR with me Robert Park (Scott's little brother) joined for awhile as Rhythm Guitarist but he left the band before we started making albums.

3. Painkiller: Concerning the 1979 demo, do you know if any copies of it remain? Do you think the songs "Manilla Road" and "Hermann Hill" will ever resurface on a Manilla Road release? Would you say they're worth revisiting?

Well first of all Herman Hill is on the After Midnight Live release by Manilla Road. Mind you it is not the original recording but it is the same song and done pretty much the same way as on the demo.

The other two songs on that demo that you are speaking of were the very first incarnation of Far Side of the Sun and a song called Manilla Road. It would be great to find a copy of this demo for antiquity reasons if nothing else. But there were only about 50 cassette copies ever made of this demo and we have searched for many years trying to find one to no avail.

I don't think it is a huge loss to the music industry but it would be interesting to hear this old thing again.

4. Painkiller: How and why did you get around to starting Roadster Records? How many people funded the short-lived label? What became of Stygian Shore, the other band that was associated with the label?

We started Roadster Records, Inc. because we could not get any labels to sign us back then. The music was just too strange a style for most labels. It was all of us in the band and our families and friends that helped start and run the company for about 8 years or so. There were always up to a dozen people involved until we decided to shut the label down.

Our main goal with the label always was to promote and release Manilla Road music. I am still in contact with all the guys from Stygian Shore. The drummer is a great tattoo artist now Pete Dawson. The guitarist Mike Palmer is now a manager for a company in the area of sales and Greg Marshal who was the bass player now sings and plays keyboards for a band called Temple of the Damned. Really good band too. They eventually put out a full length album on Shadow Kingdom Records that I mastered but the band is no longer together.

5. Painkiller: How do you believe you evolved from a slight 1970s rock vibe (e.g. Invasion) to an atmospheric heavy metal vibe (e.g. Open the Gates) to an intense thrash metal vibe (e.g. Out of the Abyss)?

It's always been in my mind to fuse any and all styles of music into the metal thing. I'm still experimenting with that to this day. My influences back then and now are very broad and so I would have to say it was sort of a natural evolution.

The thrash thing came from Randy Foxe and I always trying to see who could play faster and heavier than the other. That little contest lasted for years and brought forth many really interesting songs.

Over the years I have experimented with almost all genres of metal music form. Road albums even to this day see the light of many styles within the same release. I still tend to follow my own nose when it comes to what we are going to do next. I just let my instincts point me in the right direction.

6. Painkiller: What's your take on Crystal Logic being considered by many fans to be the band's best effort? Do you think that replacing drummer Rick Fisher with Randy "Thrasher" Foxe helped take the band's songwriting skills to the next level on Open the Gates?

I think is sort of depends upon whom you are speaking with really. I know many that think that Open the Gates or The Deluge are our best efforts. Then there is a whole new wave of younger MR fans these days that appreciate our new stuff more than the old. I would have to agree with you in the fact that Crystal Logic seems to be our most revered album. It's always hard for me to look at my own work objectively from a fans standpoint.

But since you did ask me I would have to say that it seems to me that with all the band member changes over the years that it is the quality of the music itself...you know the writing and lyrics seem to be as important as the musicianship. Randy did open a lot of new doors for Manilla Road because of his ability to play incredible drum parts that helped us onto new levels of heavy and speed. Here is where I have to say that because of all the lineup changes throughout the bands history it has been helpful to the ever evolving and changing sound of the band. Each different musician that I have brought on board has had something special to add to the equation.

The thing that is incredible to me is that Manilla Road still has that MR sound and feel to some degree no matter how far off base we go with the style thing. It seems that no matter what there is always that unique MR sound to everything that the band has done. And every album that I write I try to take my own songwriting skills to the next level.

As for Crystal Logic I think it is fantastic that I am on an album that so many people think is a classic, must have, metal release. It is an honor that I am still trying to live up to.

7. Painkiller: Did Manilla Road ever benefit from airplay on the local radio stations? During the rise of MTV, have you ever contemplated making a promotional music video?

We have enjoyed periods of local airplay that were really cool in the past. Most of our airplay hits are in Europe though. That has been on the rise for some time now and is better than ever now it seems. It still appears to be growing also which is good news for me.

As for the music video...well...I'm not a big fan of lip-sinking and I just never thought a MTV like music video would be true to the standards of Manilla Road. We have live video stuff that we have released and that is what I would rather see us do than movie set videos. It has always been about the music for me.

I'm not saying that a music video, of the nature that we are speaking of, would not have or could not even now do us good as far as promotion goes. It most likely would be a promotional benefit to the band but I would still rather see live stuff from us than us acting like we are playing a song.

I think my perfect idea of a good MR music video would be a animated storyboard to go along with the music. That would seem more proper for a MR music video to me.

8. Painkiller: Originally, you intended to release The Circus Maximus under your own name, but what was the reason for it to be released under Manilla Road? Looking back, do you regret the move to split up the band? I know that Manilla Road only disbanded between the years 1992 and 1994, but were those times incredibly rough for the whole team? How underwhelming was the general attendance per show?

Well actually Circus Maximus did start out as a solo project from me but rapidly changed to a band called Circus Maximus. The label (Black Dragon) insisted on us releasing the project as Manilla Road to enhance sales. When I put Manilla Road back together again in 1994 or 95 it was not the same lineup. At that time it was Randy Foxe on drums and Harvey Patrick on bass. For quite some time we only did shows in our local region around Wichita, Kansas.

We still enjoyed good turnouts for our shows but there was no real interest in the band from most record labels during those years. It was not until 2000 that things started to pick up again for us. What was interesting was that even though the band was still together and performing from time to time nobody in Europe knew this. We were just starting to enter into the email and social media age and I think most of Europe thought the band was totally defunct.

As for the attendance of Circus Maximus shows... at first it was just a few people at the shows and then soon the word spread about how good we were live and before we knew it all our Circus Maximus shows were selling out at the clubs. But we only played in the local venues in Wichita, Kansas.

I personally think that the Circus Maximus album was an incredible feat and to this day I am still really proud of it and think of it as one of my crowning achievements.

9. Painkiller: Do you think that Manilla Road is more popular now than ever? Who did the most to get the band's name out in the open? Do you feel the resurgence of metal in popular culture contributed to the band's benefit?

Yes I think MR is more well known and more popular than the band has ever been before. It was and is the fans of the band that have brought it all to where it is today. Without them the whole thing would have been over a long time ago.

And yes the resurgence of metal in popular culture has for sure been a help to our situation. But we all know that you just can't keep metal down. It will always rear it's head up and howl at the moon.I think it is great to see so many young people now days still getting that metal fever.I have been witness to this all over the world and it is a glorious sight for these old eyes.

10. Painkiller: As you're the only remaining original member, what bands did you have the most fun touring with? This applies to any era.

I will never forget one of our very first shows in front of a really big audience was with Ted Nugent. Another during the same time was a show we did with Krokus also. Both of these would have been in the 1982 or 1983 era. We did not really hang out with these bands that much but I sure do remember them well because of them being a couple of our first really big and important shows.

Liege Lord was fun to party with on the road. Touring with Omen is like traveling with a barrel of monkeys. And I don't really mean that in a bad way. It's just always like a circus of fun with Kenny and the guys. We did a lot of shows and festivals with bands that I have idolized such as Angel Witch, Accept, Saxon, Candlemass and wow the list is pretty damn long actually now that I think about it. It's incredible to meet with and hang out with other musicians that I consider my influences. Who would have ever thought that I would be eating breakfast in France with Wolf Hoffman and the guys of Accept.

There are so many underground bands that I have enjoyed touring with also...Battle Ram, Crystal Viper, Battle Roar, Sin Starlet, Vicious Rumors, Doom Sword, Chastain with Leather Leone, Pile Driver when we were in Canada and man the list can just go on and on. It would be a lot easier to list the bands I did not have fun doing shows with ha ha.

For the most part I have enjoyed playing with all the bands that we have toured with over the years. It is really cool how so many of the bands that I have met have been like instant metal brothers when we meet. Like meeting Phil Anselmo for the first time and him giving me a big bear hug telling me how much he appreciated MR keeping it true all these years. That sort of blew me away. I did not even know that he knew who the hell I was. It has turned into a really interesting time to be in Manilla Road right now and needless to say I am loving every bloody minute of it.

11. Messiah X: You cover a lot of ground in your lyrics, ranging from history and mythology to a wide range of literature. I see a lot of Robert E Howard and H.P. Lovecraft references, Arthurian legends and Roman and Norse mythology, sometimes even combined into single songs. Do you get your inspiration from reading and studying these subjects, or are these just topics you enjoy working with because they fit the music so well? Are there any other themes that have caught your interest lately?

The overall answer to that is yes. I get the inspiration from reading and studying the topics but the reason I work with these topics is because they are so conducive to my style of music as well. I've always said that if it sounds cool then it is cool.

As for new topics right now I'm sort of going in a philosophical direction in regards to the beginnings of the civilization of man and where we are headed for the future. But then again there are always influences by Howard and Lovecraft that you have spoke of that seem to creep into my stuff now and then as well as any historic event that catches my eye at any given moment.

12. Messiah X: There have been a lot of significant lineup changes since 2005’s “Gates of Fire.” What caused all those changes during that time? How much influence do the other members have on the songwriting process? What do you think about the stability of the current lineup?

The first band member change that happened after Gates of Fire was that Bryan left the fold for about a year or so because of family issues that he needed to deal with. During that time we did the Voyager album and the band was a 3 piece again for a bit until he returned to help us do Playground of the Damned.

At that time Harvey Patrick (Bryan's brother) decided to hang up his music career and we replaced him with Vince Golman. Vince was not with us that long because of health issues and he had to call it quits also. He managed to record two of the songs with us for the Playground of the Damned album but then we had to bring in E.C. Hellwell to finish the bass parts on the rest of the project.

Eventually we ended up getting Josh Castillo for the bass player position in MR and he has had that job ever since. The other major change was Cory Christner getting himself in some trouble that has kept him from being able to tour. So I was forced to make one of those difficult business decisions and that is when I replaced him with Neudi. I pretty much write all the music and have for a long time and I have always written all the lyrics. So there is some influence from the other members of the band with some of our direction and arrangements but not really that much.

I'm sort of a headstrong egotist and want everything my own way when it comes to my music. But the other guys do influence me at times when I'm at a crossroads trying to make a choice of which direction to go and my crew will always speak up when they think things don't sound good or don't think a song has any real potential.

As for the stability of this lineup I think it is pretty bloody strong right now. This version of Manilla Road has been carving it's way across the world tour scape since 2011 and at this moment all is well on the front lines and I'm looking forward to more releases and tours with these lads. It may be the best overall lineup that Manilla Road has ever had in relation to all the history of the band.

13. Messiah X: Tell me about the Hellwell band. Any plans for a new album or some shows with that project?

I don't think there will be any shows with the Hellwell project at least for now. Manilla Road will always be my top priority when it comes to playing live. Hellwell was more meant to be an experimental project band you might say.

For me it is a chance to do something a little different than the Road but at the same time maybe show everyone (including myself) the different directions that MR could have gone. We are currently working on another Hellwell album that I hope to finish in 2015.

That is time away from MR permitting. Like I said Manilla is always first on my to do list. But I must say that the songs that we have recorded thus far for the next Hellwell album are really cool by my standards so I think it will be something to check out when we get it finished.

14. Messiah X: Manilla Road seems to have been on a touring frenzy over the past few months. What have been the best destinations so far? Any plans for touring the States?

Yep it's been quite the touring frenzy as you say he he. It actually sort of started last year when we released Mysterium and it just has not stopped yet. We have been in Canada, United States, Europe, South America and even Cyprus in the last two years and playing at some really killer festivals all over.

We just got to do a great bunch of shows recently including Hells Pleasure and Metal Days and Power of the Night festivals. And what is cool is that there is still more touring to come yet this year.

Back to Europe and the UK in October and then I think we are doing some shows in America in November. I actually have people that take care of this shit for me now so I don't always have the correct dates in my head ha ha.

We will be touring again next year as well to support our next album that should be coming out around the first part of 2015 on Golden Core / Zyx Music and High Roller Records.

15. Messiah X: Manilla Road is often considered to be the father of “epic heavy metal”. Was it ever intended to set out to create something so different from everything else that some consider it a whole new subgenre? What do you think of the modern bands who have adopted this style and how it has evolved from what you started all those years ago?

Wow you like those really deep thoughtful questions don't you? Ha ha. It is really a good question because I don't really feel like the father of epic heavy metal. I might have been the guy that coined the phrase but the style existed long before I was recording Manilla Road songs.

I was highly influenced by bands like Sabbath and Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Rush and a plethora of other great bands that were experimenting with that epic style of music. They just did not call it Metal yet for the most part.

Most of these bands that I have mentioned would not have even considered themselves metal in those days but hard rock. From King Crimson and Yes to early Judas Priest the ground work for the epic metal sub-genre, as you put it, was being created. It was the same for all the other sub-genres of metal as well. Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath are, to me, the predecessors of doom metal.

The 60's and 70's and most of the 80's were filled with all sorts of experimental music that laid the foundations of what different genres of Rock music we have these days.

It is flattering as hell to be called the father of epic metal but in my mind I really think it was all those guys before me that really created the epic approach to rock. I just gave that approach a name when I was asked what kind of music do you play?

16. Messiah X: You have also had influence on other genres. The Norwegian black metal band Darkthrone cites Manilla Road as an influence in their song “Raised on Rock,” and other black and death metal bands have covered some classic Manilla Road songs. What do you think of these black and death metal acts who have “sold their souls to Manilla Road?”

Well first of all I would like to how much they got paid for their souls. I hope they did not get ripped off...ha ha. Just kidding mate. I actually like Darkthrone and many other Black and Death Metal bands. But I like just about everything that has an artistic approach to it. And these bands for sure have an art about what they do. I'm totally humbled by anyone citing Manilla Road as an influence.

But I'm not surprised either because the band has encompassed so many different styles of metal in the career of Manilla Road. MR was doing our own version of doom, black, death, thrash, progressive...hell you name it we were fucking around with it trying to come up with new and unique ideas for our music.

To me there are no barriers when it comes to music. It is the true communication that all of us have in common. But I do hope they got a good price for the soul thing because that's like a one time sale I think.

17. Messiah X: Tell me about Up The Hammers fest in Greece. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of this festival which owes its name to you. Word is you’re bringing Randy Foxe back into the fold for the occasion. How did that come about? Any other surprises in store?

Randy who?...just kidding again of course. Yep it's going to be a huge blow out I think. Neudi will be doing about an hour and a half show with us first and then after a brief drum kit change over we will do another equal or longer set with the Thrasher Randy Foxe.

We actually did a show with him and Rick Fisher playing with us here in Wichita some time back. This was an idea that the Up The Hammers festival had put to us some time back and we have been working on making sure that it came about.

It should be a great show and an epic night to remember for all of us I am sure. Randy has been jamming with us for the last couple of weeks since we came back from touring and it is sounding remarkably like the old Randy Foxe. He still has it and we are even working up some of the songs that he plays drums and keyboards at the same time. Like I said it will be epic.

18. Messiah X: You’ve had a new album in the works for some time now. The recent albums have all been very distinct from one another, even though they are also very distinctly Manilla Road. How would you say the new one compares?

Well for sure every musician thinks that the project that he is currently working on is the best he has ever done. It's the same in this case except that everyone that has heard the new recordings has agreed with me. It for sure sounds like Manilla Road but I think the production has gotten better again and even though I love the last album Mysterium I think this new one is much more appealing.

We are in the final mastering stages of the project right now and so this is when we put the final icing on the cake so to speak. If we get a really good mastering accomplished on this it will for sure be one of the best additions to the Manilla Road arsenal of releases. I'm super proud of this one man.

19. Messiah X: It seems that your style of metal has its biggest fanbases in Germany and Greece. Why do you think heavy metal does so much better in Europe than in the states? Do you think the potential is there for a great US Metal festival similar to what can be done in Europe?

We played at the Maryland Deathfest last year in front of a huge audience that was really receptive and seemed to know most of our music singing along with the songs. Made me think twice that is for sure. It seems our popularity is growing in the states but you are correct that Europe has the bull by the tale when it comes to really large metal festivals. But I have noticed that a lot of these festivals are starting to diversify the brands of music that are being featured.

It seems to be a little bit of everything popping up in what used to be genre specific festivals. I think it's great to see this happening and everyone showing support of all brands of metal.

I'm not sure America will ever be like Europe as far as how many huge metal festivals there are but I think America is starting to really come around in it's awareness of more avant-garde styles of metal music and the whole of the metal market in the states seems to be on the rise. Great times to be in a metal band.

20. Messiah X: What does the future hold for Manilla Road?

The future for Manilla Road as always is in the hands of our fans. Where they want us to go play we will go if we can. There is always going to be another album on the horizon until people tell me that it sucks and they don't want it.

As long as I am breathing I will be writing, recording and touring the music for as long as the fans wish it. Manilla Road owes everything that is happening for us to the supporters that have been behind Manilla Road new and old alike.

It has been the honor of my life to have been in these boots. So fasten your seat belts because Manilla Road is still on the road and coming your way. Better batten down the hatches mates.

Thanks so much for doing the interview and for your support of Manilla Road.

To all Blessed Be and of course Up The Hammers & Down The Nails.

Manilla Road

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I was really pleased with how he handled our questions. Very informative to even Manilla Road's biggest fans.

Whatever respect I had for him before this interview has now tripled in amount.
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That's a good one! Congrats guys. Mark is one of my TOP musicians and personalities in metal music.
I saw Manilla Road (again!) at Milano, Italy, last month. I have to say, at live shows, the band has reached new HIGH levels. Amazing.
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I really would like to see a Manilla Road music video depicting an animated storyboard to complement their lyrical themes. Even some picture slideshows showing the band donning their swords and shields would fit really well with the barbaric nature of the music.

Also, I like that Mark "The Shark" Shelton is always open to new ideas and different styles. All of Manilla Road's albums have their own distinctive qualities, as the fifth question implied.
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Good interview. I saw them at the MDF show and they were amazing. One of my favorite bands of all time. Mark just seems like a great guy and his insights in this interview are great to read. I'd like to see them play more shows in the US! I guess it's tough without a festival type draw.
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Just now I read it all! Sorry for the late comment but I have been SO busy with school and work. Great interview job Painkiller and Messiah X, I also learned some new things.

Also I am not a Darkthrone fan by any means but I think it is great Mark is openminded!
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Dude, I remember reading this interview earlier this year, long before I joined. I was impressed by the in-depth questions and the knowledge you guys had about the band for the interview. Mind you, it seems most people who interview the Road don't ask mundane, trivial, or simply obvious questions like you may see with more mainstream bands, and it's cool how each interview you tend to learn something new.
Well, Mark is a really cool guy, and I hope to see them perform again. Great interview.
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(09-11-2015, 12:45 PM)slutfuckcult Wrote: Dude, I remember reading this interview earlier this year, long before I joined. I was impressed by the in-depth questions and the knowledge you guys had about the band for the interview. Mind you, it seems most people who interview the Road don't ask mundane, trivial, or simply obvious questions like you may see with more mainstream bands, and it's cool how each interview you tend to learn something new.
Well, Mark is a really cool guy, and I hope to see them perform again. Great interview.

Same lol, I forgot to comment last time I was here but it was a brilliant read! The questions/answers got better as I continued, though all of them are great. The new album was also good, much better than the last.
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That was a brilliant interview ! Very interesting and descriptive questions and answers.

By the way, with the re-release of "Dreams of Eschaton" (their unpublished 1981 album), we can now listen to the 1979 demo in its entirety ! There's a slightly slower version of "Far Side of the Sun", the long song "Manilla Road", and "Herman Hill". These are all nice songs.
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Thank you very much for your feedback!

The interview was conducted three years ago, but yeah, you can now listen to those obscure Manilla Road songs. Smile
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