Interview with MARK “THE SHARK” SHELTON
The Band: Hellwell
Answers by: Mark “The Shark” Shelton (guitars, vocals)
No need to introduce “THE SHARK”. If you don’t know MANILLA ROAD it means you are new in this business or either you are lucky because you still have a so big band to discover and enjoy. We talk about his parallel project HELLWELL, and of course about Manilla Road and The Shark’s career. I am proud to talk to an all time legend as Mark “The Shark” Shelton, long live to him and his legacy. Come and know more about the man behind the legend.
Hello Mark, it’s a pleasure to talk to a legend as you
Shark: It is my honor to be doing this interview with you my friend. Many thanks.
You are in a great moment in terms of composition, with machines at full speed both with Manilla Road and Hellwell, aren’t you?
Shark: Yes. It seems to be as you say at this time in my life. For many years I had to work a normal job as well as work at keeping a music career alive. That and also raising two children left me very little time to spend working on writing and recording music. Now days my children are fully grown and I am making a meager living on my music alone. I don’t have as much money as I did but I am much happier. So I have much more time that I can spend in the studio working on projects and that is what I have done in the past couple of years. In the past two years I have completed three different projects that will be released this year and I am currently working on a sonic landscape project that I should be finishing up in a few weeks. Because of the extra time I am afforded these days I have let the creative juices flow and it does feel like I have been running at full speed here. I remember being accused of doing albums too often and fast around the release of Mysterium because they thought the album was not as artistic but more mundane. I sort of agree that about half of that album was a little uninspired but I would blame that on all the other stuff that was going on with my life at the time. I was dealing with all the real world problems at my job and stuff with my kids and changing bass players and drummers that all led to that album being a bit off the mark. I don’t really have those oppositions in my life now. My mind is free of such bullshit and I have much more time to be creative.
And all metalheads are here to enjoy that situation. Behind the Demon’s Eyes is your second album under Hellwell brand, the first was Beyond the Boundaries of Sin in 2012. How did you decide to start off a parallel project to Manilla Road?
Shark: The project became an idea after having to finish the Manilla Road album Playground of the Damned with E.C. Hellwell on bass due to Vince developing an illness that would lead to him leaving the band. I had been talking with my engineer, Dr. Doom, Derek Brubaker about doing some much heavier stuff with evil lyric content that I did not really think totally suitable for Manilla Road. MR was sort of in a limbo state at the time while band member changes were happening with Josh Castillo and Neudi coming into the scene. So I started the Hellwell project with Johnny Benson and Ernie and we decided to call it Hellwell because…well hell it’s a cool name and it really fits the idea behind the philosophy of the projects that we are doing. We have a motto for Hellwell and it’s “No happy endings”. It’s all about entertainment with the Hellwell approach. Sort of a fusion between 70’s and 80’s progressive hard rock, heavy metal, doom and science fiction, horror and adventure fantasy. All the concepts seem to be life threatening in some way or another ha ha.
We could say that Hellwell’s staff is in some way connected with The Circus Maximus, an album that was initially meant to be your solo project?
Shark: Only in the sense that both projects were not intended to be Manilla Road albums and that they both have a progressive approach to some of the music. But other than that they really are not related that much. Circus Maximus was sort of all over the board when it came to the style of the music and Hellwell is much more centered on a specific approach to the music.
Curiously, the band’s name happens to be the same as keys and bass player E. C. Hellwell… Mere coincidence?
Shark: No. Not a coincidence at all. It just seemed the obvious name of the band to us. It is because of the fusion of Keyboards and synthesizers with the guitars that really gives this band a different sound and so it fits to use Ernie’s name and besides it sounds evil as hell so it fits perfectly with our direction as a band.
Apart of that, we don’t know much more about E. C. Hellwell, what can you tell about him?
Shark: He is not a very outgoing person and keeps to himself most of the time. He hides out and writes stories and works of music at times. He totally refuses to play live or tour but he is one really good bass player and keyboardist. My first encounter with Ernie was in high school in Wichita, Kansas. He was in the same creative writing classes that I was taking. It was his cool short stories from those classes that caused me to befriend him. I sort of stole his concept for the song The Riddlemaster on our Crystal Logic album along with the song Cage of Mirrors from the Metal album. Both are really neat stories that Ernie wrote. I love to put music to literary themes and stories from great authors. For example Queen of the Black Coast inspired by the story of the same name by Robert E. Howard. All the songs we have done inspired by Howard, Poe, Lovecraft, Barker all proof to how I am enthralled with this type of musical / lyrical format. Ernie is no different and I found it really easy to put stories of his to music. Even the Acheronomicon saga on Beyond the Boundaries of Sin was a delight to work on. Ernie has some of his stories published and if you are interested you can read some of his work in the Swords of Steel compilation book series. The 3rd volume is to be out in May 2017 and he has stories in the first two books as well.
Awesome. The third leg of your project is Randy Foxe, a Manilla Road’s old friend, that comes to be the replacement for Johnny “Thumper” Benson on drums
Shark: We were a little sad at first when we found out that Thumper was not going to be able to do the second Hellwell album with us. But it led me to ask Thrasher if he would be interested in taking on the drum duties with Hellwell and I became elated when he said yes. It has been really fun working with him and Ernie and Dr. Doom on this new album. I really like the first Hellwell album but this one has a bit more grit and tech approach to it that I love. Randy has really done a great job with the drum parts and we all seemed to really jell together very well on this project.
When you created Hellwell you had already clear how you wanted it to sound? Are you showing an approach that you have not been able to release until now?
Shark: Yes I guess you could say that. With Manilla Road we have sort of stayed away from the keyboards and remained, throughout the years, primarily a guitar based band. So it is an approach that I have not pursued that much but always thought I would like too.
This takes us to the next question, has the music business, labels and so on, determined in some way your career? Are you now more free than ever to play and compose whatever you like?
Shark: Actually I think I pretty much did what I liked all the way through my career. That is why I am only making a meager living at music and am not living in a mansion counting my money. I have never gone the route of doing what the labels or our AR guys at the labels wanted. I’m usually an easy to get along with person but when it comes to my musical integrity I’m very stubborn. I have had the chance in the past to sign deals that I felt would have compromised my own philosophy of music and therefore did not sign those deals. I’ve most likely passed on some things that I could have done very well at but decided to stick to my own artistic ideas instead. It’s very important to me to feel that the music I put out there is what is really in my heart and mind and that I’m not just punching the clock and doing this for the job of it. I always want it to be about the love of music.
It seems this second chapter is heavier than Hellwell’s debut, with an 70’s and 80’s flavour on it that sometimes reminds me of all time classic Crystal Logic or early works as Invasion
Shark: Ha ha, I don’t really see the Invasion aspect except for all the weird sounds that we put into it. It for sure is a retro approach with Hellwell and it is meant to be. My idea was to have Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and the heaviest version of Manilla Road slammed together with some Hawkwind sonic stuff and tahdah…Hellwell.
Also, keyboards and synthesizers are not so prominent on this Behind the Demon’s Eyes as in your debut
Shark: I would have to maybe disagree with that. I personally think there is as much or even more keyboard activity on this album compared to the first. There is a section in To Serve Man that is nothing but Cathedral Organ for several minutes and the first part of The Last Rites of Edward Hawthorn is piano and synthesizer only. There might be a few more guitar solos on this new one in comparison and maybe that helps to give the appearance that the guitar is more present. I guess I had not really given it much thought as to if there were more or less keyboard parts on this album. Now I’m going to be thinking about this every time I listen to it…damn you ha ha.
Hahaha It’s my duty to debate and be a pain in the ass hahaha. However, this is not a Manilla Road’s album, for example, we can feel your voice is not so much nasal as used to be and there is a more theatrical approach on your music
Shark: I agree with you on this. But in truth my nasal sounding voice has all but gone away many years ago. I actually have to work at the nasal sound now ha ha. My voice is much more husky and gravel like after all the years of vocal punishment I have been through. I do for sure take a very theatrical approach to the vocals on the Hellwell album. It needs that type of feel to pull off the stuff we are doing. It’s almost a grindhouse style of music and concepts so I figure it deserves a similar direction from the vocal parts as well.
Mark Shelton’s guitars are there, you have a sound that is unmistakable as other well known guitarists. Surely, they will have asked you this a thousand times, but at this is my first interview with The Shark I cannot loose the chance to ask, how did you start playing guitar and how did you get that sound of yours?
Shark: I was an educated pianist, percussionist and vocalist before I picked up the guitar. I was about sixteen when I first started toying with the guitar but I did not take it seriously until I was almost twenty. By the time I started playing guitar seriously I was already able to read and write music so I sort of picked up playing guitar on my own. I watched other great guitarists and stole certain tricks from each one of them but mostly it was just me sitting with a guitar experimenting on making chords and sounds. I knew music so it was easy to figure out how to tune and what frets were which notes. So I sort of did it on my own without an instructor and without books for the most part. So because of learning chords and scaling on my own I did not necessarily finger everything the way that one would be taught in school or by a teacher. I invented my own chord voices and my fingerings are sometimes totally off the wall. My style was derived from fusing the styles of every guitar player that I loved into my own style as well. I think I sort of experimented my way into guitar playing and that is the reason that I have such a unique style and approach to the instrument and its sounds.
Another classic question, I guess, how did you get “The Shark” nickname?
Shark: Randy Foxe and the guys in the band Stygian Shore gave me the name. They used to do this thing where they would take the first letters of you first and last name and swap them. Mark Shelton came out to be Shark Melton. So after that they all started calling me Shark and for some reason the nickname stuck and before long everyone was calling me that.
And the rest is history… What are the lyrics about on Behind the Demon’s Eyes?
Shark: There is a different story and concept for each song. Lightwave is about a dimensional being that travels to the earth on light waves for evil purposes and is taken by early mankind to be a demon. Necromantio is an ancient ghost story inspired by Greek history. To Serve Man is about the cannibal Carl Danke. It’s Alive is based on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein story. The Galaxy Being is based upon the first Outer Limits episode of the same name. The Last Rites of Edward Hawthorn is a story idea that I have come up with that I’m trying to talk Ernie into writing in the near future.
The cover artwork has a nostalgic air to me, similar to the Circus Maximus or Out of The Abyss
Shark: I totally love the artwork to Behind the Demon’s Eyes. Paolo Girardi of Italy is the artist and he also did our last Manilla Road album The Blessed Curse. His work is utterly fantastic. The thing I love about Paolo is that it is all oil on canvas art with no computer or even air brush. He is truly a traditional artist and a great one at that.
Beautiful work, indeed. Time to talk also a little about Manilla Road, because this year you are celebrating your forty anniversary, how do you feel about it?
Shark: It makes me feel old….haha. It’s because of the number forty I think. It seems like only yesterday that I was trying to figure out how to get into the recording business but at the same time it feels like it has been one really long journey up till now. I think the one constant thing that I feel is thankful that I have been able to pursue my life’s dream of being a musician. It has been an incredibly difficult road to travel but it has all been worth it when I think of all the great people and other bands I have encountered throughout the last forty years. I’m so impressed with our fans who are the real reason that I continue to do this. If not for their love and support I don’t think I would have the energy to keep on. I feel lucky that I have been able to play with so many really gifted musicians over the years and blessed that Manilla Road has turned into such a legend as it has. I may not have lots of money but I do feel rich.
More than enough reasons to feel proud, sure. To celebrate it you will make an international tour that will go through Spain (four dates on May). I think that these last years you have made more international gigs than in the 80’s or 90’s
Shark: That is for sure. We thrive on playing live as much as we do working in the studio. It’s really all about the show and the music. I love playing live for our fans and touring is one of the most important things about this musical quest to me. Our popularity has grown since the 80’s and 90’s which is fine by me he he. That is why we are able to tour more than we used to. Also just the fact that my kids are all grown now and I have more time to tour than I did back in the day.
Did you ever think you will come this far with Manilla? Any moments where you almost gave it up?
Shark: I always thought that my music could be related too by others but I was never sure if it would amount to anything. I always had the dream and I guess I’m proof that sometimes dreams do come true. But it appears this only happens when you really work hard at it and don’t give up. And yes there were times that I almost hung it up for good but in the end I always succumb to the music and have to keep on with the quest. It seems to be in my blood so now I just don’t even dare think about stopping. I will do this until they tell me I suck or I die.
Yeah, big Shark! Your popularity has grown steadily, so, we can say that Manilla Road is not so much the underground monster it used to be 20 years ago and now you reach a larger audience than ever before?
Shark: It’s a miracle I tell you. My mother asked me awhile back why this amount of popularity could not of happened when I was still young. I laughed my ass off at her when she said that. Of course I wanted to be popular but I just never wanted to give up my musical dignity to achieve success. So I stuck to my guns all these years and played the music I wanted to play. Thanks to the musical gods it appears that over the years the music attracted it’s due. I don’t have an explanation for it all but I’m damn glad I’m still able to do this. And I must admit it is more fun when you play to a bunch a people that really love and know your music. It’s an honor that I’m not sure I deserve but I’m definitely enjoying every minute of it.
I’m pretty sure you deserve it. For many metalheads Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol are the kings of underground metal, and both bands are active right now. Metal is living a second youth?
Shark: Hell I’ve survived so many metal revolutions that I have lost count. Metal just refuses to die. Sort of like me and Manilla Road. We refuse to give in. No rolling over and playing dead here mates. It makes total sense to me why metal is still thriving. It’s because it’s fucking cool. Sort of like vikings…they are fucking cool also. To be real it is a great honor to be given the status of king of underground metal. Do I get to wear a crown? Do I get to keep the crown? I’m friends with Tim Baker and I’m really glad to see them get back into the water. It was way overdue. I think part of what is happening is that the young metal heads are starting to see how cool some of the old bands are that actually started the movement towards epic metal.
Amen. With Manilla Road’s international tour this year is impossible to think about a presentation of Behind the Demon’s Eyes on the international arenas?
Shark: No. Hellwell will most likely stay a studio based project. I suppose if the demand were enough we might entertain the idea of bringing Hellwell to the stage but I sort of doubt it.
Thank you very much for the interview, Mark, I will keep it for telling my grandchildren some day, we await your arrival to Spain on May!
Shark: Thanks to you my friend for doing this interview with me. And especially thanks to all our fans for their undying support over the years. Up The Hammers & Down The Nails