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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Manilla Road

Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview with Mark "The Shark" Shelton from Manilla Road from 2008
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at

Was there ever a time in your life when music was not the guiding force?
Well, maybe before I was three or four years old. (laughter) I started playing piano when I was four or five years old. My mom was a music teacher...she's a retired professor of I've had music in my life all the way through my life. The only time I can say it may not have been a driving force was about a three year period of time after I'd done the Circus Maximus project. I just sort of worked my job, I was having kids at the time with my wife and it seemed like a good time to just try and figure out how to be a dad and stuff like that. I didn't have a band going at the time. Randy Foxe, Harvey Patrick and I were actually jamming together during that time but we weren't doing a lot. I would say that was the only period of time in my life...about 1993 to 1996...when I wasn't musically active. I'd say golf was more of a driving force in my life at that point! (laughter) I was actually playing a lot of amateur golf tournaments. I worked at a golf course at that point so it came easy to me to play lots and lots of golf and I actually got pretty good at it and won a few state tournaments.
MSJ: Maybe someday you could get in a tournament with Alice Cooper and the guys from Judas Priest!
There you go! That would be fun! My singer Bryan Hellroadie also plays golf . He and I both play together a lot. Well, that period we are talking about, music wasn't the driving force in my life, but I tell you what, I just couldn't live without it. At the end of that 3 years, somewhere around 96 and 97, I tried to pursue things even more with Randy and Harvey. We actually went out and got some gigs and were planning on recording an album. But things went sour between Randy and Harvey and we just couldn't do anything. But I was still starting to get back into music because I was playing in some other side projects.
MSJ: Those years when you were down, that coincides with the period when the style of music Manilla Road plays was about at its lowest ebb. But it seems to be on the upswing again in the last few years.
I appreciate you saying that. We've been having a lot of positive response. When we first resurrected the album in 2000 and recorded the "Altantis Rising" album, it was kind of strange because I didn't originally set out for that to be a Manilla Road album. I had just decided that I needed to be doing something because I had been inactive for so long. I was just sick of not playing, sick of not messing around in the studio, sick of not playing live. It was just ruining my heart not to be involved in the music industry. So we started putting together what we were gonna call the Shark Project, which was just a solo thing, and we came up with the concept for "Atlantis Rising". Eventually we started realizing how even more popular we were in Europe than when the band broke up. Wow, our popularity has grown and we haven't been doing anything. What was so wrong in the first place?(laughter) Anyway, once we finished up that album, we decided instead of just doing it ourselves, we'd bring in some other musicians and give it a go. We had an offer to go to Europe and play the Bang Your Head festival. It was basically the resurrection of the band. It wasn't my intention to get back into the industry and bring Manilla Road back to life. It was more like the fans and the record labels we were dealing with leading us into it. Our label at the time Iron Glory Records suggested we call ourselves Manilla Road again and it went from there.
MSJ: "Atlantis Rising" certainly had the characteristic sound of Manilla Road.
Yeah, I agree with you and actually the last three songs were written with us knowing that it would be a Manilla Road album. That was a strange album because I generally write all the music before we get to the recording. But with that album, we actually wrote a song and then recorded and then made up the next chapter of the storyline and recorded it. I don't know why we did it that way, that was just how it happened.
MSJ: It was a great comeback album. When you come back after a long layoff, you've got to nail it right from the start to get back on track.
I think we nailed it musically and conceptually with that album,especially for our hardcore epic fans, but I felt the production was really lacking. It was our own studio and we were really new at doing it all on our own. I hadn't done anything in the studio for many years. I think we were lucky for coming out as good as it did but I think it could have used a lot of gloss. Spiral Castle, our next album, was the same way,too. We were upgrading the studio and it was all a learning experience. We had to keep on experimenting and trying, you know, sort of like a mad scientist in his lab. You keep on failing until you find the one thing that works and then you head in that direction. By the time we did Gates of Fire, I think we were more on track with our production and the newest disc Voyager  I think is even better.
MSJ: Is that one out yet?
Yeah, it just came out, as a matter of fact. It was released on Leap Day, February 29 and it is available now. We just finished headlining the Play It Loud festival in Brescia, Italy and that was actually the first time anybody ever had a chance to get a copy of it. So far, we've gotten a really good response on the album from over in Europe. It seems to be doing well for us. You kind of worry yourself sick when you've got a new piece coming out and you have no clue how people are going to accept it. Every album is a whole new adventure for the band because we always try to do something different than we've ever done before. That's all a hit and miss might come up with a concept and a recording that everyone considers caca . Right before the release of an album, I'm always sweating bullets, you know. (adopts an exaggerated tone) "Everybody's gonna think we suck! This is the end of my career! Blah,blah,blah.
MSJ: Well, the typical musicians that I know are always perfectionists. It's like "does my hi-hat have exactly the right sound?"
(laughter) Yeah, exactly! Corey's like that,too, He's just so meticulous in the studio. That's why we have our own studio. That's why we have Midgard Sound Labs. We've got it so it's actually up wtih the times's a 24 track digital studio. We've got a really good mike cabinet and mike array, we've got a wall of Marshall amplifiers, a good drum set. The only thing we do that's ass-backwards from the industry right now is that most drummers and producers use triggers or some type of synthetic drum. Well, that makes it sound really good, but we've decided that that sounds just too artificial for our purposes.
MSJ: I'd say you did the right thing. I've got an ear now for telling a phony drum from a real drum.
Oh, absolutely. And they're all over the place. There's just tons of bands out where the mix on the drums always sounds the same because they use the same triggers on the drum heads and then they quantize it so the double kicks are just perfect, they're like machine guns going off.
MSJ: You hear people say that this band has an inhuman drummer. Well, that's because it is inhuman!
That's exactly right. We're still stuck on wanting the drum set to be a drum set and to have the drummer play the drum set. He is a perfectionist but there's always something that you wish you would have done better or differently. But it is nice to own your own studio, because you can take your time and you're not worried about how much money you're spending for time on the clock. Plus, it gives us room to experiment and with the kind of music we do, I need lots of time to experiment. (laughs) I'm pretty methodical in the studio, I'm not a fast studio recorder that goes in and blam, it's done. Corey's not like that, either. We're always looking for that perfect sound, that perfect riff or whatever. I'll sit in the studio and do lead tracks for days on end until I find one that I like.
MSJ: You say you try to do something different on every album. What was it that was different on Voyager?
I'll just point out a few things. On Gates of Fire, we started intermingling a little more acoustic stuff into the music. We continued that phase on Voyager. We got a little heavier and a little darker on the last half of Voyager. I think the concept of the album kind of demanded it. Some of the writing style tends to almost be a step backwards for us. You know, we've done so many albums...this is our 14th studio album...lots of old styles creep in and out of our songs. This time we got a little bit of the Mystification style in our writing. Other than that, we did some songs that you wouldn't expect from us at this point. We put an acoustic ballad in the middle of the album. It's not really an "Epitaph to the King" type of thing that appeared on Gates of Fire, but actually more of a "rock ballad" type song. That's not very typical of us recently. That was typical of us back when we started, the early space rock days of Manilla Road.
MSJ: On those very early albums, you evolved from more of a rock metal style to an epic metal style. Are you kind of going full circle back to the days of "Invasion" and "Metal"?
I'd say there's a little bit of truth to that, on account of how popular that older style seems to be. I never wanted to forget the roots of the band. I never have any qualms about going back and touching on previous styles of writing that we've attempted. For example, when we did Gates of Fire, we did a song called "Giant's Hall" and I was specifically trying to recreate the Crystal Logic style of writing. That was the whole atmosphere of that song and people actually got that. I think we've actually been cycling through lots of our previous stuff already in several different aspects. Now we're even cycling back further into the history of the band and coming up with some weird stuff. Some of the little intros on Voyager are meant to have more of an atmosphere towards the specific song being played. That's a little different than what we've done in the past. In the Voyager story, about the time our crew of Viking warriors is off the coast of Florida and getting caught in a hurricane, there's a song called "Eye of The Storm" that's done in a bluesy, almost Cajun approach. Then the intro to "Totentanz" has a kind of Spanish feel because the locale changes to Central America. This is all experimental stuff. With me, whatever sounds cool is gonna wind up on the album. Sometimes there's not even any logic behind it until after you're done and you realize what you've done.
MSJ: It's something from your subconscious, almost.
Well, yeah. When I'm writing the lyrics, I'm not even sure if it's really me writing them. They're just flowing right out. I'll get on a rant with my lyrics and the s*** will almost pen itself.
MSJ: One thing's for sure and that's that the band has never been influenced by whatever the current trend is. It's in its own universe.
I think the closest we ever came to being accused of that was when we did the Out of the Abyss album because thrash was pretty popular at that point. That was a very aggressive, fast and furious album for us. I guess you could sort of call it thrash. We've always dabbled in that. Even before that album, we were dabbling in really fast, furious stuff. "Friction and Mass" off of The Deluge and things like "Heavy Metal To the World", even though it was still pretty accessible. "Up From The Crypt" off of Mystification was maybe the closest we've ever come to a real thrash song...maybe "Whitechapel" as well. (laughs)
MSJ: "Whitechapel" was not only really fast but on that particular album, Out of the Abyss, the lyrics were extremely violent and gory.
Yeah, they were! (chuckles) That whole album was based off of horror literature, whether it was stuff that I wrote myself or stuff that was based on famous authors that I was really into. "Midnight Meat Train" was one of the more brutal songs...well, they're all brutal songs on that album. It was meant to be a horrorfest type album. It was a pretty Rob Zombie approach for Manilla Road!
MSJ: Amazingly enough, I saw a movie the other night and one of the trailers was for a new flick: "Midnight Meat Train!"
Oh my God, that's great! It's a Clive Barker story.
MSJ: While I watched the trailer, I was thinking completely about your song. It seemed to capture the atmosphere of your song pretty well!
Well, good! (chuckles) I'll have to catch that flick. I'm totally into Clive Barker. It's about a subterranean bunch of humanoids or anti-humanoids that are living in the abandoned New York subway system. It's a really cool story. It's not a very long story at all but it really intrigued me and that's why I felt I needed to write a song about it for some reason.
MSJ: Too bad you couldn't manage to get on the soundtrack!
Well, I'm sure somebody will write something apropos for it. I sort of wished that we could be involved in some other movies that inspired us. Right after we did Gates of Fire which was about the fall of Troy, the movie Troy came out. Of course we did a song on Gates of Fire about the Battle of Thermopylae and then 300 came out. It seemed like everybody was cueing in on this stuff at the same time, what the hell? (chuckles)
MSJ: It's like there's something in the collective mind of people that brings them all to a certain topic at the same time.
That brings to mind that I saw an ad for a new Conan movie that's gonna come out in 2009. I have no idea who's in it but just the thought of another Conan movie is like "Well, I hope they do it right this time".
MSJ: I liked the Schwarzenegger movies but it's pretty hard for Hollywood to do an accurate portrayal of a book.
That's pretty obvious, although I will say that Peter Jackson did a pretty good job with The Lord of the Rings. I thought that was pretty impressive, actually.
MSJ: There's a scene in the first Conan movie where he's running from the wolves and he hides in a crypt and takes the sword from the corpse of the giant. In the books, that corpse came alive and battled him for possession of the sword. I thought, why wouldn't you do that in the movie? It would be a really cool scene!
It would be really cool but I think maybe Ray Harryhausen was already dead by then...
MSJ: Believe it or not, he's still around!
Is he really? He would have been the perfect guy to do the skeleton!
MSJ: I love his stuff...
I do,too! My favorite movie of all time is Jason and the Argonauts. I'm stuck on it just like I'm stuck on my old Judas Priest albums like Stained Class and Sin After Sin.
MSJ: This computer generated stuff of today just doesn't have the personality of what Harryhausen did.
I agree. I still like the original King Kong. (chuckles)
MSJ: We better get back on track or we'll spend all night talking about this stuff.
Yeah, I have a feeling we could!
MSJ: Most of Manilla Road's music does have the feeling of belonging to another time. Even with the modern instruments and production, it has a kind of epic or ancient feel to it. Do you feel like a stranger in this day of rap music, downloading and ProTools?
Yeah. (laughs) I don't have any problems running computers and computer programs. I've dealt with that for a lot of years now. I was actually one of the first guys on my block to have one. But I'd say, yeah. It seems like there's been so few bands over the last 20 years that have anything wild and new to offer. It seems like everybody is just following trends. There are some out there that I think have their own direction, but I really miss the days of the 60's and 70's when any kind of music was fair game to be fused with rock and roll. I don't know if I feel like a lost child in this day and age as much as I feel my approach is still stuck in Rush's "Necromancer" days. (laughs)
MSJ: I felt bad when vinyl LPs went out of fashion. I might listen to one track on computer but I refuse to download. I like to go to the store to buy music and I always will.
I don't buy nearly as much as I used to when I was younger but I still get a lot of promo CDs from bands that want me to check them out. That's actually how I keep up on what's being put out. Actually, there's a lot of new approaches to metal I've been hearing that are just not your generic "A riff-B riff" type stuff. I'm really impressed. There's a lot of new talent out there that may have some new approaches to the antiquated styles we all appreciate.
MSJ: I think right now is one of the best periods of metal history because just about any style is fair game. The thing is, nobody makes any money from it anymore!
That's where the downloads hurt. I refuse to download stuff as well. I know as well as anybody in the industry that it has seriously affected the sales which seriously affects the income of the record labels which in turn seriously affects the income of an artist like me which in turn affects you guys, the journalists, magazines and webzines as well. That's where the record labels advertise. I think it was Gary Hill that said it used to be that record labels would pay for a recording artists'  tour to go out and promote their latest album and they would expect to lose money on it. They'd keep the ticket prices low so a lot of people would go to the show and then they'd turn right around and pick up the album. It doesn't seem like that's happening anymore. The whole network all the way down to the music lover is being affected by this. We don't make as much money now as we used to off of royalties in the 80's! And yet we're more popular now than we have ever been. We're headlining or co-headlining four different festivals this year in four different countries. That's a new landmark in Manilla Road history right there. To be that in demand and that popular at this point and not have the money in my pocket to verify it...that's pretty hard to swallow.
MSJ: There is a generational disconnect as far as this goes. Most musicians over 30, maybe 25...and I've talked to guys like Ian Hill from Judas Priest and Joey Belladonna from Anthrax...these guys look upon music as a business. They expect to make their living from it. Whereas these younger kids...high school and college age...say "Oh, I'm just glad to get my music out there, whether I make money or not". They've got 80,000 "friends" on Myspace. How many of your 80,000 friends are going to buy your album when it comes out?
I do appreciate the Internet and what the whole digital scene has done for us. For one thing, lots of stuff sounds better now, so that's a cool aspect. It's also made it a lot easier to spread the propaganda of the band to the world. It's become a great tool for us and any other band to become known. But the problem is they can download our music for free and never have to buy our product. Or somebody can buy it and then burn off a copy for every one of his friends so they don't have to buy. It eventually comes to the point where everybody who is making music happen...whether it be journalists, labels, musicians, all drifts down to the music lover. If they don't buy music, I guarantee they will go to see it live. Live ticket prices are getting ridiculous these days and they're going to continue to go up and up as more musicians realize that the only way to make money to charge oodles of money for their concerts.
MSJ: A lot of these bands go out and the tour lives or dies on how many shirts they sell.
Oh yeah, and those are now pretty expensive as well.
MSJ: Yeah. $35.00 for a one-sided shirt? Come on! Would you say that the music business in general is as enjoyable now as it was back in the days of vinyl and paper fanzines?
No, I don't think it's quite as enjoyable. It is kind of cool that you can get online and see what sets people are playing online. That's something we didn't have before. You used to have to wait for the weekly TV airing of "In Concert" or "Midnight Special." You'd never get close to seeing anything like an unknown or local act that way. One thing I do really miss is going to the record store and going to the import section and seeing just tons of cool stuff coming in from Europe. Stuff like Angelwitch and all these weird groups you'd never heard of!
MSJ: I used to do that all the time...I'd take a chance on a band just based on their cover art or maybe the song titles.
Yeah, absolutely! Strangely enough, I never thought that the name Manilla Road actually said what the band is. (laughs) You know, I think I was really drunk the night that me and Danny agreed on the name. We've never been able to change it, for some reason or another. I tried to put out a band called Circus Maximus but the label changed it to Manilla Road. I tried to put out a band called Shark but the label changed it to Manilla Road. So I'm stuck with it. We always made sure that our artwork tried to portray the idea of what we were about.
MSJ: A CD cover will never have the impact of the old vinyl covers. I've got an original copy of Open The Gates with the fantasy art and the gatefold sleeves.
I do miss that stuff. One of the hardest things in this day and age is that vinyl is not accepted anymore. I sure like the packaging of it.
MSJ: There's a very strong collector's market for it, though.
I realize that. An awful lot of our CDs had been released on vinyl but they were done in limited collector's edition with no more than a 1000 copies pressed. And they'd always sell right away. Boom, they're gone. But I don't think anybody is willing to press a whole s***oad of 'em to see how many they can sell.
MSJ: I know you've had whole albums where the lyrics are inspired by Poe and Lovecraft. What are some of your favorite stories by those authors?
My favorite Edgar Allan Poe story is "Mystification". It's one you don't often find in the "Best Of" collections. There's a collection out there right now...I can't remember the name of the publisher...that's called "The Complete Poe" and it's a good one to get because it's got everything he's ever wrote. "Mystification" is not one that shows up as much as "Masque of the Red Death"...which would be my next favorite Poe story, by the way...but there's a lot of Poe's own personality in that story. I think he envisioned himself as one of those characters. It's a really good story and I thought he made statements through his storyline that were really statements about himself. That's why we did a song "Mystification", because that story hit me so hard.

As far as Lovecraft goes, my two favorite stories are not the usual Lovecraftian stories. One is a short
story called "The Tomb" that I love completely. It's written in almost an Edgar Allan Poe style and I think
Lovecraft was after that and he did it just splendidly in that story.  That was one of those stories where
you could really see where H.P.'s roots in the horror genre were. He proved it in that story. The other
one,strangely enough, is his more Mary Shelley strain of work: "Herbert West, Reanimator". (laughs)
MSJ: If I remember right, Lovecraft didn't think too much of that story himself.
He hated it. I don't think too many people knew about it until the movie started coming out. Jeffrey Combs I thought was really good in the Lovecraft movies. From Beyond, he was great in that. You know, I actually acquired the original Necromomicon Press versions of "Reanimator". They were just little short stories that originally appeared in Weird Tales. I've got a little booklet that was put out by Necronomicon Press that was all the little short stories put together. I just thought the whole thing was great!
MSJ: "The Color Out Of Space" was my favorite Lovecraft story.
All of his work's really incredible. His real ethereal stories are so far out there that nobody could ever write like that, I think.
MSJ: The one guy who equalled if not surpassed him when it came to weird visions was Clark Ashton Smith.
Clark Ashton Smith's pretty good. My favorite of all time, just because of the way he mixes reality with the supernatural, is Robert E. Howard.
MSJ: Yeah, he dabbled in just about every genre you could think of.
Just about everything. Sports stories, Westerns...he was all over the board. His unedited works that are coming out now are just incredible. The Conan stuff is great, the King Kull stuff is pretty good stuff. Not as good as Conan, I believe. I love the Bran Mak Morn stuff, Solomon Kane...
MSJ: It's amazing he did so much yet he was dead by age 30.
He was very prolific, that's for sure. You had to be, to make money in those days. That's sort of where we're at with the music industry. The only way to make a lot of money is to keep putting them out real quick! (laughs)
MSJ: I remember in the early 70's, it wasn't unusual for a band to do at least two full lengths a year.
We still kind of take our time with it. Between Gates of Fire and Voyager was almost four years. That's an awful long period of time, you know. We had a lot of stuff happen,too., We had line-up changes. We kind of took a sabbatical for a while because our drummer Corey had a baby girl. Well, his wife actually had the baby!(laughs) We needed to give him some time. I remember when I was having kids. I'm divorced now but I've still got kids. You've got to learn to become a dad. He's the youngest of the bunch, so we gave him a little time off to do that while I just sort of piddled and paddled around with the mix. We had a deal with Black Lotus Records over in Greece and we were getting ready to put the album out a year ago actually and the label folded right from under us and we hadn't even given them the product yet. It was probably a good thing because after I went back and listened to everything, I went, "aw,man I can do better than this!" We actually went back and remixed the whole damn project again. I think it came out a lot better the second time around. Of course, nobody heard it the first time around except for us.
MSJ: Now that you have so many albums under your belt, what would you say is the Manilla Road masterpiece, the one that defines you the best?
What the core of the fans that have been with us from the early days would say is Crystal Logic or maybe The Deluge would be the epitome. Some might say Open the Gates . I don't think Open The Gates was anywhere close to being one of our greatest albums. I think that was one of the first albums our fans "found us" on. Crystal Logic was the first album where we really started to turn to the epic metal thing instead of a spacey rock deal. A lot of fans see that as our first real album. We have to break the history of Manilla Road into two eras. The first stage and then our comeback in the late 90's. If I had to pick one album out of all of them, I'd say The Deluge, I think that portrays many aspects of the Road. It was a really well done album. The production is a little dry but you can hear everything on it. The drums are incredible on that album. My guitar playing was probably at a peak at that point...the best I had done up to that point. Since we've had our resurrection, I'd have to say it's a toss up between Atlantis Rising, Gates of Fire and Voyager. I really like all 3 of those, it's hard for me to pick. I think I'd say Gates of Fire right now. Production wise, Voyager is the best but Gates of Fire has Brian on it as well as me and it shows more aspects of what our live show is like. Brian had to tend to some family issues for a while when we were actually writing Voyager and he couldn't put as much time and input as he would have liked into the project. He did come to Midgard Studios and punch some buttons for us and help engineer the project so he was still in middle of the recording process but he couldn't go out and play live with us, he just didn't have the time. That's all understandable. He's got kids,too. We've all had to deal with family issues from time to time. Everything came out really well for him. As soon as he was done with that, we welcomed him back in the band with open arms. "We're about ready to tour again...we need ya!" So Gates of Fire represents all of us working together, but Voyager, I'm just really happy with the direction we're going in. We're still just chomping at the bit of the really dark, heavy, epic sound. I've always been enthralled with that type of approach. We lighten up here and there as always, but some of the guitar stuff I did on this album I'm really happy with.
MSJ: On the back of the Out of the Abyss album, you were carrying what looked like the coolest guitar I've ever seen...the one that looked like it was solid steel...
I'm sitting in my living room and it's hanging on my wall. I'm looking at it right now. (chuckles) As far as I know, it was the first truly "heavy metal" guitar. I know James Hetfield had one made some time after mine was made. I know a few other people have 'em,too. Yeah, it's pretty unique. It was built by a local guitar maker named Chris Pyle and he made it specially for me. I had given him so much work and turned him on to so many other musicians that he just made the guitar and gave it to me. The body's made out of composite like what they make airplane wings of and the top has semi-truck running board on it.(chuckles). It was a great guitar but I finally decided to retire it. It was just tearing my shoulder up because it was so heavy. If I wore it for more than three songs, I'd be a hunchback!
MSJ: Did it sound good with all the modifications?
Yeah, actually. It had plenty of sustain, great sustain. I've got a P.J. Marx pickup and it was really deep and dark and woofy. It had lots of balls. I did use it live for a number of years but I never took it on tour because the guitar in the case would go past the weight limit for luggage! (laughs)
MSJ: What was the last CD you got just because you wanted to check it out?
The last one that I actually went out and bought. Hmmm, Brian's the one who does all the CD buying. There's a lot of CD's I would have bought but he beats me to it. It's really strange...I don't even have a CD player stereo anywhere in the upstairs of my house. I've got a huge basement where the studio is and we don't even have a regular stereo in the studio. We have the digital system that we record on and we use that.Hmmmmm....Blackwater Park by Opeth, I think it was. One of my road crew had it and I listened to it a lot over at his house so much that someone offered to burn it for me and I said, "no, I think I'll go buy it." We've also got the latest Judas Priest hanging around. We're very big Judas Priest fans. One of us always buys Judas Priest. But I think Opeth's Blackwater Park was the last one I actually bought myself.
MSJ: What was the last gig or concert you saw just because you wanted to check out the artist?
The last show I saw was Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban with my daughter. (laughs). That was not because I wanted to check them out, although Carrie was nice to look at. (chuckles) But that was for my daughter, she's really into Carrie Underwood and country-pop music. I let her go her own way. She actually likes Manilla Road but only about half of it.
MSJ: Probably not a fan of "Midnight Meat Train" probably...
(laughs) No, no, no, she's more of the dainty sort. She thinks she rules the world, though. She's bound and determined to be queen of the galaxy. Well, the last show that I went to ....I'd have to be honest and say it was the Play It Loud festival in Italy. There were so many great bands that played with us that I really wanted to check 'em all out. I got a chance to see a bunch of bands that I was impressed with that I hadn't seen before. One of them was Steel Assassin. Those guys are good! They're fun live, they really surprised me. Of course, Helstar played with us and they're always fun to watch. Great, great band. Rivera's a great singer. Russ from Cloven Hoof was in really good form at that show, he's really got the pipes. There were a lot of bands there that I was totally impressed with. The Play It Loud Festival was the last time I sat down and just checked out bands. In fact, I think I freaked this couple out .They were sitting by themselves in the balcony and I had gotten a beer and was looking for a good vantage point to check out the bands. I just asked them, "Do you guys mind if I sit here?" because they had an empty chair at their table. Their jaws just kind of dropped and I was like, what? (laughs) Then I realized they probably recognized me because they started asking me for autographs and s*** like that. OK, OK, but I really did just sit here and watch the bands! (laughs) It was a fun venue, it was Duda in Brescia and they've got this nice little balcony area where you have a great vantage point to watch all the bands from above.
MSJ: Is there any Spinal Tap moment from your history that you'd like to share?
You mean like the drummer blowing up? I'd say the weirdest Spinal Tap moment for us was around the time we had done Crystal Logic. Rick Fisher was still with us and Scott Park was on bass. We were playing a club here in Wichita called "the Silver Bullet." The stage was a triangular stage in the back corner that was right at the end of the bar and it was really close to the street. There was a driveway in the parking lot that went up to that portion of the building. We were just finishing the night, we had had a great night. Back then Rick Fisher and I used to set up these Octavon drums on stage because I used to play drums myself. We did a double drum solo thing where he's be playing the kit and I'd be playing these Octavons and we'd be going back and forth and really mixing it up. We just had a real big finale for our show with a real big Wagner like ending. We hit the very last chord and BOOM!, the wall caved in on Rick and the drum set! Amps were knocked over, there was debris all over the stage, I got knocked off the stage...we were all freaking out. Every brick in the wall by the stage just tumbled down on to the stage, the dance floor and everything! Next thing I knew I got up and I saw our van, our Manilla Road van, the nose of it was sticking inside the building. Rick owned the van. I yelled "Rick! You weren't even driving! What the hell?!" And we both jumped out through big old hole in the wall now and there was this guy , this drunk guy, who was coming down the street and didn't notice he needed to turn. He hit Rick's van going about 40 or 50 miles an hour and just totaled everything. I had to grab Rick, Rick was trying to drag the dude out of his car before he even knows he's alive or not. And I was trying to keep him from killing this guy because I was afraid the dude was already dead!
MSJ: You can laugh about that now but it must have been terrifying.
Oh, it was wild! It took us about an hour or so to get Rick calmed down. The guy was actually OK, he just had a little cut on his head and a bit of a bruise. I guess we were lucky,too, because we didn't get killed! Wow, that last song sure brought the house down, didn't it? (laugh)
MSJ: That was one of the best Spinal Tap moments I've heard!
Before we sign off, I'd like to just add one thing if I might. First, I really appreciate you doing this with me. It's been an honor to do this interview with you. I just want to say to our fans out there that they're the ones who keep us on the road. No pun intended, there. If it wasn't for our fans, we wouldn't be doing this. They're the ones who keep our egos inflated enough that we want to keep doing it. If we didn't have the support from the fans and be able to go do the shows and get shown so much love when we play just makes it a lot easier to put up with all the bulls*** that goes on in the industry. The fact that we're not really making a killing do this, that we're not really making a great living doing this...most of us have to work regular jobs. I'm finding that this is true throughout all the independent musicians these days. I guarantee the only reason we're still here doing this is because we have so much love and support from the people who come to our shows and email us all the time.
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