Manilla Road interview

"The fans are the main reason that Manilla Road is still alive and kicking"

28/02/2013 @ 13:05
The legends of epic metal from Wichita, Kansas seem now to be stronger than ever. Manilla Road's brand new album "Mysterium" proves to be a return to their 80s classic sound, while the band will play some big festivals this year. We talked with the founder, songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Mark 'The Shark' Shelton, as well as the frontman -since the reformation of the band in 2000- and member of the road crew in the 80s, Bryan 'Hellroadie' Patrick, about the new album, future plans and some aspects of the band's 35-year history.

Manilla RoadYou have a brand new and as always very interesting album which came out from a bigger label this time. Now that "Mysterium" is out, how do you feel about it and what are the reactions from the fans and the press so far?
Mark: So far the response from fans and media has been fantastic. I am really happy to say that we have been getting really good reviews in the trades that I have seen and all the fans that I have heard from, that have it already, say it is one of the best that we have done in years. Many have referred to "Mysterium" as a synthesis of all the Manilla Road styles wrapped up into one project. It does seem to be a bit of a step back into the classic Manilla Road structure as far as the song writing is concerned. It is most certainly my favorite album of the reformation period as we call the now times.
Bryan: Our Label (ZYX-Golden Core) has done a wonderful job with really pushing the promotion of our new album. I have seen lots of magazines that they posted it and it really feels great to see. The promo copies that were sent out for reviews have all been very positive and it feels amazing when you see some of your harshest critics having nothing but praise and jubilation. I would like to say something to them right now... Thank you for believing in us all these years!

Manilla Road - MysteriumThe first thing that I noticed without even listening to the album is that most of the compositions (with the exception of the title track) are about four minutes long. When I listened to it, I noticed that your new album is maybe the closest to the 80s stuff since your return in 2000. Do you agree with that, and if it is so, did you want it to turn out that way?
Mark: I do agree with you and it was a little of our intent to visit a more classic approach to the project, since Neudi joined the band and his drumming style really fits with this type of musical approach. So yes, we did intend on it turning out this way you might say.
Bryan: Yes, I agree with your statement! We wanted to deliver some shorter songs on this album and it was about time that we changed a little of our normal side of big long epics. So, it was nice to have the title track ("Mysterium") be the longest on the album and to show off our new drummer Neudi. He is so talented and I feel personally grateful that he is on board as our full-time drummer. The recording sessions were amazing and very professional!

Manilla RoadWhich similarities and differences do you find when you compare it with the albums from "Atlantis Rising" to "Playground Of The Damned"?
Mark: The first thing I would have to comment on is the production. The production on "Mysterium" is the best sounding production that we have ever had on any album. I would have to thank Steve Falke for a lot of that because he did the mix this time. As for the music, most of the albums we have done since 2000 have been highly experimental style and production wise. I myself think that the next best album we did since the reformation besides "Mysterium" would have to be "Gates Of Fire". But even then I think "Mysterium" has more of the traditional quality of the 80s Road sound. Driving and aggressive but with a real sense of artistic endeavor as well. Especially, the last part of the album being a very artistic part of the project. Whenever we change band members it gives us the chance to explore new horizons with the sound and approach to the songs. This set of band members is perfect for being able to play absolutely anything that the band has ever done. I would be totally happy if this was to be the lineup that lasted for the rest of the career of the band. It is a real pleasure and honor to play with the band mates that I have right now.
Bryan: Since the reformation, "Atlantis Rising" and "Spiral Castle" was recorded on different equipment than we have today. The "Atlantis Rising" recordings started out at the Original Road House here in Wichita at the 428 Laura str. (some might recognize this address from the early Road albums released on Roadster Records). "Spiral Castle" recordings was the first project out of Midgard Sound Labs. With personal issues we had to return back to the Laura street location to record the "Gates Οf Fire" release, but this time with upgraded equipment that was so much easier to record with. So, back to Midgard we go to record "Voyager", "Playground Of The Damned" and our new one "Mysterium". All of these albums are engineered by Mark and myself, with some help from Derek Brubaker on the later releases. "Altantis Rising" and "Mysterium" were mastered by CornerStone Studios very own Steve Falke. "Spiral Castle", "Gates Of Fire", "Voyager" and "Playground Of The Damned" were all mastered by Mark Shelton. So you can see a lot of stuff going on during these recordings that make them similar, but very different also. When you change locations and upgrade your equipment the quality should improve, and I feel that this was accomplished. Steve Falke did an excellent job with the mixing and mastering of “Mysterium”. This was really the first project that we had to tie down Shark and let Steve work his magic. But with that being said, Shark and I was very vocal during the process letting Steve know what we wanted and expected. I have to say his expertise was brilliantly displayed with this release and I'm very proud of what he did for us.

Manilla RoadHow important are Neudi and Josh, the new members, on the sound of Manilla Road nowadays?
Mark: Very important. I think that the two of them have been essential in being able to approach the album and the music in the manner that we have on "Mysterium". They are so versatile and capable of playing with me on anything that I write. It is amazing to play with guys like this. A dream come true you might say.
Bryan: These two approach the music with the same passion that Shark does. So it is very refreshing to work in the studio with these guys. The ideas and influences that all three of them have is very unique to say the least. I really enjoy their input and watching the magic of the muse come alive when creating new material. But don't tell them this! Haha!

Mark Shelton (Manilla Road)Mark, some of the stories on "Mysterium" have to do with your ancestors from Scotland and a great, great uncle of yours who pioneered in the exploration of Australia. Could you please tell us more about these stories and the origins of yours?
Mark: Ok. Well first there are a couple of songs in the Scottish part of the album that are about family heritage and personal experience. "The Battle Of Bonchester Bridge" was thought of while my daughter and I were on holiday in Scotland and attending some family clan gatherings with my mother. We stayed in a small Inn in Bonchester right by the Bonchester Bridge. My family had all gone to bed and I stayed up trying all the Scottish Ale that I could in the pub at the Inn. After trying one on you might say I strayed out into the misty and foggy night to have a smoke. I ended up wandering around the bridge and crawling all over and under the bloody thing and while I was doing this I was coming up with the story for the song. I was imagining Scottish warrior ghosts coming back to the bridge every full moon to fight for the bridge and reenacting a great battle that had taken place in ages past. Then there is the song "Hermitage" which is about the Hermitage Castle that was guarded by some of my clan back in the days of yore. The castle is supposedly haunted and you all know that I love a good horror story. Then there is "Mysterium" which is, as you said, about my Great Uncle Ludwig von Leichhardt who was a famous German explorer in Australia during the mid 1800s. His final expedition was to circumnavigate the continent from East to West for the first time but in 1848 the expedition vanished without much of a trace and to this day it is still unknown and a mystery as to what fate befell my uncle and his lost patrol. So there is a lot of family and personal attachment to this album for me.

Manilla RoadUntil now, Mark, there were two side projects you have worked at: Circus Maximus in 1992 (even if the album was released under the Manilla Road brandname) and Hellwell last year, with the first being very modern back then and more rock-oriented, while the other was in the direction of Manilla Road, but with the organ as a leading instrument diversifying it a bit. Have you got any other projects in mind?
Mark: I have a lot of acoustic music that I have been working on for a few years now that I am sure will see the light of day and be released eventually. I am now calling that The Shark Project. We have even been doing more acoustic stuff live nowadays and it seems to be going over very well. I have a whole album finished at this point and am just looking for the right label to release it on. I’m sure it will come out before too long and it looks like Manilla will keep on doing some acoustic shows and sets from time to time.
Bryan: Sorry I have to chime in here! The acoustic project that Shark did is simply amazing. Some of his greatest composition is on this album. I’m really proud of him for sharing this work and hopefully soon to his fans out there!

Bryan Patrick (Manilla Road)Bryan, apart from being the 'Hellroadie' of the 'Manillan Crew' in the 80s and the lead singer since 2000, have you ever got involved in any other bands?
Yes! Back in the eighties I was roadie for bands like Stygian Shore, Lectric Leather as well with the Road. I was always happy when the Road and Stygian would play together made it easier to take care of the stage work during the shows. I was more a drum technician back in them days. I also played the drums a bit in a few bands, Infernal Noise with Andy Olson on guitar and Greg Marshall on Bass and vocals (Stygian Shore). I also played in a band called Bunch of Bozo's with Randy Foxe on guitar, Alan Segar on Bass and Greg Marshall on vocals. This band was very special to me, I had my all time favorite drummer playing with me on guitar and showing me some chops. It was so nerve racking but awesome at the same time! Imagine if you were to play an instrument with one of your idols playing along with you and also teaching you with so much respect. A really great feeling!

You will play at some big festivals this year. Which are your expectations from these festivals? Are there any plans for an extensive tour in Europe or U.S.A.?
Mark: I am hoping that we will get exposed to many new metal fans that will find out that Manilla Road is something that they would really get into and enjoy. And when it comes to touring it looks like we are going to play anywhere and everywhere we can this coming year and it will be all over the world.
Bryan: Spreading the stylings of Manilla Road to new fans is always great. But seriously after more than three decades of making music isn't it time? We have probably the best line-up today in order to achieve this task and we plan to play more live shows than ever before. I personally feel very honored that such promoters like Oliver Weinsheimer of Germany, Greece's very own Manolis Karazeris have held us, Manilla Road high on their list for so many years now. They really helped opened the door for us play festivals this year like Sweden Rock and Hellfest in France to name a few. So no matter how big or small the festival near you may be, please go and support live music. We really owe these two gentlemen a lot, because without them believing, taking financial risks and supporting Manilla Road these past ten years, things might be very different today with Manilla Road. They are really the true heroes! I thank you for never laying your swords down!

Manilla RoadI think that in the early days you had played with Point Blank, Krokus, and Ted Nugent within the State of Kansas and that after the mid 80s you did some touring in the States. How were the live performances and the touring in the 80s?
Mark: Well it was a bit different than now. When we played in Kansas we always blew up everything that we could with all sorts of pyrotechnics. We tamed that down a bunch in the years after. We decided after several years that the music was more important than the flames and bombs going off all the time. I’m not opposed to still blowing stuff up though. Touring was really tough back then because we were still unknown and trying to scrape out a living playing music. In the States that was really a tall order as we say here. We always had a lot of energy in our shows though and even to this day we are known as the loudest band that ever played in Kansas.

On the credits of the "Open The Gates" album there is among others thanks to James Hetfield and Cliff Burton of Metallica. There was also an article at the German Metal Hammer back then about Mark jamming with Hetfield and Hammet during a Metallica show in your home town Wichita. What is the story behind this?
Mark: Well we did party with the guys in Metallica at that show and we were stage diving while they did the show here with WASP, but I did not actually play on stage with them. That was a total misprint in that article that you were talking about. I think it was to do with the language barrier because what I told them was that we were at their concert jamming to the show and we met up with the guys and partied all night with them. We were supposed to do a tour with them and Motorhead before that which fell through and did not happen but they still knew of us and were more than happy to hang out with us after their show in Wichita.
Bryan: A Crazy night it was!

Manilla RoadWas "Mystification" recorded in THE Al Green’s studio? The famous soul and gospel singer and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee? How did that happened? Had you met him?
Mark: Yep, that is the correct studio and yes we met Al Green. He was actually at some of our sessions while we were recording Mystification. He was really cool and helpful and we were all surprised to find us doing an album in his studio but his studio was a good one and had some really excellent gear that we did not have access to in Kansas.

By the way, at the time when "Mystification" album came out, some sort of problems with Black Dragon Records started to emerge and a couple of years you broke up. Is that the reason why you don’t do a lot of stuff from the two albums that followed "Mystification", i.e. "Out Of The Abyss" and "Courts Of Chaos"?
Mark: Well Black Dragon lost their good distribution and it all sort of went downhill from there. The real reason that the Road broke up was because Randy and Scott just could not stand each other anymore. In the past we have done "Helicon" from "Out Of The Abyss" live and most of our shows in the past included the song "Dig Me No Grave" from "Courts Of Chaos". But you are correct, we do not do a whole lot of music from either one of those albums live. "Out Of The Abyss" was a good selling album for us in the states but not so much in Europe. We very rarely get requests for songs off of that album in Europe for our live shows. I think that album was considered a little too thrashy for most of our fans. When it comes to "Courts Of Chaos" it's more the keyboard thing as to why we don't do very many songs off of that album. Songs like "The Prophecy" and "Into The Courts Of Chaos" just would not sound correct to me without the keyboard parts and I really don't want to add a keyboard player to the Manilla Road lineup. I'm sure we will continue to play "Dig Me No Grave" from time to time in our live shows. Also there are just so many songs to choose from when figuring out our set lists for touring. We have published somewhere around 150 songs with Manilla Road and it is impossible to play all the songs that everyone wants to hear in one show. We tend to go with all the songs that are really well known and popular in a specific area order to not upset our fans and then add as many other songs as we can time allowing.

Manilla RoadCould you tell us what was happened in your lives during the 90s? You may have survived it, but you had some casualties!
Mark: We have actually had many casualties over the years. It seems like every time I turn around someone is kicking the bucket and reminding us all of our mortality. In The 90’s there was not much happening for us musically. Randy and Bryan’s brother Harvey played together for a few years but only did some local shows and we never recorded anything with that lineup.

Some people may have notice that you are still in contact with Randy Foxe, while Rick Fischer played with you the "Crystal Logic" part of your set a few days ago in Germany. Do you have any news from Scott Park?
Mark: Yes I see him every so often. He is doing fine but he gave up playing music entirely.   

Mark Shelton - Bryan Patrick (Manilla Road)Bryan, while it seems that officially you got in the Manilla Crew around 1987, I think that you have been in the family earlier. When and how exactly did that happen? How you and Mark were met?
It was the summer of 1981 when I first met Mark and Manilla Road. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go and watch a band jam at their house and the rest is history. This was the first time meeting Rick Fisher and Scott Park as well, but it was Mark that sort of was a big brother to me and accepted me in the circle. I was 14 years of age at the time and was so mesmerized by the music. At the time these guys were playing what I would call some great spacey jams style that I grew up listening to with my father when I was younger. Bands like Hawkwind, Rush etc, you could hear all of these influences in their music.

Is it true that Bryan is the main reason why Manilla Road still going on?
Mark: No. The fans are the main reason that Manilla Road is still alive and kicking. Bryan just happened to be a really good solution to the issue of me not being able to sing all the songs in a show without losing my voice. He has been very essential to this band but no matter who is in the lineup we will always be Manilla Road.
Bryan: Could I just mention that the three hour, thirty-one song performance at this past Up The Hammers festival in Athens was the first ever and longest show in Manilla Roads history that not even Mark could have done back in the 80's. But, I absolutely agree with Mark...The Fans support and undying love for Manilla Road is what keeps the heart beating! Thank you!

Mark Shelton (Manilla Road)Mark, you have said that a life-changing moment for you as a musician was when you saw live Black Sabbath in Wichita on their "Paranoid" Tour. What do you remember from that night?
Loud and heavy. By the gods, it was amazing and while I was watching the show I decided that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. No other band had been that heavy before that time.

In the beginning your music could be described as space rock or space metal. How did you form a sound like that?
Mark: I was a big fan of early UFO, Pink Floyd and Hawkwind so it was easy to try and write in that vein of music and lyrics.  
Bryan: See I told ya! Haha!

Manilla RoadJag Panzer's Mark Briody speaking of his band thinks that growing up on Colorado helped them develop their sound, considering that there was no trendy scene around so they had to make up their own sound and style. Do you think that the same stands for Manilla Road which was always a Wichita-based band, at least for the early days? Do you think that moving to L.A. or New York in search of a better future would have prevented you from shaping out your sound?
Mark: I do agree with that a lot. Because of our environment and the fact that there was no real metal scene in Wichita until we built it. We did sort of follow a different route but I would not want to change a thing in my life because you gain wisdom from all walks of life.    

How is to be grown up and live in a city right in the middle of the U.S.?
Mark: It was pretty much like growing up in a cowboy movie. Lots of country music and lots of farms and ranches. Hell we still get our mail by Pony Express! ahahahaha.
Bryan: Sucks! No, really Kansas is a great place to raise children and is very laid back. The hectic big city pace really doesn't exist and the folks around here are really friendly, ask anyone of our fans that has come to visit us... We like to have a good time!

Manilla RoadApart from your influences and the artists that introduced you to rock 'n' roll which are your favorite metal and out of metal new bands in the last (fifteen) years or since the 90s?
Mark: There are many bands that I like from the present but right now I am listening to Argus and Orchid. There are a bunch of other great bands on the rise also but it would take me forever to list them all here.
Bryan: Wow, Mark listens to other music? hahaaha I have to agree with Mark, Orchid is a great and upcoming doom band from the US west coast. I really like bands like Amon Amarth and Bolt Thrower, I’m a huge Opeth fan. I even like Steel Panther... hahaha. They rock! If you are a friend on my facebook page you will see a lot of different styles that I admire and post!

Manilla RoadLast Question. When you shall to come back to Greece?
Mark: We might get back there this year but I am not sure at this moment. We have a lot of tour plans for 2013 but since we just got through doing the Up The Hammers festival just a few months ago I think it may be awhile before we get back to Greece.
Bryan: Anytime in Greece for me is a great time and feels so much like home. The best and craziest fans of Manilla Road live there! We are hoping to get back there soon, but the closest place right now that is booked is SWR Barroselas Metalfest, 24-27 April 2013 - Barroselas, Portugal. This is the first time that Manilla Road will play in Portugal and we have some great friends that have traveled all around to see us play from there. So it will be great to see them again and hopefully a few of our Greek warriors will join us for battle there!

Thanks a lot both of you guys! It was a great honor to have the chance to talk with you!
Bryan: Theodore, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Your questions were fun to answer! May the Lords of Light be with you always! Up the Hammers!
Mark: It is my honor mate and thank you for all your support and help in promoting Manilla Road. We can’t do it without our fans or our supporters like you. Up The Hammers and Blessed Be.