Manilla Road – Interview –
At first I would really thank you that agreed for the interview, it’s an honor.. So let’s start from the beginning. Manilla Road started in 1977 so before the whole boom for Heavy Metal happened. What was the Metal stage like back then ?
Thank you ! As a long time fan since 1986 it is still weird to actuall GIVE interviews for Manilla Road. Before that I was used to be on “the other side”. Nevertheless, I was 6 years old when Manilla Road started back in 1977, so I only know the things that Mark (Shelton) told me. Most of the shows they had in bars and clubs back then but already with mostly own songs, even there were some covers like “Hey Joe” or “Peter Gunn” (both can be heard on the ZYX-reissues of the early stuff). Most of the time they´ve played several days in a row as musical entertainers, not comparable with usual metalshows. I remember well the mid-eighties when I started playing shows with my band Sudden Darkness. When you´re a local band the equipment mostly was horrible but at least we always had 80 to 150 people. Today some of the better known acts don´t have as much, which is sad.
How are things in the band’s camp at the moment ?
Mark is really busy as there is not just a new Manilla Road album in the pipeline (probably released around June 2017) but also a new Hellwell album. In addition to that he did a recording project with original drummer Rick Fisher called “Riddle Master” which will also be released this year. Main focus of course is the new MR-album right now + the shows we will play in April/May and October. They will keep us on the road already for more than two months… With Phil we have a new bassplayer who is already on the new album too. The series of re-releases as “Ultimate Editions” on Golden Core/ZYX go on too and “Out of the Abyss” will be next (as a double CD). So everybody is really busy but happy.
One think that keeps bothering me for years , what does the name Manilla Roadmean ?
Same here, even Mark has explained it several times. I fear this is the only question I can´t really answer…
Without a doubt Manilla road the pioneers of barbarian epic metal, even though many people consider Manowar as fathers of this genre, the thing is that Manilla Road were the first who started to incorporate such topics into your music, what do you think about it ?
Manilla Road had such a variety over the years and even if you listen to the more psychedelic hardrock of the early days (the first demo was just released on CD and LP) there are already many epic moments there. I think of “The Empire”, “Queen Of The Black Coast” or “Cage Of Mirrors”. If you listen to the first Manowar album there is simply heavy rock on Side A, while the epic stuff is on Side B. Manilla Road had these “simple rockers” too on the first two albums (and “Feeling Free Again” on Crystal Logic). Still I wouldn´t call Manowar Epic Metal and if I would do say I would put that label on most songs of “Into Glory Ride”. I guess “BattleMetal” would fit better to Manowar. While they went on trying to be more successful since “Sign Of The Hammer” and especially “Fighting The World”, Manilla Roadbecame more complex and for sure not too easy too consume (first). Beside that I think that even the Scorpions had some epic songs during the “Uli Roth days”. The seventies had a lot of long and epic songs in general, it just wasn´t Metal yet. “Run Of The Mill” from Priest (Rocka Rolla) is another example… But for sure Manilla Road came up with the genre Epic Metal.
How and when did you decide to join Manilla Road ?
In 2011 Manilla Roadwere booked to be the headliner at Hammer of Doom festival in Germany. Their drummer Cory was not able to make it to Germanyso they first thought about cancelling that show. This is when I came into the picture and I was asked if I could play that show. No need to say that I said “yes” within a few seconds because this meant a dream come true…to be with my favorite band on stage on time. After that show I was asked if I would join the band…and here I am six years later.
Can you tell me about the band future ?
The new album and the 40th anniversary tour are the most important things this year, but I wouldn´t wonder if Mark has some new songs ready by now. He is constantly writing music.
What about your bands u played in ROXXCALIBUR and TRANCE ? you still playing on ?
Roxxcalibur is not an active band right now but we didn´t disband though. Our three CDs were really successful (especially the last two) but we had problems being seen as a “regular band” because we do only covers of unknown NWOBHM songs. So some said “you´re just a coverband” and others said “you are a coverband but nobody knows your songs”. My plan was that NWOBHM fans like it while metalheads who have no clue about that era simply love what we do (like a band with external songwriters). And it worked…except for promoters/organizers. We only had two to four shows each year. Sorry to say, but these guys simply are a little stupid. Since I play in Trance in addition to Manilla Roadand our singer Alexx is in Bonfire, there is no time left for Roxxcalibur. But it goes well with Trance ! They are one of my favorite early German metal bands (I got my first album when I was 11 years old…) and I love our new album “The Loser Strikes Back” which will be released by the end of March 2017. No need to say that I enjoy playing all the old classics too !!
How would you describe your band sound and which elements in your music do you thing make you stand out With the new line up ?
That´s hard to say because I have no words for this. Manilla Road is and always was Mark Shelton. Since “Open The Gates” one of the trademarks is busy, wild and creative drumming, stuff you wouldn´t expect when you first listen to it. The vocals are something unique too (also Bryan Patrick) as are the melodic guitar solos. It is wrong that Manilla Road is famous for very long songs. There are some but the majority of songs is about 4 to 6 minutes on all albums. Some are even shorter. But it is the complete album that makes you feel like you´ve heard something epic. What Mark writes fits together and I would never reduce an album to two or three songs. It´s the whole thing that matters. To me all these are trademarks. Another one is that the sound never appears modern. Everything is handmade – no fake!
Usually Manilla Roadlyrics reference mythology, Arthurian legend or Robert E. Howard type of stuff what you think about it ?
To be honest, I never was too much of a lyrics guy. In fact it was a later album which made buy a book: The Blessed Curse. This topic was one of the most interesting a metal band ever did. To notice that most religions have “stolen” their stuff from way older civilizations is mindblowing. I also like the Edgar Allen Poe influenced lyrics on various albums. Mystification is a good example for that. But these creepy horror stories on Out Of The Abyss are really cool too. I guess when there is one thing I still need to do in my “new Manilla world” then it is checking more lyrics in detail. Mark is a genius in writing lyrics.
Do you have any stories about Manilla Road? From tours or studiowork ? Something funny or something we dont know yet ?
There´s a lot of fun when we´re on the road. Manilla Road means also a lot to me because I really love all the people in the band and around. I have never experienced any fights or something like that. And even we were in trouble we are laughing about it a few days later. After I have joined I was definitely more of a party animal than I am now (still love it, but only when there´s a day off the next day!). There are various stories that are funny! One day in Madrid/Spain I was drunk and the last one to leave a party. At 5 in the morning I told the cabdriver “Bring me to hotel San Jose”. He drove around until I had no money left and then threw me out of the cab. The big problem here: “San Jose” was the hotel we were the day before…in Porto/Portugal. There was NO “San Jose” in Madrid. I have no clue how I finally found the correct hotel that morning…
What is your favorite MR album and what is your favorite song ?
No matter what the future will bring, “The Deluge” will always be my favorite album. It was my first one and I will never forget the impact it had when I put it on the turntable for the very first time. The following weeks I did nothing else than listening to this album. To this day it has a special feeling to me. I have no favorite song because in case of Manilla Road I can only talk about complete albums. And here I sometimes enjoy the early stuff more, the next day the heavier, later albums.
Wouldn’t you agree that the fans of MR are something special ?
Oh yes, I totally agree. It starts with all the tattoos we see at each show and ends with people crying because they are so happy to see us live. We have many new fans each year and most of the time they say “How the hell could I oversee your band all these years”.
What you think about your work into Mysterium and The Blessed Curse ?
There´s no doubt that Randy Foxe was and is a big influence for me as a drummer and I think because of that I was able to bring a little of that back since he left after “Circus Maximus”. The cool thing is that I don´t need to be someone else to play that style, it feels natural to me. What I have noticed is that both albums needed a while until some people were into it. I was often told that they both even grow. This is the best compliment you can get because the opposite happens so often: You love an album and it gets boring after a while… I love it when fans tell me about little details in my drumming that they like. This proves that they care. Beside all that Manilla Road is total freedom for the drums. There´s nearly no “oh, you can´t do that here”. For sure I think I play better on “The Blessed Curse” than on “Mysterium”.
Thanks for your time answering my questions. I wish you all the best. Please close the interview in any way you like…
Thanks for this interview ! We take all the mags (print and online) serious and take out time to answer everything. Magazines kept Manilla Road alive all these years and they will always be something we take serious. Same with talking with fans, even sometimes we need to hurry to get to the next gig. In this case I can promise that we feel kinda bad because we love spending time with our fans.
Interviewer : Speedskullcrusher