I like to kill kings
Together with Ostry, we had an opportunity to talk for a brief moment with Manilla Road a night before their first concert in Poland. There have been many Manilla Road interviews before, so I wanted this particular one to be valuable, substantive, as well a nice read pleasing the eye. Shortly before their historical concert and release of their next studio effort, which will be available in the end of June, we talked about literature, movies, philosophy, the art of songwriting, the new album, and many, many various topics – including tales about how Manilla Road was trying to play in Poland in previous years. Only Michał Sabatowski was able to make it possible to complete this undertaking, for which he should be praised and respected. Unlike a certain individual, he didn’t claim that the arrival of this heavy metal legend to Poland was a bad idea, and so he stood up to the challenge. We were talking for more than 1.5 hour with Mark Shelton mainly, while Bryan Patrick has been putting his two cents in from time to time, and it was worth it as hell. Manilla Road are really friendly and extremely nice. They’re the people who treat you as an equal, so our time flew like in a snap of the fingers. Enjoy the read!
Ostry: I would like to start the interview with the question about the lyrics from the album “A Blessed Curse”. The main message is strongly anti-religious, and the root of all evil is to blindly follow religious dogma, right?
Mark Shelton: Actually, the main message that I was trying to put across more than anything is that all the religions are man-made. It is stuff that we created way back when to explain all the things we didn’t understand back then. But now our technology has got so advanced, and most of these questions has been answered and it doesn’t really involve god. There are so many wrongs that have been done throughout the ages in the name of gods and there are so many gods and goddesses, different beliefs… You know, it’s good to have a belief, to have faith, but most religions have been used to control the masses and this is something I don’t believe in.
Ostry: So the words “One Nation under God” are false?
Bryan “Hellroadie” Patrick: That is something founding fathers said. They had a belief back then and it was something bigger than what the colonies were going to be. They wanted something to unite people.
Mark: Every nation on Earth, every culture thinks that god is on their side.
Bryan: And that is okay. That is not a bad thing. But you got to understand that there is good with that. You have to practice the good things in life.
Mark: I believe in the power of prayer and that we have energy inside us anyway. I am more an agnostic than anything else. I would still like to believe that there is maybe a possibility of afterlife or something like that, but to tell you the truth I have a feeling that when I die I would go where I was before I was born which is absolutely nothing. I have a feeling that this is our one chance to experience life and what is it all about. Everyone should take a hold of your life and do something that make you feel good about it.
Bryan: If you are breathing and not living – I am sorry.
Ostry: It’s very American what you say: “Practice what you preach”.
Mark: Maybe so, but you know, America is just like any other place in the world. It has good and bad people. It’s no different than any other place I have ever been in the world. We see the same thing everywhere. And the thing I see in common all around the world is atrocities done to children, women and men in the name of god or gods, and I don’t think it’s right. I am not an atheist because I don't know all the answers.
Ostry: The thing I am referring to is the fact that we were born in 70s and 80s in a system which has been fighting religion. You know what I mean: Soviet Union, no god; Albania, no god; North Korea, no god. The atheist states. But it seems that even though you erased religion, you didn't erase atrocities.
Bryan: Absolutely. It all depends on people. If mankind isn’t good to each other, we will not be able to live fortunate lives. We are not going to be able to help everyone in the world unless they will help themselves. But we have technology to grow healthy crops, treat horrible conditions and all these things, but still we can’t help many people in the world…
Mark: The United States throws away tons and tons of food every day that should be going to people that don’t have any. And there are many similar places around the world. There is enough food in the world to feed everybody, so there shouldn’t be people starving. That is maybe socialistic point of view, but the truth is that if we could get pass all our differences we have culturally and be more like the metal brotherhood that I see everywhere I go... Everywhere we go we meet people like you guys, from different cultures, but yet we all communicate. We all get along and we are friends, and for some reason it seems that it is the music does it to people. I really believe the music is the best communication source compared with anything else, and if mankind was more like metal brotherhood, the world would be a better place. (laughs)
Ostry: Well, we should ask metal fans from Donbass for instance. I think that there are black metal and folk metal fans on both sides – Ukrainian and Russian – and they shoot each other, so maybe we should change the conclusion into “heavy metal joins the world, black metal – not necessarily”. (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) Well, black metal, if I understand right, was based on this Satan-type thing. If you believe in Satan, you believe in Christianity of course, because that is where Satan came from – the Christian mythos. Originally, Satan was way down on the list of demons. He was just a lesser air demon with no real power. So if true deception exists, that deception is that people are fooled into thinking that he is important. And according to the old Hebraic religion, the demons were made to be subservient to man anyway. So we have got shit all backward. You know, to me – we don’t have all the answers, we are the band, we are just the entertainment. Yeah, sometimes we put morality and philosophy in our music, but we are not trying to absolutely change the world. We can’t do that, but would love to.
Bryan: If music could change the world, it would be an amazing thing.
Mark: We are just like anybody else. We like to have fun, we like to meet good people, we love music and to play it live. We like to be artistic, and I think that people who try to be artistic are more positive than people trying to argue about wars, politics, economy…
Bryan: …immigrants, refugees… I would much rather send as much supplies to the people there as possible and try to help them than spread them out from their lands. Let’s be real, it's their land, they deserve to live there. They shouldn’t be forced out of their homes.
Mark: I would be a terrible ruler and I don’t want to involve much in political issues.
Ostry: Okay, let’s finish the political talking. You played in many European countries, and everywhere you have plentiful, devoted fans. I am curious about when you return to Wichita, do your neighbors perceive you as known musicians?
Mark: Some of them don’t. (laughs)
Bryan: And that’s okay. This is what we want. We like to be some sort of incognito at home. Home is home. Home is where we want our families to feel safe, but also it is where our fans come to visit. If someone lets us know, we always pick them up from the airport, take them in for coffee, let them stay in our houses, and just show them the hospitality of Midwest and Kansas. People from Midwest are really down to earth.
Mark: USA is so big that there are different attitudes from coast to coast. A lot of it depends on where you were born, how you were raised…
Bryan: The perfect example – back in the early 80s, when music was on fire on the West Coast, you know, San Francisco, L.A. – it took two to three years before that got to Wichita. Same thing on the East Coast: you got Anthrax and everyone who were busting their asses to make the name for themselves. It took couple of years before it got to Midwest.
Mark: We come from something called Bible Belt. Right from the middle of it, and it was horrible. Lot of religious people there, but it is farmland and a ranching land – mostly known from products like weed, corn, cattle – and so people are very country type and down to earth. A lot of them like country music much more than rock 'n' roll, so heavy metal is a hard nut to crack in our area. And it’s never been huge, but it's big at times. You know, it depends on who the band is. If Iron Maiden shows up, of course everybody does. If Judas Priest show, a lot of people go. But even with us, even though it's our home town, if we play, we probably won't bring up more than thousand people to a show at the most, because the metal audience just isn’t that big where we come from. If there appears a major act – yeah, you get a lot of people there. But the bands that always consistently sell out are country bands like Brad Paisley or Garth Brooks – stuff like that.
Ostry: Yeah, I touched that subject because of certain funny situation. Are you familiar with the name Eric Adams?
Mark: Yeah, yeah, absolutely!
Ostry: I came across an article about him and his son hunting a deer. However, in the article he was described as local guide and neighbor and by his real name of Italian origin, not as Eric Adams. And not a single word mentioned that he is leading one of the greatest heavy metal bands in the world, which plays for ten thousand people or more at a single venue. He lives at East Coast, in Auburn, New York – nobody cares if he is more than a hunter from the neighborhood.
Bryan: That’s correct. That’s what we are about. We don’t care who you are, what you do, you are just a human being. I built stages in Wichita for acts like Megadeth, Exciter, Metallica, and I treated them the same way I treat you. We are all open-minded and open-armed.
Sterviss: I have couple of questions about new albums of Manilla Road and Hellwell, but let’s start from the beginning. The tomorrow’s Warsaw show will be the last of your European tour that started a month ago at Keep It True festival. How do you feel about it?
Mark: I feel great actually. We always loved Europe and we still do. It’s an honor to be able to tour here every year like we do.
Bryan: But this show will be exciting.
Mark: We are really excited about tomorrow night. We know from way back when, when Manilla Road was first starting, that some of the very first airplay radio time we ever got was here in Warsaw. Poland in some way helped Manilla Road get into European industry in a sense. We have always wanted to come here and play. Ever since we started touring in Europe, we have asked our management to try to get us into Poland, and they tried for at least ten years. Every time they got close to being able to do it, something went wrong.
Bryan: Well, two years ago the promoter agreed to our contract, everything was set to stone, but couple weeks before we were leaving for tour he emailed us: sorry guys, the venue went down, that’s a no go.
Sterviss: It’s a funny situation, because Bart Gabriel… You know the guy, don’t you?
Bryan: Yep. He is a friend of ours.
Sterviss: He creates himself as a huge underground metal fan: his label is releasing old school material, his wife Marta played the cover of "Flaming Metal Systems" with her band, he is from Poland and organized the Omen show here in the past and he didn’t try to get you a venue here?
Mark: We talked to him last year about it. And he really, really didn’t think it was a good idea. He didn’t think the Manilla Road show in Poland would be successful.
Bryan: And because he is a friend to us, we took his words and his advice as something that is true.
Sterviss: Yeah, sounds like him. I think he is not interested in organizing shows in Poland because he still may be disturbed by his experience from the past.
Bryan: And that’s okay, that’s not his fault.
Mark: I guarantee you that this is as much a surprise to him as it is to many other people.
Sterviss: Yeah, but he still perceives the Polish audience by his experience from 2007 and 2008 when he tried to organize the gigs of Omen, Tygers of Pan-Tang, Lonewolf. It was before Facebook, before social media, which are great tools in advertising underground shows. Not many people knew about these shows. I personally get to know that Omen plays in Poland like a couple of months after the show. The promotion was awful.
Bryan: If there was no real local metal radio which promotes such events, the people wouldn’t know.
Sterviss: Real metal radio in Poland? No. (laughs)
Bryan: If there is no radio involved in advertising local shows, it tends to be a problem for a local scene.
Mark: Well, at some point we heard that more classic metal is on the rise in Poland. We finally found a promoter in Michał Sabatowski. He decided to take a chance on us.
Bryan: Funny that he wanted us to play in this small club here (Beerokracja).
Mark: Yeah, so he was very cautious too, he didn’t expect many people to come.
Bryan: But he understood that we need a bigger place. The server with ticket sale has crushed after three hours! He contacted us and said: guys, I have to move you to the south of Poland to Cracow, but we disagreed. We said: we have to keep it in Warsaw, you already announced it here, already sold hundred or more tickets. We were very animate about keeping it here.
Mark: And now things are going so well. The show is sold out and everybody is happy, maybe everybody realizes that brining Manilla Road here is a good idea, and I hope we will be back soon, very soon, maybe next year.
Sterviss: In the end of June, Manilla Road will be releasing a brand new studio album "To Kill A King". Pity that it hadn’t been released few days ago, so you would bring some copies with the merchandise for us.
Mark: Yeah, I haven’t seen even the final product yet. (laughs)
Sterviss: So what can you tell us now about the new album? What is the story behind the title?
Bryan: It has Manilla Road music on it.
Mark: Surprisingly. (laughs)
Bryan: All the music was written by Mark Shelton… All the lyrics were written by Mark Shelton… All the recording was done at the Mark Shelton's recording studio... Let's see, did I leave anything out?
Mark: It was all mixed by Mark Shelton? (laughs) So, if you won’t like it, you can blame everything on Mark Shelton. You know, it’s always hard for me to tell what I’ve done with my music.
Bryan: Because the newest album is always the best one. (laughs)
Sterviss: Yes! I’ve noticed that in the interviews after the release of “Mysterium” you praised that album as your best studio work. Same thing was with “A Blessed Curse".
Mark: You are always proud about what you have done.
Bryan: But the new thing with this album is that the title cut is the first track and it’s the longest epic track.
Mark: The title track is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s a great song. I love it. Some people that we’ve been talking to seem to think that we have gone a little back to our roots with that album maybe. I think, in these days, because I have been doing the Hellwell project, it has sort of freed me up to be centered on doing more of the classic metal style with Manilla Road. I am always influenced by lots of styles of music. With albums like “Playground of the Damned” or “Voyager” and stuff like this we were getting a big mix of really super heavy stuff and some thrash. Yeah, we are still mixing up a lot on the new album, but because I am doing the Hellwell where my evil sounding stuff comes out now, Manilla Roads seems to be more towards classic epic metal now.
Sterviss: But Manilla Road has always been some kind of a portrait that brought together many kinds of music ideas. Thrashy riffs were a big part of it.
Mark: And we are still doing that.
Sterviss: So we can count on it that some thrashy riffs will burst through the music on the new album?
Mark: There will be some fast and furious moments on it and definitely there will be epic stuff. I think there are few more power ballad type epic songs than normally.
Sterviss: And why Shakespeare?
Mark: I'm really fond of two Shakespeare stories, Hamlet is one of them and the other one is Macbeth.
Sterviss: And both deal with killing a king.
Mark: I like to kill kings. (laugh)
Sterviss: Do the all songs follow the concept? I think at least one of them is based on Howard's Solomon Kane – “Castle of the Devil”?
Mark: No, it’s actually not based on Solomon Kane, although I can see how you might think that, because I like to write a lot about Howard’s stuff. There is actually no Howard influence on the new album. “Castle of the Devil” was just inspired because last year we had a tour in Spain and Malta, and we saw a lot of cool castles. “Never Again” is about some sort of nuclear apathy. There is some modern philosophy on it. “In The Wake” could be perceived as a residue from previous album, still complaining about religion.
Sterviss: What about Poe or Lovecraft?
Mark: Nothing really about Poe. There is some historical content, something about arena gladiatorial fighting, something about Alexander the Great. “Ghost Warriors” is about warriors from Germania fighting against Romans. “Blood Island” is actually about the old gorefest movie, so there is a little bit of grindhouse effect going on there. So you could say we are still influenced by the Poe-typed stuff. I don’t want to leave that completely away from Manilla Road. You can be sure that there will be no happy endings. (laughs)
Sterviss: Like in Lovecraft, no happy endings, everyone ends up dead or insane.
Ostry: Actually, in a short story called Cats of Ulthar there was a happy ending.
Mark: Yeah, that’s right, but for example, in Hellwell we decided that we will take influence from those stories which have no happy endings. All the heroes have to die. (laughs)
Bryan: Hellwell is Mark's way to get really down and dirty...
Sterviss: Last thing about Howard. There are Kull and Conan inspirations in many Manilla Road lyrics, but what about other Howard stories? You know, the historical ones or El Borak?
Mark: I liked El Borak. I read all Howard’s new Del Rey books, and I got every single one of them.
Sterviss: One of our publishers released only five Del Rey books in Polish: three about Conan, one about Kull and Bran Mak Morn, and one about Solomon Kane.
Mark: Oh, and what about others?
Sterviss: I don’t know. I contacted the company, but got an answer that they were not interested in publishing others. So we still haven't got many Howard novels translated, for example those about El Borak.
Mark: That’s too bad.
Sterviss: Yeah, but it’s common issue. Are you familiar with Michael Moorcock?
Mark: Of course, Elric from Melnibone.
Sterviss: We have official Polish translation of the first six books of the saga, If I’m correct. So... we are in deep shit.
Ostry: The songs from “Open the Gates” about the Picts could have been inspired by the novels about Bran Mak Morn…
Shelton: They’re more based on many different versions of Arthurian legends, not just the typical ones you hear, but also the ones from the German chronicles and things like that. It was sort of using many different approaches to it. Sort like what we did on “Gates of Fire”. We did a trilogy about the fall of Ilion, the fall of Troy. We included a little of bit of the Homer-type stuff that’s mostly Virgil, the Roman poet. We’re always trying to look to the things that would help.
Patrick: That would leave their mark.
Shelton: And make the music unique.
Patrick: No pun intended.
Shelton: We’re trying to find the way of presenting the topic in a different atmosphere than it has been presented before, if it’s something that hasn’t been touched for a while.
Patrick: And he has done a lot of research.
Shelton: I actually read the whole The Aeneid.
Patrick: You know, we just don’t want to say something just to be saying. We want to make sure that we understand what’s in it.
Shelton: Or at least try to understand.
Patrick: We may be stupid. (laughs)
Shelton: Maybe our understanding is different than the one of other people, but we still just like to have fun. You know, I love history, I love ancient things, I love mythologies. And even though I don’t really believe in the gods, I still love the stories about them. It’s like good science fiction from way back then.
Brian: They really believed stories about this. And it’s not a bad thing, really. It is what it is.
Ostry: Are there any remains or old sanctuaries of Indian, or native American cultures around Wichita or Kansas?
Shelton: Well, we have a hill where Coronado gave up his search for the golden city of Eldorado. He made as far as this place just north of where we live. There is now a monument there, but there is really nothing more. There are new archeological findings in Kansas, about an hour south of where we live. They found remains of an ancient Indian tribe which fought against the Spaniards. They found the battlefield with cannonballs and stuff like this. More south you go, you can find more: the Pueblo Indians, Aztec, Inka, Mayan, Olmec – the cultures that were way before the Northern American Indians tribes were. In South and North Dakota you can find more modern Indian tribes like Cherokee, which history goes few hundred years back.
Sterviss: Returning to the “Castle of the Devil” – it’s nothing new that you draw the title for the song from Howard’s literature, but create lyrics that speak about something not linked to his works. Like “Hour of the Dragon”, “Dig Me No Grave”, “Road of Kings” – these only referred to the novels and poems of Robert E. Howard only by title.
Shelton: “Hour of the Dragon” was based on the Pendragon from Arthurian legends. So… titles are not copyrighted. Everybody can use them. It seems that I just liked those titles a lot. When I was first reading Conan stories, they were on paperbacks. The novel The Hour of the Dragon came out in America under the title The Conqueror. At that time I didn’t even know that, but still the title “Road of Kings” was drawn from the Conan story. The song still relates a bit to the poem, but we decided to relate the song to ourselves and the heavy metal. You know, “What do you see inside your mind?”. And in Howard’s Road of Kings Conan was on the road of king himself, trying to find his place. In “Dig Me No Grave” I just like the idea of the sound of it. It says that we are not gonna quit until we are ready to quit.
Sterviss: I have also a couple of questions regarding the new Hellwell album. In the interview conducted in April last year you said that the new Manilla Road album was almost complete, that only mixing and mastering was left, but it seems that it will be released in June this year. Meanwhile, the new Hellwell has been released. Did you work on both albums simultaneously?
Shelton: In a sense. I have been working on Hellwell album through the last two or three years. On new Manilla album just since August 2015.
Sterviss: Is it common that you compose riffs and melodies focusing on one of the projects or you decide later where which part will go?
Shelton: Most of the time, especially with Hellwell, I have music in mind for specific project. With Manilla Road it's sometimes a little bit different, because I have a project with Rick Fisher called Mark Shelton and Rick Fischer’s Riddlemaster, which we finished recording. It will be coming out later this year as well. This album would bring some magic down. This album is more like psychedelic old-school Manilla Road.
Sterviss: “Metal” and “Invasion” era?
Patrick: Absolutely, all over it, man, but way better. The music is killer with this production. When Neudi heard it when we were recording “To Kill A King", he said that he wished it was new Manilla Road. So we pulled the song “In The Wake” to new Manilla Road album. Originally, it was meant for the Riddlemaster.
Shelton: Neudi loved it so much he begged me to put it on Manilla Road album. I talked with Rick and he said “yeah, I was having hard time to figure out the drum part for it anyway”. (laughs) And few years back, when we were doing “Playground of the Damned” I wrote a song called “Deadly Nightshade”. It was meant for that album but Cory really didn’t have the idea what to do with the song, and we didn’t put it on the album. When we were starting the Hellwell project, we were listening to the riff tracks that I made in the studio and I played the “Deadly Nightshade” riffs, Johnny Benson said “Oh, I have a part for this!”. And in three hours it was done, we added right keyboards and the next thing you knew we have another song for the first Hellwell album. So as you see, sometimes it changes. And we try to leave ourselves really open to being spontaneous and doing what we feel is right. It’s all about feel with us than plotting everything out.
Patrick: Except "Atlantis Rising" and "Gates of Fire", we really plotted these albums.
Shelton: Yeah, concept album is a totally different story. We center on making the songs hopefully sound like what we are talking about. Sometimes the albums are very conceptive as a whole, theme and music, then I think about what the music feels like and then I write the lyrics later. I always have the melodies in mind when I’m writing the riffs, but not necessarily the words or theme. Sometimes the finished music dictates what I’m going to do with the lyrics or theme. Basically, what I'm telling you is that there is no equation that we use all the time. It’s not like we just have “okay, now we have A riff, B riff, bridge, first chorus, bridge, chorus and we’re done”. We don’t stick this equation at all.
Patrick: We have one song on the new album that comes in – boom! – guitar solo! Straight in your face.
Shelton: We have one song, “The Conqueror”, that doesn’t even have the chorus but long guitar solo section.
Sterviss: We returned to “To Kill A King”, which is good, because I wanted to ask about "Book of Skelos"…
Shelton: It will be only on LP. It’s just the first section, the first book. Gianluca Silvi from Battle Ram, Baphomet’s Blood, Jotenheim and Doomsword, he is great friend of ours and really great classical guitar player. I’m terrible at playing classical guitar. If there is anybody that I would probably ask to be a guitar player in Manilla Road, he’d probably be our guy. He was in our studio at one point, we did a lot of recording together. That’s where he recorded classical guitars on “In Search For The Lost Chord” from “A Blessed Curse”. We also did the first "Book of Skelos” during that recording session. When we were putting the vinyl together, we decided that we need one more song to make it a double LP.
Patrick: But we also played that song live in Wichita and in Mannheim with Gianluca, so he was familiar with the song already. I don’t think it made it to the DVD from Mannheim, but it was recorded.
Shelton: It is something we made in the studio. A bonus cut for the LP.
Sterviss: While listening to the new Hellwell album, I was constantly thinking why the drummer sounds like he wanted to destroy his drum kit…
Shelton: Because it was Randy Foxe.
Sterviss: …because it was Randy Foxe. What happened that Randy supported you on this album and not Johnny?
Patrick: Johnny wasn’t available. He has moved to another state and has a different career going on. He’s doing glass blowing now. He’s amazing at it, he has hell of a talent.
Shelton: And to tell you the truth, this is what he wants to do in his life. He really wanted to help us, but he wasn’t able to do it on our timeframe. He told us it might be another year before he could get around, so we should find somebody else.
Patrick: We already played the show with Randy Foxe in Athens, Greece. It was a perfect opportunity, I said “Hey, ask him if he wanted to play in Hellwell”, and it came out he was hungry for it.
Shelton: He already told me that if I was going to do another Hellwell album, he wants to be on it. And he still plays like a maniac. We just can’t tour because it’s too demanding for him with his age and his problems with his back.
Sterviss: It seems that there is less synthesizers and keyboards than on the previous album. I got a strange impression that this was more of a guitar and percussion album. Paradoxically, because there is stuff like the three minute organ solo in “To Serve a Man”.
Shelton: Yes, and there is the piano thing at the beginning of “The Last Rites of Edward Hawthorn”. It is more guitar probably because I wrote everything on it. Ernie didn’t have much to do with writing of the songs.
Sterviss: And how did he feel toward it?
Shelton: Eh, he doesn’t care. He is so involved in writing his novels and stuffs. He doesn’t want to tour, he is very camera-shy and stage-shy.
Sterviss: Yeah, but he also writes for the Swords of Steel anthologies.
Shelton: Yes, and as a matter of fact, the new Swords of Steel is coming out, and there is his story in it as well. I’ve got other ideas for stories I’m trying to get him to write as well, but he’s a strange guy, he is like my evil twin you might say…
Sterviss: Did he have any impact on Manilla Road music or lyrics before the “Playground of the Damned”?
Shelton: No. Not really. Except some of the lines might include something about his works.
Sterviss: Do the songs from the second Hellwell album follow some stories from the first one? Is there any continuation of the Acheronomicon theme in there?
Shelton: It’s pretty much the new cast of songs. One of the stories, "To Serve A Man", is actually about actual story from the time right after World War I. It’s about Karl Denke, known as cannibal of a Prussian town that now lies in Poland… Seibrick? Something like that. It’s south of Warsaw.
Ostry: I believe you meant Ziębice. It is indeed a Polish city in Silesia, but it’s however 300 kilometers south west away from Warsaw.
Shelton: Oh. Anyway, that's where he committed his murders.
Sterviss: And other lyrics from other songs?
Shelton: “Lightwave” is a sort of science fiction idea of where Lucifer came from. He is an alien creature that came on light waves to Earth to reap souls, and mankind perceives him as a demon. We’ve already talked about “To Serve a Man”. “It’s Alive” is about doctor Frankenstein from his point of view. It’s just my idea what Victor might be thinking. “The Last Rites of Edward Hawthorn”, which is actually a part of three-stage story that appears on three songs on three different albums recorded by three different bands. First song, the beginning of the trilogy, is not even released yet, it will be on the Riddlemaster album which Rick and I just finished. “The Rites of Blood”, which is on “Out of the Abyss”, is the second part.
Sterviss: Don’t say you have been thinking of it all those years!
Shelton: Well, it all sort of came together as time went on.
Patrick: You know, like the Star Wars.
Shelton: Yeah, I finally made it all work out together. Okay, let’s see… “The Galaxy Being” is actually based on The Outer Limits TV series very first episode. “Necromantio” is about a place Necromanteion in Greece, which was a place where you go, pay a lot of money, have a dinner and wine, with opium floating in the air. They get you on drugs and then take you through the caves underground through three gates. At the third you were so fucked up that everybody believed it was a gate to Hades where you could actually visit the dead. “Necromantio” is a song from the point of view of a dead soldier from the battle of Marathon who is called back to the gates to talk to the humans that are still alive.
Sterviss: You have Manilla Road, Hellwell, and the Riddlemaster project. You are a very creative man. Do you ever encounter a writer’s block?
Shelton: No, never. I haven’t have it yet.
Sterviss: Oh, I hoped that you would give us some hints how to overcome it.
Shelton: All I can say is: keep reading. Anything that excites your mind: jump into it, read about it, investigate, research. Especially about the stuff you don’t know about yet. When you find something, you will be amazed how cool it is for you. That’s the time you will want to write something. It really takes me very little time to write something. With “Gates of Fire” I spent two months reading The Aeneid and figuring out what it all meant, because even in English there was stuff I didn’t understand. Like, for example, Virgil kept on saying “the main”, “the main”… What the fuck is “the main”? I finally figured out that it was ancient terminology for Mediterranean Sea. You have to figure such things out when you read all this poetry and everything, and it was twelve freaking books! Two months of reading this shit and after all this time it just poured out of me. It was very easy.
Sterviss: But writing the lyrics is one part and writing the music is the other.
Shelton: Writing music? I don’t usually have much of trouble on that either. To tell you the truth, we realized in our last American tour in 2015 that Neudi is going to be in our home town for about four days and he wouldn’t have enough time to record all tracks. So what I did for two months was just sit in the studio and write songs and riffs for “To Kill A King” album. The majority of the time wasn’t in writing the album as much as was it in recording it after that. Some of that was waiting for Josh to do a lot of tracks he had troubles with. Finally, he decided he need to quit. Then came Phil Ross, you know, I wanted him to play the new stuff. I could have Ernie to play it in the studio, but I didn't think it was right. We got a new bass player coming into the band, and Ernie is busy enough doing his shit anyway.
Patrick: He’s an asshole.
Sterviss: This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of establishing the Manilla Road and the 30th anniversary of the “Mystification” album. The first side of the original release pays homage to the works of Edgar Allan Poe. What inspired you to create such a tribute to Poe and not to any other writer, like Howard or Lovecraft?
Shelton: Actually, I read Poe way before I knew about Howard. Poe is required reading in school. You have to read it when you are junior at high school in early days, at least back in my days. I’ve always been fascinated with him for many different reasons. One, he was the first one who has written real detective stories and mystery stories, like solving mystery in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. As far as I know, he created the genre.
Sterviss: It's a common belief that the creator of Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Poe’s stories in which the protagonist used the ability of deduction.
Shelton: Absolutely, and I am big Sherlock Holmes fan, because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was great mystery writer as well. The other thing that I really appreciate in Edgar Allan Poe was that he was the first writer in America who requested the government to have better copyright laws for authors. During his days, whenever you submitted a story to a newspaper or journal, it became their property. If you didn’t win their contest, they didn't have to pay you any money, but they still could use it.
Sterviss: Funny that it slightly reminds me of the current book publishing market for new writers in Poland…
Shelton: Poe helped a lot with copyright laws and publishing standards in America. The authors could gain a way of actually making a living instead of something you do as a hobby. He was important in many ways. Of course he wrote some of the weirdest first person point of view crazy-man stories like The Tell-tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado, and of course one of my favorites of all time: The Masque of the Read Death. A lot of his stories weren’t really supernatural. They were based on people murdering people and weird events. The Masque of the Read Death had a supernatural twist at the end of it and that was a bit different. My favorite story about talent though is Mystification. I think other writers were much followers of Poe.
Sterviss: Have you seen the movie Masque of the Read Death with Vince Price?
Shelton: I did, I've seen all of old Roger Corman’s Poe movies. (laughs) Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors of all time.
Sterviss: Which cover artwork of “Mystification” do you like the most? From the Sentinel Steel release or the original?
Shelton: L. Ryan Hendricks did the original and then Sentinel Steel Records used Hildebrandt brothers’ artwork. I like them both. I think they both look great. Of course Hildebrandt brothers have a little more realistic approach and their work is more colorful. But I still have an affinity to the original artwork. It was my design. I told Ryan what we wanted here. He was an art teacher in Kansas. I told him for example that I wanted old grandfather clock, but it was his idea to put all this cool stuff there. He made all of this look so evil, with the face at the bottom and the skulls in the clock. I told him that it was the seventh room and how I wanted it to look likem and it was my idea with the middle finger pointing at the clock like “You are fucked! It’s midnight and you’re fucked!”. (laughs) And if you look really close, you will see that there is a ring on the finger that says Miskatonic U.
Sterviss: And the Prospero’s hand?
Shelton: Nothing with it, it’s just crooked. He is dying, his hand goes wimp. So you can see that there is a Lovecraft hint with this Miskatonic University. But you got to remember that Manilla Road’s smiling jack and dagger ideas come from Howard’s Conan. Lovecraft and Howard were very influenced by Poe. They even used some of Poe stuff like the black book of Baron Von Jung. Lovecraft also used fictional book in his novels in the shape of Necronomicon.
Sterviss: I read that you had some problems with some of reissues because of artwork royalties and Black Dragon. Is this still a current nuisance to you?
Shelton: The problem is Black Dragon thought they own rights to the artwork, because originally they paid the usage of the artwork from Eric Larnoy, but Eric is dead. It would be his family that should own the rights. We’ve tried for years and years to get hold on anybody in the family and try to purchase the paintings, but even they don’t know where the paintings are at this point. If nobody has the paintings physically, then nobody owns the rights to them anymore. It should be public domain. Black Dragon said that if we wanted to use the artwork, we needed to pay them money. But I said that the only one who should get the money was Eric’s family. We even have a friend of ours in France who is trying currently to locate the artworks and talk to family members. Black Dragon doesn't own the artworks because when I was in Eric's workshop back in the '86 I actually tried to buy the original painting from him and I saw the original artwork for “Open the Gates” that was painted on wood. He refused to sell it to me. He refused also to sell it to Black Dragon. Them and me were offering many, many thousands of dollars, but he didn’t want to sell it because he thought it was one of his best works. I asked him if he did decide to sell them, I wanted to be the first one to take them and he said: sure, no problem. So, I know that Black Dragon doesn't have the original pieces and I think when Eric died, these pieces... Well, his workshop was in a furniture factory. I have a feeling that they were destroyed somehow probably, which would be most unfortunate. But I think that if they still existed, somebody would raise a hand and say “I’ve got them!”. (laughs) I don’t think it would do Eric’s legend any good to change album covers. We are not changing the album covers, he meant them to be the album covers for those albums. We are sticking with it.
Sterviss: So, what we may expect from tomorrow’s show? Any specials?
Patrick: Manilla Road songs. (laughs)
Sterviss: No Stryper songs?
Patrick: No, we don’t want that, because the last time Manilla Road and Stryper played in 1982… or 1983…
Sterviss: So this famous story is true?
Patrick: Yes, it’s true. Soon as he started “Cage of Mirrors”, all of the Stryper fans started booing. You know, when came this part "I summon Lucifer". All of our fans back in the day were bikers and hardcore radical heavy metalheads. It was in Wichita.
Sterviss: Manilla Road was supporting Stryper or the other way round?
Shelton: Manilla Road was the support.
Patrick: And all of a sudden there was a big fight. All of those bikers kicked the Stryper fans’ asses. You got a bar brawl to the “Cage of Mirrors”. It was great, man.
Shelton: It was the largest brawl I've seen in my entire life. I’ve seen from the stage like all my friends and fans were winning and I was like: yeah, go for it! (laughs) You know, if Stryper idiots had listened to the lyrics of the song, maybe they would realize that in the end there is a moral to the story which is don't fuck with this occult shit unless you know what you are doing.
Sterviss: Well, that’s all from us. Thank you very much, it was an honor and pleasure.
Patrick: It was an honor, brothers.
Shelton: I would like to say one last thing to our fans if I could. We want to thank everybody in Poland for being so supportive with us and undying in their fate in Manilla Road in the last forty years. I know this is a place where our popularity in Europe really started. We are so honored to be here and being able to play tomorrow night. If it was not for our fans in Poland, we may not have ever gotten a good start in Europe, so we owe you guys a lot.
Conducted by Aleksander “Sterviss” Trojanowski & Jakub “Ostry” Ostromięcki on 26.05.2017.
Transcripted and edited by Katarzyna Świrska & Aleksander "Sterviss" Trojanowski.
|source: band's fanpage|