– Hi, thanks for your time. What are you currently up to? How is everything doing right now with HELLWELLL?
Shark: Currently I have been in Cornerstone Studios mixing the new Manilla Road album with engineer extraordinaire Steve Falke. We just finished the final mix last night and are going to do the mastering and final assembly of the project in the next week. As for Hellwell all seems to be going really good considering this is our first adventure with Beyond the Boundaries of Sin. We all had a blast working on the Hellwell project and it seems like it is being received rather well so we are all very happy about the outcome at this point.
– First of all, your main musical priority has always been MANILLA ROAD, during a lot of years so, what prompted you to form this project named HELLWELL?
Shark: Well I tried to do a side project back in 1992 or 93 with a band I put together called Circus Maximus but the label decided to put it out as a Manilla Road album instead which was pretty absurd to me because it did not even sound like Manilla Road. So ever since that incident I have wanted to do another side project that did not get released as a Manilla Road album. I was really wanting to dive into some rather diabolical and downright evil topics and lyrics but thought that Manilla Road may not be the correct sounding board for such material. The Road has always dabbled in the macabre but there has generally been an undercurrent of positive moral attitude to the topics and lyrics. When I read Ernie’s story Acheronomicon I felt I just had to put the story to music and lyrics and so I presented the Hellwell idea to E.C. and it all escalated from there. We found a new drummer (Jonny Thumper Benson) and we were off to the races.
– What does HELLWELL provided you that MANILLA ROAD can’t?
Shark: I would have to say an outlet for the more evil side of me hahaha. Hellwell is like Manilla Road’s evil twin with MR being the alpha and Hellwell being the omega. It’s given me a little bit more latitude in my approach to dark topics and music. Granted the music in Hellwell is not necessarily heavier than anything else but it has that classic horror approach and a very eerie sense to it all. It also has given me the chance to create music that has keyboards and synthesizers in it. The Road did some stuff like that on Courts of Chaos but for the most part MR has never really done a lot with keys thrown into the mix. So Hellwell has just been a great outlet for that type of material for me. It has also given me the chance to step out of the typical directions that the Road has been traveling. Granted Playground of the Damned was a pretty dark influenced album but it just goes to show you where my head was at the time and I would have to say that Playground was sort of a precursor to Hellwell. The song Deadly Nightshade on the Hellwell album was even written for Playground of the Damned originally. Cory (our drummer for MR at the time) just never was able to come up with a suitable part for the song. When I played it for Thumper he immediately snapped too and said I have a good idea for that song. So we started working on it and his drum part was so good that I told E.C. he had to come up with a good keyboard part for it and when it was all said and done it sounded so good and heavy that we decided to use it on Beyond the Boundaries of Sin. So you could say that the song Deadly Nightshade is actually the exact cross over point for Manilla Road and Hellwell.
– You have just released the first HELWELL’s album, entitled «Beyond the Boundaries of Sin». How is its feedback been so far? And what were your expectations on this record?
Shark: The response to the release has been really good so far. Several reviewers have placed it in their top 10 lists for 2012 and we seem to be getting more and more attention as time goes on. I really was not sure what to expect from everyone on this one. It sounds quite a bit like the Road at times so I new we would be getting a lot of questions about why not just call it Manilla Road. But for the reasons I mentioned before I wanted to keep it a separate entity. I was pretty sure that most MR fans would like the project because of it’s epic nature but you just can’t ever be sure with a side project because some people just hate the idea of me doing anything other than Manilla Road. I was hoping for a good response and it seems like we are getting just that. I have only seen one semi-negative review and what was funny about that one was that he did not even get our names or what instruments we played correct. So I sort of discounted that one right away chalking it up to someone who really did not do their research on the project before doing the review. Hell I even wondered if he really actually listened to the whole thing or not considering how much information was incorrect in the review. But all the other reviews have been great so I am really happy with the response so far.
– As I said, you are known for your activity with MANILLA ROAD so, could you say due to this would be easier for HELLWELL to reach more people into the Metal underground, or is it rather a handicap as some fans will always expect more and a second part of what you are doing with MANILLA ROAD?
Shark: Good question. I think it was more of a help than a hindrance with the MR connection. Our steadfast fans with the Road usually look forward to anything that I do so that was a big plus for us right from the start. And yes your are correct when it comes to people expecting more and more from MR or Hellwell because of the history of Manilla Road. But I think Hellwell will meet all expectations. The production is better and the music is of great quality if you ask me. As a matter of fact there have been some that have commented on Beyond the Boundaries of Sin being the best Manilla Road album that we never did hahahah. So I think it was more help than not that we had the MR thing going on as well.
– This being said; is HELLWELL a steady band with future plans or just a way to scape from the MANILLA ROAD’s routine?
Shark: It started out as the escape that you spoke of but has turned into much more. MR will always be my first and truest love when it comes to bands or projects that I am involved in but Hellwell is going to be around for awhile. We have already started recording our next project with Hellwell. We are 3 songs deep into it already and it is turning out heavier and more sinister than Beyond the Boundaries of Sin. So we will assuredly be doing another album at least. As for touring I’m not really sure yet. It will depend on whether there is a big demand for live Hellwell or not. Some people have asked me if there will be a MR / Hellwell tour and I thought about that and said to myself egads! that would be so brutal for me. MR already does extra long shows live and adding another band to the tour roster that I play and sing in would be pretty tough. I would be looking at being on stage for 3 or 4 hours every night that we did a show. I’m getting too old to do shit like that I think hahahaha. If there is a big enough demand for Hellwell live I am sure that we will find a way to take it out on the road.
– Anyway I could say both bands aren’t actually that different, though HELLWELL has a darker sound and vibe to it, with certain SABBATH touches. Did you have clear since the band’s foundation what sound and feeling you wanted it to have?
Shark: Oh yeah. I knew exactly where I wanted to go with Hellwell and Beyond the Boundaries of Sin is right where I wanted it to be musically. More than anything it is thematically perfect as far as my expectations of the topics and lyrics within the project. The trek now will be to press the envelop even further into similar realms of depravity with the topics, lyrics and music. So I expect the next Hellwell to be even heavier and more horrific.
– It also has certian progressive elements I’d dare say, and some complex solos so, does this project has different influences compared to MANILLA ROAD?
Shark: I think the main difference is that I did not feel like I had to stay within any boundaries musically like I have to with Manilla Road. Not to say that MR does not experiment with new styles anymore because we obviously do because still each MR album has it’s own type of thing going on. But with Hellwell there was no reference point since it is our first recording project. I felt I could get a little more progressive with the musical approach because it was not MR. As for the influences there are some different ones on this because of E.C. and Thumper coming from slightly different musical backgrounds than I. Although we all have several similar likes and dislikes when it comes to music. Ernie comes from my day and age but Jonny is way younger than Ernie and I so there is a much more modern influence on him musically. He does have a really good understanding of classic rock and metal but he still comes from a more modern audience than I. The challenge for Jonny was to be able to construct drum parts that did not have too much modern approach to them seeing the classic nature of the songs. But Thumper came through very well in the end and did a great job of integrating his newer approach to drumming with mine and Ernie’s classic approach.
– This being said; how was the songwriting process for this opus?
Shark: It was a fantastic experience for me and I think for the other guys as well. We had a lot of fun with it all and for Jonny especially, since this was his first album that he had ever recorded with anyone. Once we got started on it the whole thing seemed to flow out of us like water. As for the recording and musical creation process most of the songs were composed by me and Ernie. I usually was the one coming up with the chunky rhythm arrangements but even Thumper got into the process with the song Strange Case of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Jonny wrote the rhythm parts and even played them and the bass part as well as the drums on that song. So it was a colluded process with all 3 of us putting our two cents worth in. I usually write the rhythm parts first while thinking of the melodies that will go with it for the vocal parts. Then I arrange the song into it’s final arrangement…you know which part goes where in the song and how many times you play that part. That sort of thing. After I have a solid arrangement set down then I start working on the lyrics for the vocal parts. There is a lot of research that I put into the songs before I ever put pen to paper though. I don’t want to come off looking dumb by not really knowing what the hell I am writing about. So I spend a lot of time reading and doing research on the topics and concepts that we write about. This album came together for us really fast. It took us about 7 or 8 months to create and record all the music and then another month of me sitting in the control room in my studio working on the mixes. Considering all the other irons I have in the fire that was really quite fast for creating and releasing an album.
– I’ve read the tunes on the back half of the album have a certain concept. Would you mind to elaborate a bit on this?
Shark: Sure. It is a story that E.C. wrote called Acheronomicon. The story actually appears in printed version in the LP and the special release CDs that have the 60 page story booklet in the CDs. The book in the LP is larger so it is only 20 pages I think. Anyway it is sort of a Lovecraft / Howard type story that Ernie put together that to me is just way cool. It’s sort of a doom epic you might say. There really is no positive ending to the story and I might add that E.C. seems to write a lot of stories that have rather weird endings. Most likely why I like his stories so much. It is a Cthulhu Mythos story for sure. I don’t want to give away the plot but it has first person approach to it and is quite exciting at times and it does make one think about a few things. But for the most part it is just a really good horror story to me. All of side 2 of the album is the Acheronomicon story in 3 parts. Yep, I know, I just can’t seem to get away from my epic nature no matter what I work on.
– You’ve also had an amazing cover artwork crafted by Alexander von Wieding. What did you want to express with it?
Shark: Oh Alex was a dream to work with when it came to the art for the project. He and I agree on so much stuff on many different levels. And of course he is a great artist. I just gave him the story and the music and showed him a section of the story that has the temple of Dagon in it and he ran with it. We talked a bit about the art but it was a super easy process dealing with him and his ideas. His ideas were so close to mine anyway that it was a breeze. I loved working with Alex and his art is incredible.
– And all this about «Beyond the Boundaries of Sin» being said; how could you describe it in just 3 words?
Shark: Epic Horror Metal
– Finally, what are your near-future plans?
Shark: For Hellwell it is recording another sinister album. For Manilla Road it is getting our newest album finished up and released and touring as much as humanly possible in 2013. For the rest of this year we are getting ready to go to Canada and play in the Noctis Festival in Calgary Alberta and then onto Athens Greece to headline the Up The Hammers festival in the middle of October. 2013 will be Manilla Road’s first full fledged world tour.
– That’s all, thank you once more for answering our questions. If you want to add some final words; feel free to do it.
Shark: Well always I like to thank our fans and supporters for allowing us to continue on. Without their support we are nothing but a bunch of cowboys from Kansas hahaha. But the big news right now is that we just inked a new deal with for Europe with Golden Core Records / ZYX. This is a pretty big deal for us and the first time that we have ever signed with a really large label. Our next Manilla Road album, Mysterium, will be out on Golden Core, High Roller and Shadow Kingdom the first part of 2013. Thanks so much for doing this interview with me and may the lords of light be with you all. Up The Hammers & Down The Nails.