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INTERVIEWS SHARK ISLAND
HOME SWEET HOMERock n roll is full of break-ups, but in recent years, people have also found that it's full of reunions as well. Why, just the other day, I noticed on YAHOO NEWS that three of the surviving members of LED ZEPPELIN were getting back together. There have been a handful of times where the success of such reunions could be measured in substantial dollar amounts. More often, success can be measured artistically. It's too early to say what one can expect from a band like SHARK ISLAND (who have reunited after 16 years of being apart) but after hearing the bands comeback CD 'GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL (MANIFEST MUSIC), it's safe to say that this 13-song collection is a winner.
RICHARD BLACK OF SHARK ISLAND
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT THE FORCES THAT DROVE THE BAND APART
THE GLORY DAYS OF SUNSET STRIP
AND THE BANDS COMEBACK CD 'GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL'
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
RICHARD BLACK and guitarist SPENCER SERCOMBE started the band as THE SHARKS in 1979. In the eighties, the band was a part of the now legendary L.A. Rock scene on Sunset Strip which included the likes of MOTLEY CRUE and CINDERELLA and just about every other hair-metal act you can think of. There were a string of independent releases until a deal was offered by EPIC RECORDS and the newly christened SHARK ISLAND released 1989's LAW AND ORDER. Being one of the most acclaimed bands on the scene, you'd think that things would be on the up and up. This wasn't the case. Where most bands are done in by ego, jealousy or drugs, SHARK ISLAND was done in by those who claimed to have their best interests at heart - their management and label. "We didn't know. We shouldn't have gotten into an arrangement with a management company that was also a record company. It sounded wise at the time." says BLACK. " I thought I was making the right decision. We thought we were doing the right thing but we trusted people too much. If I was given the same situation now, we probably wouldn't have broken up. Things happened but they happened because of poor decisions on our part."
Each member ventured off into different projects. SERCOMBE moved to Germany and BLACK continued with a short-lived outfit called CONTRABAND. Just when one expects SHARK ISLAND to become a distant memory, time does what it does best - it heals all. BLACK and SERCOMBE have dusted off the cobwebs and have delivered a rockin' 13 track album full of the hard rock bravado that made them favorites of the LA scene almost twenty years earlier.
When ROCKWIRED spoke to RICHARD BLACK, he was in a studio with SPENCER SERCOMBE (visiting from Germany) working on material for a new album. Here is how it went.
You guys are writing songs now?
That's exactly what we're doing. We're already working on a new album. We need some songs written in six weeks. It takes a while as you know to get this whole thing started.There is the writing and the recording and the mixing. With our schedules, it probably takes us about nine months since we're all scattered all over the world.
When was GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL released?
It's just been released in the U.S. now, but it was released in Europe about a year ago. We didn't have a good enough distribution deal in the U.S. and it really wasn't important for us at the time. We just wanted to get the music out their and emerge from Europe since half of the band is there now. This next album will be released in America first. The music industry has changed alot now. There's no longer one set way of doing things. You just kind of invent it as you go along.
When you guys started it seemed as if there were alot more rules.
There were patterns, and committees and ways of doing things. Back then you did the song, you did the album, you got your pictures taken, then you toured and got a publicist and everything was really cookie cutter. Now things are alot more wide open. I actually find it a little more difficult because it is a lot different than what I'm used to. We don't have any big hopes of being rock stars or anything like that- we try keeping things more along the lines writing songs, and creating something and having fun doing it.
It sounds that way just by listening to GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL.
That was what it was. It was the most fun I had ever had recording anything in my life. It was so effortless. You could do what you want and there was no A&R person breathing down your neck and there were no expectations. We we're just going to record it. We had a lot of fun! We tried to capture it and that was what we did.
You guys have been apart for 17 years. What was it like getting back together? What brought everyone back together on the same pages after so many years apart?
The answer to that is two-prong. Physically we look alot different so getting together was really odd, but the music side of it felt like like we never really left the band. We just picked up where we left off like old friends that see each other after a long time. If you have an affinity for an old friend, you kind of feel like you've never been apart. You just kind of pick up where you left off. Every seven years, every cell in your body is replaced so physically, we're not even the same people. But the mind is still the same. There are places in my mind that feel 25 years old still so it's frustrating when I walk by a mirror and go, 'who's that?'.
Less hair? I have no idea what you look like, so I'm just assuming.
I shave my head now. I'm sure there is less hair than their was. Thank God it's fashionable to shave your head now.
That's right! It wasn't when you guys got started.
No it wasn't.
Talk about the other members of SHARK ISLAND. What do you thnk each of them brings to this thing that makes it all worthwhile.
The band is essentially the same as it was before. We have a different drummer now. His name is GLEN SOBEL. He brings a fresh approach to the drums. We've got something really fresh to play to. SPENCER SERCOBE is the guitar player, CHRIS HEILMANN is the bass player and I'm the singer. What we bring to this thing is ourselves. In a lot of ways each of us have really diverse music backgrounds and we bring the experience of what we grew up with to the table and the concoction that we come up with is SHARK ISLAND. I don't know if I can explain that any further. I've never analyzed it that far.
What was your background, musically?
I started listening to the ROLLING STONES. Some people are BEATLES fans. I liked the STONES. And as I got older, I was into T-REX, AC/DC, and AEROSMITH. Later on down the line, I got into VAN HALEN. They were sort of the hometown heroes, when I was growing up.
What's your hometown?
Los Angeles. SPENCER and I are one of the few original LA people. It's just me, SPENCER and that guy from TOTO. That's it. Everyone else is transplants from somewhere else.
Yeah. That whole LA music scene on Sunset back in the 80's - those bands were all from somewhere else.
We were local boys. I grew up in Pasadena.
What was that whole scene like. I'm expecting a long answer.
I don't know if your familiar with Sunset Strip and all -
Sunset is the only place I go in Hollywood.
The streets between Doheny and Fairfax, there was people in the streets. The sidewalks were full and it would fill out into the streets and it would get in the way of traffic. There were traffic problems just because of how many people were out. It looked like a huge party of people walking around. Now, nobody walks at all anymore. You scarcely see anybody. The clubs were all full. You'd come out of one club and go into another, it was really fantastic. It was alot like I imagined it was in the seventies from the rumors I heard. People were just dressed to the nine and trying to outdo everyone else. It was this big social event and there was alot of carrying on and the music was going out into the streets from the clubs. It was really fantastic. That is virtually gone now. Sometimes, they actually had to block off the streets because it wasn't practical to drive down the road.
What else do you find is different now?
There are a couple of big differences that I noticed. The way music is exchanged is very different now because of the internet. That may be great for the person thats listening because they get a high quality recording for nothing. What do they need to go out and buy it for? That's a problem. I think in the long run, that the quality of music is going to suffer because of it. Good musicians won't bother doing it anymore. It's alot of money, alot of work and a lot of heartache and sacrifice that goes into this. People sacrifice alot to do this and they'd like to be compensated. I'm not talking about big mansions and limousines. I'm talking about making a living as a musician. There was a time when a band was like the musketeers. You'd stay together and against all odds and be loyal and pledge allegiance to your group and make your shows. You can't do that anymore. Now, everyone is in ten different bands. The guitar player's got another gig to do other than yours. Everything now is sort of broken up and disconnected. There is no brotherhood anymore. Those are the two diffrerences that I've noticed. If it all keeps up, it's going to change the way music is going to go. Whether it's for the better or for the worse, that remains to be seen. There was a time when there was a lot of money being made. Maybe it was too much. But then again, I think alot of these athletes make too much money too. I don't get that at all.
And some people make a lot of money and you don't know what the fuck they do. Like PARIS HILTON.
You're right. What does she do? She just shows up.
People's priorities are all fucked up now.
Well I think the media is largely at fault for that. You create a demand for these kind of things. Like sneakers. Why do you have to pay 160 dollars for PUMA Sneakers? Because so-and-so is wearing them. They're probably only worth five bucks in China, but hey, you've got to wear them. It doesn't make sense to me. I just hope there is some kind of epiphany with people where they wake up and go 'What the hell?!" I can't even watch TV anymore. It's all reality TV now. Why would I want to watch TV just to watch another person live their life? There was a time when people lived their own lives.
As did SHARK ISLAND. How did the band begin.
It began with SPENCER and I getting a band together. Our objective was to play music in backyard parties, drink alot of beer, doing alot of things that I won't mention, and to play and have have a great old time. That was what we wanted to do and once we got a taste for it, we said "let's try making this into a career or something." So we went on from there. It was all about fun and all about creating and making alot of noise and having a lot of fun and meeting a lot of people. It was just fantastic. I've been playing music since I was seventeen. It's pretty intoxicating. I feel more at home playing on a stage than anywhere else.
What drove you guys apart?
It's kind of complicated. It's really an ugly and complicated story. It had a lot to do with our manager and our record company, which were one and the same. They kind of broke the band apart and were driving a wedge between us. They were trying to develop this band called CONTRABAND for a while and they were constantly putting our album on the backburner and we just kind of lost momentum and then we had a big falling out with the record company/manager and then one day found ourselves without either. At that point, we had already lost alot of momentum and we weren't really prepared to start from scratch again. So we took a break and did some other things and that's it. There were alot of bad decisions on our part. We didn't know. We shouldn't have gotten into an arrangement with a management company that was also a record company. It sounded wise at the time. I thought I was making the right decision. We thought we were doing the right thing but we trusted people too much. If I was given the same situation now, we probably wouldn't have broken up. Things happened but they happened because of poor decisions on our part. That's the way it goes. No one twisted our arms. It was very heartbreaking. When you lose your heart, it's hard to get back.
Well, you're back with a great CD, and I think it's really exciting that you're calling me as you're writing new songs. Maybe everything went down the way it was supposed to and it was all for the best.
Thank you. I tell myself that and I hope that is the case. Things are gonna have to be alot different from here on out.
You've got alot of songs on GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL. Are thre any that sort of stand out for you as favorites?
Not really. Somedays, I like of the songs and other days, I like the others. I know that sounds like a cheap ass answer but it's not because all of the songs have alot of meaning to me for their own reasons. I kind of look at the whole album as a work. It is a little long. After such a long hiatus, I wanted a good group of songs on it.
13 songs is a good number for a band that's been away for a while.
I think so to.
It seems like the songwriting for this band is a collaborative effort. Would you like to talk about that?
It is a collaborative effort. It's cheifly SPENCER and I. What we'll do is go into a room and jam. The drummer will play and we'll pick a beat that we like and then jam on it and record everything. Then, we'll go back and listen to all of the material and pick out the parts that we like and construct a simple arrangement out of the parts that we like. I'll take it and put a melody line to it, then we'll go back into the studio again and on the fly, we'll make any kind of arrangment that we need. We'll rehearse it and record it again and refine it. After all that, we'll nail down a final arrangment and then we'll learn it. And that's it.
I like the title GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL
The reason for that is the band and the crew that used to work with us were like a big loyal family and everyone had mutual respect for everyone elses function no matter what they did. After being apart for so many years it was like "let's gather everyone back together!" and hence the title.
I also like the packaging. It looks like you guys have a good label working with you - MANIFEST MUSIC.
Yeah, they pretty much let us do everything. I did all of the photography on the sleeve. This album was a real labor of love and I had my finger in it all the way. It's just a downright blessing. I can't explain it any other way. It's like a dream come true. Any musician would love that. It's fantastic.