Jonny “Thumper”Benson – Drums, Guitar, Bass, Backing Vocals
E. C. Hellwell – Keyboards, Bass
Mark “The Shark” Shelton – Vocals, Guitars
We have the pleasure of talking with Mark “The Shark” Shelton, leader of the fundamental band Manilla Road and making his debut with his side-project Hellwell, we’ll talk about the latter.
Welcome on Aristocrazia Webzine, it’s a pleasure and a honor to talk with you.
Mark: It’s my honor as well and I really appreciate the attention you paying to Hellwell right now.
Let’s start talking about Hellwell, who are the musicians involved, how was the band born and why did you decide to put a part of you in a creature which was not Manilla Road?
The players are myself on guitars and vocals, Jonny Thumper Benson on drums and he also helped write the song “The Strange Case of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes”. Thumper played the rhythm guitar and bass on that track as well as the drums. Ernest Cunningham Hellwell, usually referred to as E.C., who does all the keyboard and synthesizer stuff and a good amount of the bass work on the album also. He helped write most of the songs except for “Deadly Nightshade” which I wrote myself. E.C. also wrote the story that “Acheronomicon” is based on. There are also guest appearances by Bryan Hellroadie Patrick and Josh Castillo from Manilla Road. I put Hellwell together because I wanted to finally do a side project that would not end up being released as a MR album. I have had some problems with that in the past, i.e. “Circus Maximus”. But the main reason was to do a project that was more towards a dark classic horror nature. I have always dabbled in the horror music genre with the Road but there is usually a positive moral attitude to those songs… Well except for “White Chapel” and some of the stuff on Playground of the Damned. I was really wanting to do some downright evil topics and lyrics and I did not feel that Manilla Road was the correct platform for such topics. It all started after I read Ernie’s story “Acheronomicon”. I felt I just had to put that concept to music because I loved the story so much. But the story does not have a happy ending and it is more of a tale of the demise of man and without positive aspects. So I started talking with Ernie about putting together a recording project for the concept and during these talks we decided to find other really gruesome topics for the rest of the material that we would write for the project. Jonny had been introduced to me and he turned out to be quite a good drummer with a bit more of a now day approach to drumming and so we met with him and he climbed on board the Hellwell ship really fast. So we were off and running with ideas and desire to put together the “Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin” project.
Can we say that this band is the follow-up to the experiment made in “Circus Maximus”? That album was intended to be part of another project different from Manilla Road, did you regret about having released it with that monicker instead?
I would not say that it is a follow up to “Circus Maximus” because they are two totally different animals. I do regret that Circus Maximus came out as a MR project. It was never meant to be a MR album. I was not the one that decided to put the Manilla Road name on it. It was the label and I did not agree with it at the time and still don’t now. “Circus” sounded less like MR than Hellwell does. I will say that I was determined to put out the Hellwell project a bit more than usual because of the trouble I had getting “Circus Maximus” out as a side project. I was not going to let anyone change the name on this one.
“Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin” is an album which tells more than one story passing through fantasy and reality but keeping only one main theme: looking beyond the human essence. How did you create the songs? Was it difficult to put E.C.’s “Acheronomicon” in music?
Well I did a lot of research on songs like “The Strange Case Of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes” and “Keepers Of The Devils Inn” since they are derived from historical events. Eaters of the Dead was easy because I am a huge fan of the book and the movie (“The 13th Warrior”) and I knew the story front to back. “Acheronomicon” was the big challenge I would have to say. But the story is good enough that I was able to even take lines directly from the manuscript and put them in the songs. Usually I don’t do that with other peoples stories because that would be plagiarism. But in this case since the author is a member of the band it gave me the chance to actually use lines directly from the story. When doing lyrics and songs based on someone else’ work I always put the lyrics into my own words but still maintaining the original meaning and concept of the material that the song is based upon. As for how I create the songs I always come up with the rhythm and vocal melody ideas first and then after I get a good arrangement for the music down I write the lyrics. Most of the time this shit just flows out of me like a river. Almost like someone else is guiding my hand. I just chalk it up to the muse intervening and making sure I don’t screw it all up haha.
“Acheronomicon”, so Acheron + Necronomicon, why this title? Will it be possible to buy the tale separately apart from the cd released in deluxe version by High Roller Records?
I had to ask E.C. about that one too haha. He made it pretty clear to me though and strangely enough it all makes sense to me which is something of a first with Ernie and me haha. It is all derived from Latin. Necro in Latin means dead. Nomicon is like Latin for “image of the law”. This is a literal translation you might say. In ancient times they did not have photos or even books the way we think of them. If something was written down on anything, whether carved into something (like Hieroglyphs) or written down on parchment or animal hide it was called an image. So not just paintings were called images but anything written. Law during that time was also a multiple purpose word meaning not only the law as we know it but as a reference to history itself. So anyway the literal translation of Necronomicon would be “Image of the law of the dead”. Now in this case as with “Acheronomicon” the image part refers to the writings or book and law refers to the history or written history. So then the translation becomes The Book of the Dead. It is the same sort of translation process for Acheronomicon. Literal translation would be “Image of the law of Acheron”. Loosely translated it becomes the Book of Acheron. I know it’s just way out there but I just love that type of stuff and just leave it to a introvert like Ernie to come up with shit like that haha. As for the story coming out in a normal published form I don’t know right now. For now the album and CD from High Roller is the only place that you will be able to get it. I and several others have been giving E.C. hell about trying to publish lots of his works. He has never been published before this and he has several other stories that I personally think are most worthy of being published. So maybe in the future there will be more of a traditional release of “Acheronomicon” than the LP and CD publications. I hope so but that will have to be up to Ernie.
Which is the reason that led you to put “Deadly Nightshade” in this album and not in “Playground Of The Damned”, since it was originally intended to be there?
Cory just never came up with a drum part that he or I liked for the song. I did write it for “Playground” but since “Hardcore” never really came up with anything for it we figured it was going to end up on the shelf. But then Thumper heard me play the rough tracks to it and told me right away that he had an idea for the drum part for it. So I said what the hellwell (snicker) let’s see what he can do with it. And man he came up with a great drum part for it and so I told E.C. he needed to come up with a keyboard part to it and then we were off to the races with “Deadly Nightshade”. So the song “Deadly Nightshade” could be thought of as the actual point that Manilla Road and Hellwell intersect.
The musicians family around you is united, Brian and Joshua, your mates in Manilla Road, are present in this release too, wasn’t there there the risk of unintentionally making a Manilla spin-off? We can’t deny that some parts are remind to your main band.
Well first of all anything I do in the metal genre where I am one of the main writers and the singer and guitarist will most likely sound a bit like Manilla Road. My writings with the Road has been all across the spectrum of metal and so no matter what genre I venture off into there is a good chance that it will have a sense of Manilla Road to it. But there are several big differences from MR and Hellwell. First of all the keyboards and synthesizers and then there is the different style of drumming on this project than what you normally hear on a MR album. More of a double kick approach than what you hear with the Road. Then there is the topics. Even though MR got pretty dark with the last album Playground of the Damned I don’t expect the Road to venture off into the kind of morbid topics that Hellwell will touch on. My main vision for the Road is to continue on with the more heroic adventure fantasy and historical epic stuff and with Hellwell it will be more of the same that you got with Beyond the Boundaries of Sin. As a matter of fact I plan to see how far we can push the envelope on the classic horror type stuff that we have approached with Hellwell. So I would have to say that there will always be a bit of the Road visible within Hellwell because it is truly the offspring of Manilla Road. I guess the easiest way to look at it for me is that Manilla Road is the alpha and Hellwell is the omega. Well you know the old saying “As Above So Below”.
I discussed with some friends about the production of “Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin”, somehow similar to the one of the latest Manilla Road albums, why are you following this “vintage” way to support your works?
Well let’s face it I’m a spawn of the 60s, 70s and 80s when it comes to my prime musical influences. So it only makes sense that my production techniques are of that day and age as well.
Maybe on vinyl this makes the sensations and the sounds more effective, but why didn’t you choose a cleaner and modern production for the cd version? Of course I’m not talking about plastic and fake productions.
Now would be a good time to say that the new Manilla Road album that we have just finished mixing sounds a lot different than our previous works as far as the production goes. I finally have decided to give up the reigns when it comes to the mixing of our albums. I don’t want to lose the classic sound or approach to the band but at the same time I don’t want us to stagnate in the past and not move on to newer ideas when it comes to the production of our projects. So I opted to take the new MR album to a different high class studio to do the mix. I just finished working on the project at Cornerstone Studios at their main studio where they have the highest quality state of the art Pro Tools system. Steve Falke is the owner operator of the studios and he is one of the most qualified Pro Tools engineers in the states. I must admit this experience has been very eye opening even to an old veteran like myself. Cornerstone has equipment that I have only dreamed of having in my studio. With the expertise of engineering that Steve has brought to the table along with an outstanding mixing studio the new Manilla Road album has turned into the greatest sounding project we have ever done. So I would expect that Hellwell will follow suit and mix our next project at Cornerstone also. I can’t express enough the massive improvement of production we are talking about here. We have a great tracking studio at Midgard Sound Labs but it has become obvious to me and everyone else in camp Manilla that it is best for us to mix elsewhere with an engineer that is a little more into the now than I. So even though I am very happy with our production on albums like “Gates of Fire”, “Playground Of The Damned” and “Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin” I think we will just use our own studio to track in and do our mixes in studios better suited for the mixing process. I still will make sure that the Road still has that traditional classic sound though no matter how high tech the mix gets. And I still refuse to use sampled or triggered drums.
How did you get in touch with Alexander Von Wieding, who made the artwork? Are you satisfied about his work? Did you follow him during the creation process or did you give him a free hand?
I was introduced to Alex by the High Roller people. And yes I am extremely satisfied with his work on “Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin”. He has also done a lot of the touch up work on our reissues from High Roller as well as doing a new cover for the reissue of our “Metal” album. We actually worked hand in hand on this project. I did give him a lot of freedom in his interpretation. What we did was I had him read a section of the story that described the Temple of Dagon and he went with the images that came into his head from reading E.C.’s description. The critters on the inside of the album cover and on the CD are also images he derived from the story. I think he did an utterly fantastic job and I plan on working with him more in the future.
The heavy/epic scene has always been one of the best movements, but for some reason it reamined hidden and followed only by a few fans, which are the reasons in your opinion?
The songs are too damn long to play on the radio… Hahahah. I think it’s more about the topics than anything else. Epic metal is all about heroes and weird fantasy stuff that sounds nothing like the normal party rock lyrics that usually get the most attention. And then there is the total lack of love or anti-love songs as well. It’s an abstract musical art form and that’s not really what the largest part of the masses are into. I think that it is a growing genre still though. And I would not be surprised that as time rolls on and more and more epic metal bands start to spread their wings that it becomes much bigger than it has ever been.
In “Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin” you collaborated with High Roller and Shadow Kingdom, two labels that really work hard to keep alive the sounds of the past satisfyinf many metalheads, how are your relations with the guys behind these labels? Did you have the chance of meeting them personally?
Yep I know them all. And they are both great labels to work with. Honest and forthright. Very cool people that have their heads screwed on tight. It has been my honor to work with them and am looking forward to a long relationship with them.
When we talk about metal many people say that it’s a world which lives with clichés, maybe also for the almost ridicuolous attitude of some old bands like Manowar). How can we defend the metal world from these surely abused charges?
Let’s face it, when it comes to music it is always just a matter of personal taste. Someone who loves Rap is going to defend that form of music (if you call it that) and put down the styles of music that they don’t like. That is what an average follow the trends music listener is like. Metal heads are of a different breed. They actually care about the lyric content and the topics that are being sung about. They actually prefer deeper concepts and I have even been told that it takes a college degree to understand where Manilla Road is coming from hahaha. The thing is that most of the average public have a totally different view of metal because they have only been exposed to a very limited amount of the metal music that is out there and most likely have never heard of bands like Candlemass or Dark Throne or Doomsword. They only know of Metallica and Nightwish or maybe some Ozzy and if your really lucky they might know one or two songs from Black Sabbath or the Scorpions. Man that is a pretty limited view of what metal is about. I’m not saying any of those bands are bad I’m just saying there is a plethora of great metal bands and product out there that most of the public in the mainstream of metal have never even been introduced to. So their opinion is a rather narrow one because they have a very limited amount of knowledge about the subject. I guess if trying to explain that does not fair thee well then you can always resort to the line “Well you’re just fucking stupid”. Just kidding. I really think that if people were more aware of all the different bands and music that are out there that metal would be much more understood.
Fantasy, mythological and horror literature, which are Mark Shelton’s favorite books? And can you pair a book to each one of your works?
Anything that Robert E. Howard wrote is just perfect for me. If I was stuck on a Island with only 3 books I would choose 3 Howard books hahaha. I have many favorite authors ranging from old to new. Sir Walter Scott, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Graves…hell I like Louis LaMoore westerns hahaha. I’m into all historical and mythos writings. Legends and folktales. And I can’t forget Poe and Lovecraft another two of my favorites. The list is immense. I can pair lots of works to my music. We have done many Poe stories and poems as songs including “Masque Of The Red Death”, “Valley Of Unrest”, “Mystification”, “Haunted Palace”, “The Shadow” and yep that list is still growing. The “Gates Of Fire” trilogy on the album of the same name is derived from the Aeneid by Virgil the Roman poet. “Acheronomicon” is from E.C.’s story of the same name. “Queen Of The Black Coast”, “The Frost Giants Daughter”, “Children Of The Night” and others were directly inspired by Robert E. Howard stories. And of course there is a shit load of stuff that we have derived from history and legends.
Do Hellwell play live? Will you be able to organize Manilla Road’s shows with Hellwell’s ones and also I read a comment made by you on the internet about some good news for 2013, am I right?
Well first the Hellwell live question. Right now there are no specific plans to launch Hellwell on any tours. My main coarse will always be with the Road. If there becomes a big enough demand for Hellwell to play live then we will cross that bridge when the time comes. As for the good news for 2013 it is sort of a two sided coin. First of all Manilla Road will be embarking on it’s first official world tour. We are planning to pretty much just hit the road and continue to stay out there doing shows from April on in 2013. Also we have just inked a new label deal that will be very beneficial to us. We will still be working with Shadow Kingdom and High Roller but there is a new CD and digital deal in the works for us in Europe that is very exciting for us right now. I can’t announce what label it is just yet but I can tell you that they will be making a press release announcement very soon. As soon as the label announces the deal then I can speak more freely about it.
You have more than thirty years of experience in the music world which changed many times but when it’s about covering its back aleays implicates the past. Which are your best memories about the music world? Did you have any disappointement or maybe some decision you’d like change?
Well hindsight is always perfect but to tell you the truth all the trials and tribulations that I have had along the way have been character building moments for me. I don’t think I would want to change much of anything about my life. Sure there were lots of hard times and bitter moments but for the most part it has been a glorious adventure and I am glad that I have been given the chance to do the things that I have. I have the blessed curse of the muse upon me and there is no getting away from it. So I just accept the fact that sometimes you have to suffer for your art. One of my greatest memories was finally getting to play on a stage in Europe. I will never forget the first time MR played in Germany at the Bang Your Head festival.
To live only with your art when it’s about Metal seems really impossible (besides some bands under certain labels), can you live only with Manilla Road and their being fundamental?
Well it would sure be nice to pop out a gold or platinum album sometime and not have to really worry about money anymore but that may be unlikely. More than anything I am just glad that I am able to continue playing music at all. I just totally appreciate the fans keeping interest in us over all these years and making it possible for me to continue to ply my trade. Sure I would love to sell shit loads of albums or CDs and become a great icon in the metal market but I will settle for whatever the fates have in store for me. I feel that I have already been very successful just making it as far as I have being a cowboy from the middle of Kansas where there is no music scene to speak of at all. I will always have the pride of knowing that I did it on my own and did not have to rely on corporate America to make it. It’s always been about the music with Manilla Road and Hellwell is no different. If we get rich and famous then cool. If not then we played what we wanted to play and it was from the heart and not from the need to write another hit.
Who is Mark Shelton aside the music? Every day life, hobbies…
Well I love to play golf and used to be pretty good but I just don’t have the time for it anymore. Other than that I still love to read and I’m a big fan of old classic movies. My favorite past time now is chasing women… Preferably younger than me. Unfortunately I don’t have much time for that hobby either haha. I have been raising two kids on my own for the last 18 years. Glad that is almost over with wheeeh. When I’m not taking care of business or the kids I’m usually in the studio working on music. It’s not a very exciting life but it is a satisfying one for me….except that I need more girls to chase… Haha.
Are you following the recent releases? Are there any recent bands that you like and which you bought the albums of?
Argus, Orchid. I always follow Candlemass. Man there are a lot of really good bands out there that I am just now beginning to find out about. It’s hard for me to keep up with them all because I really do sort of hide out in my studio a lot and I don’t spend much time looking for new music. Grand Magus is cool. Hell I like stuff from all over the market place. Dark Throne is great band and there are loads of others out there just starting to rear their heads up into the market. I hope the trend continues.
Let’s give a help to “Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin”, give us three reasons for we should absolutely listen to it.
First of all it’s cool, epic, horrific and full of great songs and solos. Second it has me on it hahah. Third If you don’t check this out I will have E.C. cast a pox upon thee.
The interview is now finished, you can leave a last message for our readers.
I wish to thank you for the nice interview. I would also like to thank all our fans and supporters for their undying faith in Manilla Road and for giving Hellwell a chance also. The epic metal audience may not be as big an army as the major metal audience but they are the most loyal and courageous fans that metal has ever seen. Thank you all for being such an inspiration to all of us in Hellwell and Manilla Road. Down the nails.