Jean Encoule chats to James Mattock of breaking UK rock and rollers, and Leamington Spa's finest, Sharks . . . about punk rock upbringings, history, experience, transferable life-skills, and the promise of things to come . . .
ENCOULE: As a member of a generation of children raised by punk rock parents, how important to your musical perspective has the lineage left for posterity by punk rock been to you as a developing artist?
JAMES: Well as we all know, punk is many things other than just sound, and so long as that fearless sense of possibility and open creativity remains instilled then you've no worries.
ENCOULE: At what age did you first pick up a gtr?
JAMES: Twelve or Thirteen, shortly followed by a bass guitar after giving up on chords.
ENCOULE: What was the soundtrack to yr adolescence?
JAMES: At first, I suppose more easily obtainable music from the likes of Ramones, Clash, The Cure, Nirvana, Beastie Boys, Green Day, etc. Then, with time and taste, such musical wonder as Crass, Minor Threat, Joy Division, The Replacements, Social Distortion, Springsteen, and so on.
ENCOULE: What other cultural phenomenon have been instrumental in informing your world view?
JAMES: Erm ... Youtube?
ENCOULE: Sharks wasn't yr first musical operation, talk us through the gestation period that led to the formation of Sharks . . .
JAMES: In secondary school, I played with the only 2 other people that were interested in music . . . it wasn't anything worth mentioning, but it familiarized me with band and music dynamics. We played a few local gigs too. Then, when I was fifteen, I played drums in a garage/punk band called Deadly Long Legs for a few years, which I kept up through the first year of Sharks, until we just kinda stopped playing. Switching to the guitar, I formed Sharks with my best friend from school.
ENCOULE: How did Sharks originally convene, and what was the initial master plan?
JAMES: My friend Andy and I agreed one day that we should forget what we'd both been musically messing around with up 'til then and start the band that's so true to ourselves that we could keep it going forever and maybe as a living. It's funny but at the time, it kind of felt like time was really passing and it was leaving school and following a career path time. So we were in this huge rush to get our shit together before school days were up.
ENCOULE: You've undergone line-up change since yr formation, are you happy with the current line up . . . and does that 'last gang in town' mentality that makes a true rock and roll band tick exist in sufficient quantities to see you through to the end of the road as yr current unit?
JAMES: Luckily, we've only had to suffer the swap of a bass player, and it happened at the best time, really, because we still weren't doing much as a band at the time, compared to what fills our calenders nowadays anyway! But, honestly, I've never come across a unit as tight as ours. It's something I really treasure, and I'm really proud of my friends. Together as one!
ENCOULE: As a live concern, you've played some influential supports to some inspirational artists . . . Gaslight Anthem, in particular . . . and have US tours with Social Distortion, amongst others, lined up for a busy summer 2011 . . . what have been the highlights, thus far, and what are you most looking fwd to in 2011?
JAMES: We got lots of great stuff thrown at us really early on, but I've always thought it was too soon. However, I think doing so much early on has helped us find our feet, and I think we've covered every angle within our band's reach, and beyond. So, I'm really looking forward to these huge summer tours, I feel we're ready for anything now! Touring with the Gaslight Anthem last year was amazing because we went to Europe for the first time, and we were out on the road for ages. That was the highlight so far, for sure, I just can't believe we've already topped it with Social Distortion; a band that I grew up on, and whose music I sincerely hold dear to me.
ENCOULE: You've got a compilation long player imminent on a US label that comprises all your releases thus far, plus a couple of new cuts . . . can you talk us through the content (inadvertently furnishing us with a neat Sharks discography by default!)?
JAMES: The collection includes the 'Shallow Waters' e.p, the 'Show Of Hands' e.p, the 'Common Grounds' single, and the brand new 'Sweet Harness' single. It totals 14-songs, and is listed in reverse chronological order.
ENCOULE: In a perfect world, would Sharks prefer to retain their own publishing, and thus self-finance their career, independent cottage industry stylee . . . or sell their souls to the man for a ride in the big black cars of mainstream poplulism?
JAMES: I personally wouldn't consider a ride in that car the sale of our souls, but only because I know we're too strong to ever compromise our music. That may mean that our stubbornness may never get us to mainstream populism, but, let's be honest, our songs are pretty poppy anyway! So, if we do end up getting that far, then it's our fault for being so good!
ENCOULE: And . . . do things like that actually mean anything to groups of yr generation . . . for example, is it still regarded as a sin to 'sell out to the man'? Do you believe music can change anything? Can anything actually change anything?
JAMES: Music only changes music . . . and that's all. There's either good or bad music, and we just want to provide the former. It's definitely not something to be taken as seriously as some think. For instance, if you're going to use your music as some sort of political tool, it's going to take something a lot more drastic than what in reality is more likely going to become background music over breakfast.
ENCOULE: We understand you are recording demos, once again, back in the Northampton studio we first caught you in, back at the start of yr recording career . . . how have things changed since then, in terms of both studio technique, and the way you feel about Sharks, emotionally and artistically?
JAMES: Last time we were at this studio were were recording our self-funded 5-track, 'Shallow Waters', without any inkling of promise that we'd ever actually be able to release it as an e.p. And now, with several releases under our belts, we're actually demoing for a proper full length. So, since then, we've written a whole lot more, but I'm proud to say that the basis of our artistry and emotion are still there, and we have merely just 'got better' as a band. There's also a lot more promise on the horizon than there was before, and it actually looks like we're going to be recording our debut this year.
ENCOULE: The UK doesn't appear to flooded with quality gtr groups of yr ilk, right now . . . are there any other combos operating on the same page as you out there that you respect and admire?
JAMES: That Brother band seem to know it all, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens there. The Vaccines sound promising . . . and there's a handful of exceptions within the UK Punk scene, the most worthy of a mention are The Computers and Crossbreaker, both incredible.
ENCOULE: And, finally . . . where's the best place to keep abreast with Shark attack action?
JAMES: Thanks a lot for the interview, great questions . . . You can always find us here: http://www.myspace.com/sharks
And here . . .
Interview by Jean Encoule Feb 2011