So to begin - First of all, Shark Island began as The Sharks in 1979. It seems hard to believe it was that long ago now! What are your memories of those early years?
Let' see, when I think back of the early days of The Sharks What can I say? We were young, it was fun, I recall a deep sense of possibilities. We believed that every thing was possible, whatever we envisioned for the band, we could set into action. We'd make a plan, and follow through step by step.
Such is still the case today, but of course our world was much smaller then, being so young we weren't spoiled or knocked down yet. Thinking back some of that raw energy would be handy later on in life. Who was that that said, 'Youth is wasted on that young'…I understand that now.
And I believe you released your first indie product in 1982?
1982 that was Altar Ego. Then in 1985 came S'cool Buss, we had several singles in between as well.
Shark Island's history is complex and I hope I can tackle that history adequately in one interview!
The band quickly gained a strong following in the LA area live circuit and became known as one of - if not the best live band in LA.
What was the energy in the band liked playing two or three shows each and every week waiting for that 'big break'?
Yeah, complex. I never heard it described quite like that.
First of all let me clear something up, the L.A. circuit as you call it, is much more than two or three shows every week, some weeks we would play 16 to 20 shows a week. It' a little known fact outside of LA/Hollywood there were hundreds of places to play. Places in every city, every burrow, every bar, every high school. Every rented hall from woman's clubs, to veterans of foreign war. We simply played any place we could manage. We didn't have day jobs, so we just played, and often, more importantly we depended on it to survive.
That is an amazing number of shows and yes, no wonder you guys were tight!
We did not become excellent as we were by a fluke. Four shows a night is a lot of practice. If something went wrong you get to try it again in about an hour and a half. You get better if you don't want to make a fool of yourself time and again.
For me the stage was my life; it's where I felt most comfortable. When I think about it, it is where I expressed myself most often day-in-and-day-out for years.
On the dark side of that, I developed a false sense of reality, and found myself suffering in real life. Always expecting acknowledgement for anything I did, and taking on a feeling of entitlement. I've learned since then, the world owes you nothing.
With the hard rock explosion of the mid-to-late 80's, it still seems that Shark Island had to wait a lot longer than many lesser bands to get their breakthrough. You had one deal that fell through (A&M), before Epic picked you guys up - but why do you think you had to wait so long for that deal?
Ahh… the big mystery, naturally I can only theorize, I think it had something to do the fact that the record companies had a hard time pigeonholing us, or knowing where or how to market us.
By the time we were record quality we had moved on from Heavy Metal, but at the same time were not refined enough for Pop/Rock. We didn't fit leather and studs but didn't look enough like girls for the Pop/Rock.
We figured the time would come; besides we had these gigs to focus on. By the time you got home to sleep at 4AM and wake up, it was time to think about that nights show.
New bands were pouring out of LA around 1986, right through to 1990. Your debut came out in 1989 and quite honestly, blew most other bands out of the water - especially with your live reputation.
Do you think the band's history might have been different had you been signed earlier in the piece?
Thanks again Andrew, Shark Island took live shows very seriously, our reputation was important to us. Your right, if our deal would have come through sooner, I think it would have been a lot different, in fact even a couple of years later would have even been better timing, the biz was in flux at that time - aka grunge, which was nothing more than a new arrangement and a new costume. Timing is everything. One could never know...its fantasy.
I'm not sure if you want to comment on this - but I hope you do - but it is well known that several other artists mirrored their look and their stage antics on yours. I already mentioned what a huge reputation the band had as a live act, but the big draw card was your charismatic performance as frontman.
It seems to be a well known fact among followers of the scene at the time that Guns N Roses frontman Axl Rose would come and see you guys perform every week and 'borrowed' a lot of your moves - from your moves to even your stage rap and song delivery.
There are other examples, but Axl seems to be the best known.
Is this correct and what impact did it have upon you to see other bands getting famous off something which you more or less perfected?
You know I have always tried to avoid this topic because I never wanted to sound like a sniveling bitter victim, and I largely kept my mouth shut. But every so often however, the topic continues to rear its ugly head. But then again avoiding the subject never did any good.
Let me tell you a story; in the early days I was influenced by the pioneers of this music, but I was getting it together. I soon learned if I continued to copy them, people wouldn't take me seriously. I evolved and became my unique self. I have never systematically copied a single artist except jokingly or on Halloween.
What happened in my instance however, was quite a different story.
I was being copied all right…sometimes by down right impersonators, it was creepy.
I could see their point, they figured it was working for us, so why not them.
Regardless of how you felt about the band it was hard to ignore us. I suppose wearing nothing but an American flag or a paper jumpsuit with duct tape hasn't caught on yet, but was pretty original…a little too ahead of its time I guess.
I would wear pajamas on stage just for fun…soon there after I'd see some our friends and followers wearing pajamas.
I use to have these bike shorts that I decided to wear onstage, then it seemed bike shorts were the rage in L.A. I don't think it was a coincidence.
What I'm talking about is copying someone' essence. When art is involved, that is not cool; it's a form of plagiarism.
And I give a horse' ass about 'imitation is the best form of flattery'. I don't need to be flattered.
Many Popular bands and personalities came to see Shark Island, that's a fact, and many took elements home with them for their stage show or album covers, or wardrobe…oh well, I'm flattered…nothing that could have altered the path of my career.
But that good-for-nothing Axl Rose, he' really a piece of work for the dregs.
As far as I'm concerned he's never done anything original in his life. Him and his cronies would come every week and watch the show.
One day before GnR's debut, I went to his place…as I walked in I saw a video of me playing on his TV and on top was a stack of VHS tapes all labeled Shark Island with dates and times. I remember being mortified, it was obvious he was studying my shtick, and I knew there was nothing I could do, being their album was about to be released, and he'd cap on the press get the credit.
My many years of developing, and refining my craft and years of modern dance were up for grabs by this fool and a video camcorder.
I remember some people telling me about him acting like me, but I never worried much on a count that we were all in the same boat.
Then came Welcome To The Jungle, I though I was looking in the mirror, or the videos on Axl's TV.
You said 'borrowed' earlier well that implies a payback. What burns me up even more is in his heyday he never so much as mentioned Shark Island or Richard Black in all his press. Which, by the way, could have helped us at no cost to him; he never even threw us a bone.
Now, truth be told, I couldn't possibly care less. That's all old crap and it does me no good now, besides, I am nothing like I was back then, and I'd look like a fool to try.
I think Shark Island were easily as good as Motley Crue, LA Guns and GnR...your debut album found a lot of fans and you did tour, but not on the scale of these other bands - I still feel that many did not get to see the original great live band, that these other artists copied, in action. Do you agree?
Well, relatively speaking that is true, tour support, record promotion, album sales…these help drive tour lengths and frequency. Negotiating a good balance is important.
Music is a labor of love; the Music Business is still a business. Some of the best musicians die poor and obscure.
Let's talk of the album Law Of The Order. I love this album to bits, I really do. Were you happy with the way it turned out or like I have heard, was there a lot of label politics involved in getting it made and shaped into the sound it had?
Largely I like it; whether it captured the real band I'm not sure. We were very much a live act and to compare it to a live show was unfair. We did a live national radio broadcast from The Whisky just prior to the release of Law of the Order, called it Bastille Day.
It was recorded multi-track, it was fantastic, so much so that I was lobbying to have it released as our debut instead of Law of the Order. But a Live Debut Album? The powers that be thought it too risky. The compromise was that it would become a pre-release promotion only for radio stations and the like. I only wish we had the same creative environment during the recording of Law of the Order we had recording the new album Gathering of the Faithful.