Growing up smack dab in England’s Bronze-aged industrial county of West Midlands, Sharks frontman James Mattock devoured a steady diet of politically motivated and feverishly frolicking ‘70s punk as a tyke. And the righteously revelatory compositions he penned thereafter make it totally apparent. Though never one to go overboard with his political rhetoric and anti-government furor, Mattock nonetheless composes some of the most defiant rallying cries and rumbling fist-waving energizers the once great Britain now exports.
Taking their band name from venomous lambaste, “In The Belly Of The Shark” (attentively lured away from respected British hardcore brigade Gallows), this rambunctious outfit is unafraid of swimming through melodic pop, arena rock and rugby-ganged anthems on a whim, proven by the saliently sobering serenades solidifying three striking EPs. Joined by co-guitarist Andrew Bayliss, bassist Cris O’Reilly and drummer Sam Lister, Mattock spews phlegm-y forthright verbiage and rancorously railing rebuttals while “burning the bridge at both ends.”
To construct uniform long-play entrée The Joys Of Living 2008-2010 the frenzied foursome compiled 12 tracks from Shallow Waters, Common Grounds and Shows Of Hands alongside two new ones. However, it must be reiterated, Sharks are not necessarily strict punk disciples. Never as raw, spontaneous, nihilistic and unaffected as their leather-ripped, safety-pinned, spike-haired progenitors, Sharks ably travel outside punk’s already perforated perimeters, breaking free of its menacingly restrictive three-chord grip.
But transitory mainstream sellouts they are not. A dub-reggae passage introduces dramatic titular exultation “The Joys Of Living,” hitting scintillating climactic heights approximating New Jersey heartland rockers Gaslight Anthem. Rousing desperate plea “Capital Youth” scatters grinding metal riffs across its scurried assault. Even a few unwitting denim-clad pub rock maneuvers momentarily invigorate.
Inarguably dramatic guitar-based overture “Sweet Harness” exhibits Mattock’s fiercely wrought-up emotionality best. But he’s buttressed by utmost angst elsewhere. On plaintive snub “Trains,” he grouchily bellows crusty choral capitulation “How pathetic this must sound to a hope of finally getting out,” with the same decadent, snot-nosed ranting folk-punk politico Billy Bragg once did. On pissy-chanted snipe “Three Houses” the head shark claims to be “Bored to the fucking bone of everything once counted on.”
These Sharks are predatory creatures out for bloody revenge against anyone getting in their way, so beware Mattock’s biting lyrical fortitude or suffer the consequences. He’s a man on the prowl with an agitated growl, sharing the pain of 21st Century schizoid men blundering through private and bureaucratic warfare. Like David Byrne portended on Talking Heads’ ominously apocalyptic “Life During Wartime,” “This ain’t no disco/This ain’t no fooling around.”
I take it from the forceful lyrics that you’ve got some pent-up anger. What struggles did you face?
I was born in Coventry City. A few years later, my parents split and I went through a bit of an emotionally confusing childhood—nothing that out of the blue in this day. I rarely saw my parents growing up. But I’m who I am now and I’m fine with it.
What artists influenced you?
The Clash, very much so. I was spoken to by punk music at a very young age. I found inspiration as well as solace in bands like Ramones and The Clash. I like dub reggae and I love hip-hop. But obviously as far as influences go, for this band, it’s more of that straight up rock and roll edginess.
There’s a certain desperate romanticism surfacing at times, relaying distant hopefulness. But I detect a sharp political side. Do you feel government undermines creative spirits and the lower class?
I don’t think about it, but, yes, I reckon so. The political side to our band I tend to bury with poetry, for multiple reasons. For one, I think politically charged bands face an uphill struggle against their own ideals. I also think it sounds rubbish when bands get preachy unless it’s done with distinct class. And we prefer to just play music for music, although I do tend to pepper the lyrics with a slight political edge from time to time to keep my ideals rooted.
Did the political rage of The Clash inspire Sharks at all?
Definitely. But, as I was just saying, we don’t follow in that same vein. The ferocity, the honesty and the energy they had is probably the most important thing our band has taken on board.
I was impressed with the lyrical imagery. Who are some formative influences? What novelists inspire you?
There aren’t really any novelists that inspire the lyrics, to be honest. I love beat poetry and Charles Bukowski comes as close as any for direct inspiration. But what comes from inspiration to me is to be original. I’ve taken into account everything I’ve ever learned about writing and I’m focusing on the missing piece, and what I would want to read or listen to above all. That inspiration mostly comes from music and lyrics rather than novels.
Are you more optimistic than nihilistic during these trying economic times?
Yeah, I guess so. It doesn’t affect me in the way it affects most people because I’m not working or building a business or family. Sympathy and concern goes out to all but in every situation there’s always a place for rock and roll.
Tell me about the cool cover artwork featuring a skeleton with enlarged skull fronting of The Joys Of Living?
Not much behind that, I’m afraid. The guy that did the art sent a few ideas and it totally stood out from the rest. We’re very attentive when it comes to the visual aspect of the band. That image just summed up what we wanted to get across visually—something mysterious and thought provoking. It may not reflect on the music as much but we keep to music and the visuals quite separate, keeping the momentum strong and consistent at the same time.
Is “It All Relates,” at least temptingly, about how everything is related in a physics sort of way?
Thanks for taking a deeper curiosity into it, but, honestly, no. The title is in the lyrics and I just liked the sound of it for a title.
Could punk ever find a wider audience through modern mainstream radio, which is obviously way too conservative?
Who knows really? I mean you say “punk” and then “mainstream radio” and there’s already conflict in the sentence. People class us as punk and we’ve been on the radio a couple of times, but, yeah, it is all way too conservative. I’m not interested in being played among the atrocity on mainstream radio, but if we ever did I would find that highly amusing.
You have a tour with Social Distortion coming up. Are they a band you enjoy listening to? Are they inspirational on some level?
They are a band that has meant so much me since I was about 14, when I discovered them. To be touring with them is absolutely insane. I’m glad I actually finally get to see them play. To be up there with them is a dream come true.
The ballad, “Yours To Fear,” seems like a stylistic departure. You slowed the tempo for that one?
It was the first track on our first recording/EP and was written as an opener that would be followed by “Fallen On Deaf Ears,” which is in the same key, so almost one big song. We had these punk songs that would follow on the EP but, in our non-conforming spirit, threw a curve ball with a ballad to open the record. Funnily enough some people sight it our best song.
What does the future hold for Sharks? Will you add auxiliary instrumentation beyond the piano on “Yours To Fear” or the organ accentuating “Bury Your Youth?” Perhaps saxophone?
Sax would be fantastic. We’ve used trumpets before. We like to add keys wherever possible. Musically, I see our future really unwritten. There’s a lot more to us than power chord-driven punk music, which we’ve displayed in certain quantity thus far. People expect a lot from us, it seems, but we do too, and our career really has barely begun.
Sharks play The Bell House in Brooklyn on Monday, May 16. For more info, go to facebook.com/sharksuk.