It is a great honour for us to present to you the following interview with the one and only Rick Fisher, talking about his friend Mark Shelton, Manilla Road and epic metal in general. Enjoy reading!
When did you meet Mark Shelton for the first time?
Rick Fisher: I met Mark for the first time at Wichita North high school in 1973. We shared a few classes together and had a few friends in common. Neither of us knew at that time we would be tied together forever as close friends or musically.
What was Mark Shelton like as a bandmate?
I prefer to think of Mark as a bandleader as opposed to bandmate, since he wrote and arranged all the music, that made Manilla Road his band. That being said, Mark was generous and allowed me to do my own thing. When I joined The Road, they were still a new band (though I am known as the original drummer, there was in fact a couple of guys who were there before me) and we were still young guys learning our instruments and learning how to be a band. I don’t remember him ever telling me what to play or how to play (with the occaisonal “slow down” at the start of a live show), he just let me play like me and we figured out how to meld our styles of playing into the unique sound that became The Road.
Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Mark Shelton?
Man… there are so many, but I’d say the last few years or so have been special. We weren’t in each others lives for the better part of 20 years after I drifted away from the band and music but we were always friends. From the time we met for lunch in 2012 and he invited me to his studio to hear the latest album he was working on, we picked up our friendship right where we left off, and that was what made it so memorable.
Can you describe how people reacted on your first outputs in the early 80s?
Interest in the music we were playing wasn’t very good. We had a lot of local fans in the early days but since we produced our own records, we had no distribution network to get the albums out very far beyond the state of Kansas short of mounting a nationwide tour and there was no money to do that. While interest was growing it was still slow. Mark signing with Black Dragon Records in France (this was after I left the band) went a long way to help get the band going well in Europe. Also, the advent of the internet was what kicked interest into his music to another level along with playing the many metal festivals in Europe, especially Germany.
What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?
Mark’s unique guitar playing and his vocals, along with his epic style of writing, Manilla Road sounded like no one else at the time. We were so different that all the record labels at the time had no idea what to do with us because we didn’t easily fit what their preconceived notion of what heavy metal should sound like.
What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?
My three favorite Manilla Road albums? It’s nearly impossible for me to choose. It’s probably easier to say which ones I don’t like. I am not a fan of any of the total thrash albums i.e. Out of the Abyss etc. While there might be individual songs on those albums that I do like, thrash is just not my thing.
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion?
All of the he reformation albums up to Playground of the Damned.
What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?
- “Veils of Negative Existence“
- “The Prophecy“
- “Tomes of Clay“
- “The Other Side“
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion?
Probably “Mark of the Beast“.
Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?
What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton?
The second solo on “Mark of the Beast“. I got chills up my spine when he was recording it and still do when I hear it today.
Can you point out some favourite drum parts?
Of my drum parts: “Veils of Negative Existence“, “Enter the Warrior”, “Flaming Metal Systems“. Randy’s playing on “The Ninth Wave“, Neudi’s playing on “Tomes of Clay“.
How would you define the term epic metal?
I think epic metal should take you on a Grand Journey of Fantasy, through Historic Battles and Fantastic Adventure to Ancient Civilizations, in such a way you feel the Highs and the Lows of Victory and Defeat and leaves you with the sense of having lived the song.
Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?
Yeah currently I’m digging all the stuff that Silver Machine and Herzel – both from France – are doing. Both bands have that epic metal feel that I look for.
How did you experience the Mark Shelton Tribute at Keep It True 2019?
The emotions of the tribute show were all over the place. It was great to play and become friends with so many talented musicians who loved Mark and his music.
What do you generally think of Manilla Road‘s legacy and the current epic metal scene?
Epic metal is alive and well in the underground scene, there is a lot of it out there. As to Manilla Road‘s legacy, it is humbling to see the outpouring of people who are affected by Mark’s music after all these years and to know I had a small part in his success of making epic metal a thing. The Manilla Road legacy will continue to inspire musicians as long as fans continue to turn others on to Mark’s music so: Keep the Faith & UP THE HAMMERS!