Sometimes, you’ve really got to test yourself in order to know who you are and what you’re capable of.
Let’s face it. The best art tends to be born in the wake of personal trials and tribulations. Less than a year after the release of its critically acclaimed debut full-length for Rise Records, No Gods, UK quartet Sharks dove headfirst into writing the follow-up, Selfhood. Penning another album’s worth of material so quickly would be enough to satiate any ordinary band’s need for adventure and a challenge. However, vocalist James Mattock did so under less than optimal circumstances.
“I was living in this converted art studio above a morgue,” he recalls. “It was a gnarly, old Victorian building without heating, running water, or even a bathroom. My fiancée and I couldn’t live with my family so we moved in there for five months. That was when I wrote the album. I couldn’t get a job because we had shows booked so we were barely eating and drinking. It was stressful, but it was also amazing because we got to be together since she’s from the United States. I channeled everything. Writing the record was like a catharsis.”
When he could muster up enough cash to hop a train to Northampton, Mattock joined his cohorts guitarist Andrew Bayliss, drummer Sam Lister, and bassist Carl Murrihy at a barn on his mother’s property to rehearse a few times weekly. Bonding over a healthy diet of everything from The Cribs and The Smiths to The Lemonheads and The Cure, the boys channeled a restless and raw energy into the tunes, electrifying their patented sound in the process.
“It’s a no-nonsense indie punk record,” affirms Mattock. “We wrote it with no audience in mind but ourselves. It sums up our tastes. It’s a snapshot of the people we were at that point in time.”
In order to capture that urgency and those moments, the group then enlisted the help of producer Lewis Johns [Gnarwolves]. Attracted to his penchant for “heavy” and “live-sounding” records, Sharks sharpened their teeth tenfold in the studio.
The singer goes on, “It’s personal. At the same time, it isn’t too claustrophobic for people. It’s like a self-examination. In order to connect, you have to write what you know and tap into those human emotions everyone has. That’s what we tried to do.”
Those emotions take flight on the shuddering six-string flurry of “Bloody Wings” and the surf-style snap of “I Won’t Taint.” At the same time, the first single “Portland” is a listless yet wistful rumination on Mattock’s desire to relocate to the eponymous city.
“That one is pretty straightforward,” he reveals. “I have realistic aspirations to live in Portland. We all want to move there eventually. We’ve spent a bit of time in the city, and I developed an attachment to the area.”
Elsewhere, he writes a thoughtful dispatch to author, musician, and underground hero, Billy Childish. It coasts on a divine guitar hum and the singer’s airy croon. “I was reading his books while I was writing,” admits Mattock. “His style definitely rubbed off on me. He’s really confessional and very blunt. Sometimes, it’s even hard to read because he’s so open about his crazy life and horrible childhood. It’s a letter of appreciation to him.”
At the same time, Mattock’s honesty encouraged him to embrace another side of himself as well. Written upon proposing to his fiancée, he describes “My Wild One” as “my first love song.” It’s a dreamy ballad wrapped in warm melodies and an elegant echo.
Sharks have come along way to realizing Selfhood. The group formed in 2007 and dropped their independent EP, Shallow Waters, a year later. Tours with Gallows, The Wedding Present, Social Distortion, The Gaslight Anthem, and more solidified them as a furious live act. 2011′s The Joys of Living 2008-2010 drew acclaim from tastemakers such as BBC’s Zane Low, while their proper American debut, No Gods, drew unanimous acclaim from the likes of Alternative Press, ARTISTdirect, and more.
However, Selfhood stands out as everything Sharks were always meant to be. “It just sounds like us,” says Mattock. “We’re not just playing songs that are an accumulation of our influences. This solidifies the idea of what the band is, and it sets us up for even bigger things. I feel like we’re growing from the first incarnation of Sharks here and building a bridge to the next chapter.”
Even with that maturation, the group’s ability to tap into tangible emotion remains paramount. That’s clear in an anecdote that Mattock likes to reference. “This kid messaged my fiancé on tumblr,” he continues. “The message read, ‘Sharks saved my life. They make songs about self-worth and empowerment that mean so much to me’. That’s the most rewarding thing I could ever receive. You can’t buy that. To know we’ve touched even one heart is incredible.”
Sharks know who they are on Selfhood, and you just might learn something about yourself by listening to it. — Rick Florino, May 2013