Early in his recent chat with Diffuser.fm, Sharks singer and guitarist James Mattock revealed that his band is plotting a trip to America — and not just to tour. The U.K. foursome is thinking of relocating, and while their sound owes much to homegrown influences — the Clash, most notably — such a move would make sense. Sharks’ biggest tours have been with American roots-punk heavies Social Distortion and theGaslight Anthem, and they’re arguably more popular here than they are at home. They’re even signed to Oregon-based Rise Records, which recently released ‘Selfhood,’ their second full-length set of brisk pop-punk burners.
Mattock wrote ‘Selfhood’ while living above a morgue, and he’s described the album as his most personal to date. Indeed, the songs touch on fear and self-loathing and other emotions common among 20-somethings, but as always, Sharks temper the heaviness with somewhat cryptic lyrics and truly mammoth hooks. Chatting with Diffuser.fm from a tour stop in Brighton, England, Mattock outlined his approach to songwriting and the reasons why he doesn’t sing specifically about the British experience. He also big-upped the Alkaline Trio and Against Me! and explained why ‘Selfhood’ is a grower — just like his favorite albums by Morrissey and the Cure.
How’s the tour been going so far?
It’s alright. A lot of people are on their essays, or whatever. Exams. Some shows are great. Some shows aren’t so good. That’s how it goes, really.
I heard talk you might come to the States later this year.
There’s talk of relocating, which would be great.
Yeah. There are a lot of things logistically that come with that. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a bit of downtime this summer and figure it all out. I don’t think there’s anywhere else we can go in the U.K. this year.
If you were to move to the U.S., where would you want to live?
I’d want to move to Portland, just like in the [‘Selfhood’] song [‘Portland’]. I’d probably drag everyone with me.
But then you’d have to leave the morgue. That could hurt the songwriting.
I’m out of the morgue, actually. I’m pretty sure I would have frozen to death by now [laughs]. We had literally no choice but to do that, because it was ridiculously cold. I stayed there until December of last year, when it got too brutal.
Did living above a morgue make you think of mortality and things like that. It doesn’t really come across on the new record, though on ‘Room With a Grey View,’ there’s that line about how you’re young now but not for long.
I think that’s definitely what people would have expected. It would have been easy for me to write about that theme, mortality and whatever. But I always kind of weave those darker subjects into the lyrics anyway. I tried to make it a bit less serious. There’s a bit of humor in the song ’22,’ but it’s some very dry humor. At the end of the day, I didn’t take it too seriously. I didn’t want people to think it’s some bleak, introspective thing.
People also might have expected a musically somber album — lots of pared-down, minor-key songs — but this album, even more so than your last one, ‘No Gods,’ is filled with big guitar anthems that waste no time getting to the hooks. Was that a goal, to make a poppy album?
It’s interesting. A lot of people have said the opposite. I think it’s way more of a grower than ‘No Gods.’ The melodies are a bit more intelligent and thought-out. I enjoy that. They’re songs you can always go back to and never get bored of, whereas something that instantly blows you away, there’s nowhere for it to grow in your ears. A lot of records I [loved] on first listen kind of slip my mind the quickest, rather than the ones that take time to grow. I was proud of the fact it was one of those more roomy records you can go back to and pick up on certain details that refresh the whole idea of the song in your head. The whole interpretation can change.
It’s very quick. It’s very short. That was our intention, too.
What are some of the albums you didn’t like at first but have come to love? We, like you, are big fans of the Specials, and their second album, ‘More Specials,’ is a great example of that.
There are definitely some weirder bands I come back to and fall in love with. Leatherface is a really good example. Do you know that band? I listened to them at first, and it was so ugly and so unlistenable. But something brings you back to it, and you listen to it more, and you realize it’s quite beautiful, in such a raw way. It’s very real and gutsy. They’re one of my favorite bands, for sure.
I agree with you on the Specials. That record’s weird. and bands like the Cure, they have weird records I’ll never get bored of. My taste is always developing. And that’s a good thing.
I recently read a piece about the Cure’s ‘Wild Mood Swings’ being a lousy record, but it’s one of my favorite Cure albums.
Yeah, I was into the big Cure records initially and was a bit [turned off by] the ’90s Cure. I listen to those records now and absolutely adore them. I was missing out on them for so long. Same with Morrissey. Morrissey’s solo records, I got into sort of late, even from being a Smiths fan. I love all his records to death.
Same here. ‘Kill Uncle’ is one people seem to hate, but there are some great songs on there.
I love that record. But more specifically for me, when I heard ‘Your Arsenal,’ and it had that glam vibe, I was like, “No way! This is what I’m gonna be listening to.” I love that incarnation of Morrissey, that phase.
Speaking of, in a review of ‘Selfhood,’ one critic describes you as “more Morrissey than Joe Strummer,” i.e. more of a personal songwriter than a political one. But your songs always have a bit of ambiguity to them. Do you purposely try to not reveal too much of yourself in your lyrics?
In the past, yeah, but this one, it was very much heart on my sleeve. It’s the most direct my lyrics have ever been. It made me really nervous to show the band. It’s pretty personal. I did touch into the bleaker thoughts and stuff. Not to say I’m always depressed or anything. It’s a snapshot of a couple of months of writing, and that’s why it’s such a theme. i very much had this idea of being as blunt as possible and giving that a go. In the past, the lyrics were way more cryptic and ambiguous. [This one] is like [the Smiths’] ‘Meat is Murder.’ Every song is very direct and about something specific. I’m very proud of that.
People often compare you to Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem and Mike Ness of Social D, both of whom you’ve toured with. Those guys tend to write a lot about place: Southern California and New Jersey, respectively. That doesn’t come across in Sharks songs, though. You don’t sing about, like chip shops and the like. Why is that?
I don’t know. Bruce Springsteen did it so well, and that’s great, because it paints very romantic picture of living in Jersey and stuff. I don’t know. I don’t have that much sentiment for the surroundings, and I don’t need to include those geographical references. I’m not gonna talk about eating a kebab and whatever. There are bands that do that in the U.K., and it sounds really cheesy to me.
Arctic Monkeys or something.
To be fair, I love the Arctic Monkeys, and they’re amazing. They do it in style. They represent being a Brit in its truest form. But I’m more attracted to the universal thing, really. You can be from anywhere in the world and still get it. It’s about emotion, really.
You’ve talked about getting into punk via American bands like Rancid and Green Day, which is interesting. On an album like ‘Dookie,’ the songs speak to being a bored suburbanite who masturbates all day, but in Sharks songs, there’s not that same apathy. Do you think that’s true? How do you describe your songwriting voice, or the mood of the songs.
One band that was really pivotal I discovered when I was 14, when I was already into music, was Alkaline Trio. That was a band that, when I discovered, it was all I listened to for the next five months. The lyrics and and everything was something I was really into, in every aspect — the darkness and the humor. That really touched me. The second wave that was really significant was Against Me! That’s when I got into the politics more. I was really into Crass and Discharge and all those bands, too. Against Me were just so powerful. They were as powerful as the Clash, just those early records. Laura Jane Grace is my favorite lyricist, hands down. Incredible lyrics.
I just want to be good and really think about the lyrics, because I’ve been spoken to through songs, and I want to inspire that.