Good bands and fun times seem to come out of Texas a lot these days. American Sharks are a prime example of the type of music and tour ethos that can be attributed to bands like The Sword and The Black Angels. After their head-turning set at Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, NY opening up for Clutch, I got to sit down with Mike Hardin (bass/vocals) and Will Ellis (guitar) to talk about touring, the fast pace the band has been coming up in the music scene, and what it means to have a good time. This was also the second interview I got to do with local musician Dustin Alexander from Jesus Christ and the Hallucinogenic Allstars(JCHA), bringing a “in the trenches” point of view to this article. We hope to include more local musicians talking to touring musicians in subsequent articles at .
Jeff Ayers: So when did the band start? Where did the band come from?
Mike Hardin: Will and I started the band a while back in Houston, Texas.
JA: Are you originally from Houston?
MH: Sort of. We are kind of from a mish-mash of place, but we are all from Texas. The band kinda started when we were living in downtown Houston. Then we moved to Austin and that’s where we met Nick [Cornetti] our drummer. After that we went through a change and became a three piece, and that would be the actual beginning of the band. From then on we changed a lot.
JA: When was this?
Will Ellis: 2009
JA: How about musical influences? What influenced you to start this project?
MH: I listen to David Bowie. Only David Bowie. [laughs]. But, I’d say Roky Erickson was a huge influence. Roky Erickson and the Aliens, specifically, was a big influence on this band.
JA: You guys are already making waves. Speaking of Red Fang, you have done some tours with them, and you’ve played with The Sword, and now Clutch. How has the response for you on these tours been?
WE: Yeah, very positive. It’s been really awesome man. It’s slowly getting better and better, where we show up in cities we have never played before and people are there wearing out shirts and stuff.
MH: We were touring for a few years by ourselves, and you go to cities and no one knows who you are. Now we can come to cities and there are people coming out to see us play.
JA: Well that is the name of the game right? Specifically with this tour with Clutch, I think you guys are a great fit. How did that come about, for you guys to get on this tour?
MH: We toured with Clutch and The Sword last year. Basically, we are friends with The Sword, and Kyle[Shutt] is our manager, and he was trying for us.
WE: We asked him to nudge [Clutch] a bit, asked him to give them our music. He told them they needed to see us play, so when they came through Houston, they had us play one show with them. Next thing we knew we were going out on tour with them.
Jim Gilbert: Actually, the room we are in, The Sword once set off all the fire alarms and they claimed they were only using a vaporizer.
MH: [laughs] This has happened a couple of times being on tour with The Sword actually. Once, on tour with Clutch and The Sword, Clutch was playing and the fire alarms started going off–
WE: Yeah, that place was in Athens, Georgia (The Georgia Theatre), and it had burned down years before, so everyone in the place was freaking out thinking it was burning down again
JA: Thats hilarious, I’ve met those guys and they seem like fun dudes. Speaking of the future, you guys are coming back to Upstate Concert Hall opening up for GWAR. It’s the first tour without Dave [Brockie] too. How did that tour come about?
WE: I don’t really know! Our booking agent submitted us, and it just happened.
JA: Well that is going to be an awesome tour, and I’ll be back to see you guys then.
MH: Yeah, we can’t wait.
JA: So, right before this, you wrapped up a tour with The Whores, and now Clutch, and then GWAR. How many shows a year do you think you play?
WE: Probably over 200.
JA: That is living the dream. Are you predominantly touring the U.S.?
WE: Yes, just U.S. so far.
JA: Is there anything on the horizon for other countries?
MH: Nothing set in stone. We have things we are working on, but nothing we can talk about yet.
JA: What’s next for you guys after the GWAR tour?
WE: Take a nap. [laughs] We are going to start working on our next record. It’s tough touring in the winter, so we want to hunker down and start pushing through our second record.
JG: [speaking of Nick the drummer] I got to ask, what is like being onstage with Animal from The Muppets?
MH: Ha! No one has ever called him that before! Animal! [laughs] He does do the drums like that. That is so hilarious. I’m going to tell him that for sure.
JG: I had to look quick a couple times to see if he was using a stick or a hammer.
JA: You guys have a great stage presence.
WE: I think Animal might be his favorite drummer actually.
MH: Oh dude! I didn’t know that!
JA: Well it shows [laughs] I ask this of a lot of bands, are there any bands you just can’t stop listening to at this moment?
JA: So when you get on stage you can rage it!
MH: I almost exclusively listen to David Bowie all the time
JA: I have to ask the obligatory question: pre-Ziggy [Stardust], Ziggy, or post Ziggy?
MH: All of it. Well like late 80’s through the 90’s, there is some really terrible shit in there [laughs]. But also, there is this band called Midnight, which is a newish band and they shred. If you like Motorhead, they are like an even crazier Motorhead. They played in Austin the day we left for this tour and I was so pissed I had to miss them.
JG: Be honest, have you[Will] ever walked in on Mike in the bathroom painting a Bowie lightning bolt on his face?
MH: [laughs] Yea and we lock eyes in the mirror
WE: [laughs] No I haven’t!
JA: I am now going to throw the questions to Dusitn, a local musician from this area
Dustin Alexander: The first thing that always comes to mind is how do you toe the line between partying and having fun on tour, and feeling better the next day? Having to play night after night, how do you maintain that?
WE: I just smoke weed most of the time.
MH: Yeah. But also, to be honest, partying and playing can spiral out of control really fucking fast. People say that, and you go “Haha, VH1 Behind the Music”. It doesn’t seem real to you until you are in it, and you can see the effects [this lifestyle] can have on you. Personally, I had some very negative experiences with alcohol. Be responsible. All of the sudden you can realize that you haven’t been sober in a year, and that is not good. I feel like I’m going to die. Not in a “I’m tired” way, but in a real, I am dependent on getting drunk when I wake up until I fall asleep. That is now O.K. That happens and that’s real, and you don’t think about that [when you are starting out].
WE: You get on each other’s nerves and stuff, you are on edge because you are hungover, and you are cooped up with everyone. It’s best to choose your party nights wisely, and I mostly drink maybe a couple beers a night, and just smoke a lot of weed.
DA: I feel marijuana is almost a performance enhancing drug for touring anyways. I mean sore muscles, can’t get sleep, a little nervous? That will take care of it!
MH: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
DA: You have pretty aggressive vocals, and to do that night after night, is there something you do to prep, or cool down?
MH: I try to drink at least a gallon of water a day. More if I can, but I am a notorious voice loser. Also, I need to get sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’ll lose my voice, and that sucks. Sleep is probably the most important thing in my opinion.
DA: How do you deal with that, when your voice kicks out and you are on tour?
MH: You get pissed off. It can be pretty embarrassing when you are playing in front of a packed house and you can’t sing. It can be a little frustrating.
WE: Usually whenever his voice does give out, we get to a place so he can get some sleep, and then it can come right back.
MH: I think people don’t put enough thought behind getting sleep. If I get a full night’s rest, I’m great. I normally do, I try for a full eight hours a night. I think it works wonders, because I rarely get sick.
JG: Where do you guys get sleep on tour? Do you get hotels, or the van?
WE: It depends on the tour usually. We try to get hotels, because when we crash at people’s houses, a lot of people want to hang out and talk to you all night. We might have an eight hour drive the next morning and we won’t get enough sleep. So we have to drop a little money [for a hotel] to make sure we get our rest.
MH: When you are on tour with a band like Clutch, they have a bus. So they route the tour based on that. All of us would rather spend money on a hotel than laying in a ditch because we flipped our van because we were so tired. It’s not worth it.
DA: A question about your bass rig. Are you running through and overdrive pedal or anything?
MH: Oh yeah! I use a pedal called the assmaster. [laughs]. It’s like B: assmaster. It’s made by Malekko. It’s 250 dollars, so it’s a little pricey, but it’s totally worth it. It’s the best thing I’ve found.
DA: Yeah it sounds thick, and you weren’t losing anything in the mix. It sounded gnarly.
MH: It has a really great bass boost on it, and you can make a lot of adjustments on it too.
DA: I play bass and sing at the same time like yourself. Do you find that singing sometimes gets in your way, because you might want to play a heavier bass line, but you have to worry about singing too?
MH: Oh for sure. But most of the time, the way we try and write music, it by simplifying and making it a little more accessible. Especially being a three piece, I don’t have to be [so busy]. As long as the bass is driving and thick, I can leave the other stuff to Will, because he has magic fingers. But I know what you mean, because sometimes there is a part in my head that I want to play, but I can’t because I’m doing a lot of singing there as well.
JG: Where did the idea for short songs come about, most of your songs top out around two or three minutes.
MH: The thoughts complete at that point. We don’t have to keep dragging on.
WE: We try to cut all the bullshit out of the writing.
MH: The Beatles, they were writing two minute songs, and they were great. The Ramones as well. Why should we try for more if we can get out what we want in that timeframe.
JG: You guys are on tour 200+ days a year, can you give us one hilarious story from the road?
MH: We were on tour with The Sword one time, and we were going through Albuquerque, but we weren’t playing there, so we all stayed there for the night. I don’t know if you have ever been there, but it is a crazy kind of city, there is definitely something in the air or the water. We get a hotel and all get rooms on the same floor right next to each other, and we are going to party all night. So we go to this strip club, and get kicked out. [laughs]. Well first Kyle from The Sword gets kicked out of a bar, in the beginning of the night. We were already loaded and they wouldn’t serve him and they are like “Get out of here!” So we show up and Kyle is in the streets so mad, screaming “Let me back in” and another dude from the bar is apologizing profusely because he knows he is in The Sword. So we go down to this strip club, and we are hanging out, doing strip club stuff, you know, and how does the rest of this go?
WE: We had a guy on tour, our camera guy, and I was gone at another bar when they first got to the strip club. When I showed up, there was this woman trying to stab our camera guy with her stiletto, and everybody’s holding her back and she’s screaming about money. Apparently he got one dance, and she said it was like five dance, and the bouncers are telling everyone to get out. So I acted like I wasn’t friends with any of them, and sat down at this other chair and finished my drink.
MH: So we were pretty wasted and we met all these people from Albuquerque and we all went back to our rooms on the top floor and had a raging party. All the classics that you would do if you were, say Van Halen, we did all of those things. I literally fell to the carpet at one point and passed out.
JG: That was not a night you got good sleep.
MH: [laughs] No way! But it was fun.