When someone mentions New Jersey, many folks automatically think of Jersey Shore (insert fist pump here). Right. Well, we can’t help that and frankly now it’s Italy’s problem. Putting that aside, The Garden State is the birthplace of some amazing music icons, including Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi, My Chemical Romance, Whitney Houston and Kool and the Gang. The list goes on.
NERD NOTE: Frank Sinatra was born December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. He left high school without graduating, having attended only 47 days before being expelled because of his rowdy conduct. Sinatra’s father, often referred to as Marty, served with the Hoboken Fire Department as a Captain.
We love discovering new music and heard Shark Hat at one of our local Hoboken, NJ pubs. With songs like “Three’s a Dead Man” and “Like a Tiger” (not to be confused with #tigerblood), Shark Hat has a rootsy sound of rock-infused funk and country blues.
We were able to catch up with the band after the show and ask them a few questions.
We’ve been playing together in some form or another for about 15 years, so this could get to be a long answer! I guess it all started just after college. I started playing guitar with Enzo when he’d come over with his friends to a Christmas party that my parents threw every year. He’d bring his guitar, and since we were both steeped in the blues and the Grateful Dead it was a pretty good fit. We both new a lot of the same songs, and the ones we didn’t know were easy to learn on the spot. Plus it was a great group of people to play in front of—family and friends who are drunk and celebrating Christmas… needless to say, a very forgiving crowd.
From there we teamed up with a friend of mine from high school who played keys and pretty soon got an electric band together with a drummer and bass player that we knew. One guy would drop out for one reason or another and get replaced with some other friend or friend of a friend. I guess we knew a lot of musicians. Mike, Steve, Enzo and I have been playing together as a group for about 11 years.
With a name like “Shark Hat”, there must be a story behind it… do tell.
Nope. No story.
The true first name of the band was the Bad News Band, because we were hired to play a gig by a friend and we really didn’t exist yet. We were like the Bad News Bears. Like them, we persevered, and Walter Matthau became our manager and things took off.
After that gig we called ourselves Blunt Force, and we realized we should probably change it because people would come to our shows and tell us things like, “Aw, dude, I thought you guys were going to be a hip-hop band because of your name.” Or, “Aw, dude, I thought you guys were going to be a metal band based on your name.” Very rarely did we hear, “Great name—it really helps to illuminate that you guys are a rock band that expertly mixes great songwriting with improvisational solos!”
So, since we were about to record our first album we thought it was as good a time as any to change our name. We made a list of about 200 names, some good, some bad, and we still couldn’t agree. So we put them in order of best to worst. We couldn’t agree which were the best, but we knew the worst was Shark Hat, so we picked that. That’s the only thing we could agree on.
The band has a great rock and country sound… who is your biggest musical influence?
As a band we don’t have one musical influence that we can point to. That’s one of the things that keeps our music interesting, I think. Each guy brings a unique sensibility and set of musical influences to the group. You’ve got Enzo, who is a blues guy at heart. Mike loves Led Zeppelin and progressive rock. Steve comes from a funk background, and I come from a singer-songwriter kind of background, but you can’t really pin it down that easily. And our musical tastes are constantly evolving. But I think we do a good job of pulling it all in and distilling it into Shark Hat—like a really nice, delicious blended whiskey.
Personally, I like the sound of “Like a Tiger”. How did this song come about?
Mike wrote that one. A long time ago he made a demo of the main groove on his 4-track, where he played all the instruments. He’d done the same thing with “Quando Sei Stanca,” from our first album. For “Tiger” we tried to get him to make it into a full song, and eventually he came up with the chorus section and guitar melody line. The idea was for us to have a slow, swamp-funk type of thing in our repertoire. The lyrics are based on some sort of crazy story from his childhood. With drummers, though, it’s best not to ask.
Which song do you get requested to play most often?
That really depends on who is at the show! We get a lot of requests for “Kentucky Woman.”
What’s the band’s favorite song to perform?
That changes too. They’re all fun, but I think we get into a habit of playing some more than others. Like for a while, “The Walk” was the song we wanted to play all the time. Now I guess it’s probably some of the material we’re working on now. I mean, we have a list of more than 20 originals and about 80 covers that we choose from on a given night, so sometimes we’ll play a tune we haven’t done in a while, and we’ll say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great one!” and start playing it more frequently.
Your albums appear to have two distinct styles… Which do you feel is most like “Shark Hat”?
Shark Hat II, definitely. The first album is great, but that was recorded in 2003, so that’s a long time ago. Also, the first Shark Hat album included Don Frio on keys and as a songwriter, and he left the band shortly thereafter to work with another band. So on Shark Hat II we’re a quartet like we are now.
But mostly because Shark Hat II was recorded pretty much live except for vocals and couple of extras we overdubbed—so it’s definitely more true to life. On Shark Hat, it was our first album, so we went with the traditional approach of recording each track individually, because that’s what people do and that’s what the engineer was comfortable with. But that’s not really who we are as a band. We’re a live band. We really thrive on reacting to each other as we play, so when you record the drums and bass first and then ask me to play along with it, there’s no real reaction there—it’s just a little stiff, I guess, and God forbid I have to do three or four takes. I admire guys who can keep their third or fourth take fresh, but that’s not me. It just gets silly.
So for II, we took a more Dylan-esque approach to recording: Get in there, get good sounds and record the tunes. Play them each a couple or three times, and move on to the next one. If you mess up or something, who cares. The recording is done in two days, pretty much. Then the mixing is what takes a while, mostly because it’s difficult to get several weekends in a row that we can all get out to the studio.
You guys are still obviously having fun. Do you have plans for a third album release?
Definitely! We’re working on songs right now, some of which you’ll hear us play at live shows. Once we get a bunch together we’ll head back in there.
How do you do it? Write songs that is?
It depends on the song. Some start as little grooves or jams that get developed into full-fledged songs. Others kind of appear as fully written songs somehow. Either way, they all take a lot of work because we’re all really invested in the band. No one just mails it in and says “whatever.” We’ll make changes to songs years after we write them, too, just to make them a little better—something that would be unnoticeable to most listeners but to us makes the song just a little bit better.
Although it didn’t feature any of the band members, we found the “Long Way From Memphis” video entertaining. What is the correlation between girls dancing and cattle branding? Have you guys spent much time in Memphis?
What’s Memphis? Actually, none of us have ever been. I just like the way it sounds in the song. I’ve also never been to Texas for that matter. The video is something I put together using public domain footage that I got off the Internet Archive. I wrote the tune and had that video lying around on my computer, and I just put it together. I just found it fun to edit, so I gave it a try.
Guess that leads me to the next question… how do you feel about the internet and its effect on the music industry? Is it a blessing or curse for Shark Hat?
Like anything, it has its upside and its downside, just like the invention of the record put a lot of local musicians out of business. We’re busy plugging away trying to write and play. It hasn’t made us wealthy or anything, but we have sold some CDs in Europe and South America, so that’s pretty cool for us. We’ve noticed that Facebook can be a really good way to keep in touch with fans and let them know about our shows, and then they can invite their friends and stuff, so it’s kind of helped in that viral way. Also, doing interviews with MethodShop and similar blogs can really help us to grow as a band, I think. So thanks!
Personally, how do you find and listen to music?
I keep my ears open and listen to the radio every once in awhile when I rent a car, and I listen to what the kids that I teach are talking about and stuff like that. If I want to just check something out I go to grooveshark.com and listen to stuff there. If I like it, I buy it. I prefer to buy the actual CDs because I like to have a physical object rather than just a file. I find that it’s a bit more reassuring. In case I lose the info somehow, I still have the CD. But most of the time I’m trying to work on my own stuff.
Any advice to new bands trying to break into the industry?
My best advice is don’t listen to anything I say. With that said, I would tell a musician who was serious about pursuing it as a career to get a band together, record and tour as widely as you can. I still think that’s the best way to build a fanbase. Sometimes people think they can rely on the internet, but there are millions of bands on the internet and you may be the only band that’s actually playing in town that night. The only problem is, touring is hard work. Jack Black was right… “the road is hard, my friend.”
End this statement… “We want all our fans to…”
Come to our shows and bring a friend. That’s really it. Also, win the lottery and give us the money.
There’s one question we didn’t get to ask… now that there’s a new baby in the family, any consideration in recording a lullaby album?
Thanks Kevin McDonald (guitar, vocals), Enzo Ricci (guitar, vocals), Steve Leroy (bass, vocals), Michael Parillo (drums, vocals)! We loved the show!