Sharkey is under no illusions as to how he got the
name Sharkey. He didn't used to swim off the coast of Africa, wrestle sharks
for fun and hand them back to jubliant town's people. Sharkey is simply his last
His debut album, 'Sharkey's Machine' is, however, not quite so prosaic.
With guest contributions from the likes of Cannibal Ox, The Pharcyde,
Jean Grae, Grand Puba of Brand Nubian, Cherrywine, Zooks
from The Spark, The GrayKid, producers, Mario C. (Beastie Boys)
and Mickey Petralia (Beck, Linkin Park) it's a sparkling ragbag of good
time electronica with some tasty slivers of funk, rock, bluegrass, Spanish, jazz,
folk, cut n paste and scratch thrown into the bargain. It's hip-hop, Jim, but
not as we know it. In fact it's the one thing out of Washington DC that has not
failed to throw up Weapons Of Mass Destruction, as the album is veritable minefield
of thrills, spills, faultlines and sudden impacts. It's of the Street,
but not in it. An intelligent, collegiate grasp of the poetics of hip-hop
and music culture pulls it in a direction that would be unsustainable by the usual
hardcore screamboys of New York and the humourless tirade of miscreants like the
D-12. It's every bit as highbrow and experimental as DJ Shadow - only more
analogue - more soulful - and more funky. It also has a discipline and authority
that could only have come out of D.C. It also has humour. And you know what they
say; humour is the only thing that distinguishes us from beasts. I know, because
Sean Connery said this very thing in The Name Of The Rose. And Sharkey
does a cracking Sean Connery impression – so he too should know.
comparisons to Beck proliferate, it has to be said that Sharkey shakes
off the flagrant Post-Modernism that pursues the aforesaid hipster like a ferret
on grease. He’s the people’s choice, the musician’s musician, the cat in the hat
and all that. He needs no introduction to those in the know – but Crud
feels a little getting-to-know-you session may be in order for those not privileged
to move in such distinguished circles.
grew up in Washington DC?
I grew up with my father being a single
parent. He was a real go-getter and an entrepreneur. I think that helped train
me to go after what I wanted in life. I was the kid that always excelled in whatever
I put my mind to. Problem is, it wasn’t usually schoolwork. I used to BMX and
skate the hell out of some streets though.
So it’s unlikely you were
ever interested in the politics of the city?
Growing up in DC, it’s
hard to not share some sort of political view and interest in what’s going on
around you. Politics run this city.
So you must have some pretty firm
ideas about what’s going on at the moment?
Hmmm. I try not to hate.
What’s going on in America right now pisses me off. I can’t stand that someone
makes bad decisions in my name. I think everyone feels that way over here. It’s
hard to make a difference though when your President rigged the election in the
first place. Hopefully things will be different come this election.
politics runs this city. In fact that DC has never really been able to break through
with a music scene. The press doesn’t support it. I have always tried to do my
part and more here though. But a lot of artists end up moving out of here and
going to New York or LA.
But you did get support from your father, right?
My father had Jim Croce, Beatles, and Steely Dan records around. They made a huge
impact on my influences and me. Even the turntable alone. I would always ask my
father if I could play his records on it, and he would make a big deal out of
me being careful and having respect for this valuable equipment so that I would
make sure not to break it. I think that engrained an appreciation for vinyl and
instruments early on.
Let’s brings folks bang up to date. Your band
The Spark has been touring with Wyclef Jean and the Black Eyed Peas? How was that?
Crazy. We had a lot of fun but it was mainly gorilla style. We would roll up in
this small van all crammed up. Four guys, including The GrayKid, and our soundman.
Then the Peas or Wyclef would roll up next to us with multiple tour buses. It
was hilarious. Those guys are all great though. And they gave us mad love.
So how do you deal with all these split personalities: you have Sharkey,
DJ Sharkey, then there’s The Spark. What can you do with one that
you can’t do with the others?
I always consider myself just Sharkey.
There are different modes that I am in from time to time that do affect the way
the world views me.
My record, “Sharkey’s Machine” is my brainchild and
was a concept that I brewed up were I am the guy who controls the ship. I drew
up the blue prints and built the structure. But within that ship, there are many
intricate gears and parts that make up the machine. Without those parts, there
would not be a machine. When the machine is on tour, I become DJ Sharkey. Playing
a combination of digital and analogue instruments. Using cuts, loops, and mashups
from the record and my vast library of sound. With The Spark…there is an idea
melded by two personalities. Myself and Zooks. Almost like a marriage of sound.
When The Spark performs, we have live musicians that play with us and fill in
There’s a different kind of marriage going down on the
new Sharkey album, ‘Sharkey’s Machine’. A marriage between sound and something
more visual. Elements of Get Carter turning up in ‘Slo-Mo In The Grotto’
and even, bizarrely enough, ‘Skateboarder's Blues’. Was this a conscious thing?
No. It’s just the way that I create. I am a self-taught musician. So most of the
time, my ideas are based on more feeling then a technical standpoint. Most of
what has always inspired me is music that sets a mood and has the abilities to
change an emotion. Like a soundtrack would. So when I create, I think of what
beat and tempo feels happy or sad. Or what guitar sound would add to the eeriness
of a song. Thank you for noticing.
How do you take the Beck
comparisons? You’ve worked with Mickey Petralia of Midnite Vultures
fame? How did this come about? Where you looking to funk it up?
is amazing. I will take those comparisons with a smile all day. But when referring
to a particular song, I have to assume you are speaking of the track “Little Cabin
Song.” Mickey is not actually what you would consider a funky producer. I think
his collaboration with Beck melded into that kind of thing. I had the ideas, and
structures for that song built and I thought (yes, based on his track record with
Beck) that certain song would be good for collaboration with Mickey. So he kind
of got typecast for on that one. Sorry Mick. I came to learn that he is a very
versatile producer like myself and there are a couple songs that we worked on
together for this record that don’t share what you would consider a typical “Beck”
You also had Beastie Boy producer and all round team
mate, Mario Calado Jr. contribute to a record like this? What makes a guy like
Mario so essential?
I can only speak on my case. Mario’s role may
be a lot more present on a track that he doesn’t share production on. I have very
strong views and vision on my production and in which direction I want a song
to go in. Mario brought the unvalued level of maturity to our sessions. I learned
a lot from him.
The Beastie Boys are back in town with new album,
‘To The 5 Boroughs’. Do you see hip-hop and rap artists maturing with greater
dignity than people like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones?
don’t know if they will mature with greater dignity but I think they will share
the same level of highness we place on a Paul McCartney or The Stones. Big band
and jazz was huge when rock (which was viewed as street music at the time) derived
out of it. And like you said, look at the way we view Paul or Mick now. Not like
musicians, but like kings. Hip-hop came out of rock so I can only imagine we will
one day share the same views towards the Beasties Boys or even a Jay-Z.
We keep using the term Hip-hop but is Hip-hop an adequate term these days?
Does it mean more to marketing folks than to the artists themselves?
It depends what your views are on it. Hip-hop to me has always been the fundamental
idea of B-boying and its beat culture that originated in the late 70’s and early
80’s. Things that follow that, I consider Hip-hop. Hip-hop was derived from funk
and rock n’ roll so even when a genre completely different is blended with it,
you still have hip-hop if the guts and influences are maintaining that same true
idea. I don’t think that most of the stuff you hear on commercial radio falls
under that category at all. It’s just rap music. Some of the old Beatles stuff
with the big beat breaks and stuff sound like hip-hop to me.
the Pharcyde track ‘Snobird’ come about? That’s more big band than big
I was in the studio joking around with Billy Moon. I thought
it would be interesting to do a song with those kinds of rhythms with rhymes over
top. So I put together the beat on the spot and Billy wrote the silly “lovers-esque”
lyrics. Then Imani and Brown from The Pharcyde came in and wrote their lyrics
for it. A lot of the stuff I created for this record came out of just having fun
or the mood I happened to be in at that moment. I tried not to put too much commercial
thought into these songs and keep them as heart felt as possible.
what’s next for Sharkey?
I am literally planning my tour as we speak
and hope to continue travelling for the next year or so while finishing The
Spark record, and starting production a couple new records with some well-known
artists. Maybe a big rock record and a hip-hop record. I need to keeps busy or
I gets fidgety ya’ll. Keep me busy
Interview conducted by Alan Sargeant for Crud Magazine 2004©