It is with great pleasure that we bring you this interview with Phil Ross, traditional heavy metal aficianado and the final bassist to play in MANILLA ROAD before the sad passing of founding member Mark Shelton in the summer of 2018. We talk his specialist metal label Postmortem Apocalypse, dishing the dirt on what it’s like touring with a load of old geezers, recording the last MR album To Kill A King, and in a roundabout way demonstrate why every good heavy metal band needs a damn good bass player.
Hi Phil, how are things at the moment for you, what with lockdown etc? How is Wichita?
Hails! Things are well enough here. Wichita is similar to any other small city in the middle of the country, small businesses struggling and people wondering what’s next.
So, how did you get into playing bass?
I knew I wanted to play bass when I was around 13 or so, watching a high school jazz band play. The coolest cat in the building was the bass player, and his guitar seemed a sleek space ship compared to my
trombone. I had been playing horns since age 8 or so. Some of my favorite players include Mick Karn, Geezer, Alex Webster, Mark Sandman, Dave Holland, Markus Grosskopf, Erik G / Tyrant, …too many
I’m guessing you might be particular about your bass sound and signal flows. Are you an equipment nerd? My mate swears by a boss octave pedal to give his bass a dirty edge.
I do collect vintage effect pedals and rack gear, but nothing spectacular. I’ve got too many basses, maybe 10 now, and I enjoy building them and piecing things together. In regards to Manilla Road, there was really no need for anything special – I just used basses that had decent on board preamps best suited to deal with whatever rig I was “blessed” with that evening. Not much in the way of effects but I did pack a flanger for some of the older material. I don’t really like octave pedals or anything that “tracks” your signal, it cuts into volume too much for my liking. I do use effects and other oddities in the Cricket Wand project.
You can certainly play….did you always want to push yourself as a musician? Did you have family supporting and encouraging you?
I think the encouragement to grow has always been around me. As you grow out of your twenties, contacts and musicians begin to fall off. This only strengthened my resolve to continue my personal musical journey, as it does now. Friends and family have been supportive for sure.
How about your very cool looking label?
Postmortem Apocalypse started initially to issue Manilla Road albums on cassette, all the while mining for lost tracks and releases from Wichita and Kansas metal bands. After touring and meeting so many people, seeing tons of bands, I started reaching out to work with artists from both hemispheres. I continue now, issuing professionally manufactured cassette and vinyl releases often paired with handmade and screen printed packaging.
The next releases include a killer album from a young Polish band, ARMAGH that I met at their show in Warsaw, 2017.
I’ve also got a tape reissue of the 2015 album “gift” from Russian black metal band BLACKDEATH, one of the finest BM bands running today.
The biggest news this year is that I am issuing a lost album from Wichita band STYGIAN SHORE, entitled “ultra psychic nightmares”. The LP was recorded in 1985 at Miller studios (where Manilla Road recorded the bulk of their classic material) and produced by Mark Shelton. A few promo cassettes exist, other than that, this LP has never been heard! Stygian Shore was the only band besides Manilla Road to be on their imprint Roadster Records.
The LP is a lost piece of Wichita metal history. 3 of these songs were redone on the early 90s LP “shores will arise” but these versions are warmer and more raw. The other 7 tunes have never been released. We have worked with the band to put together a really special package to be released later this year! If you like the 4-song Roadster 12″, you’re going to love “UPN”!
Metallum has you down as playing in Cricket Wand, and a Polish black metal band called Necrostagis?
Cricket Wand is an instrumental…prog duo started in 2010. The bass is a custom stereo bass I modified myself…it is basically two 2-string basses on one neck, each side having separate outputs, each going to separate amps. We have an LP and are working on another now. The Necrostrigis 12″ project was merely a release on my label Postmortem Apocalypse. Two of the songs needed bass tracks and I volunteered to knock those two tracks out to further the project along.
How did you join Manilla Road? Filling Josh Castillo’s shoes was quite a challenge, I guess?
Shark and I knew each other through a record store I was helping run, and his engineer / merch guy Derek told him about us. We started printing shirts for the MR website…when the need for a new bassist
came up Derek mentioned me and I auditioned the next week. The audition was a lot of laughing, storytelling and weed smoking in all honesty, and it was a great time. Before we got too baked Mark asked me about scales, modes, and my knowledge of those types of things. A few scales and bowls later he offered me the job. The biggest challenge was learning nearly 3 hours of material and a full length LP all at once. It seemed insane at first but I have learned many songs for many projects in the past. The tour schedule was pretty crazy at first and it was very hard to juggle that schedule and run my business here at home. Many mistakes were made, and many things learned!
Touring with MR – well, one can say that you’ve achieved a lot, at what I guess is a young age…
I don’t think I am as young as you might assume — I was 32 when I joined the band. Much younger than the other members. I have many friends that toured through their entire twenties though, so I would not consider myself having achieved more than any of them, although I am indeed proud of what we did – the two longest tours in Europe and the USA that Manilla Road ever completed.
What was it like working and touring with older guys? Did they not drive you mad, typing with one finger on their phones?
It was a total trip at first, and we came to know one-another quite well in a very short time. The band was a quartet, and Richard, our manager, made 5. That puts two men “out” when it comes to 4 beds, and those two men were the most recent additions: me and Neudi! So we shared a bed in more countries and states than I care to remember! I remember in Denver waking up shortly after I had fallen asleep to Neudi eating a huge burrito in bed and waking up the next morning with corn and cheese under the sheets. Many times I wanted to venture out of the room to explore and often Neudi was right there eager to go as well, so as our years were a bit apart, we found adventures even if “the old guys” wanted to stay close to home, wherever we were.
Talking of which, is social media a blessing or a curse? (or a Blessed Curse ).
It’s a cancer that makes the entire world smaller, but more divided at the same time. It is a necessary evil for bands and businesses though.
How has been your experience of the heavy metal world, which is ostensibly quite old and traditional – as a younger guy, do you find it like that, or liberal and tolerant?
My eyes were opened wide after my first show in Europe — Keep It True, packed full of old, young, male, female, and everything in-between. The orthodox nature of traditional metal still lingers above it but it doesn’t really bother me, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. It is one of the most accepting and supportive communities I’ve experienced but there are always exceptions. I think I caught a ton of shit for having a 5-string bass [as opposed to 4] on the first few tours. It was just my main axe at the time. Leif Edling called it “a monstrosity” lol, even though he was joking, you listen to these things! I forgot about all that about a year after when I saw Ragne Wahlquist [Heavy Load] on stage at KIT with some kind of 9 string headless guitar…now THAT is a monstrosity!
Man, it must have been a difficult time for you all after HOA in Germany…
It is a scene that replays in your mind almost daily, but no longer in a nightmare-ish fashion. Like the rest of my experiences in Manilla Road, I like to think that it has prepared me for other things in my life. It was difficult but had it happened in Greece or Italy it would have been far worse because our home base was Neudi’s house just outside of Frankfurt. We were “lucky” to be in Germany because we would have never been able to get our brother home in any other country,
The Keep It True tribute show was quite something…
I never thought it could work as well as it did but it ended up not only working, but going over extremely well. It strengthened already existing bonds but also made new ones. I have brothers for life as a result of this show, I am beyond lucky to have been a part of the show and the rehearsals.
Onto 2017’s To Kill A King – how was recording that album? Were you happy with it? I think it has some great work and some really strong songs. Do you have any favourites?
When I joined the band in September of 2016 I was tasked with learning the songs from the set and the entire TKAK LP. TKAK was written before I joined the band. I set out to really make an impression with my tracks, to have them all learned by the time the boys got back from their last tour with Josh. Not only that, I wanted to form an “artificial union” with Neudi. We had met before but only in passing while he was recording “The Blessed Curse”. I wanted to follow him and play to his tracks as if we played them together, as if we conceived one vision instead of me simply playing root notes and getting the job done. I am proud to say that the LP was mixed much differently than Shark had initially planned, with rhythm guitars much lower in the mix than “The Blessed Curse” and featuring more of the bass, it is one of the highest compliments anyone has paid me. My favorites on the LP include “Blood Island” and “Castle..”
There is a video on youtube of you playing In The Wake at that last show…such a great song. You introduce the vocal line on the bass. I don’t recall Mark writing like that before.
“In The Wake” is an interesting song for sure. The bass line was completely written and performed by Mark on TKAK, and it is the only song that we left “EC Hellwell’s” bass lines on so the idea of sharing
the melody in the bass is all Mark! The album was about half finished with bass when I joined, and all performed by Shark. He said he really liked at least 4 of those songs with his bass lines as is. When we
knocked out the other 6 tunes, he said why not try the others with me. To me that song is perfect and his tone, with a pick, fits it perfectly. It is quite a weird song live without some rhythm guitar. It did not always go over as well, we barely had the time to perfect it with only a handful of performances including it on the setlist – but I agree with you, it’s one of the better tunes on the LP.
With Mark and Neudi flying all over the place, at some points it seemed like you were the one holding down the beat.
This was absolutely the impression I got after about a week of our first tour — when those guys would be off in their world, as Randy and Shark would have been in the old days, it was my job to be the beat, the rhythm guitar, and the bass! Nothing new for any bassist worth a damn, but satisfying none the less!
There are so many solos, it sounds improvised in places – did you work out some of the development parts in the studio?
As stated before, absolutely not. There was no time to sort out intricacies like this when I joined. Neudi was hard pressed to perform anything the same again as his spirit, his essence, is indeed quite impulsive and improvisory which is what makes him such a special drummer and such an amazing person. Shark has never needed much of an invite to solo, so it’s not surprising he wailed on a large portion of TKAK.
Some quick questions:
Do you drive?
Of course, an old piece of shit Ford Truck!
Can you skateboard?
No But I have tried in my younger years.
Best and worst things about being in a band?
Right now the good part is the wait, the sharpening of swords until it is time to come out and lay waste to stages again excites me, it inspires me, rather than hindering my inspiration…Being a maker of shirts and tapes, vinyl, I am excited by the business side of the deal too. Tough part is logistics and distance away from bandmates now as I am in 3 bands and all 3 have members spread over the USA, Germany, and Portugal – if we were together we’d already have complete albums ready to release!
Have you ever been in a fight?
Yes long ago.
Do you have any non-musical hobbies?
I have many, one of which is collecting 35mm photo slides of vintage airplanes.
Top 5 metal albums for you right now?
Top 5 non-metal albums for you right now?
Terms “Hoarder of Operations”
Wędrowcy~tułacze~zbiegi “Marynistyka suchego lądu”
I can’t think of any others at the moment, there are countless though!
What would you say to yourself if you could go back to when you were just starting out?
Learn to use a pick you fucking idiot!
Advice for any young person wanting to become a touring musician?
Keep at it and sharpen the swords then you’re ready for anything when it comes along.
Cheers Phil, to close I’ll just ask – what are your plans for the future, and when will we hear from you again?