Although the history of humanity has been full of twists and turns from the very start, it doesn’t seem like we’ve learnt much by the mistakes of our ancestors. And, with now unlimited access to what’s going on in every corner of the globe, one doesn’t have to watch for too long to conclude it’s simply a mad world we live in. That grim realization was translated well into the lyrics of the Swiss rockers Shakra’s latest album, and the title is nothing else but Mad World. To discuss the release in depth, I caught up with the band’s singer Mark Fox. We also looked back at the last quarter of the century in Shakra’s career as well as tried to guess what the future has in store for them as well as the entire music industry…
Alexandra Mrozowska: The 25th anniversary of Shakra is quite an achievement itself, but looking back on all those years you spent recording and touring, what would you say were the peak moments?
Mark Fox: It is difficult to say what were the peak moments in all these years, there have been so many great moments and I don’t want to compare any of them, otherwise I would devalue others. For me, it’s the whole thing, with its ups and downs, that matters and one thing always led to the other, like a story that someone wrote. and that we can live through without knowing what’s next.
AM: Having been around for a quarter of the century, do you think the music industry has actually changed for better or for worse? Why?
MF: It has changed, and how! Digitalization has created completely new possibilities, advantages and disadvantages. The availability of music is now always and everywhere and that in seconds, whereas in the past you had to wait a long time for a new album by a certain band. Nowadays, songs and albums are coming out every day. Unfortunately that also led to a devaluation of the music. It now seems God-given and it is, especially for young people, a free commodity that you can take and don’t have to pay for it. That’s why I’m glad we can make real music fans happy with our music that look forward to our releases and are willing to pay something for it. The Rock and Metal fans are the most loyal! Otherwise the music will always change and you don’t have to complain when times change – after all, you have had good times and can still do so, even if the conditions change a little.
AM: Throughout the years, reviewers have dubbed Shakra successors to Krokus, probably not only for geographical proximity but also style. What’s your approach to such comparisons or the labels the music press tries to categorize your music by?
MF: Well, I don’t think that we sound too similar to Krokus – more like the “old” Gotthard, if anything – but of course it makes us proud to be compared to Swiss legends. However, Shakra sounds like Shakra from the first note. But it is in the nature of people that they want to categorize everything and therefore, it doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, I think many Krokus fans also like to listen to Shakra and maybe only because of this comparison they came into contact with Shakra for the first time.
AM: You marched into 2020 with a new album Mad World. What do you think the titular madness is actually caused by?
MF: Just watch the first three minutes of the news and you’ll know what we mean by Mad World. It’s so obvious that it’s already become normal. The madness has made itself socially acceptable in the last decades, that makes the whole thing even more mad. And when you look at what disaster is taking place this year, one can only hope that humanity will eventually learn from mistakes. But unfortunately it will not happen because the animal in the form of human primal instincts tries to free itself and it does not take long until it is finally unleashed.
AM: The feedback from reviewers seems to be enthusiastic to say the least. Do you pay any attention at all to what critics say after all these years – even if the feedback you get isn’t all positive?
MF: Of course we hear what the world has to say about our work, we are not ignorant. And criticism is also very welcome. However, you always have to be careful whether this is constructive or is simply intended to reduce the sender’s frustration. We are now very good at that and we certainly do not want to let the joy of our work take away from us. We always want to get better and always get the best out of a new album. If we can do that, then we are happy and so are the fans.
AM: While writing songs for the new album, were you inspired more by what’s generally happening in the world, or your own experiences as both individuals and seasoned musicians?
MF: The writing of the lyrics mostly comes from my current feeling. I often think about society and what could be better. It is difficult not to stand there as a do-gooder because I am not naive to believe that all the world’s problems can be solved with a few lines. But maybe I can make you think. I think it’s important that people make up their own mind and not allow themselves to be controlled remotely, as is pretty much the case at the moment.
AM: What the mere title of “Fake News” surely brings to mind are clickbait, sensationalism and generally all the wrong that’s been done to the art of journalism. But from a musician’s point of view, with print press dying a slow death and more independent bloggers and journos than ever, has music journalism changed for better or for worse?
MF: It has become very difficult to distinguish the truth from the lie these days. It just comes from the fact that every person has the urge and the opportunity to express themselves and so many untruths arise, whether wanted or not. In any case, everything has to go faster and faster so that you are the first to spread something. Due to this speed, important information is lost and in the end a completely different statement comes out. And if you are still being paid for this speed and apparent exclusivity, you don’t even bother to convey the content. I see it differently in music journalism. You can easily tell when someone has dealt with a band or an album and when they haven’t. The readers of this press are very sensitive and defend themselves against such articles, although there are certainly black sheep there too. I once got up in an interview in Madrid and answered when the journalist asked me if the weather was nice in Sweden. As a musician, I don’t feel that I’m being taken seriously, because Switzerland is a bit different from Sweden and there are certainly more interesting questions than those about the weather.
AM: Definitely… So, lyrically Mad World is not really an optimistic album, but there’s always hope they say. What do you think everyone should do to reach the titular “new tomorrow” and make it a better one?
MF: Hope dies last, they say. And that seems to be true. But for that you always need a bearer of hope and with the best will I cannot find them anywhere in the world at the moment. On the contrary, everything is geared towards suppression and control. So a huge step backwards. The song “New Tomorrow” is actually about a love that ends and the suffering person wishes for a new morning. You never know what comes next, but according to the string theory – everything.
AM: In terms of music, Mad World doesn’t make a drastic departure from the rest of your discography, yet – it has an overtly modern vibe to it. With Shakra not being stuck in 1997 by any means, what do you do to keep your approach to making music fresh and your sound up-to-date?
MF: We never try to chase a trend. I think that the freshness comes from the fact that we do what we like and unconsciously let ourselves be inspired by everyday life. Our two guitarists are always tinkering with the guitar sounds and Thom (Blunier), our lead guitarist and producer, always has a clear sound concept in mind.
AM: With all due criticism to the modern world we can find on the album, Shakra doesn’t fall behind when it comes to embracing elements of modern life such as social media. Do you think a band can exist today without being active on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube?
MF: I sometimes find it a bit annoying to have to be up to date on all the platforms, because the main thing is to feed their operators. On the other hand, it is a good connection to the fans to keep them up to date and therefore makes sense. But sometimes it can just be too much. Better a little less presence but with good content. For me personally there is no band in the world that I want to read or see something new every minute. Good things always take time and therefore a bit of patience and slowing down would be useful from time to time. That goes for everyone.
AM: Speaking of the present and looking into the future, what do you think is the future of Hard Rock?
MF: I think there will be more interest in this type of music soon. Simply because you no longer hear it that often. Young people are already rediscovering it and allowing others to participate. I can’t predict whether it will be the same again, but it will definitely get better because Rock will never die out, it is just too good for that.
AM: Obviously, the European 2020 tour shared partly with Gotthard fizzled out, and so did your scheduled performance at the Big Gun Festival in Russia…
MF: Since we couldn’t start the tour and the whole summer season has been postponed to next year, we hope to be able to start again in September. We also had to postpone the tour with Gotthard until next spring. We are confident that we can start soon and we are all the more looking forward to it. Unfortunately, this Russian festival had to be postponed until next year too… It would have been our first concert in Russia and we were really looking forward to it, also because we are very amazed at how many fans we already have in Russia. We weren’t even aware of that, but we’re very honored. We look forward to next year and will rock as hard as we can!
AM: Before the pandemic hit, you were scheduled to take part in other open air festivals in the summer too, including the German fest Bang Your Head as well as the Swedish Sabaton Open Air. Do you prefer those huge festivals to small venues like clubs?
MF: I personally like both very much. It’s both different. In the clubs everything is much more personal, while at the festivals the crowd is very impressive. I couldn’t decide what to like better.
AM: Any other plans?
MF: Not at the moment – Corona has slowed us down, but we will fight back!
AM: Is there anything you’d like to add?
MF: Thank you for the interview! Keep on rockin’ in a mad world!
You can check out Shakra’s music video to their single “Fireline” below: