Interview: Black Spiders Guitarists Mark “Dark Shark” Thomas and Peter “Spider” Spiby Discuss New Album, 'Sons of the North'
Led by their three-headed guitar frenzy and unabashed Black Sabbath worship, Black Spiders have hit the ground running in the UK.
Their debut album, 2011's Sons of the North, was met with critical and commercial approval across the pond, and the band were selected by Ozzy Osborne to open on Ozzfest's UK leg. More recently, they were just hand-picked by Thin Lizzy to open for a run of shows in May.
With Sons of the North finally available in the US as of April 17, two of Black Spiders' three guitarists -- Mark “Dark Shark” Thomas and Peter “Spider” Spiby -- took some time to talk with Guitar World about guitars, touring and Ozzy.
GUITAR WORLD: How was it recording Sons, your first full-length album? Was there anything that surprised you or was it pretty straight-forward?
PETE: I think we all pretty much had an idea in our heads of the sounds we wanted to use, but when we got into the studio we were open to using different things and using different amps and stuff. It was quite an open recording session. Different guitars that we don’t particularly use or have normally gave songs a certain edge.
So three guitars. How do you find room for everyone in a song?
MARK: By being tight and disciplined. Sometimes it gets difficult, obviously, when everyone’s on one. I think we all have to be careful about what we do. We've all been minimalist in a way. That's how we get our sound, three guitars being minimalist. There's a lot of riffs there, sometimes we're doubling up.
Do you ever fight over who gets to do solos (which Sons of the North has in spades)?
MARK: Constantly. I'm obviously the greatest lead guitarist in the band, but Ozzy, he'll fight his corner every step of the way. He'll even solo over a verse or the vocals. I like to choose my moment. I'm waiting for a gap and then I’ll lay out a good one.
Who are some of your biggest influences? Who made you first pick up the guitar and say, “This is something I'd like to get into”?
MARK: When I started playing guitar it was English rock bands, really; Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, UFO and Michael Schenker, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. All the great rock bands
When are you planning on coming to the United States? Any big tours on the way?
MARK: Yeah, it's always in our plans, it's just the opportunity, really, and having the finances to get over there and play. That's the tricky part. We do everything ourselves, it's our own label, it's our own release. We're kind of just praying for the day to get an opportunity to play to you people. It'd be great.
What was it like touring with Airborne, Monster Magnet and being picked by Ozzy to open for Ozzfest in the UK?
MARK: When we toured with Airborne, those guys put on a full-on live performance. On from the word “go." They just kind of rock. They showed us how to do it as well. When Ozzy chose us to play, obviously when you watch Ozzy, he's getting on a bit but he still gives 110 percent every time. You know, if we can be doing that in a few years time, which I’m sure we will be, that'd be great.
What's your songwriting process like? Does everyone have input or is it primarily a private exercise?
MARK: Pretty much, everyone’s in the room, we're trying out different riffs and there's often a lot of disagreements about what works best. It's a bit of a battle at times, but I think common sense wins out in the end.
It seems based on your website, nicknames and some of your songs ("Kiss Tried to Kill Me") that the band manages to keep a sense of humor about everything. Is it intentional or just something that happens naturally? Who gave out the animal nicknames?
MARK: Happens naturally, that's part of what this band's about. We don't try and hide it, and it comes through in that and our live performances. There's a humorous, good-time live vibe to our show. The nicknames choose you. You're just going through life and then it'll pluck you from the surrounds.
What are some of your favorite guitars to bring on the road?
MARK: Ozzy's is a Gibson SG 1981, that's his No. 1 guitar and it's got great sound to it. We're definitely a Gibson band, I have a Les Paul Jr., which is kind of my No. 1 on-the-road guitar, and Pete has a Les Paul — it's not actually a Gibson. We've got a lot of Burnys between us, Japanese copies of Gibsons from the '80w. We think they are great guitars.
What's your take on the state of music today? What do musicians have to do to be able to make it in the digital age?
MARK: That is the primary reason we are DIY, is the state of the music industry. We’ve been offered a few deals, but we'd have to give away far too much compared to what we'd get in return. The only way we can operate as a working band is to keep control of everything.
A lot of the time, we're asked to give away a massive chunk of our percentage and our merchandise and our publishing in return for a tiny amount of advance in the recording process. Obviously, record sales are very low and labels are not as brave as they used to be.
We think what they give in return; they'll release our records and distribute it, we can do it ourselves. We've got networks in place that can do just as good as a label can. Going through a major label sucks up loads of cost and doesn't necessarily deliver a better service. This way, it all comes back to the band.
You recently took a break from touring to record this album. What's it like to get back onto the road?
MARK: It always feels strange that first show back, because it seems like you have to look down at your guitar too much, but that disappears and around the second gig you can look up and see the audience, which is always nice.
With such high-energy music, it seems like shows could get out of hand. Have you ever done something or seen something that made you think that maybe things were about to go too far?
MARK: Yeah, we always encourage that. We like it when it all kicks off and people start stage diving and girls start pulling their tops up and things. It's obviously a highly intense temperature at the front of our shows. It's often difficult keeping our drummer onstage.
Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were both huge influences on you. If you had to pick one ...?
MARK: Whoa, I think for me it'd have to be Sabbath, and that goes throughout the band as well. Zeppelin was a great band but they got a little too wiggly and self-indulgent in a lot of places, where Black Sabbath didn't really stray down that route ... they did a little, but Sabbath, for me, because they kept it focused and kept it lean.
Is there anything I haven't touched on about the album or yourselves that you'd like to add?
MARK: Not really, I'm trying to keep everything secret. I actually think you've touched too much.
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