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James Mattock can't remember when he first heard punk rock. Ordinarily, letting an event like that slip through the cracks of your memory would be no biggie, but considering Mattock has dedicated his life to the genre, it's a bit of a shame we'll never hear an anecdote involving his first impressions.
"Most people remember that moment, but I have no idea because of the way I grew up with it," says the guitarist/vocalist of Sharks. "I never had that moment that most punk kids have when they go, 'Oh my God, I've just found what I've been looking for.' There is an upside to this, though: Mattock can't recall his first exposure to the style because his father—a punk fan who saw the Clash and the Ramones in action—raised him to its sounds. The front man figures he was listening to punk at 9 years old, and he followed his father's tastes until he was about 15. It was around that age that he and guitarist Andy Bayliss formed Sharks. The group are still going some five years later, and Mattock dropped his education for their sake, so they clearly must mean a whole hell of a lot to the guy. "If I didn't end up doing this," he ponders, "I'd most likely have a really shitty job, so I'm grateful."
The brand of punk that Mattock and company espouse evokes bands who were in their heyday long before the singer was born. The tuneful but bullshit-free sensibility of the Jam and the Damned shines through; to a lesser extent, pub rock and power-pop rear their aged heads, too. Most important of all, though, are the aforementioned Clash. Mattock's voice is a dead ringer for Joe Strummer's youthful but wise-and-weary call, and the beloved group were crucial in shaping the aesthetic of the four-piece from Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. Sharks might lack innovation and ingenuity, but they accomplish what they set out to do with commendable earnestness.
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What has kept Mattock close to punk since childhood is a sense of sonic liberation. "The sound takes a bit of a back seat. Obviously, our sound is pretty punky, but the spirit of it matters more," he says. There's a certain ability to mess with the band's rock while retaining an intangible feel that Mattock really adores.
On the flipside, he dislikes a narrow-mindedness within the scene that challenges punk's ideals of unity. "People get really uptight about, say, someone selling out. [It's] really petty," he says, mentioning the trials of Jawbreaker and Against Me! jumping to major labels. Still, Mattock voices a distaste for "corporate punk" that's diluting the genre, even if he won't name names. "I'm not going to go online and bullshit about it. They're doing what they want to do, and I'm going to do what I want to do."
Will they stick to their style? The metaphorical Magic 8-Ball reads, "Signs point to yes."
"We're at no point going to try to relive whatever's not there. We never intended to bring back punk or anything. In my eyes, it's always been around," he says. "We're 19 and 20. We just want to play loud and fast and speak our minds, and I'm sure when I'm a little older, that'll calm down a little. I've got no problems with that. I know that's coming."
This article appeared in print as "Sharks Week: Come sink your teeth into some old-school young-guy punk rock."