Shining Black – Painting Postcards in the World

Tuesday, 29th March 2022

Stellar singers and guitarists have been a part of the rock/metal landscape forever. For every Blackmore, Schenker, and Iommi dealing out six-string glory, there are mesmerizing vocalists that carry the songs to another dimension of eternity. One of those singers from the 80’s that made his mark through the Yngwie Malmsteen- Trilogy album is Mark Boals. Still going strong for decades in numerous bands/projects, he has now joined forces for two albums with Labyrinth/Vision Divine guitarist/songwriter Olaf Thorsen in Shining Black. Their second album Postcards from the End of the World is a melodic hard rock/metal tour de force – brimming with amazing musicianship, earworms, and infectious tracks that stand the test of time.

We reached out to Mark on Zoom while he was in Mexico. During this fun conversation we tackle the work behind Shining Black, thoughts on Frontiers Music and the video choices, favorite memories from Day on the Green to Japan, underrated albums in the Mark Boals discography, plus future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Postcards from the End of the World is the second album for Shining Black. Working with the same lineup as the self-titled debut from 2020 – how would you assess the material and performances this time around? Where do you see the differences or growth factors that make this an intriguing project for you?

Mark Boals: Well, I think it’s definitely a progression from what we started on the first album. Working with Olaf, we are developing a really nice chemistry, and I really like working with him. Even though we are doing this long distance right now. The songwriting went really easy with him. We click really well together. We are both psyched about making this a band, and actually playing some gigs.

We think it is a little different than the other Frontiers projects. A lot of them sound the same, they are good but along the same lines, often having the same members. I’m excited about this one.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the two video choices for the title track and “A Hundred Thousand Shades of Black” – is it difficult to decide what singles represent the first look into the record, and how did these shoots go in your opinion?

Boals: Yeah, it is really hard. We have to fight with the label on that sometimes too. Olaf and I pick different songs sometimes than they do, and they think they know better than we do. The first video we thought went really well, and we were both happy about that selection. The second song “A Hundred Thousand Shades of Black” is a really good song too – but I didn’t really like the way they put the video together. That was on Frontiers – we didn’t have much input on that video. I think it’s a great song, so hopefully people like the video too.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about the skills and work ethic of Olaf Thorsen? Did it surprise you that even after things didn’t work out with Labyrinth and Olaf wanted to create something like this to showcase his abilities with your stellar skills as a vocalist?

Boals: Yeah, I was a little surprised. I kind of let him down on that front where we were supposed to work together in Labyrinth. He told me he’s always wanted to work with me, and once I started working with him, I was sad we didn’t get to work together sooner. Because of the chemistry, he’s one of the easiest guys I’ve ever written songs with, actually. It just goes really smooth; we both are happy about the results. I don’t know what else to say.

Dead Rhetoric: You made a good thing out of a difficult situation. You were supposed to be a part of Labyrinth years back, and it didn’t work out.

Boals: Yeah, it was just bad timing. It was me that dropped the ball. They were waiting for me to jump on board, and I wasn’t able to at the time. They are a great band too. I think we have something different here though with Shining Black.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the work that Frontiers Music does for this project – and their level of care/commitment to the melodic hard rock, AOR, and metal genres as a whole? Especially given the climate of the music industry where physical sales aren’t what they used to be during the 80’s and 90’s…

Boals: (laughs). That’s an understatement of the century. Aren’t what they used to be – physical sales? They make it harder than it used to be, physical copies of music now – as none of the new cars have CD players now. Everything is all tilted towards streaming, and they make it so easy to stream, everything is more of a convenient form of listening. I am thankful that many of our faithful fans still buy CD’s. I wish they would release this on vinyl – I love vinyl as I’m an old school guy.

Frontiers… the only thing I can say, they really are a melodic rock label. Serafino the label president, really loves that style of music. I’ve been working with them on and off since the beginning, 1999 was the first album I did with them. I was introduced to them by a Japanese label, actually. They’ve grown so much, so big, so fast, ever since then. They release so much product it’s even hard for me to keep up with what they are releasing. It’s nice that they are giving new bands a chance to be heard, putting product out there and promoting stuff to a certain degree.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe it’s hard for you as an American musician to breakthrough in the North American market compared to other parts of the world where your music seems to be received better?

Boals: It’s always been that way. Most of my bands/projects were of the neoclassic/rock and metal genre, which is a niche market in the USA. It’s always been more popular in Japan and other parts of the world than the states. This Shining Black though is more melodic hard rock. I hope it will be more favorable to the fans in the USA, to have more home fans.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s just frustrating to me, living here, especially during the 90’s/early 2000’s, you had to buy these records on import as the US labels weren’t putting these styles out there…

Boals: True. Frontiers has really great distribution, they have a good network going worldwide. So that’s a plus.

Dead Rhetoric: What tools of the trade do you incorporate to keep your voice in the best shape you can, this deep into your career?

Boals: Tools of the trade. The main thing is keeping your body healthy, exercising and singing every day is a big part of it too. It’s a physical thing. If I don’t (sing) for a week or two, I have to really warm myself up a lot more. Warming up is a big part of it too, you don’t hurt your voice. The highest rock singing I do, you have to have a lot of strength in your diaphragm, your core to support the voice. I’ve never had nodules on my vocal cords, because some singers they aren’t doing things the right way. Staying away from smoking, a lot of alcohol, I will have a glass of wine with dinner. Overdoing it on anything, other than the preparation is detrimental. I still warm up with scales, to do a really good show I need to warm up for about an hour. And not strain myself.

Dead Rhetoric: When you look back at your vast body of work, what do you consider some of the special moments that have taken place – either with specific albums, tours, or festival situations where it made an indelible impression on you, and you knew you were making an impact with your abilities?

Boals: I think the first show I did with Yngwie Malmsteen always stays in my mind. It was the biggest show we ever did – Day on the Green at Oakland Stadium, 80,000 people. It was live on MTV. I had two rehearsals before the show, so there was a lot of stress. Sammy Hagar and Neal Schon were standing on the side of the stage watching me. It was an incredible thing I will never forget. It went very well. I hung out with Sammy after the show, him and Neal were very complimentary to me. Sammy was just getting ready to join Van Halen and he played me the demos for 5150 in his car, driving around in his Ferrari. That was a fantastic day.

Playing in Japan, they treated more musicians back then like the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. We got flowers, gifts, at that time they were the best fans. The most loyal fans in the world. When they choose an artist to like and support, they pretty much stay with you forever.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find that is a major difference in fans overseas versus the USA – they’ll stay with you even if you change styles?

Boals: The fans in America can be fickle, flavor of the month or week. You can get forgotten by most of them. However, there are people I meet who want to talk to me, they are like the Japanese, and they are in America. Our media here, it’s very limited in the scope of what they put out. Even if you are listening to Sirius XM, or any of the cable things, it’s pretty limited to the programming. It’s not like the old days of radio.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of hard rock and heavy metal currently? What do you enjoy most about the global movement these days – and what areas of concern or improvement do you think need to be made?

Boals: First thing, people need to try to be more original. People seem to try to fit into a mold of whatever they think is going to be the next thing – and everybody jumps on the same train. The productions sound the same, the songs sound the same, everything sounds the same. When I was growing up and starting out in bands, you would go from one band’s album to another band’s album, and everything sounds completely different. Both sound great, the styles and songs would be different. There is a distinct difference between the bands that made it in the 70’s and 80’s. I’d like to see people be more original. I miss that.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the barrier to entry has decreased with home studio setups compared to the bigger budget studios and being on the clock in the past?

Boals: Totally. You can build a home studio for practically nothing now and make it sound halfway decent if you know what you are doing. You can put something out there. And there is a lot to sift through for the average person. I like to hear new music, but I keep clicking, clicking, clicking because it all sounds the same. Nothing jumps out at me. There are some great new bands. The home recording has brought down the bar for people to put stuff out there.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies and interests that you have away from music to fuel your free time – and how important has it been to have the support of your family and friends in your music career?

Boals: That’s very important. My wife is still my worst critic. I force her to listen to everything I am doing, and she’s very honest, the critical ear she has. Friends – that is an important part of everybody’s life. You have to hang onto them. Real friends are hard to find.

What I like to do to clear my head is I like to ride motorcycles. I have a big Harley, very loud to tell everyone I’m coming so get out of my way (laughs). I like to ride up in the mountains, through the desert. That clears my head and gets my creativity flowing. I live in Las Vegas now, when I lived in Los Angeles, I would go to the beach a lot.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the pandemic affect your workload over the past two years? And how do you think society will come out of this, do you get the sense of a resurgence in appreciating the entertainment industry and fine arts maybe more now that had been taken for granted in the past?

Boals: Definitely for live shows. People are starved for live music now. It’s been missing completely for a couple of years now. Every kind of entertainment was down. Las Vegas was completely shut down; it was like a ghost town. I spent a lot of time at home, did some writing and recording. It was a tough time. My whole family caught (COVID-19), I caught it twice. That makes me strong, it didn’t kill me.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your body of work, what are one or two underrated albums people need to look into and check out more?

Boals: Well, I was really happy with the Royal Hunt albums I did. Iron Mask, I did a couple of albums with them, there are some really good songs there. I do lots of guest appearances, too many to mention. I try my best on all the work I do.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities in the world of Mark Boals over the next twelve months?

Boals: Right now, I’m in the process of finishing up the new Ring of Fire album. I’m probably going to make a new band or new solo album project. I want to do something that is commercial – I want to be on the Top 100 real Billboard chart. That’s my goal for the near future. I will be working more with Olaf. We are starting to put together some shows for Shining Black in South America and Japan. We have been talking to promoters for that. It will be the first time I will meet Olaf in person- we’ve never met in person. It would be great to be on stage with him, he put together a nice band that’s young and hungry. Ring of Fire will come out late in the year. We started recording it last year. That will be a cool album, very orchestral rock. The songs can be like mini concertos.

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