You are forgiven if the name John Sharkey III doesn’t mean much to you. Last time he performed in NYC under the Puerto Rico Flowers moniker, you may have been gyrating at a discotek or standing on the sidewalk with a slice of pizza. The time before that, you could have been watching a group called the Ting Tings perform on Saturday Night Live. Or maybe, disgust outweighed curiosity and you didn’t bother to see the rumored GG Allin-meets-Don Rickles act that Sharkey was infamous for at the time. He’s a guy whose caustic personality consistently overshadows his musicianship, whether it be wild fretboard mastery and bitter vocal delivery as the frontman for Philadelphia’s defunct Clockcleaner or bubbling synth-pop crooning for the internationally staffed Puerto Rico Flowers. He’s been off the stage for a few years now, starting a family in an outpost in Australia, but he’s back in the USA and he’ll be giving a rare solo performance on Saturday, April 27, at St Vitus Bar. We caught up with him before he makes the trip over from Philadelphia.
We haven’t heard from you in a while. How the hell have you been?
I’ve been fine. Making money and children in Australia.
Tell me about that. What was life like down there for a recently-minted family man like yourself?
It was exactly what I needed. Canberra is what I imagine the world to be in the year 3000. Many years after the earth has been scorched and emptied by nuclear fires and the green has finally returned, people will crawl out of their subterranean hovels and create Canberra. It’s cold, quiet, barren and most importantly; safe. A good place for me to get my bearings before bringing another child back to this cesspool of a city. Canberra will always hold a special place in my heart.
Is this your very first solo performance? I’d be terrified.
No, I performed as Puerto Rico Flowers last year alone. It was a mildly frightening prospect until I reminded myself that in the last five years I’ve had to do many scarier things than getting onstage alone and playing songs.
Oh yeah? What’s been so scary?
Oh, you know, watch two humans get pulled from the loins of my wife, get caught in a football riot in Western Sydney, spend five days in a hospital in rural New South Wales to have a cyst the size of a softball removed from my tailbone, support the Philadelphia 76ers. Life takes its toll of you, playing alone in front of strangers is a walk in the park.
Time was, you got real physical on stage and hooted and hollered and playing screaming guitar solos. Have you gone soft?
I’ve gained 10 pounds of muscle in the last year and been following a strict diet and weight regimen. I’d hardly call myself any softer than when I was a buffoon a few years back.
Is there any chance we’ll get to see you play shirtless, tough stuff?
Not a single one. Only my Arab harpy gets these goods.
Clockcleaner is happily dead, and Puerto Rico Flowers seems dormant. Is this some new direction?
PRF is also dead. That was a fun project, but I can’t do anything more with without it ending up a joke. This solo project was born out of my current family situation. Spreading my time between Canberra and the USA, it’s pointless to try to maintain some sort of musical group. It’s just easier to be completely reliant on myself. It’s convenience, but it’s always intrigued me to do it all alone. And I get all of the money, which is nice.
How was Puerto Rico Flowers a joke? Seemed pretty earnest to most of us.
It wasn’t a joke at all! Any band that keeps regurgitating the same nonsense out over an extended period of time lends itself to become the butt of many jokes. The PRF formula was fairly limited, at least in my mind. It was always meant to be a brief fling.
So are you more or less satisfied with the way the solo stuff turns out? I know firsthand that you write songs by yourself, and that in Clockcleaner you’d show up and the whole thing would get bastardized by the whims of your rhythm section.
It’s not more satisfying in that I’m unhindered by others as much as it’s something new to me. I’ve always been intrigued by the man alone behind the piano; something I never thought in my fucking wildest imagination I’d be talented or brave enough to do. Well, here I am. Plus, I get all the money. Did I mention that?
And how about the words and the lyrics… what’s on your mind these days?
What I write about is what I do with my time away from the house. Actually, I did just write a song about a daydream involving Bret Easton Ellis. I like his writing. He’s a funny man.
And I understand you’re a big fan of just about every professional team sport on the planet. How do you negotiate that macho interest with your increasingly heartfelt music?
Sports and tender music is easy. Anyone with a problem balancing that is ready for the meadow.
It’s baseball season. What are your Phillies gonna do this year?
I’m pretty certain the Phillies will do fuck all this season, but with that second wild card any mediocre team can win a World Series. That’s all it takes to win these days, being pretty good. Look at the last three bullshit rosters who’ve won. We’ll see. Ryan Howard is on pace for a nine home run season. Can’t wait!