John Sharkey III is no longer the fuckhead in Clockcleaner, writing songs with titles like “Gentle Swastika,” crafting cold noisy punk that was both biting and mesmerizing. The band was great, and then simmered out, synth-pop Puerto Rico Flowers born in its 2008 wake. That band too proved to have an expiration date. A natural one, an unforced death. For fans, that meant the end of the best baritone since Ian Curtis.
But Sharkey never stopped. Now married with children, he’s settled, but not complacent. His latest project, Dark Blue, sees him alongside Ceremony’s Andy Nelson and Purling Hiss’ Mike Sneeringer. The voice has returned. And it comes to NYC tonight at Home Sweet Home as part of Nothing Changes with Interval. We asked it some questions.
Let’s talk about where you’ve been. I understand you were in Australia for the last couple years? You’re in Philly now?
Since 2008 I have been traveling between Philadelphia and the capital of Australia, Canberra. My wife is an Australian citizen. I have two children now. When we got pregnant we decided to go back to Australia. My wife was scared to death of raising children here in this country and I don’t blame her. That’s what I’ve been doing–going back and forth. It’s an expensive hobby.
But it sounds like a fun one.
I love Australia, it’s a great place. It’s basically a Twilight Zone version of the United States. People there are considered British rednecks and that’s basically what Americans are, we just don’t have the bad food and the nice accents. My wife is working on getting her citizenship so that’s why we’re here now. I’m sure the music listening world is really happy we’re staying put, haha!
Let’s backtrack a little: it is 2003 and you start Clockcleaner.
I lived in Cleveland for a few years and then moved home and the original idea was the drummer, Richie Charles, and I hadn’t really gotten along in the past so it was shocking when he stopped me on the street and asked me to start a band with him. Once we got together with the bass player who was only in the band for a very short time it quickly dawned on me that I’d have to do everything to keep Clockcleaner afloat.
You can be in my band but you have to do everything.
It was born out of necessity. Let’s be honest, no one wants to be in a band where the drummer tells you what to do. That lasted until 2009 when we broke up.
What was the reason for that?
We just did everything we wanted to do as a band. My wife got pregnant, I decided it was the best to just end it. With Clockcleaner we kind of expended all of our creative ideas and I’d already started Puerto Rico Flowers in 2008 in Australia and I wanted to expend upon that lackadaisical idea. We weren’t playing shows at the time, and it never seemed like something I could build upon or commit to full time. We did a record… Puerto Rico Flowers was a metamorphoses from my time as a drunk idiot into full-time working dad.
I’m sure you get this a lot but one of things that is so distinctive about your music is your voice. Did you ever have any vocal training? Or did you just one day realize “Whoa I can do this.”?
Never had vocal training. I took music courses in community college but never music vocals. You can tell as the Clockcleaner records go on I’m focusing more on my voice. It really just kind of worked out that way. No, I’ve never had any vocal training. It’s very sweet that you think that. I’m glad that I don’t sound like my singing voice, I’d probably sound like Peter Steele. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in a long time.
That’s good, with kids and all. This is now me shaming you. Your new band is called Dark Blue. How did all this happen?
I’d been listening to a lot of UK ’77 Punk stuff, the first kind of music that I got really obsessed with in my early teens. I decided that it might be time for me to finally pay homage to the stuff that I grew up with musically. It never occurred to me that I’d start this band: I had a pile of songs I didn’t know what else to do with them than fucking record them. I’m at the point in my life where I can devote a little more time to music. My kids are a little bit older now, and my wife and I are settled in Philadelphia. It gives me a little more time to work on this stuff. Andy and Mike used to play in Puerto Rico Flowers and we started playing around with stuff, almost as a fluke. I didn’t really expect much of it to be quite honest with you, but it’s the project I’m most happy with.
How does it differ lyrically from the other stuff you’ve done? It doesn’t sound like you’re going to be writing a song called “Gentle Swastika” anytime soon.
Ha, I don’t think I need to rehash that bullshit! Lyrically it’s about imaginary riots to songs about futuristic skinheads delivering underground dwelling… to be honest with you, a lot of the lyrics mean fucking nothing. That’s always been kind of my focus. The way things sound is much more important than the lyrics. I’ve never placed much importance on what I saying.
Funny for a guy who’s known for his voice.
I think about that sometimes: maybe I should take a page from a more poetic vocalist. I don’t give a shit. I’m not trying to tackle any social issues.
There’s enough of that in the world. What’s next for Dark Blue?
We have a 7″ coming out on Katorga Works (Merchandise’s label) in February. We’re going to play more shows, we’ve only played two. The first was with Sky Ferreira and the second was with Perfect Pussy. I got to say “Guy Fieri” on stage which was very satisfying. By the way, if there’s any question of what Dark Blue sounds like, my wife says it sounds like the Morrissey song “National Front Disco” mixed with an actual national front disco. I hope everyone buys the record so I can fucking quit my job. If people can devote their lives to giving me money, I would be a lot happier.
Dark Blue perform tonight at Home Sweet Home as part of Nothing Changes with Interval. $7. 10 p.m.