In a sea of sound-alikes, you can name Dark Blue’s distinctive sound in under five notes, and that’s not just because they only play four. Vocalist John Sharkey (the third)’s voice is unmistakably his own, perhaps the best sarcasm-wielding baritone of all time, and it guides Dark Blue’s peculiar formula of bubblegum Oi!, or at least their approximate sound-clash of heart-on-sleeve New Romanticism and drunken skinhead anthems. After a couple 7″ singles and a debut full-length, all brandishing their Crate & Barrel-font logo, Dark Blue are poised to take over the underground, if only because they have absolutely nothing to prove – this is a group that exists to replicate the sounds bouncing around in Sharkey’s head, not to collect likes, pings or track-backs. They’re also some of the downright sweetest men over thirty you’ll ever likely meet, just don’t tell them I said that. After previously denying me a Puerto Rico Flowers interview, Sharkey finally relented and talked Dark Blue with me.

Seeing as both Puerto Rico Flowers and Dark Blue are essentially your babies, can you explain why Puerto Rico Flowers ended and Dark Blue began? Even with some personnel overlap, they seem like pretty distinctly different projects.
There really was no heady reason why Puerto Rico Flowers ended. Like everything I do musically I get sick of it after a while. I’m sure some people out there can relate. I was also getting extremely bored with the synthesizer and modern bands associated with them. Fake Goth is pathetic. It seems like every dude who was into hardcore decided two years after Cold Cave emerged that they too were a tortured soul who need to exercise the demons of the Revelation Records message-board by moaning over GarageBand preset drum beats.
I started Dark Blue out of the itch. I was ready to play guitar again and the only reason personnel overlap happened in that case is because I trust Andy (Nelson, bass) and Mike (Sneeringer, drums) more than anyone. They can just walk into the situation knowing the score. No nonsense.

It’s been said that Dark Blue is basically trying to fuse Oi/street-punk with New Romantic / Madchester pop. Is that accurate? Was there a specific plan behind how you wanted Dark Blue to sound?
I originally got the idea to do an Oi!-pop type band after making a compilation of all the hidden pop gems stashed on those skinhead rock records. Some of the sweetest sounds came for the lunkiest British boofheads. I was always attracted to those songs when I was a 14-year-old discovering that shit. I also romanticize that era of punk a bit too much. It was the en-vogue style when I found punk. I can recall fondly going to shows in West Philadelphia at Stalag 13. One time I was running down the street, overjoyed that some idiot had sold me – fourteen at the time – a forty-ounce malted beer. Halfway back to the show I dislocated my right knee and smashed it on the ground. I was already kind of drunk so it was no big loss. Then “Nazis” aka skinheads from Reading drove their car into the singer of a band called Dehumanized. The singer was an African-American female. A person who I’d become good friends with later named Tony Pointless threw a brick right through the windshield. It was like a soap opera. All for me.
I’m certainly not gonna start a band that sounds like Blanks ’77 but this is as close as I will get. It’s still just my songs.

Do you personally identify as a skinhead?
Yes, absolutely.

Which combination label/distro has had a deeper effect on your life: Profane Existence or Vulture Rock?
Neither. The Cleopatra Record catalog and distribution had that market cornered. Although I loved bands like Misery and Assrash when I was young.

Do Australians understand skinhead culture?
I guess. There were a few of them in Sydney and Melbourne. A few of the members of AVO were from the suburb I lived in, Canberra. You should check that band out.

If you’re a skinhead, and Andy is a punk, does that make Mike a herbert?
Mike is a hippy, Sean (McGuinness, fill-in drummer) is a Herbert. Dave (Wagenschutz, fill-in drummer) is also a skinhead. He was Detroit’s last real skinhead.

Dark Blue has been documented via social media since the band was having its first practices. Why did you want the process of Dark Blue to be so visible to friends and followers?
I have been guilty of over-sharing, yes, but it’s an easy way to remain relevant and not extremely active. I’m not playing in this band to be intentionally obscure. Fuck that. Even if I can’t commit to touring and do what they call in the industry as “going for it”, the band is still gonna represent itself properly.

Where does Dark Blue exist within the record industry? It seems to me that you’re not self-sabotagingly DIY, but at the same time it’s not the #1 priority in your life.
It’s definitely not my life’s work anymore but it’s still a large part of my daily thinking. Now that my children are getting older I can pay more attention to it and in turn can pursue things like music industry attention. I’ll take whatever comes my way in turns of that. You want to release my record? Sure. You want to fly me to play one show in a weekend? Sure. You want to pay me? Sure. It’s really me being advantageous. I’m not shy when it comes to money these days. I don’t have much so give me all of yours.

How far would you take that? Do you have any fear of Dark Blue being corrupted via commercialization, or is that simply not possible? Like if Coors Light came knocking with thousands of dollars to license a commercial, you’d say yes in a heartbeat?
I would for many reasons take all of that Coors Light money. I have mouths to feed and Eagles season tickets to buy. Rocky Mountain High.
I don’t think licensing is the cause of commercialization corrupting artists. It’s when people start making concession with their output for the sake of being commercial. I probably couldn’t even do that if I made the most concerted effort. I don’t think I know how to do that. Not trying to sound like some pompous Puritan, I’m just being honest. It’s hard to fake shit like that.

Really, you don’t think you could write some beer commercial jingle? I think you could. Dark Blue’s stuff is by far the most straightforward and pop-leaning music you’ve done thus far…
Well, if anyone at Coors is reading this: I’m up for the challenge.

Photo: Cali Thornhill-Dewitt

Your guitar sound, particularly on the LP, has that same sort of bite at the end of each note that you had in Clockcleaner. Has your setup changed much since those days?
Yes I’ve changed everything completely. In Clockcleaner I used a Marshall 4×12 with the little buddy Crate Power Block. That was the secret weapon. I still have it but don’t really use it for Dark Blue.
Now I use a Marshall 4×10 and valve amp with built in slap-back so I don’t need to muck around with a delay pedal anymore. And I’m playing a Fender Strat as opposed to the Les Paul. I’m over Gibsons. I’m perfectly comfortable with my penis.
So yes. I use completely different shit and get the mostly the same results. Still use metal picks. Not quarters anymore, though.

You’re headed to the UK for a Dark Blue tour later this year. Do you have any specific expectations or goals for it? If not musically, just from a tourist perspective?
We actually pushed the tour back to next Spring, but I have some plans that will probably not come to fruition. I want to visit a few football grounds, like Liverpool’s home, Anfield and The Millwall ground, The Den. Fulham FC have a cool old shithole ground. I also want to become UK-tabloid-famous. Maybe I’ll pants a bobby or streak Buckingham Palace with “Free Palestine” painted on my bottom.
Musically I just want to play and get it over with. That’s my goal for every show.

Do you follow the music scene in the UK? Any bands you’d like to play with? Actually, let me open that up further: do you follow the music scene anywhere these days?
Every time Andy says we have an offer to play with someone I never seem to know who the fuck these bands are. I don’t pay much attention to children that aren’t mine. It is a lot of work that I’m not willing to do, staying abreast of modern music.

What are you listening to these days, in that case? What’s in your six-CD changer?
How do you know I have a 6-cd changer?! Did you know I owned an Accord? Am I that quick a study? I hope not.
Lately it’s been from 1-6:
1. Psychedelic Furs Greatest Hits
2. Iris Dement Live at BB King’s crowd tape
3. Misfits Legacy Of Brutality
4. John Cale Fragments Of A Rainy Season
5. Housemartins The People That Grinned Themselves To Death
6. Morrissey Kill Uncle

I know you’ve covered John Cale before. Any other cover songs in the Dark Blue songbook at this point?
I’d love to cover a 4-Skins song or a Roxy Music song but nothing is planned. Maybe “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton. That song is very emotional and moving. Appropriate for a funeral. I’d play that at a funeral for $300.

I feel like the jock-rock of the ’90s has yet to make a nostalgic comeback, and there’s a cultural slot that needs filling. Are any Dark Blue songs explicitly about football? Is that in the cards?
There are definite references to football in a few songs but nothing specifically devoted to the game. I don’t think we’ll be the band to fill that void but you never know. It is really the only thing I care about outside of my family and work. If I could somehow work in a Boils-style anthem for the Philadelphia Eagles and garner some attention for it I might reconsider. It’s really a matter of civic pride for which I have very little.

Since Puerto Rico Flowers, you’ve kept a pretty steady tempo for your songs, on the slower end of mid-paced. Could there ever be a fast Dark Blue song?
Yeah, I’m sure there could be a fast Dark Blue song. Maybe not Neanderthal fast, but possibly Combat 84 fast. That umpa-umpa stupid skinhead beat would probably be it. The only thing I fear is that the drummers we play with are too good to play fast and it would sound like NOFX or something. When really good drummers play fast it usually sounds shitty. I’ve stressed that if you’re gonna play in Dark Blue you have to lower your skill level, brow and expectations. It’s a shame to take all his talent and proficiency and flush it down the john. No pun intended.
The whole next LP is already written, though. Maybe I’ll write a special song just for you, Matt. I’ll call the song “Matt”. Then it would definitely be a Punk In Drublic-era classic!