Up Close: Shannon Sharpe

Up Close & Personal

Healthy and Hardcore

Shannon Sharpe has been drumming for the hardcore band Wisdom in Chains since 2004, but don’t expect the typical crazy backstage party stories from this guy. Where some musicians might chug beers after a good show, Sharpe, 36, might be more likely found serving up a well-balanced plate of vegetarian cuisine, working out or doing yoga, or thinking about his next art project. He’s a complex, layered man with good advice and great stories. Meet Shannon Sharpe …

How long have you been playing music?
I started playing drums in fifth grade in the school program where the school offers you whichever instrument you want to try. I always knew I wanted to be in a band, and knew I wasn’t going to play trumpet in a band (laughs), so I chose the drums. I started playing in a band in high school. In ninth grade, I finally got a drum set, and, of course, nobody can really play any instruments at that age, but all of your friends want to be in a band, so you get together with a couple of friends and start screwing around and pretending you know what you’re doing, which is exactly what we did.

What changes have you seen in the hardcore scene since you started?
Well, some of the things that I’ve seen change are how bands tour, how their shows get booked and how they sell records. With the internet coming along, it makes it a lot easier for people to do stuff for themselves. Back when you used to play shows, you needed a map and pay phones and things like that (laughs). I see a lot more people doing things for themselves. Musically, there’s a lot of different crossover, a lot of different influences with the younger generation. It’s not really straight-up punk or hardcore anymore — there’s a mix of influences. I’ve seen a lot of clubs come and go, too, which is unfortunate, of course.

Which musicians and bands (from all genres) would you say have had the greatest effect on you as a musician?
Ever since I was a young kid I was always drawn to music of different genres, and I always knew that I wanted to play. There’s no one musician specifically that really impacted me. When I got into hardcore, I didn’t even know what it was. I was going to shows for a while without even realizing what the music was. It was a choice, going out, of cover bands versus originals, and when I was going out, the bands playing original music were hardcore bands. The difference was between people who wanted to be superstars versus people who wanted to make music. What I love about hardcore is that you can stick around. You don’t have advertisers dumping a bunch of money into something that’s not going to last. If you’re touring with a hardcore band for 10 years, you’re going to build up a solid fan base — you’re not just a flash in the pan or a one-hit wonder. In hardcore, you have such great interaction with people. There’s not that separation of performer versus audience — everyone comes together. It draws them together to have a better understanding of each other. A lot of the lyrics are based on life experiences, and a lot of our audience identifies with that. So during shows, when we’re playing live, it’s like we’re all in it together, understanding each other. But as for other types of music? I listened to a lot of hair metal when I was younger. I wasn’t your typical little kid that would go play with his toys. I would sit in my room and thumb through my father’s record collection. I was always drawn to music. Let’s put it this way: for first, second and third grade, every year for Halloween, I went as Billy Idol (laughs).

I also see that you’re interested in sustainable housing and living. How do you think that connects with your music? Is there a relationship between an independent music scene and an independent lifestyle?
Yeah, absolutely. For anyone who knows anything about hardcore, they know there’s no money in it. So to live that lifestyle, you don’t want to live beyond your means. Most people, they get up, go to their jobs where they slave away, even if they hate it. With (sustainable housing and lifestyle), you own the things in your life. In hardcore, you need a job that’s flexible. I knew I needed to live a more sustainable lifestyle, where you do a lot of things for yourself. I’m the type of person who would rather do what I want, and I’d rather not have my hands tied. I’d rather not have something own me.

Nutrition is obviously important to you, from your job to your personal life. How did you become involved or just interested in this?
This goes back to your earlier question about the scene changing. In the ‘80s and ‘90s with the bands it was all party, party, party — not a very sustainable lifestyle. Now if you want to be on the road and tour, you need a more sustainable lifestyle. Now you see people working out, eating better, making it last. I used to party a bit in my early days, nothing crazy, but I’ve changed my ways. I got really into nutrition in 2007 when we went on a European tour with [the band] Sick of it All. The majority of our band tried a vegetarian diet because we noticed that vegans and vegetarians always got hooked up with really great food in Europe. We ended up sticking with it. It’s a lot easier to live a crazy lifestyle if you can remain healthy, work out and eat right. When I’m not on tour, I work a lot so I can pay my bills before I go. It’s a lot easier to go, go, go if you’re healthy. When I was in high school I was a really good long distance runner. Now that I’m older, I’m in a position where younger kids look up to me. So I just started coaching cross country this year. I want to be, and our bands wants to be, a positive role model. You can preach to someone all you want, but if you’re not living what you’re preaching — not that I’m preaching — you lead by example. Even if you look at my Instagram page, a lot of it’s the super healthy food I’m eating. The way I eat now, it didn’t happen overnight. It’s like anything. People look at me like I’m crazy but anything’s easy when it becomes part of your normal routine.

So do you follow a strict diet regimen or is it more about general rules?
We have to be flexible, so no. When your schedule can change at any minute, you have to be flexible. Where I work, DPS Nutrition, we have a gym, so I’ll work out on lunch break. At night I do hot yoga. That helps.

You also make art and furniture out of re-purposed wood, yes? Do you see a connection between being a drummer and working with your hands as an artist?
I don’t know if it’s a connection like that. I think it goes back to the fact that I’ve always been a quiet, shy, keep-to-myself type of person and I have always seemed to attach myself to expressing myself through art or music or doing things with my hands and being creative. I express myself more that way than actually talking to people. Talking has become easier through being in a band where it’s a forced interaction, so I’m not as shy as I was. I find it easiest to express myself through creativity like making furniture or playing music.

I see you’re engaged with the tattooing community as well. Do you have an ink that you regret having done? Like, ex-girlfriends’ names or something from your youth that no longer applies to you?
No, I don’t really regret any of them. Luckily I have a lot of tattoo artist friends, particularly Chris Jones (Marc’s Tattooing, Scranton) or Jonesy as he’s known, so anything I didn’t really care for he was able to make it look better or cover it up. That makes it a little easier (laughs).

You sound like a busy, energetic guy. What do you do to relax and unwind after a crazy day?
Well, unfortunately I don’t relax and unwind, so that’s why I started taking yoga. That’s my time to breathe, stretch, etc. I started a few years ago and realized it was the few times per week I actually felt really good and was able to relax and unwind. I started the hot yoga and now it’s like I’m addicted to it (laughs). Every day or every other day I have that hour or hour and half where I can relax and not think about anything.
— andrea mcguigan