Marillion: receding headaches

When we talked to them, Steve Hogarth and Marillion were tired, but also happy and relieved. The band are proud of their new album, even though it was hard and trying for them to complete, because of an overfull schedule. The singer gave us a few anecdotes concerning the writing and recording of the record – tidbits that sound almost funny when you think about the circumstances the band sometimes had to work in. That should be enough to amuse young bands, who know all about this surrealist, exhausting process.

The band once again asked the help of their fans to finance the recording of the album through pre-orders. A highly profitable solution that the listeners themselves are fond of, since they feel a more important connection to the work they help create. All through their career, Marillion have tried to adapt intelligently to the music market in terms of business management. As Hogarth himself reminds us, this is an indispensible aspect of every band’s life.

At the end of the interview, Hogarth mentions another reason to feel at peace: he finally made a song out of a theme that, according to him, had been giving him headaches for years – the political situation in Gaza. To talk about this subject in the most meticulous way possible, Hogarth made the trip there and talked to the inhabitants, who have to deal with the situation on a daily basis. A beautiful example to all the self-professed committed artists, who sometimes talk a bit too fast, or, more generally, to those who have stopped looking for answers by themselves – or maybe never even tried.

« This album was chaotic and difficult to make. »

Radio Metal: How is the tour going?

Steve Hogarth (singer): Well, the date that we play in Paris tomorrow will be the first show this year. The last show we did last year, I think in November, was in Warsaw, Poland: this tour has taken us around North and South America, Canada, Europe and Eastern Europe. The tour is going well : we’ve had some amazing reactions to the new album and since I’ve joined the band, I’ve never known such reactions like to this one. This album’s had a difficult birth and kind of a chaotic process of recording and finishing it, but it’s been incredibly well received and it’s a huge relief for us, because by the time we finish an album, we don’t know how people are going to react to it.

Why was it so hard to record Sounds That Can’t Be Made?

I think we underestimated the time it would take: at the beginning of the process, in 2010, we went to Portugal to start writing and it became apparent that we weren’t ready to do it. So we took a few months off to recharge a little bit and then resume and spend the whole of 2011 writing and starting to record. We also have quite a lot of life commitments and I think we may have just overstretched them. We had a similar story in 2012 as well: we had committed to a North American tour in the summer of that year, and when we had to go over there, we still hadn’t finished the album, which should have been released at that point: not only we went on tour before the album was out, but we were also finishing it on our laptops in hotel rooms. I was compiling lead vocals on planes! (laughs) It was a mad way of working and each of us ended up working separately on laptops or headphones in hotel rooms! Then, we went back home in the summer of 2011, and instead of having a break before the next tour, we spent the whole of the three weeks finishing the record. We then got back on the road in Europe: I remember sitting in a hotel room with the band listening to the final mixes in Oslo, Norway and reporting our mix notes to our producer in England, Mike Hunter. This album was chaotic and difficult to make but everybody seems love it.

« Since we took over everything ourselves, we’re financially more comfortable than we were when we were signed to major labels. We just realised how much money used to go into other people’s pockets. »

Like some of your previous albums, you used pre-ordering to finance the album: is it more interesting for you, financially speaking?

Well, it works on many levels. Financially, you can obviously raise a lot of money even before the album is released and finished, which is quite useful, while in the old days, you would need to go to a major label. The record company was like a bank: you would go to them and they would give you the money to make an album. Of course, this money would be keeping six or seven people alive for about two years, so although it sounds like a lot of money, it would actually end up being not even as much as you need! (laughs). You also have the studio costs and everything else. These days, we don’t have to do that and actually, since we took over everything ourselves, we’re financially more comfortable than we were when we were signed to major labels. We just realised how much money used to go into other people’s pockets. We found ourselves in a position, with the Somewhere Else album where we didn’t have to ask the fans for money, so we didn’t, because we thought we shouldn’t. I think I was the sole voice in the band saying: “Ok, even if we don’t need the money, we should ask, because they feel they’re part of it”. I was outvoted, because the rest of the band felt we shouldn’t exploit the fans when we didn’t need to, which is very honourable, but we received emails from the fans saying: “What have we done wrong ? Why is there no pre-order ?”. People were actually upset, because they were enjoying being part of everything, they were financing the album, we were all part of something and we were putting their names inside the album. A lot of people really enjoyed this process, and even though we didn’t need the money, it’s not just about money itself, it’s about a spiritual involvement.

Do you think the fans are more concerned about the recording and the music industry, when they are part of this process you’ve mentioned?

I don’t know. I suppose that if I saw a Rolls Royce in a shop window, and I looked at it saying: “That’s a nice car I’d love to drive one of those one day”, it’s a different feeling to if you’ve ordered a Rolls Royce and you’re waiting for it to arrive. You’re extremely interested in reading books about Rolls Royce, and you’re extremely excited for it to arrive, because you’ve ordered it and it’s on its way to you. So maybe that makes the difference.

About pre-ordering to finance the album: « A lot of people really enjoyed this process, and even though we didn’t need the money, it’s not just about money itself, it’s about a spiritual involvement. »

Do you find it important to remind people that a band needs money to record an album?

If a band has to compromise with the money that is available to work with, I first think that it’s not good for a band to have too much money, because musicians, on the whole, tempt to be quite lazy distracted people, so if you give them too much, they will go out and spend it, and it won’t work. But on the other hand, if you give them too little money, they won’t have any decent recording facilities, and as they’re time wise under so much pressure, that might not produce the best work either. People must realise that music shouldn’t be free: I think that there was a time, in the 70’s or perhaps in the early 80’s, when successful musicians were decadent, flying all over the world in first class, sitting on fluffy cushions, going to very posh hotels, and lived like an aristocracy. Even if I’m a musician myself, I don’t think this is good for you. But at the same time, people must be reminded that music costs a lot of money: for instance, Pink Floyd couldn’t have made Dark Side Of The Moon without the help of a major label, and Peter Gabriel couldn’t have recorded “So” without that too. Now, those major labels are gone and it does change what is possible. People have to remember that like everything else, you get what you pay for in the long run.

If pre-ordering is quite interesting, financially speaking, why don’t so many bands do the same thing as you?

There are a number of reasons. First of all, certain members of the band I’m in are very intelligent and savvy, particularly Mark Kelly [note: keyboard player] and Steve Rothery [note: guitar player]. To be in a successful band, I think that you need to be more than a musician because being a good or great musician is not enough: you need other skills, like being forward thinking, like knowing where your business is going to see whether your manager is ripping you off or your manager is working for you. Secondly, in addition to that sort of forward thinking aspect that Marillion had at a time when we could see that the music business was changing, back in 1997, we were fortunate to have a dedicate fan base that we could turn to. We just needed to find out who these people were and after gathering their email addresses, we can talk to them directly. So there is a number of facts that made it possible for us, which would have made it harder for a brand new band starting out.

« Musicians, on the whole, tempt to be quite lazy distracted people, so if you give them too much, they will go out and spend it, and it won’t work. »

In an interview, you declared that the song “Gaza”, on the new album, had been “one of the headaches in my career”. Lyrically, this song is perhaps the most political one Marillion has done since 1999: what made you write on this subject, and why did you wait so long to do it, as it seems that the theme is really important to you?

First of all, I’ve been increasingly upset by what was going on over there. One day, the band was in the studio, jamming around this Arabic rhythm, so it seemed natural to go for those words. I didn’t start to work right after, and in a way I almost wish I hadn’t, because we knew we had to develop this piece of music. But having taken that decision, I knew that I had to get my facts right, and that I’d better not write some sort of romantic non-sense: therefore, I decided to go to Gaza, because I couldn’t write about a place where I hadn’t been. Everywhere I went, I was advised not to try to go. I was told that I wouldn’t get any visa and if that I’d manage to get one, I might not get out in a hurry. We had an American tour already in place, so I had gone there and could not get out, we would have cancelled it. So I was fortunate to get in touch with a friend of a friend of mine, working for a Non Governmental Organization in Gaza: she connected me with a lot of people in the Gaza strip. I began skyping ordinary people in Gaza every week-end and having Skype conversations with them when I wasn’t in the studio: I talked with them of their lives, frustration, feelings, their own political views and what they thought of the Israelis. I was also connected to Israelis and spoke with them of their own views and positions. I had the real stuff, and not the bullshit you read in the papers: it was the real people’s lives and opinions. That’s how the song came together. It became a terrible headache, because I knew I had to get everything right and that whatever I’d say, it would upset someone. And of course, it did: we received some emails from angry Jews, almost all of whom didn’t live in Israel, but in America or France, and so probably knew less about the situation than I did, but were nonetheless insulted by it. I don’t blame them, because when a comfortable white English boy opens his mouth and writes a song about Gaza, your first reaction would be “What the fuck does he know about the situation ?”. All I can say is that I worked hard with my research before I said what I said and I stand by every word.

You were announced at the French Sonisphere festival this summer, but a few weeks ago, we read that Marillion won’t be part of the bill: what happened ?

When we agreed to do the festival, it was sort of confirmed before everybody had fully made up their minds and the more we thought about it, the more we came to the conclusion that the audience was just wrong for us. We looked at all the other bands on the bill, at their websites, and we thought that all the people that would pay to see these bands would just not enjoy what we do. This festival was just too metal based for Marillion to really be interesting for the fans. We just decided that it was wrong for us.

Interview conducted by phone on January, 17th, 2013
Transcription: Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

Marillion’s official website: www.marillion.com
Steve Hogarth’s official website: www.stevehogarth.com

Sounds That Can’t Be Made, out since Septmeber, 14th, 2012 via earMusic

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