Reflections on a Decade
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 1992 Anil Prasad.
The dungeon-like backstage domain of La Brique – a Montreal nightclub – was the setting of this interview with Marillion's Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas. It was conducted during the prog-rockers' 10th anniversary tour which saw the release of the compilation Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other.
The band enjoys tearing down the walls of formality during interviews, usually having a good time, and cracking lots of jokes. They're also upfront and open with their career perspectives. Rothery and Trewavas were in particularly good spirits on the afternoon of this interview, with some priceless dialog resulting.
What do you think Marillion's most important contribution to rock has been over the last 10 years?
PT: I guess, what we stood for, really. At the time the band started in England, I think we stood for quality music, the sort you couldn't necessarily hear all the time.
SR: I think we showed, before we even signed a major deal, that there is a market for this kind of music. We passionately believe in our music and it's good to think we've been able to bring that to a wide audience.
PT: We're honest about what we do. We're not trying to sell out in any way.
SR: I think there's a lot of integrity about this band that's quite rare in the music industry. We don't do what we do because we do it to make money, although it's always nice to make money. It has always been the case, and there has been very few other bands that I can think of that can probably say that.
PT: We're also lucky because we're not dictated to by our record company. We have a lot of fans around the world and because of them, we don't have to try to make singles. We're allowed to record and write the sort of albums that we want to do.
What's kept the band on course through 10 years?
PT: Sheer luck, I think. [laughs]
SR: Momentum. [laughs]
PT: Again, a lot of this is down to the fans, the people that follow the band. They really believe in what we're doing, too. It's not a passing thing for the Marillion fans. They seem to be there for life.
SR: The appreciation of good quality music, I think. I mean, that's one of the interesting things. Every album you release, every tour you do, you see a whole new generation of people getting into music, which is very encouraging. You always lose a certain percentage of people as they get older. They settle down, they have a family and they don't go to concerts as much or they don't have as much money to spend on records. Aat the same time, you're always picking up new generations.
How is the band now different from the one that recorded Script for a Jester's Tear?
SR: Well, we're older! Wiser! [laughs]
PT: We're supposed to be wiser, aren't we?
SR: If we knew then what we know now.
What would you have changed?
SR: Nothing, really.
PT: We would have done it exactly the same probably.
SR: We've developed as musicians. The chemistry in the band has developed, we now know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and little quirks.
PT: Yes. Quite. [laughs]
SR: It's great that we're all so close after 10 years. It's all about chemistry and personalities and all that stuff.
PT: We're all still great friends.
SR: We've probably spent 10 months of each year for the past ten years together.
PT: We all know each other's jokes.
SR: And each other's deep and darkest secrets... [laughs]
Do you still consider yourselves a prog-rock act?
SR: It's a bit of a box to put ourselves in. We just think of ourselves as quality, intelligent rock music, really. Anything else and you tend to get the idea that we only listen to music from the early '70s, and that's not the case. That's not what we're all about, although we acknowledge a debt to the bands from that time. We feel a lot more relevant than that. There are various artists since the early '70s that have taken a certain approach and woven it into their music. Simple Minds and U2 are examples, yet they have a modern intelligence in their music. But you wouldn't call them progressive. When it's a label that can turn people off the band, that's when it's a bad thing.
Speaking of your anniversary, Fish recently proposed a couple of big reunion gigs and you turned them down.
SR: Damn right we did. We've spent the last four years reestablishing the band without Fish. The last thing on the face of the Earth that we'd wish to do is play some reunion concerts with him. It would be the most pointless exercise on both sides and the motives were entirely financial.
PT: He wanted to do it for the wrong reasons. I think it would have been madness. It was madness to even suggest it, to be honest. He spent ages telling people in the press that he was glad that he got away from the band.
I understand he regrets how things went down with the split.
PT: You make your own life.
SR: I'm sure he does. I know he regrets leaving the band.
SR: Oh yeah. We've heard that from various sources. I think he only really appreciated what the band had after he left, which is quite often the way.
PT: It's all water under the bridge now.
SR: That was part of Marillion's past and you have to look forward to the future really, and good luck to Fish with his solo career, because he needs it. [laughs]
PT: Ooh! Ooh! And moving on!
SR: And moving on!
PT: And the weather! What's the weather like today, Steve?
SR: A little stormy I think! [laughs]
How did you guys come across "Sympathy" and what made you want to cover it?
SR: It's a song we were all aware of and when Steve Hogarth first joined the band, we went down to a pub called the Queenshead in Brighton to try and write, and it was on the jukebox. Steve played it and we were saying at the time, "If we ever covered a song, this should be the one," because we all love the song and its sentiments. They're as apt as they've ever been really. So, when it came to putting together this anniversary album, we had to come up with two tracks, one of which we wrote and "Sympathy."
Tell me about the other new track, "I Will Walk On Water."
SR: It was the last thing we've written. We wrote and recorded it in a very short period of time. It's about one of Steve's metaphysical experiences.
I thought the running order of the compilation was intriguing. It alternates between Fish-era and Hogarth-era tracks, encouraging listners to hear the two side-by-side throughout.
SR: That was one of the things we wanted to do with an album of this kind for people who haven't been aware of what the band's done since Fish left. It's to try to introduce them to how we sound now. I don't know if it did that.
PT: It's very difficult to know what order to put these things in when doing these sort of albums and I thought that one worked well.
You have your own studio now. What does that mean for the band?
SR: Yeah, The Racket Club. It will change how we do things. We've only had it since the beginning of the year. "I Will Walk On Water" was the first thing we wrote there. But yeah, it's better for us because we don't have to spend 30,000 pounds every time we want to write an album..
PT: It's not necessarily as much fun, but it's more economical. [laughs]
SR: You don't have the comfy chairs, and the hundreds of assistants floating about, but you save a lot of money, and it's about fifteen minutes from where we all live, near Oxford.
PT: It's situated in a quiet countryside area, with a nice local pub. Now, we can write with a studio on hand, which is something we've never really had in the past. We've always sort of recorded things in one way or another when we're writing, but to have a 240track studio there as soon as you come up with an idea is quite a new thing for us. I don't know how we're going to use it yet, but it will be interesting.
You were set to open for ELP on their recent North American tour, but it ended up not happening. What went down?
SR: One of the keyboard players in ELP, I can't remember what he was called, had an issue with us. [laughs] I think he felt threatened by the size of Mark Kelly's organ. [still laughing] They felt we had too many keyboards or some such bullshit. Maybe they heard we were better than them or something.
PT: I heard their tour wasn't so successful.
SR: It was a great idea on paper, but I don't think it would have worked. We had a great time when we supported Rush, though. They treated us fairly and had respect for the band.
Steve Hogarth and Mark Kelly have said they think the follow-up to Holidays in Eden could be "really out there." What's your perspective?
PT: That's the idea.
SR: It's gonna be a great album. We don't have to make singles or worry about any commercial considerations.
PT: Our record company told us to just go ahead and do what we do.
SR: Normally, they say "Do what you want, but it'd be nice if we had a couple of things we could play on the radio." But this time, it was "Don't even worry about it, just go and make a great album." And I think they've realized with the last album, although we've had some singles success in various parts of the world, there's just a lot of resistance against playing Marillion on singles chart-type radio.
"Sympathy" was a bit of a hit, right?
SR: It was number 17 on the English charts, but that was purely on the strength of single sales, and it didn't get played or playlisted. They have a meeting every Monday for Radio 1, the national station in England, and they have a playlist and decide what records are going to be listed that week. They didn't even play it at the playlist meeting the week it went in at 17 in the charts. That gives you some sort of idea of the mentality of British radio but also the resistance that we're up against, so you've really just got to say "Fuck it. Let's just make a great album."
PT: I think our strengths are in the albums, musically.
SR: It's a shame. Although singles aren't important to the band, they're a way of reaching a wider audience and making more people aware of it
PT: And also, they're an advert for the album.
SR: With a track like "Kayleigh," the difference it made to the sales of the album was significant. Misplaced Childhood wasn't a pop album. It was a progressive album that was a continuous piece of music. But because that track was a hit, it sold nearly two million copies.
PT: It certainly opens up a lot of doors when you have a hit single.
SR: But you can't chase that. It's pointless. And it becomes destructive to chase that. I mean, with the last record, we made something that was as radio friendly as Marillion could ever make, and it still didn't get played, so you have to just turn your back on that side of things and just concentrate on making something that pleases you.
Originally, Holidays in Eden was supposed to have an epic song. Why didn't it materialize?
SR: Well, it sort of did, but it got chopped up in half. Originally "Waiting To Happen" was part of that and there was some more music as well that didn't get on there. There's a solo at the end of "100 Nights" which going back and listening to it, we wish we had kept in really, but it was the producer's choice when it came to arrangements. Again, with the next album we don't really feel we need a producer telling us what we should or shouldn't be doing.
Is Chris Kimsey going to produce the next album?
SR: No. We might use Nick Davis again who we did Seasons End with.
PT: That's our favorite idea at the moment.
SR: There's this chateau in France near Bordeaux that we can go to for a couple of months to work on it.
You were originally thinking about using Bob Ezrin to produce the next album after Clutching At Straws, assuming Fish had remained, right?
PT: Yeah. That would have been interesting, but at the time we met him, we were having all sorts of problems.
SR: That was just before Fish left, so I don't think that would have worked really.
PT: He would have been an interesting person to work with though.
How did Chris Neil's production influence the band's sound on Holidays in Eden?
SR: I think Chris did bring something to the band, but I think his approach was fine for the shorter songs, and it wasn't needed for tracks like "100 Nights" and "This Town." If anything, I think he held them back and maybe made them a little too safe compared to how we would have done them. We felt they should have been a lot wilder and a little more epic.
Can we look forward to another 10 years of Marillion?
SR and PT: Yeah! [in unison]
PT: We still have a lot we want to do. I don't feel like we want to stop yet.