interview and pictures by: Jan-Jaap de Haan
"I just want a nice, simple life"
How's the tour going so far?
Really well, and I'm really pleased with that. We're taking a brand new unit out that has surprised me, it surprised Yatta -the production manager- and it definitely surprised the audience. It's very tight in a short amount of time. We only had -because of people being available- basically a one week rehearsal and bringing in Steven Barnacle on bass and John Martyr on drums meant a tough learning curve, and they've done it brilliantly. The band's coming together, the gigs have been good. In Holland, the reactions at the end of the night have been great. The reactions during the concerts are a kind of different, cause we're playing basically the whole new album live, apart from two tracks. There's no Marillion-stuff and it's quite a hard-hitting set, so a lot of people kind of stunned in a way. But in the end it's been positive and the reviews to the album have been great as well.
The new album is very different from the last one.
Yes, it takes bits and is influenced by the kind of atmospheres and grooves like on Plague of Ghosts and by the edge and the guitar-driven tracks from Sunsets on Empire. A lot of that has got to do with Wes, John Wesley was the principle writer on the album. John Young contributed to it, but most of the tracks were based around guitar-riffs and guitar-playing, which I like. Wes was very sympathetic in his approach to the keys. We made sure we kept the keys of the songs down, rather than trying to strain them. And that has helped the tour as well, because I'm not strangling my voice. It has a lot of power but all the ranges are very suited to my voice.
How different is writing with Wes from writing with Steve Wilson or Mickey Simmonds?
Oh, it's always different. When writing with Steve, a lot of the stuff was rhythm-lead, with guitar. Like rhythm-sounds, with guitar on them, whereas with Wes, it was a more basic form of guitar-writing-technique. And of course Wes has been brought up with the classic American rock, influenced with Led Zeppelin and The Faces and stuff like that. Those are influences that I like as well, so that kind of got pulled in a bluesy, souly kind of vibe. And Wes has got a great sense of melody as well, when putting together the tracks, I always have strong melodies on them, strong hook-lines and very comprehensive arrangements.
A Fellini Day is a moment with surrealistic things happening….
Well, that's what is in the biography..
Does it have a different meaning as well to you then?
The simplification of it is just "enjoying life". It's discovering the buzz from life again. Lot of things have happened in my life. I'm in the process of going through a divorce, in the process of selling a house and developing another house at the studio. There's a lot of rearrangement going on in my life, both on a personal and on a professional level. Somebody might call it a mid-life crisis, but I like to call it a necessary change in my life. I need a different approach and I have different goals nowadays. And the Fellini Days-element has come in, and I realize what I need from life and that I can really enjoy life, rather than running about like hamster.
Is a Fellini Day the opposite of what you call a 'Fog Day'.
No, because in Clocks Move Sideways I've said that sometimes something really negative can happen, that can have a very positive effect. Very much like what I'm going through at the moment with my personal situation. It's something that has been brewing for a long time and that's a terrible thing that happens to you, but at the same time it had made me a lot more aware of what I've not had for a while and what I could have. And there definitely is a Fellini-element in that. On the album, all the tracks are about glorious moments, I mean some of the tracks are about quite dark things, but they do have a positive effect. In a way, it is very much Yin and Yang, again.
You've used Fellini-extracts on the album…
Yeah, there's some stuff on it, but I'm not going into any detail. It would be like hiding a treasure and then telling anybody where it is.
Do you have any favorites among the Fellini-movies?
I like Amarcord, Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, those are my three favorites, and La Strada.
Are themes or elements from those movies on the album?
No, there's no direct influence from any particular movie. It's more the attitude of the director that's got in, in some ways.
Can you tell what 3D is about?
I don't want to go into songs. I'm not going to explain them in detail. I let it to people to understand them. There's a lot of meanings and I don't want to go into that.
How did you get the idea to ask Brian May and Steve Lukather to play on that track?
They're not on it. It's just Wes. Brian was involved with Robbie Williams in the Queen-stuff in America and he just extended his trip there, while we were working on the album in a very strict time. Steve and Brian were supposed to do one particular section. But Brian was doing the Queen-stuff . Actually Steve Barnacle was doing that as well. And Steve Lukather was going out with Larry Carlton and he had only one day to do it, but he lost the day, cause something had happened in America. But I think both of them will be working on the next album, especially Steve, since I play with him with the SAS-band. So we will be discussing it, and I'm sure when he hears the track, he'll be kicking himself.
You changed the title from Soldier's Address to Pilgrim's Address. Why?
Well, Soldier's Address I played in an acoustic version at the fanclub conventions in January. I just felt that Pilgrim's Address was a better title, cause a lot of soldiers identify themselves with pilgrims.
Someone's reading the lyrics, who is he?
I can't tell you. It's someone I met in Bosnia in '96 and we kept in touch, but I won't tell you his name. There is a name in the credits, but that's not him. I can't tell you for obvious reasons, if you think about it,… cause he was a Special Forces-guy.
In Clocks Move Sideways, you use the word Fugazi again. You weren't afraid to use that word again?
No, it's just a word and I kind of made it popular. It just seemed to fit. I was just singing in the studio and it came out and I thought: 'let's leave it in'.
You're releasing two albums from the last tour, Sashimi and Candlelight in Fog.
Well, that was a limited edition, I think that's already gone. But Sashimi is the proper one. Candlelight in Fog helped to finance the American tour.
You were very honest in the liner notes of that one about the difficulties you had recording it…
Yeah, but if you hear Sashimi, you will hear the difference, which is why Sashimi is an official release. The other was limited, to be sold only through the fanclub.
How do you decide, with such a new line-up, which songs you are going to play?
I just really feel them. I knew that I didn't want to play any Marillion-stuff, simply because I feel it's too old. And I also wanted to play the new album, because I felt that was relative. So that's why we were choosing these tunes.
You're not afraid to play it in front of an audience that's unfamiliar with it?
Yes, that's difficult. It's demanding to them, but I think, at the end of the day they'd rather hear new material than Kayleigh and Heart of Lothian again. I think the nostalgia-freaks would like to hear them again. I'm not saying that I'm never gonna play them again, but with a new album, that everybody really likes and it has great songs on it, so I'm gonna play the great songs. And I think that's more relative to what I'm doing now. Some people have accused me that I'm trading on my past. And to some extend I do, but on this tour, I wanted to play new songs.
And there is a different vibe at the gigs, but I really wanted to bring a load of new material and I didn't want to play Plague of Ghosts this time around. We'll do Plague of Ghosts probably on the next tour. But then again, there will be a lot of other material coming out. We're planning to start writing the new album in August. Wes and I have a very rich vein. We got enough ideas kicking about. We already have the formula and the title and things like that.
When comparing the Fellini Days cover with the Internal Exile cover, I noticed that you're not wearing the Fish in your ear anymore. Is that for a particular reason?
I was sick of them. I only had about two left, cause everytime on stage you catch them with scars etcetera, so I was sick of it. I felt it was time for a change. But it never made the press when I changed it.
You're releasing Fellini Days in July on the Chocolate Frog-label…
That's just a name. It's not an operational label. It goes through the Voice-Print group. They'll do the distribution in all different countries.
You never considered resurrecting your Dick Bros-label after your adventure with RoadRunner?
No, I don't want to run a label again. Chocolate Frog record company is just a trading-name, more than anything else. It's a not a working record company. I've done that and it doesn't work. It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, that I'm not willing to commit anymore. I've got far too much movie-work coming up and I want to be writing and creating and get my house in order. I'm simplifying my life, I don't want to make it complicated by running a record company again. I really want to have my house in order.
You've finally got permission to build it, despite the environmentalist actions?
It wasn't environmentalist, it was just policy. But we got permission and it's going to be the best, it's going to be a nice bachelor-pad. But the most important thing is that I kept the studio. Keeping the studio meant putting up a flag and saying 'look, I will continue making albums here'. A lot of people thought, after '99, that I was going to leave the music-business. And I said 'I'm not doing that'. I'm only cutting back the tours, we're only doing 6 weeks now. If the album takes off and there's a lot of interest, we might come back to do another 6 weeks in September or so, but that depends on what filming commitments I have. Cause I have a movie in September and another movie in December.
Can you tell anything about those?
Well, the first movie is called Clarendon, the script of that has been delivered and it's going into production in September, but still you have to wait until the green light's coming up. That's with Johnny Depp, Robbert Carlyle. And there's another movie called Stoned, with Matt LeBlanc, which is about Soho in the sixties. But nothing's definite. That's one thing I've learned with movies: it's definite when you walk around the set. But I'm starting to get more work and my reputation is increasing every small thing that I do.
How do you find balance between the two things: filming and recording…?
It's easy. As long as you plan ahead and as long as you tell your agent what you're doing, it's easy to do.
But you still do see yourself singing in 15 years?
I don't know. Ask me in 15 years. I don't really plan that far ahead. I'm just taking it on a year-by-year basis. I'll always be making albums. But I want a simple life. I'm not interested in 10-year-plans. I have some ideas for a couple of years, but it changes all the time. I could write a screenplay, that could be a huge hit and then I'd move into that area, you never know. I don't want to get involved in that kind of life anymore, no big masterplan, I just want a nice, simple life.
When looking at your career so far. Are there any things that you're particularly proud of to have done?
Yes, Gentlemen's Excuse Me. But I'm proud of most of the songs. There's none that I am 'not proud of', you know.
I understand. But maybe you would have done thing different?
Yeah, but they're done. What's the point of regret? That's only a waste of energy. You can't go back and change it.
Are there any artists that you would like to work with?
I really don't know. I am happy with the guys I've got. I think that having fun and having a relaxed, happy environment is a lot better than having a lot of musicians that all have attitude.
Are you currently listening to particular artists or music?
No. Usually when I'm writing albums I don't really listen to music. You're trying to keep you head clear and focused. I'm sure that when I'm back home that I'll listen to some stuff. But at the moment, I watch movies when I've got time. If it came down to listening to an album or watching a movie, I'd watch a movie.
With Marillion, you started as a classic Prog-Rock band…
Yeah,.. White-Middle-Class-English-Progressive-Rock-Band, yeah…. That's right.
Nowadays, they seem very eager to avoid that label. How do you see your own position in the music-scene?
I don't care about my position in the music-scene. It has no relevance whatsoever. Nothing is relevant, aside from me making albums. As long as I like making albums and enjoy the music, it's great. I've got a strong fan-base and I deal with them sincerely and I provide quality albums. I'm not trying to compete with Bon Jovi or Alanis Morisette. I'm just focusing on the people that I know that like the music, there's no point in spending fortunes in promotion, that's not worth it. I'm happy with what I've got. When I sell 75.000 albums on this album, as I did with the last album, that's perfect. I can live with that.
So you are not afraid to get stuck with the old progressive rock label?
It's not 'old' progressive rock, it's progressive music. There's Spanish guitars and Mexican trumpets and sorts of stuff. It's like what Steve Wilson is doing with Porcupine Tree: expanding on it and still be true as a songsmith. I don't give a shit about the name, it's just rock-music. Why do people always make this big thing about progressive rock music? I don't care if it's rhythm and blues as long as it's good. It's just music. I'm not waving a flag saying I'm a progressive rock artist. I'm just Fish.
Well, thank you very much for the conversation.
Yeah, I really don't want to say to much about the songs. There's a lot of stuff in there, like the film stuff and other stuff that's been used. Let people find that out. You might be watching a Fellini-movie and go 'fucking hell!', and that's more fun. When you find it, you'll go 'fucking …!!' Cause it all means something. There's definitely a big, big puzzle in there.