Interview by DPRP’s Phil Chelmsford
We had the immense pleasure of talking to Steve Hogarth (Marillion) about the new album he and Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree) have released called ‘Not The Weapon but the Hand’. We also chatted about the ‘Inner Circle of England’, the internet, music executives, radio, Marillion and cat allergies!! We had some laughs along the way in an interview that diversified so much most of the writer’s research was redundant. .. but that’s what made it so great!
The new album was released in February 2012 and we actually spoke the day after its release.
Phil: Hey Steve.. thanks for taking the time to talk to DPRP.
SH: No problem.. your welcome
Phil: As a matter of interest… in what part of the country do you live (in the UK)
SH: I’m in the South Midlands, not far from Silverstone race track… Banbury & Oxford not far either.
Phil: Nice part of the country that… You’re not originally from there though are you?
SH: No… I was born in the Lake District, a lovely part of the country, but my mum and dad decided not to stay there and moved to Doncaster which is where I grew up. I then went to college in Nottingham, moved down to Shepperton (Surrey) and stayed in that area for a while.
I joined Marillion and after a short period the band decided to set up its own studio in Aylesbury. That turned out to be too far for me to commute really, so I moved to where I am now and been here ever since.
Phil: So the new album with yourself and Richard (Barbieri) – Not the Weapon but the Hand – is now available. (The album was released the day before this interview).
SH: Yes indeed… you would have thought that we would have met up and had champagne or something but we didn’t… we just spoke on the phone on one point and that was it.
Phil: Excited about this new project?
SH: Proud certainly… I think the excited stage has worn off… I was more excited when we were putting it together as there becomes that point when you realise that (hopefully) you have made an album that’s a bit special. That feeling has now long past… I suppose now it’s just quiet pride…
Phil: I suppose there is quite a lull from the time you finish an album until the time it is released to allow time for CD production, marketing, preparation for release etc
SH: Actually this has happened quite quickly. We were literally finishing the mix after I got back from my tour in December, it was then mastered between Christmas and New Year. So the master has only been available since early January, so it has been turned around quite quickly. Then Promo copies were available sometime in January
Phil: I actually got an online promo link which I thought was a good idea. It’s a good way of keeping costs down and hopefully piracy.
SH: Well the piracy thing is a constant battle of wits… The labels try stuff to beat the pirates, but then they get around that so then they try something else… and so on. I’m not super worried about the piracy aspect as it’s always gone on in one way or another. People used to record albums or record straight from the radio on to their cassettes or reel to reel recorders etc. I think if someone is sufficiently turned on enough by a piece of music they will want to be part of it, want the full version, want to buy it etc
Phil: oh I completely agree…
SH: In some ways though it’s still gets the message out and the music known regardless. It may prompt someone into going to see an artist Live, or visit their website to find out more information about who that artist is, what they represent, what they are doing. In my case you can go to the ‘H Guest book’ and leave a message there and I check it almost every day to see what people are saying.. It can allow you to interact with an artist directly (in some cases). That was not an option years ago when I was young… pre-internet.
Phil: So do you think the internet has brought you closer to your fans?
SH: Most definitely yes… it was something we become conscious of (in Marillion) almost before most people in the UK were that familiar with the internet. We realised it was a good opportunity to turn our fan base into a family and develop a good two way dialogue between the band and fans. We started that back in 1997 which in terms of years doesn’t sound that long ago but believe me in terms of the internet it was the dark ages (laughs). People used to poke fun at us and call us geeks back then, now we are pioneers.
Phil: I went to a Free Music Business Seminar in the latter part of 2011 and was horrified when I heard a music industry executive use Marillion as a good example of using Fan pledges to finance their albums but then quickly dismissed Marillion as being a crap band. I thought this was very unprofessional to say in a public discussion.
SH: Well that’s his view… He should have said ‘He doesn’t like Marillion’ not ‘it’s a crap band’. He is welcome to his opinion but I agree he shouldn’t have said we are a crap band but then that is large record company executives for you… It’s like saying Robert Stephenson invented the Steam train… he was a crap train driver… but he invented the train (laughing)
Phil: Right lets get back to talking about real music again… Going way back how did you and Richard (Barbieri) first get to know each other?
SH: Well around 1996 I was looking to make the album called ‘Ice Cream Genius’, which was my first and arguably only solo album, and I was looking around for people to get involved in it. I had already written all the songs and had demos recorded and wanted the whole album to be an experiment. So I involved Dave Gregory (who used to be in XTC) who I knew well enough to ask to play guitar on this album. I also ended up with Clem Burke, the drummer from Blondie, and a bass player called Chucho Merchan , who has played with the Eurythmics a lot (lots of crap bands here by the way – both laughing sarcastically). Anyway I was now looking for a producer for the album and I had heard an album by Porcupine Tree and of course it had been mixed / produced by Steve Wilson. I loved the way the album sounded and how it had been mixed so I called him up and asked him if he would be interested in producing my album. So we had a meeting in London, in some Café, during in which he told me, by pure coincidence, he had been approached by Fish to produce his solo album and he had agreed to do it (typical huh!!). So I said in that case it’s probably not such a good idea if you produce mine too but I knew he was working with Richard and knowing that he had been in the band Japan (Japan being a band I used to listen to a lot way back when). So I asked Steve if he would play Richard my demo’s as I would be thrilled if he would interested in getting involved with my project. So Steve played the demo’s to Richard and he liked some of it, not all of it, but enough to be a part of the project. After when I put together my band ‘The H Band’ to play live, Richard also joined me to do this, along with the other guys who had helped out with the album. So we became good friends during ‘The H Band’ tour and spent a lot of time on tour buses etc talking and, despite the fact Richard and I are quite different people (he is a quiet dark sort of character and I’m a bit louder and more extrovert), we formed a very good understanding during that time and stayed in touch ever since. He came to see Marillion from time to time and I went to see Porcupine Tree…just mainly to socialise.
One day he emailed me to ask if I fancied a collaboration with just the two of us. I said I would love too but at the moment I just didn’t have the time. So in the meantime he started emailing me instrumentals that he had written, which I loved, and eventually when I got a break, in the busy Marillion schedule, I took to my attic Studio and began sketching things out and emailing my ideas back to him, which he really liked. So we carried on from there swapping files and ideas.
It was funny as each file he sent me was just titled with the date as the title. I would say “I really liked November 3rd… and also December 25th was really good” (That in itself tells you everything you need to know about Richard… the fact he was even working on Christmas Day). My next file was titled December 31st… So both on of those annual celebration and feasting days Richard was still working in his studio on his music.
Phil: So that file dated December 25th was your Christmas present from him was it?? (laughs)
SH: Yeah your right it probably was and it was a bloody good one.
Phil: Can you remember which track on the album ‘December 25th’ actually turned out to be?
SH: Yeah… it was ‘Love will set you Free’… which is a good sentiment for Christmas.
Phil: So do you socialize outside of meeting at each others gigs? Do visit each others homes etc?
SH: Richard lives in South East London and I can’t go to his house because he has several cats and I’m violently allergic to them, so I can’t visit him or anyone that has cats. He tends to come here and visit me in the countryside. If I go to London we tend to meet up in a bar or restaurant or something but that is very dependent on our busy schedules. In fact the whole time we was putting this album together we were never in the same room together unless we were recording someone else. When we recorded drums and the bass, we did that at Marillion’s studio, of course then we would both show up.
(The writer was having images at this stage, regarding Steve’s cat allergy, that he would turn into sand and fly out the window like Imhotep, from The Mummy movie , if he saw a cat)
Phil: OK! now we have a background to how you and Richard met, and the how project started, I’m going to put you on the spot and ask you to describe, to any potential listener, the new album and the music within it?
SH:….(pauses for thought) Well if you tell someone to listen to ‘Tin Drum’ by Japan as a kick off then you will start to get an idea of the synthesizer sounds and programming involved from Richard. I would also suggest that people check out my solo work (www.stevehogarth.com or www.marillion.com). Listen to the track ‘The Deep Water’ from the ‘Ice Cream Genius’ album coupled with Japans Tin Drum and you would be at entry level (laughs)
Phil: I must admit listening to the album myself it definitely has an 80’s electro pop feel about it.
SH: Well yeah… that’s what Richard is all about.
Phil: Well of course what with his background in ‘Japan’ and you were in ‘The Europeans’ and ‘The The’ I believe?
SH: Yeah… I played piano for ‘The The’ and I very nearly went out on tour with them on the ‘Mind Bomb’ album but I joined Marillion instead at the last minute.
Phil: Well that was not such a bad decision was it (laughing)
SH: Well what it has given me is an awful lot of creative freedom, room to manoeuvre and the opportunity to still be doing this 20 years down the line. I think if I had gone on the ‘The The’ tour I might have been a milkman by now or something. I don’t think I would have still got away with being a professional musician… but you never know?
Phil: You never know you might have been on that panel at that Music Seminar I went too (laughing)
SH: Ohh no… I’d rather be a fucking milkman… I have been in those conventions and they are just another gravy train.
Phil: OK.. back to the album… what has been your main inspiration when writing lyrics? Do you take it from experience; wait for the music to inspire it or what??
SH: It comes from life really, my lyrics are usually true things. For example ‘Red Kite’ was inspired by just driving around listening to the music Richard had sent me. So it was a combination of the music and the experience of just driving around. ‘Crack’ was something I had on the shelf… (Phil… be careful how you say that (laughing)) … Oh yeah I know (laughs)… anyway when I heard some of Richards music I found stuff I already had, like ‘Crack’, I just had to radicalize it, cut it about and fit it in.
I had a lot of fun with the album… some of the songs like ‘Only Love will make you Free’ is almost like a piece of vocal theatre in the sense that it’s not just me singing a song… its singing the tune, its talking, its whispers which all me. So you sort of get a cast of characters, that are all me or aspects of me, in one song to create a landscape of thought I suppose. Some of the songs I’m only speaking and not singing at all. ‘Your Beautiful Face’ for example was a lyric about a woman I knew, many years ago, who was very beautiful but very conscious of her own beauty, very ambitious, calculating, power hungry and not a very nice piece of work if I’m honest… but lovely to look at.
Phil: Do you think she would realise it was about her if she heard it and listened to the lyrics?
SH: I think she would probably suspect… but who knows how people see themselves. Anyway, what was interesting is that I run into her daughter sometime last year, which is some 20 years on from first meeting her mother, and of course now she is very similar looking to her mother so it was almost that same face, which really shocked me. Then I realized that she was a different person to her mother… a softer sole, sweet natured girl… and that’s what led to the line ‘it’s not the weapon that does the damage but it’s in whose hand it rests’. Of course that’s where the title of the album came from after this chance meeting and that very night I wrote that lyric so that was pretty much a new lyric in comparison to some of the others.
Phil: I must say I think the song ‘Only Love will set you Free’ is absolutely brilliant. It’s almost got ‘Hit Single’ qualities about it.
SH: I have played that song to some music business type guys and you see their eyes light up when they hear that chorus then the enthusiasm slowly drains as the song goes on longer and longer (laughing). Yeah I know what you mean as it has a great tune but maybe a bit too radical in its own way and certainly much too long. Although I have considered seeing if I can do a radio edit to see what happens..??!!??
Phil: Well you never know. Maybe worth a consideration?
SH: Well I stopped thinking about radio a few years back. It’s a tantalising thing to think about radio and start fantasising that you’re going to have a hit as ultimately you get in to this frustration and anticipation that you might have a hit… a sort of a dream world really. So I keep radio as far away from my thoughts as possible when making music.
Phil: Mind you Radio today isn’t anything like it used to be really… is it?
SH: I guess not. I think people are discovering music for themselves much more now than perhaps they used to. The days where Radio, and specifically Radio One, was omnipotent have long gone
Phil: Radio who?? (laughing)…. Anyway just going back to the album again and specifically the track ‘Red Kite’… I can honestly say I have never heard a lyric in a song that uses the word ‘Trigonometry’ (laughs)
Steve throws his hands in the air in Triumph…..
SH: You should study some of my other lyrics Phil… they are never exactly ABC…123… I do try to explore abstract concepts. Although this is the first time I have used trigonometry in a lyric (both laughing).
I think is amazing when you see these cylinders of hay in the field. The field is usually set in a landscape and by its essence is part of nature and when you see an irregular trigonomical shape within it… it looks so wrong, almost like the aliens have landed, with perfect cylinders sitting on a landscape. So I was just exploring that notion.
Phil: I personally like non stereotypical, non-cliché type lyrics… it shows thought and imagination from the writer. Most Heavy metal bands, for example, are very cliché in their lyrics.
SH: Yeah I agree… any heavy rock / metal band with a decent lyricist is a rare beast. In fact I can’t think of one.
Phil: Iron Maiden spring to mind… but back in the Progressive arena I would say Dream Theater use very well thought out and structured lyrics… In my opinion.
Phil: We stray away from the subject in hand again (Laughs)… back to the album, I think there is an Irony there with one song title ‘A Cat with 7 Souls’ and your cat allergy… coincidence?
SH: No it’s totally unrelated. There was a guy who was the leader of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) called Yasser Arafat and he was known as ‘The cat with Seven Souls’. I heard that on the radio one evening when driving home (BBC Radio 4 as that’s the only station I tend to listen too). Apparently there had been so many assassination attempts on his life that had failed that he got known as ‘The Cat with Seven Souls’ so that’s where it came from. The song itself is about someone with multiple personalities and I already had the basis of a song about that fitted in with this now found title.
Phil: So the album itself.. . Does it have a worldwide release? Plus when will you get your first indication of how well it is selling?
SH: Yeah it should be available across the world on Kscope. As for how well it is selling I’m not sure when we will know that. We actually did a Pre-order thru Marillion.com of 1000 copies, which we signed, and they’ve all gone plus I believe there were approx a further 1000 that were sold via Pre-Sale. The word from Kscope is the reaction from their worldwide distributors was better that they had hoped. Other than that I don’t know when we will get the next update.
Phil: Well to finish up then I want to ask you about your birthday and who else you share it with.
Steve Hogarth – 14th May 1959
Jack Bruce (1943), David Byrne (1952) –Talking Heads, George Lucas (1944), C C Deville (1962) – Guitarist Poison
SH: Yeah also Eric Morecambe and Cate Blanchett…….. I knew about David Byrne
We then had a little discussion where the writer had wrongly researched Stevie Wonder and Peter Gabriel as having the same birthday as Steve… When on double checking, found my research severely flawed… note to self… must try harder!!!
Phil: … and Richards is…
Richard Barbieri – 30th Nov 1957
Gary Lineker (1960), John Ashton (1957) – Guitarist Psychedelic Furs, Roger Glover (1945), Ridley Scott (1937), Dougie Poynter (1987) McFly
SH: Oh!! Really… I bet he knows about Gary Lineker and I was a big fan of the ‘Psychedelic Furs ‘.
I think I got the best collection of shared birthdays though (laughing)
Phil: Well Steve I will let you go and it has been an immense pleasure chatting tonight. I must pledge to get out and see Marillion (laughing)
SH: Thanks for your time… and yes coming to see Marillion is the least you can do after tonight (laughing)