Fishing For Answers

An interview with Fish in Hotel Westropa, Amsterdam, The Netherlands on February 23rd, 1999


Tuesday 23rd we interviewed Fish in the Westropa Hotel in Amsterdam. The hotel had been transformed into Fish' dutch headquarters for his Raingods With Zippos european promotional campaign. We were his ninth appointment of the day, and there had been no less than been fifteen interviews on the previous day! Fish said he'd never had that many interviews since Vigil. A clear sign that Roadrunner is taking Fish' new album very seriously.

After we introduced ourselves and DPRP, we started of with the questions.
Note: we've have not edited Fish' answers in any way, as we feel this would only have obfuscated their meaning.

Q: Was does the title "Raingods With Zippos" mean?
Fish: I don't really know. It's one of those things that come into your mind at three o'clock in the morning and you wake up and go 'Raingods with Zippos'. And then in the morning it's still there and you go 'that's a great title for a new album'. There's a lot of spiritual stuff in this album. Fish RwZ is fire and water, the two elements that coexist but are the opposite of each other. Sometimes that's the way I look at relationships. In a song like Incomplete you've got two people together and there's like a very high level contact of love but at the same time between these two indivduals there's some lack of communication, some part that they just can't join. Raingods With Zippos is kinda like that in the way what does a Raingod need a zippo for? To be honest to discuss the whole album I'd probably have to spend a month on an analysts bench. There's a lot of different things in it and a lot I won't explain, like with Plague of Ghosts, because it's not right I think, it's up to people to find their own path and their own meaning in that track. One thing with Plague of Ghosts I was really concerned with was the whole things starts of with a person in a kind of coma in a hospital bed. You don't know why he's there. What I was really scared about, was if I wrote a song about that we would imply that it was a suicide, and it would have been very easy. But it's not, I mean it could be a suicide, it could be a drug overdose, it could be the guy's just gone into a cataconic state like he's withdrawn from life.
There's a lot of references to kinda like the power of nature. There was a lot of feelings from things like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Coppola's Apocalypse Now. The vision I have of Heart od Darkness is like the little boat puffing it's way up the river and the jungle overhanging and this big omnipresent power of nature just hanging there and in the river is this little man that's grown up on this floor of algae and life and creatures. And the boat is actually something that's alien in there. And the same thing was kinda the style to read Copeland's Girlfriend in a Coma and there's a lot of similarities I found in there between that and what I was trying to do. I kinda read the last section which is the Raingods Dancing section and Girlfriend in a Coma is an amazing book. It's in a kind of Science Fiction environment where there's like nobody there, the person is kinda like the last person on the planet.

Q: There are quite a lot of lyrical passages in Plague of Ghosts for instance that also come back in some other songs, like Mission Statement. In that context, I am wondering, in what order has the album been written?
Fish: Incomplete, Mission Statement and Tilted Cross were written at the Castle Marouatte sessions. I had a certain frame of mind which was still in place when the rest of the album was put together. Those three tracks kinda inspired the curve. I knew they were there in the curve but I didn't know whether they'd be at the beginning or the end. There is no concept in the album but there is a certain ideology, there's a certain attitude that's kinda present.

Q: When you say there's no real concept in the album I think you refer to the fact there's no overlapping story, but most of the songs are centered around the same theme. I heard the album on the listening session on Saturday, and you have to have some reason to put the songs in this particular order on the album.
Fish: Yeah, I mean sonically I was nervous about putting, originally Incomplete was gonna go after Tumbledown but it didn't work. It's just a feel, it's difficult to explain why you feel that way about something. I mean there was someone asking why does it start with Tumbledown, why does is start like that, why do you use the acoustic piano, and at the time it just really felt right, I mean let's open up the album with an accoustic thing which is very delicate and at the same time is romantic. And then let's just cut it and it was later on that I understood why. It's because it mimicks the waking up in the morning with sunlight streaming through and your girlfriend's lying next to you and then it suddenly hits you like a bullet of ice and it's like the fear of the day come's in and you become, it's kinda like you have the panic attack.

Q: That was basically the musical climax is about what you are describing right now, I mean it's not exactly the lyrics is it?
Fish: Yeah, but it's not got all to do with the lyrics, the music is kinda like arranged within it. The music and the lyrics there's a kind of symbiotic balance between them. What is the point of writing a fucking great lyric, a very clever lyric, with a crap piece of music behind it. You gotta have melody and you gotta have hooks and everything to kinda get people through it, to keep it interesting. That's something I learned in recent years you know.

Fish Q: There was a plan about a book with all the lyrics and the covers of albums, called The Mask. Any news on that project?
Fish: It's a complete waste of time. The cost of manufacturing such a book, my profile isn't enough to carry a project like that, we won't sell enough books to make it worthwile, and the way I look at is is that the internet is more of a place for something like that. I could see probably the mask concept appear maybe in a mix between Mark Wilkinson's webpage and the Perception of Fish page. The album covers would be up there and you point at something and that will…I got a whole lot of stuff back in the house like the conversations that Mark Wilkinson and I had, we could do audioclips of that. And I see that as probably the, althought it's a lot of work we probably won't get paid for.
If there were like 10-20.000 people interested then we could do something later but it's a futile effort to go to a publisher to try to sell an album art book, I don't think so, it's tough enough selling CDs. Hey man, those were the eighties, if the mask had come out when it was supposed to come out, in kinda like 1987 instead of 1998 I think it would have worked. There's too much time passed under the bridge and I think it was because of the legal case that existed between myself and marillion at the time I couldn't proceed with that book and at the time the legal case was settled it was too late and the book market basically collapsed. In 1989 and 1990 really there was a recession going on and you could buy like beautifull art books for 2 pounds and nobody was taking projects on with that, so that is were the book is at the moment, in the bin.

Q: About the music on the album: how much of it do you write yourself.
Fish: I don't play an instrument, I do with my voice, no one tells me what to sing.

Q: So the people that are listed as the co-writers on the tracks are actually the ones who wrote the melody line for instance?
Fish: No that's called the topline, no, they don't do that, I do that. But the keys and things, like Tumbledown, with Mickey and I went 'Mickey, can you play this da-da-da-dada-da, can you play that Mickey', and he goes 'yeah, yeah' so he plays it. You know it's kinda involved. They come up with certain chord sequences then they suggest you top their melody but nobody comes up with 'Fish, sing this bit da-da-dada-da', they don't do that, Tony Banks does that to me.

Q: So, Tony Banks is out of the picture for now, for the time being?
Fish: Well, I haven't spoken to him for a long time, the last time was just before they recorded Calling all Stations. Yeah, I could see us doing do some work at some point in the future, but he's doing his bits and pieces and he doesn't need to do it, you know think Tony is kinda frustrated that his solo music is being ignored. Tony has some good stuff, I thought Another Murder of a Day was a really good song, I thought Angel Face was a really great song, but he's just never been given the breaks, that Mike's been given or Phil, but I could see us working together at some point in the future but at the moment I've got more writers than I can wave a stick at.

At this point the recording tape accidentally stopped. This wouldn't have been that much of a problem had we discovered this immediately. Unfortunately this wasn't until the next day. The rest of the interview will therefore not be in the Q & A format but will be a paraphrasing of Fish' words as remembered by the interviewers and surmised from the notes we made during the interview.

Fish About songs that had been written at the Marouatte Castle writing sessions (Tilted Cross, Mission Statement and Incomplete) Fish said that the lyrics had been jointly written by all three participants. He added that this had been a very useful lesson for him because he was not normally used to other people meddling with his lyrics.
Continuing on the subject of lyrcis, we asked Fish wether the lyrics on Raingods With Zippos were autobiographical. Fish answered that the lyrics are of course autobiographical, there is no way you can write good lyrics if they are not somehow autobiographical.
But, he told us, with lyrics it is just as with a photograph: it is a snapshot of your feelings. If I were to take a photo of you when you're angry, that doesn't mean you are angry all the time!

When talking about an artist's new album, the question wether there will be a tour to support the album inevitably crops up. When asked if there would be a Raingods With Zippos tour this year, Fish explained quite elaborately that the tour had been postponed, at least until autumn of this year. The main reason for this decision is due to the fact that it is very difficult to get the financial picture of a big tour correct. Especially since the last tour was not very profitable, to say the least, Fish decided not to tour until he would be certain that money was not an issue.
He has a certain amount of people that tour with him and depend on him financially and of course he doesn't want to let them down. He doesn't want to come home after a year of touring just to find a "for sale" sign on his house. One way to accomplish a financially sound tour would be to increase the ticket price. The big Scotsman said that he found it very strange that you pay more for a shiny silver disk than for a live experience, where the artist works his heart out for three hours for you.

So, what is Fish going to do in the meantime, apart from doing a lot of promotion for the new album? As some of you might know Fish has also been getting his acting career going. When asked after any new developments in that area Fish told us that, of course he would like to act and, yes, he is trying to get some parts, but he is no Robert de Niro, so it's not like he can just pick a part, he really has to audition for parts in movies or series. But it is something that he likes to do and he is trying hard. Fish found it definitely preferable to touring right now! He added that he also likes writing stories very much and that he is developing his talents in that area, too (as the Freaks mailinglist can confirm!).


A favourite question among interviewers is no doubt asking an artist for his or her favourite song. Fish When we asked Fish what he considers to be his best song, looking back on ten years as an solo artist, it was not surprising that he picked Plague of Ghosts. When prompted for other favourites he mentioned Incomplete and Rites of Passage. In other words: he likes his most recent material best, as you should expect from any artist.

Fish also appeared on the well known (in prog circles that is) Into the Electric Castle album by Ayreon. When asked if he enjoyed working on the album and if he liked the album as a whole he answered that he really liked both working on the album and the final album as a whole. Fish added that you can almost see the album as some kind of almost satirical magnification of the phenomenon of progressive rock. To explain the early death of his character on the album Fish joked that that was just because Arjen Lucassen couldn't pay him anymore! All in all, he is happy that his contribution to the album can perhaps push it a bit in sales, and he definitely would like to work with Lucassen again at some point in the future.

After the interview was officially over and we were hanging out at the bar with Fish, we asked him one last question:
Q: What's a photo session with Tony Banks like? Is it difficult to make him laugh?
Fish: No problem at all: give him one beer and he's pissed!

And with this example of scottish humour we conclude this Fish interview special. Hope you enjoyed it!


Derk van Mourik, Bart Jan van der Vorst, Remco Schoenmakers

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