Interview Steve Rothery (face to face)
Hello Steve thanks for taking the time. Let’s talk about the band for a start. Did you expect such a longevity when you started this project more than 30 years ago?
Oh no you don’t, when you start as a young musician, you don’t think more than for the next few weeks really. You try to do music you enjoy, and you try to follow your dream. It was only when Fish joined that there was any kind of a long term plan. From that point, yes, there was more of a plan. We employed Keith Goodwin as our PR, we started getting major coverage in music publications in the UK, we started playing in the in the key clubs in London. That’s when the momentum really started. Before that, you really follow the path of least resistance. You write music, you play live, that’s it.
Was there a risk back when Fish left, that the band quits?
Not really. Because I’d always written the majority of the music anyway. We had a lot of great ideas, we were excited about, some of which appear in Seasons End and Holidays In Eden. We didn’t think we had lost our way musically, but obviously we had to find someone that we could have a creative relationship with, and that would be different from what we had with Fish. It ws a long search before we found Steve.
Are you still in contact with Fish?
Occasionally yes. For some business stuff. For example when we reissued some albums. We get on very well these days.
In all these years, have you had moments when you personally thought about quitting the band?
Not really. Music is my life. Since I’m 16. It’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t have a plan B. It’s such a fulfilling job. We might not be the most successful or rich band in the world, but we reached a level of success that allows us to live comfortably, and provide for our families, and at the same time we have the freedom to make the music we want.
Have you guys been ever discussing an end to the Marillion project?
No. But we are all getting older. All of us are in the late fifties and early sixties, o there will be a time when we will be not physicaly capable of touring. I’ve always said I’d like to make at least twenty albums with Marillion, so that would be another ten years, at least, with the speed that we work [laughs]. But I’d like to think we’ve got another fifteen years, but it’s hard to say, in ten years I’ll be 72, and in 15 years 77, so you just don’t know how people’s health will evolve.
What do you say to folks that claim Marillion stopped when Fish left?
I think it all went down when Diz Minnitt left [laughs][Original bassist back who left in 1982]. Basically it’s meaningless. I think0, that you fall in love with a certain period of a band, which might represent something strong for you, you hold this precious for yourself, and it’s hard to lose that.
You also have a number of other projects, for example The Wishing Tree, is this still an active project?
Well kind of. We were going to do a third album, and Hannah became a mother, about three and a half years ago. And that took all her time and energy. But at some point in time in the future when life is easier, I’m sure we will work together again, because we are the best of friends and we have a fantastic musical chemistry. So yes I’d like to think that there will be another album.
You also released a very interesting solo, album last year called The Ghosts Of Pripyat, how do you make a decision when you create music if it’s music for Marillion or for another project of yours?
The way this project all came out was that we had to play for this music festival in Bulgaria, and originally this was only me and my friend Dave Foster playing over some loops. But then they asked us to play for an hour and a half, so we thought that it would not be sustainable in that format so we had to put a band together, and we better write some music. SO Dave and I jammed together a few afternoons, found ideas, I also had a few ideas on the shelf, and those are the things that evolve into the tracks of the album. It was a very painless album to write, but not necessary to record and produce because I worked very hard on this over a quite long period of time. So there is no question of music for Marillion because the music for this project was all created on the spot. In fact on this solo album we worked pretty much like we used to work in Marillion when I used to write most of the music. It’s a lot easier if you don’t have to debate each section with a committee. We all write these days and there great things come out of it, but because of the way we write it’s quite a slow process. And we did exactly the opposite when I was working on my album.
This album is about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, are you an active militant in favor of the disengagement from nuclear power?
Yes I’m against nuclear power in any form. You just have to look at what happened in Chernobyl, and later in Fukushima which is still dumping thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the ocean every day. I understand the need for countries to have electricity to run their own infrastructure, but nuclear just seems like a greedy short-sighted approach…
So is your next solo going to be called Fukushima?
[laughs] No, my next album has a space theme and I’m hopefully going to be doing it with another musician friend of mine, sometime next year, but I cannot say more at this time.
Do you have any other side project these days?
I will be another album with my solo band. There is also a project that I want to do called Night Circus with my daughter who is a singer and song writer. And my wife is also a singer, so I’d like to do something with them and it would be kind of gothic folk.
Marillion is quite an interesting band from a business point of view. You guys managed to be your own label. How did you successfully handled this transition? Was this difficult? Do you have business man in the team?
What happened when we sacked our manager was, that basically I read a lot of books about the industry, I booked the first UK tour after that, and I got an understanding of how the industry had been working for nearly twenty years. I became really aware of the mistakes that had been made and the amount of money that had not come to the band. Eventually, we each took different roles in how things run for the finances and Lucy manages us and takes care of the forward planning. So we now have more experience than most people that work in those labels have.
Why do you think they aren’t more bands trying to adopt such a model?
You have to be a little technically savvy. You have to have a fan base of a certain size. And you know, the reason why bands want to be signed on a label in the first place is that they don’t understand how much they can do themselves, how much industry has changed, and how the new media is more important that trying to get airplay on a pop station which will never play you in a million years, or get coverage in a magazine that will never cover you. If you put your energy into social media, YouTube or Facebook, and try to build up a fan base. It doesn’t have to be that big to reach a point where if you have a thousand people and they each want to give you twenty euros, to go make your next record, suddenly you’ve got more money than you would normally ever have in that situation. You need to have someone in the band that is not just concentrated on being a musician, someone that can see the big picture because these days that’s the only chance of surviving I think in this industry.
You guys have been pioneers in a number of things relative to production of music. For example you started very early with crowd funding which more and more bands are adopting nowadays. Do you think this is the future of the music industry?
I think that for bands who aren’t in the mainstream, yes. You know there is only 3 major companies left now. A lot of small labels belong to those. So it makes a lot of sense, if an artist or a band is starting to happen, for them not to sign their life away to a label, with these 360 degree deals, where label collects at publishing, on live gigs on merchandising, on everything really. It’s criminal, it really is. But bands are still running blindly, into the arms of the records companies because it’s people perception of how the industry works. It’s like all these music schools, I don’t know how it is in France, but in the US and in the UK, there are school to teach kids how to be a singer or an song writer or an artist, and there are thousands of these coming out every year. They have sold this kids the dream of being rich, becoming a rock n roll star, with limousine and jets but that doesn’t exist anymore. The industry has changed so much over the last 15 years…
You also pioneered stuff like releasing systematically concert recordings for every date of a tour, which is a nice gift that you make to most fans. Is this a complicated process to handle? And are those recording just raw material from the main console?
It was one of my idea actually, and we still do this occasionally. Most set are recorded but not all are released. We upload it only if we think it’s a memorable performance. It’s a mix of the main console and two ambient microphones.
Do you think one day, with the evolution of technology you’ll be able to offer the same on video?
It’s more complicated, you need more cameras to cover different angles, one or two people to mix it and make it into an interesting thing.
Another area where you guys, I believe are unique, are these Marillion Week-Ends concept. Can you share how this idea came about?
We were working at a rehearsal complex, own by a guy called Sil Willcox, who manages The Stranglers, and they did one of these event down at a local holiday park, Pontins and he suggested we could do the same thing. So the first one, 12 years ago, he organized it. We thought it was a great idea but Pontins was a bit of a toilet of a place, so we went slightly more upscale, organized It ourselves and set us up at another holiday complex called Butlins, also in the UK. We had 3 of these there, then we moved to the Center Parcs in the Netherlands, which have been a great success.
Not sure how many of these you already rolled out, and I’ll be going to my first one in 2017, but I saw that you have added several new locations throughout the globe, to the initial Zeeland and Montreal ones. Isn’t this going out of band? Aren’t you scared to lose the uniqueness of this moment by doing this?
We also added the one in the UK, a few years ago, then we added Poland and Santiago. I don’t think it’s going to have a bit impact. Poland is a small one only for 1500 polish fan who will enjoy it.
I have seen that the Friday’s concert is always dedicated to playing a complete album, live, start to end. Doesn’t this require a lot of preparation work? Some of the songs might even never have been played live?
Oh yes, it’s three months solid work, just to play a weekend worth of stuff.
Three concerts over three evenings, that must be an exhausting weekend for you guys, no?
Yes you are totally exhausted after one of these.
Let’s talk about the latest album released a few month ago. F.E.A.R., first of all, it’s yet another double album, like Happiness Is The Road, you guys cannot stick to the single CD format or what?
You don’t want to limit what you can say within a track. And as the song evolve quite organically, they will grow. And that’s the nice thing about the way we work, we have the freedom to do that. TO let each song take its own form and length.
How did you guys work on this album, anything different from the previous one?
About the same. The only thing that was different is that when we jam the ideas, Mickael Hunter, our producer, uploaded them on our private sound cloud, we chose ideas that we all liked this time. This is the first time we’ve done that. And that made the process run a lot smoother and also a lot quicker. There are clearly lessons to be learnt from that.
I think I remember hearing the sentence Fuck Everyone And Run, in Steve H album with Richard Barbieri, was this the origin of this name?
There is a play on words as the acronym also means fear, and there seem to be a lot of pessimism in this album. Is this really your view on the world today?
And most of these lyrics were written three or four years ago. And a lot of things have happened since then. With Brexit, with Donal Trump. Actually we wre playing in New York, on Time Square on election night. It was a very surreal experience playing that album in that situation. It’s Steve view of the world, but we can all relate. Steve write about things that move him, either in terms of personal relationships or world events. And as I said these were written a while ago so these are pretty much foretelling of the coming storm. We call him, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nostradamus nowadays [laughs].
There isn’t much room for hope when we hear this album, don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but the whole world is fucked up basically…
It pretty much is, let’s face it…
When I wrote my review, I mentioned that your guitar sound was a little behind in the mix, but that you still have this incredible touch, and managed to come up with fabulous solo throughout the album. Was there a deliberate decision to push forward the piano and the bass, or it’s just the way the mix worked out?
No not really. It’s one of those things, I’d always want the guitar louder [laughs]. It’s a committee thing so yes.
When you play older tracks which have become legendary such as Kayleigh, Easter or The Space, where fans know and expect a solo at the exact same note, are you stressed, and do you still enjoy playing those parts?
I do pretty much as expected. May be some solo change just a little bit but I always try to recapture the intensity because I try to make my solos quite emotional. Melodic, atmospheric and emotional. That means focusing so hard on each note to squeeze the emotion. Yes I still enjoy playing those. And you know when you tour you have fantastic nights like the one in Paris last night, but not all nights are the best night of your life. But we are very lucky, our audience is fantastic around the world.
Do you realize that certain of these solos, can bring tears to the eyes and shivers to some of your most dedicated fans? And believe me I know what I’m talking about…
Yes. And it’s touching to see the effect our music has on people. We have seen that around the world. I’ve seen a guy in Mexico City, in the forties with tears streaming off their faces. I can see it from the stage. It’s such a strange thing music, it can affect us in such a way. While not touch someone else. Some people don’t have th music gene in them.
Did you change your guitar equipment over the years? Any particular thing that you liked very much recently and wished you had when you recorded the early stuff?
Not so much change but I have added to it. I have certain equipment to play the old songs, then more valve based tube stuff to play the stuff in Arachnophobia. New guitars, new pedals all the time, there is a Leslie pedal I use quite a lot. The rest is pretty classic tone with a bit of modulation, or tremolo, distortion, or delay, and reverb, this help you paint the picture.
Let’s talk about the latest tour, do you still enjoy going on tour? I bet it’s an exhausting exercise for you guys?
We do. This whole tour has been enjoyable. The American part first and then in Europe these last two weeks. We are getting on very well, the band is playing the best it’s ever played. The production we have, with the screens, is amazing, the sound system has been fantastic. The last two gigs in Lille and Paris have been very hot that’s the only thing.
You were touring for this album in the US, how did this go? Do you have a big fan base in the US as well? As loyal as in Europe?
Yes, more spread out. In the US two third of the audience didn’t really know the new stuff, and maybe people were coming up to hear the old stuff. While in Europe people definitely come to hear the new stuff. That’s the main difference.
You are now touring Europe, do you know how long this tour will be?
Tonight is the last show of the tour. After that it will be the conventions. I also have 8 shows with my solo band. Then in the fall we do more dates in large venues, like the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Zenith in Paris. We have had many amazing concert at the Zenith in the past, it’s going to be very special to return there.
How much of the latest album do you play in the setlist? You guys have so much music to play, this setlist must be a nightmare to organize?
We play three of the five songs. The New Kings, El Dorado, and Living In FEAR.
Are you touring with a tour bus nowadays?
Yes have been travelling in a tour bus.
Do you have time to enjoy the cities you are travelling to?
Sometimes yes. I went to the Sacré Coeur yesterday, I had breakfast in Montmartre. I love it.
Did you know for example that Lyon has a reputation for great food? And did you manage to verify this?
Absolutely. I had spent a few days with my family in Lyon before, about six years ago.
Have you already discussed what happens next?
Next year is pretty much the conventions, then those dates in the fall. Then a couple of month of time off. The write for the next album, spring of 2018.
Thanks a lot for your time, I wish you a great concert here in Lyon, and leave you the last word for your readers…
Yes, just check out our latest album, check out my solo album, We will come back to Paris in October.