Rock Notes On-Line

Interview with Steve Hogarth

Steve Hogarth called from the studio in England to discuss Marillion's latest record, Radiation. Check out Rock Note's previous interview with Hogarth.

What has the fan response been like for Radiation?
As far as I can tell it's been good. It varies a bit from one country to the next. Here in the UK it went down very well. In fact, when we toured here, we hardly played any old material at all. It was very well received. The concert attendance here in the UK was up from the last tour, which is great because we're not exactly getting masses of airplay.

How has the media response been?
It's been very good. It's been favorable here in the UK. Very good in certain parts of Europe, it quite surprised us really.

Right, we talked about that when I talked to you last -- that there was a little bit of difficulty, at times, with the media. So that's great that it's been received so well.
Well, what they tend to do is they tend to give our albums a good criticism but they're very reluctant to feature the band. So we get good reviews but we're not getting aggressively promoted. Which is quite frustrating. It's like they quietly respect us but they're reluctant to bang a drum about it. In a way that suits us because it kind of keeps all those people out of our hair to some degree it means we don't have to be embroiled in the media circus that can be quite intrusive.

Do you have any other comments about the European shows?
We played about a half a dozen shows here in the UK, we did half a dozen in Germany, one big one -- a 10,000 seater -- in Rotterdam which sold out. We finished in Paris. That was a really brilliant gig. I particularly like playing in France because there's a real sensitivity for the music there.

I'd like to talk about the new record and I'm curious how you come up with ideas for the lyrics. I noticed that you wrote all the lyrics for the new album. How do you come up with ideas for songs?
From life, anything that upsets me or stirs or digs a hole in me tends to go in a notebook. Then when we come to write, we tend to write by jamming. We get together and just jam around in the room for weeks on end, and during those jams I'll be taking out words -- they're not necessarily songs, but more like streams of thought or little poems -- and marrying those together. And seeing if it makes sense with a certain musical idea. And then the songs are gradually distilled down like that. All the words are really coming directly out of life. There's very little or no fiction at all. It's all coming out of real experience.

Who is "Three Minute Boy" about?
Three Minute Boy is about all of us. It's about me, but it's not about me because my life doesn't quite conform to that story. It's a story about a kid who was quite lonely as a kid, and he never used to have any fun. Any whatever fun he witnessed tended to be on TV -- other people used to be having it and he wasn't. So he was like the antithesis of what a rock star might be perceived to be. Which, of course, is usually the case if you meet people who are famous. They usually surprise you by not being what you expect at all. They're usually quite analytical people, when it really comes down to it, because otherwise they wouldn't have so much to say. Anyway, he writes a song for a joke. I mean, this is a guy who didn't even want to be a pop star. He writes a song for a joke with his friends and it becomes a massive international hit. He finds that he's now being chased down the street and through airports. It's about the process of coming to terms with that massive change in his life, and having to live up to what he seems to have become.

Can you talk a little about the song "Cathedral Wall"?
It's a song about insomnia. Quite a lot of what's on this album consists of words that have come out of quite a painful period in my life, which I'm coming through now but I'm nearly there. I had a bad couple of years, and I went through a point where I wasn't sleeping at all. "Cathedral Wall" is about insomnia and that also turns up in "These Chains" and "Now She'll Never Know". I guess all those three songs are inspired by the same kind of pain. "Cathedral Wall" came about on one particular night. I was lying there in the small hours of the morning, still having not managed to sleep, and I suppose more out of exhaustion than anything else my mind wandered off. And I found myself in this place, and I was lying on the soil outside with my head touching the wall of this enormous church, and I was looking up at the stones, and up beyond them into the sky of this building that stretched up into the moonlight. I don't know where it came from, you know, I wasn't dreaming it. I was just imagining it, but it was very vivid. I could actually feel the dampness of the stones and smell the soil. And then gradually I began to feel removed from everything and I went to sleep. So then the following night and on subsequent nights I would go there on purpose to find some kind of peace. I haven't had to resort to it in a while but it's always there for emergencies. So I wrote the song about that experience and about being able to escape from everything. It's interesting that it's a cathedral which is traditionally a place of sanctuary, because it wasn't actually a conscience thought process that took me to it. And yet, it's quite apt so maybe it was a subconscious place to go and find peace.

Do you have a favorite track on the record? Or is that a hard question to answer?
It's always hard, actually. I'm possibly still a bit too close to it. Ask me in a year and I probably can give you an accurate answer. The one I enjoy listening to most is probably "Now She'll Never Know", because it is, to me, a very very sad song. But it's so very pure. There's nothing in the way of that song. There's no big arrangement, but there's just Pete [Trewavas] who's our bass player on acoustic guitar and there's an innocence in that because he doesn't play guitar every day. Instead of Steve [Rothery, lead guitarist] doing it, which might have added a bit of polish to the thing, we left it with Pete playing it. And I'm singing the whole song in falsetto, and I've never sung a song in falsetto before. And even the process of singing in falsetto for someone like me, it's kind of uncertain. It's like being on the edge because it's a bit harder to pitch and never know if the voice is gonna crack completely through to nothing. And you can only really sing in falsetto in a very introverted and quiet way. So there's an awful lot that's exposed in it. It's a naked sort of performance which is scary to do but at the same time it's like a clearer window into the soul to look at than you normally get to see.

What does 1999 hold for Marillion?
Part of the decision not to come to the States this time was on the understanding that we will start in the States with the next album when we tour. We'll actually start in the USA and then come back to England and Europe. The immediate plan is to get back into the studio in January. There's a remix of "The Answering Machine" happening because the label wants to release it as a single in Europe, and then to continue promoting the album in Europe through the summer. Then we plan to start writing the next album. Which means we'll turn up at the studio every morning and jam for four or five hours each day and record it and then review it after a number of weeks to pick out anything good that happened. With the exception of the shows in France in March we'll spend most of the rest of the year writing and recording a new album. Subject to whether or not it's finished in time, we'll release that towards the end of '99, and then get back on the road and either be with you by the end of '99, or early in the year 2000.

Interview by Steph Perry
December 29, 1998

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