Hogarth - Barbieri / Marillion

Interview date

21 Janvier 2012




Interview Steve Hogarth (by phone)

Hello Steve and thank you for your time, we are the French webzine AuxPortesDuMetal.com

Hello Didier.

First of all, let’s talk about this new album that you are about to release with Richard Barbieri, how did this collaboration start in the first place?

About two and a half years ago I got an email from Richard asking if it was something I would like to do, and I immediately responded "yes of course, but I don't know when". Because I was on tour and very busy with Marillion since, actually since we met really [laughs]. So I knew we were gonna do this, but I didn't have much time at all. But when Richard began sending me instrumental pieces of music on mp3 via email, I burnt myself a CD and listened to them in the car to the studio or on the road with Marillion. And eventually I found a little bit of time the summer before last, and started recording voices and started working on Red Kite. And last year year in August, Marillion took a break, and I spent the whole of August recording voices. But the process was actually quite fast once I started working on them. I found that everything I was trying to do, worked perfectly. And the process remained the same. He would send me mp3 of instrumental music and I would write the lyrics and experiment with the voices, where I could place them, add effects, set where the voice was placed in the stereo field. I defined all of that, then sent them back to him, via email and asked him : "What do you think?". And fortunately, he liked everything I did.

So Richard wrote the music, you came up with the lyrics and the melodies. Is this easier than with a Marillion album where you work more as a band?

Oh infinitely! Because first of all I was presented with instrumentals that were finished sonically and in terms of arrangement and I only did some edits. With Marillion, the band is jamming in a room, sometimes for years [laughs]. And I'm trying ideas which might only work for 30 seconds. And then some times toward the end of the process we take all the good accidents that happen in the jam and start again and try to arrange songs from there. So writting Marillion stuff is incredibly time consuming, especially from my point of view, because I often have most of the lyrics already written before the band starts jamming. So I sometimes have to wait for two years, for the music to catch up. This was much quicker and also I found the stuff that Richard sent me very inspirational, it inspired me a lot of ideas immediately. I felt very free working on it. I was working totally alone. We were never in the same room which is a strange way to make a record [laughs].

Did you work together physically at some point or was it only a remote exercise?

We would get together just to swap files and then have lunch or dinner; so our meetings were almost as social as they were creative. We had some other musicians, so of course, we were together in the studio when they were recording.

Is there a common theme in the lyrics throughout the album or are these independent songs?

Lyrically speaking they are independent songs. But there is the theme of love and fear, the two basic emotions, that keeps reappearing in a lot of the songs.

Who is the “beautiful face” referenced in the album?

[laughs] I'm not prepared to say, but it was a woman I met some time ago. She was beautiful but she knew it, she was very ambitious. By chance I met her daughter last year, and of course in the 20 years that passed since I first met her mother, her beautiful face had aged, and is not so beautiful anymore. And she lost the power that she had. Her daughter, is also beautiful, but a very nice and sweet kind of person which lead me to think "it's not the weapon that does the damage but in whose hands it rests". This then became the title of the album.

The production of the album is absolutely fantastic. How did you get to that level? Did you get involved or was it more Richard’s work?

Well Richard is a genius, for a kick off; which is why I wanted to work with him. He is incredibly gifted, not just as a programmer, but also as a kind of sonic architect. And I was very careful to work within the soundscape that he produced and to make sure that I placed all the voices in a place which would be in phase with what he was doing. And then it was mixed with the help of Michael Hunter who normally engineers and produces Marillion.

He seems to be a sound purist, after many years spent working with Steven Wilson, it’s not a big surprise.

And when he was in Japan before that, and even back in the mid 80s I was listening to Tin Drum which again was sonically amazing on records.

You and Richard seem to be very complementary musicians, shall we expect more under both of your names?

I think we both have a desire to certainly remain friends. We have been like brother really for the last ten years, even if we are not often together. We do have an understanding beyond music as well as within music, so I think it's likely that we will work together. But then you never know. The future is something that doesn't exist, we only have the present...

None of the Marillion members are part of this work. Any particular reason?

We didn't really need any bass. We only added bass on Naked, and we wanted a double bass for that. And Richard knows that guy Danny Thomson, who is a legend, he played with Tim Buckley, Talk Talk, with Kate Bush more recently. That would not have made sense to get Pete Trawavas to play double bass  when you got Danny Thomson because Pete doesn't really play upright bass. And drum wise, there is a part of me that thinks that Ian Mosley would have been a better choice for Only Love Will Make You Free, but I think he was away at the time. And Richard wanted to bring in Chris Maitland in, who had been the original drummer for Porcupine Tree, and I think Chris did a great job, played very well but I would have been interested to hear Ian on that.

Any chances to see you defend this music on stage?

It's very unlikely that I try to play this on my own because the whole nature of this music is almost impossible to play with a piano. There are so many elements that make the music exist, it's not really normal music that you play on a piano or with a band. But we would love to get together and find a way to create this music live, Richard has a few ideas but it would involve a lot of rehearsal and thoughts. There are also many voices in this music so I would need three or four more singers to do it live. And then the additionnal problem is that I'm busy for the whole of this year and at least the first quarter of 2013 so finding a space to do it is very complicated. And by the time I become free, Richard will be in studio with Porcupine Tree again. We both want to do it, it's just a question of finding the time, and it might take a couple of years.

You are playing in Paris, tonight, for a solo concert. How different is Steve H. on stage like this, on his own, than with Marillion?

Well it couldn't be more different because the idea of the H Natural Shows originately was to find out if people would be prepared to pay money to be in a room with me. And then if that happened, which it did, decide what we would all do together. I wanted it to be a kind of collaboration between the audience and myself. Not necessarily musical, we could just talk. I wanted it be a thing that happened so that we can have a conversation and get to know each other. But what's happened over the period of time I have been doing them, is that I've discovered that people really would much rather hear about me than tell me about themselves. So usually I end up doing most of the talking. People shout requests, so sometimes I play songs I don't really know and I play them half way through. The idea is to let it happen. It's the opposite of Marillion where we go on stage with a lot of music rehearsed and programmed and we cannot really changed anything because it's in the machine. With Marillion changing anything is a little bit like changing course on an ocean liner, it takes a lot of time and effort. But with the H Shows it's more like balancing on the head of a pin, it can go in any direction, and it does, most of the time.

Any other dates planed for these solo concerts?

No I don't do them very often. I kind of get nagged into doing them [laughs] but before I know it they've booked one and I have to come and do it, and I'm too busy to do them at the moment. But I do enjoy doing them, but it's unlikely that I do another one in France

Ok a little bit about Marillion now. How is the new album coming up? Any title, date or anything else you could tell us about?

We do have a working title but I don't think I can go public on that yet. That will be soon. It's sounding good. We got together at the end of December to have a listening session to hear what we got, because we have been on tour and we are the kind of people who if we go on tour even for one month we forget everything that happened before. So after we listened to what we had I was really pleasantly surprised and very excited. I think we've got eight or nine very strong songs. So we are getting back together on Monday the 30th of January to Peter Gabriel's Studio in Bath to live and work together for a week and try to complete the musical arrangement. And then we will spend between now and the summer recording, and hopefully be ready for release in the autumn as a single album for the moment, but you never know...

Any tour planned for this release?

Well even before that. We have booked a tour in the USA in June and in South America in October, in July we are in Scandinavia and in September in the UK so I think we will turn up in France either in July or in November, but we will be here this year for sure.

At some point listening to Red Kite on my high quality headset, I almost felt I could see the kite. This is a fascinating track I think. But it could have also been one for a Marillion album. How do you make a decision for a given melody?

It's simple. They can go anywhere. it's just a question of suspecting if a piece of music will be right for a lyric and then try it. And see if it belongs there or not. You can usually tell very quickly. And what was nice about Richard's music, was that everything I suspected might work, worked perfectly well, when I tried it. But some of these lyrics, Crack, A Cat With Seven Souls, for example were words that I probably already tried in the past when Marillion was jamming and that didn't work and didn't get anywhere but had been sitting around waiting for the right home. And Richard provided that. Interestingly enough, Red Kite was not on the shelf, I actually wrote those words as a consequence of listening to his music.

Racket Records, the label you created for Marillion some years ago seems to be a great success. After all these years, are you still convinced it was the best way to go? And is it successful from an artist point of view?

Not just from an artist point of view because the five of us are now earning more money each year than we did when we were signed to EMI and we were selling 300000 records. We haven't got a crisis [laughs]. We have been very lucky and it has worked out very well for us. We are now completely creatively free. We are free in the legal and business sense to have complete control over our financial affairs and our art. And of course we also have this incredible fan base which is like a global family which supports us and makes everything possible. I'm an extremely lucky man.

Who came out with that name, which sounds a bit like a joke?

[laughs] It does, yes. I came out with the name. It has a triple meaning. First of all, our studio is in a place called Lawn Farm. A lawn is a beautiful and expensive grass in a courntry house, and also it's lawn tennis like Wimbledon. So we said we should call it the Racket Club, so it sounds like a civilized gentlemen's tennis club. But of course the word racket has several meanings. One of them is an unpleasant noise, which is constantly coming out of our studio. Another one is gangster and illicit business. Finally it's also a slang word to describe drugs and particularly cocaine. So it has all those meanings.

You are very innovative on this label, releasing very nice material regularly. For example you made available music from live concerts only a few days after the actual concert, was this a success? A technical challenge?

It's quite straightforward to produce it, from the sound desk. It's easy to record, and then we just need to upload it to our server. I have done it too for all my concerts with the Natural H Shows. And usually the people that were at the show get it as a souvenir, so we sell several hundreds of them.

Any chances one day to get the DVD of your concert the same way? Or is this technically too difficult?

Everything is possible in the future because of technology evolving so rapidly in front of our eyes. So it will become an option.

Why aren’t more bands adopting the technique to free themselves from their labels? Is it still a complicated move nowadays?

A lot of musicians just want to make music and want people around them to handle the other stuff. But it's quite rare that you can assign your business to someone who doesn't end up taking more money than they really should [laughs]. So you have to pay that price. Musicians are very rarely business men. And I'm not much of a business man myself to be honest. But Marillion is an interesting bunch of characters. Each one of the five of us has a different skill set. So for example, Ian Mosley, our drummer, looks after the money. Mark Kelly looks after technique and innovation. Lucy Jordache, who used to work at EMI, now works for us, she is very good at looking at how we market ourselves within our kind of music. Obviously we are not a pop group, so it's not all about getting airplay and be on TV, it's a different kind of market that we need. And my strength is the words and the lyrics and the more spiritual aspect of what we do than the financial. So between the five of us we complement one another and we cover all of the basis. It's a team work for sure...

Thank you Steve, I will let you have the last words for our readers…

Lots of love for everybody out there who is reading this and we hope to be back in France this year.

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