Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Marillion

MARILLION: F*** Everyone And Run...

Interview by Steven Reid

It's not often that the announcement of a new album by a long established act causes internet meltdown. However that's exactly what happens when you 'Fuck Everyone And Run' as Marillion have for their eighteenth studio release*. Hit their PledgeMusic page and you'll discover the factions of those aghast and those in full support of a band known for subtle beauty, suddenly plastering an expletive on a sparse, yet striking album cover. Doubtless it will go on to be known by its boldly emblazoned acronym, 'F.E.A.R.', however as you'd expect from Marillion, the naming of what is undoubtedly a landmark release in their amazingly consistent catalogue is no gimmick or headline grabbing gag. Instead it is a heartfelt comment on the human condition and the condition of the human race. Fireworks literally caught up with these men on the run – a relay race if you will. Under starter's orders, keyboard player Mark Kelly...


Marillion

"h," by which Mark means singer Steve Hogarth, "came up with many of the lyrics long before the current crisis that is happening. Much of what he says was inspired by the events of 2007-8 and the financial crash. He rightly predicted that something else was coming that could be worse than we've seen so far. With the rise of ISIS and the various terrorist threats around the world, Brexit and the scary possibility of Trump becoming the next president of the USA it's obvious to everyone that we are living in unusual and scary times. While the main theme of the album could be called gloomy there is plenty of uplifting music and in the end raising awareness may spur people to action so that something positive could come from what we are doing." Weighty themes as these undoubtedly are, deserve weighty music and Mark agrees. "I think the length of the songs are a result of the length of the lyrics. It's hard to tackle the subject matter on this album in three minute songs..."

In the case of 'F.E.A.R.', as Mark explains, it's no surprise to find that the same attention to detail has gone into the whole experience for band and fans. "I always believed that the best albums are an artistic statement. In our case we have, for the first time, created music and visuals side by side. The movies to accompany the music were created by Simon Ward and Mark Kennedy and Simon drew from the resulting videos to create most of the artwork for the book, CD cover and packaging. As we are using projected movies more and more live it seemed like a logical step to combine the making of the album with the live visuals." So what of that stark, bold album cover? "The gold represents the banks, big money and it's corrupting influence on democracy. Gold has always been the "currency" of choice for criminals and where people put their money when things are going bad. The hallmarks fit really well with the idea of the album being abbreviated to 'F.E.A.R.' The 18 and U in the "A" hallmark are a reference to AU being the atomic symbol for gold and 18 being a common purity stamp, as in 18 carat but it's also our 18th album. The 'UN' I'm not sure about except it obviously completes the word 'run'". And run we must, as Mark passes the baton on to Ian Mosley who immediately picks up from where his band-mate left off...

"The 'UN' can also be interpreted as the United Nations," the drummer begins confirming a suspicion many have held as they ponder Marillion steadily becoming more overtly political. Although what has maybe been more surprising for a band known for leading the 'DIY' fan funded ethos was their involvement with the ever more influential PledgeMusic for 'F.E.A.R.'. "We had simply decided that we were a victim of our own success and that the pre-order campaigns had got too big for us to handle on our own," Ian says honestly. "So we decided to work with PledgeMusic to help make the whole thing smoother. We are still totally in control, PledgeMusic did nothing without running it past us and our organisation, but on a day-to-day basis it has freed up some time for our staff to work on other things." As the band's elder statesman prepares to complete his leg of the 'run', Fireworks asks him how integral to 'F.E.A.R.' producer Mike Hunter is. After all it's he who spends days sifting through the band's hours and hours of 'jams' to unearth the golden moments that make the album with the golden cover. "Mike takes all of the jams and sifts through the lot. He usually presents us with maybe 20 jams and asks the band to pick out their favourites. We will then go back into the studio and learn those jams and elaborate upon them. This process can take months and months but we do have 100 percent trust in Mike. As we try and put these ideas into song arrangement, h is trying to match the lyrical content to the feel of the music."

Clearly listening in as he begins his stint in the spotlight, guitarist Steve Rothery picks up the theme and expands on the trust between band and producer. "The next stage after the initial jams take place is for the ideas to be uploaded to our private soundcloud account where we all vote on our favourite ideas of the hundreds that are uploaded. Once we have enough ideas that we all love we start the arrangement process with Mike. Sometimes I'll get an idea for a guitar part or section which is then slotted in to the arrangement. The final stage is very much up to Mike although we do change sections if we're not happy with how the structure feels."

Lyrically 'F.E.A.R.' may well be the band's darkest album to date. However what makes it such a cohesive, impactful piece is the manner in which those words are blended with a mix of beautiful, fragile, forceful, bullish, and yes, dark music. "The way the music and lyrics have evolved in this album makes it quite unique." the man with the unmistakable guitar sound reveals. "We usually write music ideas spontaneously, I'll often improvise melodies over Mark's chord sequences, which Mike has occasionally incorporated into the structure of the track. The way h has then further developed his vocal melodies and lyrical concepts has given us something truly magical. It will be a very hard album to follow. The music really has an independent life, we don't usually have the lyrics in mind as we're writing but as the tracks develop you can't imagine hearing them any other way. One exception was the acoustic guitar intro for 'El Dorado' which I wrote specifically to fit the mood of the words." But what of the actual lyric that the album takes it name from? Surprisingly for such a harsh comment on the modern world, it is one of the most tender, fragile moments on 'F.E.A.R.'; almost like a sad realisation of what the world has come to; possibly even a resigned, every man for himself. "Absolutely, I think the quite fragile vocal delivery adds a lot of poignancy to the message in the lyrics," Steve adds as a parting shot, allowing the fourth team member in this five-leg relay to expand...

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"That is exactly the point we were trying to make," the man of four strings, Pete Trewavas, confirms. "The integrity and fair play we expect from our institutions is being eroded and what you could call underhand practices become the norm. It's a much easier decision to make, closing half a dozen factories or selling off a household brand name for peanuts, while looking at a computer screen. But that sadly is the world we live in," he adds with heavy heart. "The album title itself comes from the choruses of the first section of 'The New Kings', which is sung in sadness while," confirming the thought process Kelly alluded to earlier, "reflecting on the state of our institutions, governments and banking systems and the way they become compromised by big money and big multi-national industries. There were reservations about using this as the title but it fitted in perfectly with the feel of two of the main tracks 'The New Kings' and 'El Dorado'. It also is very relevant to the state of the world we live in at the moment." In truth, those reservations were well placed, a section of the band's fiercely loyal fan-base having real trouble accepting such a brazen, forceful name. "Well it's true to say that it is a bold statement and they do tend to polarise people's views," Pete states, alluding to the short video message they recorded to allay their fans' fears. "We were aware that a title like this could have a strong effect, which is why an explanation leading to a greater understanding of our thinking behind it was thought to be a good idea."

Having dealt with the averted negatives, let's dwell on the hugely outweighing positives, the largest of which being the whole band's insistence that they may just have come up with something that tops all of their already lauded catalogue of work. "It's been quite a journey we've been on," the bassist elaborates, barely concealing his enthusiasm as he builds up to a bold, but well placed statement. "Towards the end of the arranging process we decided to return to Real World Studios and one by one it dawned on us that we had probably done our best work to date. We all felt that way and there was a tentative moment when we started mentioning this to each other and talking about it. We all agreed on this, which was fantastic. Then we started wondering if anyone else would get it and feel the same way," he adds, voicing the thoughts every artist must have on 'birthing their baby'. But where has this collective feeling come from? "A lot has to do with us knowing that we are getting older and if we're going to make an album, let's make it count. In fact it was our producer Mike Hunter who drew our attention to the fact. The phrase he used was 'believable'. He wanted everything musically and lyrically to be our best work. Not that we don't always strive for that with every record but he made us think about the fact. It made us more picky and strangely gave us a feeling we could discard anything in search of something better."

And with such earnest and honest thoughts bringing the bass leg to an end, it falls to the band's enigmatic singer, h, to begin the final stretch of this 'Fuck Everyone And Run'. "The only danger is to come across as either naive or insincere," he begins when asked if tackling such important, universal topics in this album's lyrics had been daunting. "I hope neither is the case, although I am certain of my sincerity." And with such detailed, thought provoking lyrics throughout the album, it feels only right to let their source go into detail. "'El Dorado' is an attempt to verbalise a feeling of foreboding," he begins, describing the first of the album's three multi-part epics. "A feeling that a perfect storm is approaching England. A financial, cultural and ecological sea-change. I have felt this for some time and this lyric has been around in various forms for several years. 'El Dorado' also deals with my own sense of shame over British foreign policy and our response – or lack of – to the refugee crisis. I used to be quietly proud of being English. After Iraq I completely lost faith and since then, I'm increasingly cynical of every British institution. Even my beloved BBC worries me now. They've all got agendas."

It's a theme, as h explains, 'The New Kings', the second of the album's epics expands upon. "It's the sister song to 'El Dorado', focusing more on how big money is compromising our democracies, the increasing gap between rich and poor globally, the behaviour of the banks, the Oligarchs, and again, a loss of faith in England and what I once thought it and we stood for."

Whereas the third epic piece, 'The Leavers', "Is about the process of touring. I wrote it as much for our crew as for the band. The constant movement, the endless waving goodbye, the dislocation of life and the corrosive effect on 'normal' relationships. An enviable lifestyle but, like everything, there's a down side. What travel has taught me is that 1: There is no correlation between happiness and money - some of the happiest people I have seen have been dirt-poor, while the most miserable are usually driving very nice cars. 2: We – human beings – are more or less the same. We have the same wants and needs and yet we feel the instinctive need to view ourselves as different, or to form into "like-minded" enclaves. Ultimately, this is a gang instinct and we all know where gang-culture gets us: divisive immature and ignorant points of view which tend to lead to an early grave. Unfortunately whether in its nationalistic, racist or religious forms, gang culture seems to be prevalent in the world. The more I have travelled, the more I have seen the folly of this."

However, for all the three longer pieces on 'F.E.A.R.' build the foundation for 'Fuck Everyone And Run' to be considered one of Marillion's crowning achievements, it is a shorter, dare we say 'simpler' track that caused h most heartache and incites the listener's deepest thoughts. "I rewrote 'White Paper' many times and it caused me many sleepless nights. There was more I wanted to say but when I tried, it unbalanced the song so I had to leave it. I hope it remains specific enough to move the listener but I also wanted it to retain a mythical feeling. Ultimately, it's simply about facets of family life and getting old. Then I discovered a 1000 year old sanskrit love poem called 'Black Marigolds' which influenced the choice of words also. And then David Bowie died and I was singing the vocal in the studio, still feeling raw about that and conscious of Bowie's incredible contribution to art and music." And with that h and Marillion dip for the line, the strange mix of disillusionment with the world that meets them at every turn tempered by the adulation that only the fiercest, most loyal fans can provide. The only 'F.E.A.R.' being that with 'Fuck Everyone And Run', these veterans may have set themselves a personal best they may never better.


* Marillion - 'F.E.A.R.' - click HERE to read the album review

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