MANY EXPERIENCED BANDS TEND TO RELEASE NEW ALBUMS ONLY TO HAVE AN EXCUSE TO GO ON TOUR AND PLAY SHOWS COMPOSED MAINLY OF OLD HITS WITH JUST ONE OR TWO NEW TRACKS THROWN IN AT THE BEGINNING OF THE CONCERT. MARILLION ALWAYS RELEASE NEW ALBUMS WHEN THEY HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY. WE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO TALK TO STEVE ROTHERY AND STEVE HOGARTH DURING THEIR F.E.A.R. (FUCK EVERYONE AND RUN) PRESS TOUR.
Why is the new album your best one? Because I’ve read it is. And of course musicians always say that…
SR: You always do, yes. Of course, it’s the most recent album so it’s fresh in your mind. But it’s not us who say it’s our best album. It’s most people who’ve heard it – journalists, people from the industry. If it’s not the best, it’s top 3 maybe which is a great feeling, a fantastic compliment after 18 albums.
Especially with that glorious past you had. Bands that exist for 30-35 years don’t usually hear that about their new albums.
SH: No, it’s been amazing. You know Piotr Kaczkowski. He was sitting here this morning and he said: “It’s a masterpiece. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.” So to hear that from someone of his stature – it’s incredibly moving. And as you say, after all this music – 18 albums – for someone to say that, it’s wonderful. Makes you worry about the next one.
The bar is set quite high.
SH: It is, but it’s always been high.
You recorded parts of that album as usual in the Real World studio. But is this album about the real world or the world you fear might be real soon?
SH: I wrote the words more about the world I fear, it was more about foreboding than anything else, but of course since we wrote those words Great Britain voted to leave the EU. There’s a lot going on at the moment – the meltdown of banks, the state of Greece, the banks being nationalized in England, Italy seems to be fairly screwed economically, Spain is not in good shape, Portugal is not in good shape, we’ve got a camp full of refugees in Calais that our government for whatever reason can’t find it in its heart to let them cross the channel. British foreign policy over the last 10 or 15 years has been pretty shameful. We’ve got the gap between the rich and the poor in the world increasing all the time. There’s a lot to worry about but I guess it’s the job of artists to share this stuff around and hopefully to make people think because the more people think about this, the more likely we can put it right. Because we can only put it right together. You can’t point at your PM or your president and ask – “what are you going to do about this?” Everyone has to do something about it.
You had a 4-year gap which can make you a bit lazy if you don’t record a new album for 4 years. But at the same time, if you do an album like this one, which is a politically-conscious album, things that were up-to-date 3 or 4 years ago may no longer be up-to-date now, so was this album written and recorded over those 4 years or is it a fresh thing?
SH: Most of it actually was written 3 or 4 years ago…
But it’s still up-to-date.
SR: But we didn’t spend 4 years making that record. It was probably 9 months on the recording of this album. We’ve been doing everything else, we’ve toured America twice, doing Marillion weekends which takes 5 or 6 months of our time.
The title is very strong – and I mean both F.E.A.R. and the longer version of it. Does making a socially and politically-conscious album require a strong title these days?
SH: I can’t tell you how much I was worried about this record. I’ve been sitting in a pub and saying to my mate in the village – “This is a protest album. I’ve really gone for it and I’ve said a lot of stuff on this record and we’re calling it Fuck Everyone and Run, and I don’t know how everyone’s gonna react to this. It could go horribly wrong.” And he was saying – “No, I think it’s fine, they’re gonna love it.” It sort of turns out he was right. Our bass player Pete [Trewavas] wasn’t comfortable at all with having the word “fuck” in the title…
SR: …yeah, we had to convince him. It took a lot of convincing.
SH: The fact is it’s the right title for this record. The chorus of The New Kings is sung quietly with sadness, it’s not sung with anger. It’s not an attempt to shock, it’s a statement of sadness almost.
You don’t shout those lyrics, it’s all very delicate. The contrast of it is stunning.
SH: Yeah, it’s interesting that I actually went back into the studio a few times for certain sections of this album to sing them with less anger. Because the less anger I’ve sung them with, the more angry they sounded, the more powerful they became. The power was in the words. The juxtaposition between an expression like “fuck everyone and run” being sung very quietly and tenderly is quite potent and just very sad. Because as soon as you try to shout it out, everyone listening to it thinks – “Oh, he’s just putting it on”. That’s the easiest thing in the world for me to scream my head off. “Fuck yeah! Fuck yeah! Fuck yeah!” What does that mean? It means nothing! If you shout it, it feels like a posture, but when it’s quiet, it feels like you mean it. I think when somebody comes very quietly towards you with a knife, that’s when they’re gonna stab you. Not when they’re waving it around.
Fear – what are you afraid of as musicians these days?
SH/SR: Arthritis [laughs]
One of the songs on the new album is about getting old. Getting old as a person. How does getting old as a musician compare to getting old as a person?
SR: Well, just your joints and your dexterity will probably decrease as you get older but your imagination doesn’t. I think there’s still an incredible musical chemistry between the 5 of us. As long as that exists – you can work around everything else.
SH: You end up with something else to express as you get older. You change as a human being in your mind and in your body. At some point my voice is gonna change. I’m dreading it. So far it’s remained strong but at some point it’ll go and then I’ll have to find another way of singing but it’s all about the soul, the truth, the sincerity. It might actually be easier to find that with age and provided you find that, then you still have some work as an artist.
And what about getting older as a musician and accepting the reality of music industry changing?
SR: We’ve sort of existed outside of the music industry for so many years now, since Anoraknophobia album. We’ve had that sort of independence because we invented crowd-funding. In that respect it doesn’t really affect us. You see what is happening in the world, with all the record companies collapsing or consolidating into 4 major labels. And even those are struggling to survive, exploiting the artists more and more, streaming is taking over. But we have our own little corner of the universe – the same rules don’t necessarily apply to us which is a curious situation. As you get older you’re more aware of your own mortality but the fact is maybe we’ve got another 15 years of touring and making records at the moment. Hopefully, we can carry on making records until we drop down dead…
SH:… but that might be 15 years [laughs].
SR: 20-21 albums is realistic.
So you didn’t write your recent records with the thought of: “Oh my God, this might actually be our last album!”?
SR: No, you just always try to do the best record you can.
SH: Let’s just make this one the best ever. Mike [Hunter], our producer, said right at the beginning of this album: “I don’t wanna make another album with you unless you look me in the eye and you tell me it’s gonna be the best thing you’ve ever done.” He asked us for that before we started because he said, “I don’t know how many albums I’ve got left in me, I don’t want to make a shit album. So tell me now or I’ll go and do something else.” That was a kick up the ass for everybody.
These days in Poland there’s really no need for comedians because the politicians are making fool of themselves well enough. Making fun of them would be too obvious. So how easy or how difficult it is to make an album like this one these days – a socially, politically and religiously-conscious album? One might think it’s so obvious it might actually be hard to make an album like that.
SR: It wasn’t obvious at the time it was written. We don’t really worry about that, don’t we?
SH: No, we just say what we feel. A lot of what I’ve written throughout these years has been motivated and inspired by injustice and that doesn’t have to be on a political stage. It could be something I see in the street, or a situation between two people, or injustice I felt myself. I suppose it’s an impotence – when you see something you know is wrong and you don’t think you can do anything about, then you write it down. It’s my way of dealing with it. I see the fact that there are all those kids in that camp in Calais that our government won’t let across the border. What can I do? I can march in the street or I can write a song about it. I’m someone who writes words and when I open my mouth a certain number of people will listen, so that’s what I’ll do. And if other people turn round and say – “I think he’s being naïve” – that’s up to them. They can think that what I’m saying is misplaced in some way or foolish but they can’t doubt my sincerity. These things do play on my mind and I do think it needs being said.
The general opinion is that while you did tackle all those social and political and religious topics before on previous albums, this is the most socially-conscious album this band has ever recorded.
SR: I think it is. An album that is perfectly suited to its time. The chaos in the UK after the Brexit votes, the despondency that a lot of people felt with the whole refugee crisis, the humanitarian crisis. It’s a perfect prediction of this terrible mess we’ve found ourselves in in the current age.
And at the same time it’s an album that I’d say is very challenging to the listener as there are no obvious singles.
SR: We managed to avoid that.
No radio-friendly songs like Don’t Hurt Yourself. Was it a conscious decision? Is this topic too serious to have a hit single about it?
SH: It was just a natural progression of good ideas and chemistry happening in the room, and us taking the vote on what things we should work on and the things we shouldn’t bother with. And all the strongest things are the ones we’ve put on this record. If we didn’t feel they were strong, we left them on a shelf and didn’t develop them. There was never really a vision that it has to be this and everything has to conform to that vision. We’ve never really worked like that. I don’t actually think we’re clever enough to do this or perhaps it would feel dishonest in some way. It’s really just a distillation of us jamming in a room, me having a lot of words and finding the strongest little moments we’ve had during those months and working on them.
You were talking before about crowd-funding. It’s usually associated with young bands that don’t have money to do anything so they ask their fans.
SH: But why do they do that? They do it because we invented it in 1997.
Does it give you freedom because you don’t have to depend on the record label? On the other hand some fans might thing – “We’ve helped them record the album, we have some expectations”.
SR: And we ignore that [laughs]. We take no account of what our fans might expect from us. This is our 18th album. You can see what the band stands for – the consistency in our work. There’s never any self-imposed pressure to write or record a certain kind of album. It’s a global family, these people believe passionately in what we do by pre-ordering they give us the means to spend the time because that’s what this money is used for – to give us more time to craft your best possible album. Every album has a potential that you might reach with it – sometimes you get close to 100%, sometimes not so much. And that’s always what you aspire to with a record, and time is a major factor of that.
SH: What crowd-funding gives you is the rights to your own work. If you have a deal with the label, you have to sign them off for 10 years or forever. All our EMI catalogue will stay with them forever, we can never have it back. So that’s a drag. You wanna avoid that if you possibly can. The other interesting thing is that we crowd-funded Anoraknophobia and Marbles. For Somewhere Else we decided not to, because we had the money. We felt it wrong to ask anyone for money that we didn’t need. So we didn’t crowd-fund that one and we got this tsunami of e-mails like: “What have we done? Why don’t you want us anymore?” People were actually dismayed that we weren’t asking them to help. That was a lesson. It’s not just about money and rights. It’s about having a family involvement, which is really beautiful.