Backstage Pass: Catching Up With Marillion Front-Man Steve Hogarth
To be published in Goldmine Magazine
Steve Hogarth once had the unenviable task of replacing one of the unique front-men in rock when he took over for Fish, lead singer and fan favorite of the progressive band Marillion in 1989. Since that time, Hogarth - also known to many of those same Marillion die-hards as “H” - has carved out his own legacy within the band’s history and is the creative force behind 13 albums over the past 24 years.
Photos by Craig Mellish
What makes Hogarth’s contributions to the band extraordinary is that he has been able to take Marillion in an entirely different direction without alienating the previous, extremely loyal fan base, while also cultivating a whole new generation of fans… not an easy task, indeed.
Goldmine contributor Joe Milliken recently caught up with Hogarth as Marillion takes a short break to reload, before beginning the song writing process for the next album, due sometime in 2014.
Joe Milliken: Marillion recently won the “band of the year” award at the second annual Progressive Music Awards in London’s Kew Gardens. How did it feel to receive this honor and how cool was it to share the limelight with one Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull? (Anderson won the lifetime achievement or “Prog God” award)
Steve Hogarth: “It felt good. Ya know, an award doesn’t make you a better artist, but it’s something for the media to talk about… so it’s a useful tool for spreading the word… I would think Ian A. probably shares this view. I thanked him for writing “Life Is a Long Song” and he mentioned us as “those awfully nice chaps from Marillion,” in his acceptance speech. Jerry Ewings, who edits the Prog magazine, quoted my lyrics in his opening speech, so I suddenly felt we’d made it “onto the map” of the rock establishment. A surprising and gratifying thought… perhaps it comes with age!”
JEM: Marillion is recognized as being a pioneering band in utilizing their internet/Web site business to grow the fan base and generate touring funds. Where did the origins of Marillion’s business model derive from?
H: The short answer is that the American fans started it all by opening a bank account and raising $60k via the fledgling internet to fund a U.S. tour in 1997. (This writer saw the Boston show on that tour) They did this without us asking and it taught us two things. One, these people believe wholeheartedly in us… they trust us and they’ll put their hands in their pockets for us as a show of faith… and two, we’d better get onto this internet thing. So, we became the first band in the UK to have a Web site and we began through the internet (when most people in the UK had no idea what it was) to establish a global family.
JEM: Speaking of the fans, Marillion followers are deeply loyal to the music. However, it seems that they may fall into three catagories: the Fish-era Marillion fans, the Hogarth-era Marillion fans and the fans who love both eras, such as this fan. Do you view it this way and was the “two sides of Marillion” a threat or challenge to you at any point?
H: I believe that we became a new band when I got involved. There was never any looking back and we’re still a bit reluctant to look back now, even to my early days with the band. If people like “old” Marillion and don’t like “new” Marillion, that means about as much to me (and is as much of a threat) as someone who likes The Kinks or Britney and doesn’t like “new” Marillion.
I’m not someone who views art as a competition. If I was then, I guess the challenge would have been to have sold more records than “old” Marillion. In the light of plummeting CD sales globally since the inception of digital downloads, that’s a pretty futile ambition now. That just leaves the music. I‘d like to feel we rose to that challenge.
JEM: The “Marillion Weekends” have become quite a concert attraction for the fans. You must feel this is a very cool way to get up-close and interact with them. Does this exercise affect you creatively in some way?
H: Everything does, of course. I’m writing from life, so everything I see, hear, do and feel affects me creatively. An awareness of our fans as a kind of global family has a profound effect. The awareness of those pockets of pure faith tucked away and ticking away all over the world is a feeling of great privilege, of great good luck and of immense, pure beauty. And the paradox that the internet has a value in spiritual terms which equals or outweighs its value as an “information highway,” has been such a surprise for everyone. That was in no small part what influenced the words to “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” which is a song about faith and magic.
JEM: I have been lucky enough to see the band twice (2006 and 2012) at the Paradise Club in Boston. Does it frustrate the band not having, say - the independence to come to America more often and generate more exposure for Marillion in the states?
H: It’s very frustrating that the USA is such a hard place to tour. The withholding tax and the visa system, which makes us feel most unwelcome and tries to prevent us from coming, when all we want to do is play our music to our phenomenal American family. I can’t emphasize enough how many months of work(band co-manager) Lucy and our team have had to do, simply to satisfy the bureaucratic part. It shouldn’t be like that, but it is.
You use the word “independence” like we’re not the most independent band on earth, but the reverse is true. Musically and in every sense, we are more independent than any band I can think of. Unfortunately, America makes it hard for foreigners, which is amusing considering that America is a country of foreigners. If someone could put the IRS in a box and fire it into space, along with the visa people, we’d come every year!
JEM: I read recently the band has taken a break for the summer and it will likely be the start of 2014 before you congregate and start jamming for the next Marillion release. With that said, have you already begun your song writing process to any extent? Are you always writing down lyrics and song ideas?
H: I’m asked this one often and I honestly answer no. I don’t have anything. However, when we get started, something always seems to be there, so I suppose I must have the occasional thought or two that I jot down and forget about.
JEM: Has your song writing or creative process changed over the years or perhaps evolved in some way?
H: The process is the same. We jam for months, record it all and then go looking for the happy accidents. We collect the happy accidents together and try and make “songs” out of them. These days, we’re too lazy to listen to the jams for weeks on end, so Mike Hunter bears the brunt of the listening (for which I am eternally grateful) and comes to us with moments of music which he thinks are interesting. We then assemble compilations of moments and the hard work begins. I guess the only evolution is a desire not to repeat ourselves. This way of working is a good way of forcing inspiration and moving into unknown writing styles.
JEM: We’ll leave you with this... can you tell us a musician or band in the current music scene that you think would be interesting to work with? (For some reason, Trent Rezner popped into my head!)
H: Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree, Japan)...one out of two ain’t bad!