Montreal, interviewer: Jordan Zivitz
[there isn't any clear start to this interview; we just started talking.]
Fish: We've got a great feeling about [Sunsets on Empire]. Everybody I've played it to has come back with very positive remarks.
Jordan: Well, I honestly think that this album will be the one that breaks you into North America.
Fish: I bloody well hope so! [laughs] Well, Jim Pitulski, my manager who works out of New York, he's been looking for a deal and has got two indie deals on the table, because none of the majors were really interested in it. The problem I have is that I've got this catch-22 in America. People go, "Oh yeah, Fish, we know him -- he was in Marillion, blahblahblah", and it's a load of baggage, you know? [Sunsets on Empire] is a new approach, but they still look upon the Marillion thing, and rather than listen to the music they tend to disregard it. It's not seen as a new act, even though it really is -- I've never really had a release over there, so it is virtually a new act in America as far as a solo career goes. But the North American media just goes, "No, it's an old act". Marillion had a great deal of success, but it's like a band like The Blue Nile -- a lot of people know The Blue Nile, but they don't really sell that much. Or let's just say they don't sell as much as the mainers. But then again, if we go with the indies and we're making sure that the indie we're gonna go with has got really good distribution...and the fact of it is that if the album goes out and we can get the airtime, if the word-of-mouth spreads -- and I think word-of-mouth WOULD spread with an album like this among DJs, because I think a lot of DJs would get turned on by some of the tracks -- if that happens it's gonna be what you call an album with legs. Rather than something that flashes it's something that runs. And I'd far rather have an album that develops over a period of nine months than an album that burns out brightly in two weeks and then disappears.
Jordan: Well, a benefit that you have in that double-edged sword of being associated with Marillion is that you still have a lot of fans [in North America] who know about your work.
Fish: Yeah, but it's been really difficult. I mean, a lot of fans have said, "Well, why don't you come over?" and [in the past] it's been pointless to come across. It's gonna be a very expensive thing to come across. The thing with Marillion was... it's basically five guys, and if you made money you shared it between five people. Now it's one guy, and that one guy runs the whole operation, and so I pay [the road crew], and that comes out of the profit you'd make if you were in a normal band. And on top of that, to come across and do it properly, you're talking a minimum of a month. If I was going to come across to North America and do a tour I'd want to spend two months or at least a month, and then come back and do at least another six weeks to two months. And the expense of that... plus, why are you coming over if there are no records in the shops? It's very difficult to get radio to promote you because there's no album, and it doesn't really make sense to come across as a tramp outfit that's running about selling records after gigs, because you're not really making any impact. You're getting the work, but you're not making as good a use of the time as possible. And I wanted to make sure... it's a bit like an army invading another country. If you're gonna make a bitch landing you make sure you've got the air support and you make sure that when you do land and you start moving that you've got supplies behind you that will make sure that you'll be able to invade properly. It's economics -- and morale as well. I mean, it's a major undertaking to do a North American tour. It's not like touring Germany or Britain where you can play a gig and drive three hours down the road -- you're driving 14 hours down the road to play a gig. And when you put that much traveling in, when you're burning that much rubber, when you get there it's very hard to keep yourself up. If you don't sense the goal and you can't feel the warmth of the light at the end of the tunnel, you can become a wee bit despondent. It's better for me to concentrate on the areas where I'm still trying to build -- and that includes Europe, where even now there are areas where I'm trying to rebuild my solo career because... one of the things the North Americans missed out on that the Europeans got hit by was the kafuffle and the chaos that was caused by the litigation with EMI, going into Polydor, and the two albums -- one of which was a cover-version album -- coming out and then going indie. There were a lot of people who lost the plot, and it was kind of hard to explain the politics of what was going on. And of course, with putting the cover-version album out plus the long gaps between the solo albums, plus even the Yin and Yang stuff. On half the continent Marillion have been hit low, you know, we got hit even lower after the Polydor records. So, we're now at a stage where we can go out and confidently tour in Europe, but it's better to spend that time trying to consolidate Europe than trying to... well, you know, it's basically like trying to build a roof with one wall up.
Jordan: Was it a Catch-22 when Yin and Yang came out, where you couldn't record a new album because of finances and you had to keep touring?
Fish: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people forget that when you go indie... when you're with a major label in Britain or wherever, you can phone up London and say, "I want to record an album, can we get an advance?" or whatever, and somebody will write you a nice big fat cheque and it goes in the bank, and you've got a safety net. But when you're indie you've got no safety net, and as soon as you stop touring you're in a situation where unless your album is still moving along, basically your income tends to stop. And you've got to fund a period of writing, which is 2-3 months minimum. You can write on the road, but you still have to go in and tape the songs in pre-production. So we would just be wandering into a black hole. Even on Sunsets on Empire during the writing and the initial recording we were still doing festivals out in Europe to feed the guys and to buy the little cotton balls that clean the heads of the tape machine [laughs]. It was crazy. I mean, it's fun... it's a real challenge and I do enjoy that challenge -- it stops you from getting lazy, and it's so easy to become lazy when you work with a major and you're in a successful band and you go, "I'll just take nine months off to write the album". I mean... when you aim at writing you've got to really focus. Yin and Yang kept us on the road, and the most important thing about Yin and Yang was that it got us into new territories -- it was a passport. Because of the Marillion material, because of the best of the Fish material, we had a passport to get into countries and tour, and people played the Just Good Friends single with Sam Brown, and played Kayleigh, and played Lavender, and played Lady Let It Lie, or State of Mind or whatever. And through that we got into places like South America, Southeast Asia, we got to Turkey for the first time, we were down in South Africa -- a lot of different territories where we got distribution of the best-of albums. And you've got to remember as well that during that point, having been on the road for so long, and putting Yin and Yang out, a lot of bad vibes came off of some of the European journalists and territories that already knew the material and didn't need a best-of album. So they were going, "Can Fish still write?" And I think that affected me in a way -- I lost a lot of confidence. And although my on-stage performances and my whole live act was reaching another level, the writing side of me and the studio side was shrinking away in a corner and was petrified of coming out. And I think that kept us on the road as well. I must be honest about that -- I think I probably avoided [writing] for a bit. But I think that once we got into Sunsets and I discovered how easy it was and how exciting the new direction was... and working with Steve Wilson who was very much a visionary, and who knocked me into a really good route. And with that it came really fast, and the experience became enjoyable, and I think that's why Sunsets is as strong an album as it is.
Jordan: You mentioned that your live experience really grew. Did you bring that into the studio with you? Because you suffered quite a bit of backlash over the way "Suits" was produced and the over-all sound of that album.
Fish: Yeah... I was listening to Suits, and having gotten so used to the Sunsets on Empire vibe, Suits sounds very very safe. I think with Suits, because it was the first indie album I was doing, we were nervous, and it was a bit of a case of over-cooking the stew. I think it comes across better in the live performances. I think that the direction was right, and when you hear Sunsets on Empire and you hear it from Suits, you can detect where songs like Brother 52 and What Colour is God were born -- in the grooves we were starting with No Dummy and Mr. 1470. And even the laid-back songs -- the grooves on Fortunes of War, you can hear that influence on what I'm doing on the Sunsets on Empire album.
Jordan: The versions of Pipeline and Raw Meat on the Toiling in the Reeperbahn CD do come off better than the versions on Suits.
Fish: When you're on stage you get caught in the immediacy of the moment, and you're not really concerned about the eternal transmission. It's like, "Bugger it -- if we bomb out the song tonight it doesn't really matter."
When we came into the studio we were overprotective; we spent so long trying to make sure that it was right that we overproduced the whole thing. But that's by-the-by, I mean, it's there, and I think it stands as an album. I'm not decrying it, I still think it's really really good album, but I don't think it's as good as what it should've been. But then again, that's why with some of the Yin and Yang material we re-recorded it. Yin and Yang was good fun in that it gave me the chance to re-record some stuff in the middle of a tour, so a lot of the live feel came across. I think the re-recording of Incommunicado's a whole lot better, I think the bluesiness of Lavender... it just shows the feel that started to develop within the band and within myself. I started to discover that I had a lot more groove and a lot more soul and a lot more blues than I ever thought I had. I always used to look at myself at a white progressive-rock singer [laughs], you know, very clinical, very rehearsed approach. Whereas having done so much roadwork since I've gone solo, I've found new aspects to my voice that have made it a lot better. I hate those falsettos now... I listen to some of those old falsettos in Script and things, and I just HATE that. My voice just sounded so thin, and I far prefer singing in lower keys and giving it a bit of balls. I just think that's the beauty of age. A red wine or a ten-year-old malt scotch, you know? A ten-year-old malted singer. [laughs]
Jordan: One of my favourite songs on Yin was the new version of Incubus. I was stunned how much you could still bring to a song you wrote 11 years previous to when you re-recorded it.
Fish: Some of it just stays, you know? A sort of time code, I suppose. You unlock some of the old feelings, and old approaches and attitudes mature, and you can put some of the emotion that was in Incubus and translate it into some of the things that have been happening around me in the last year-and-a-half. There are a lot of fans who go, "Why re-record things", or "Why record so many live shows"? But with some of the songs you find new approaches and a different angle. I find it quite fascinating how with certain songs, you can actually change them. It's like saying "Any one of Beethoven's can be better", you know? Or any Mozart piece. [With contemporary music] you record it once and that's it, you're not supposed to re-record it. I mean, how do all these people do cover versions of Mozart? [laughs] I like turning it around and having a look at it from a different view sometimes. And live as well -- the band became so well-known as a live act it was nice to capture some of those great tours. The sets themselves are like the organization of an album, the way you pick the tracks affects the way you play the tracks and your approach to the dynamics of the tracks. So there's lots of different roller-coaster designs in all those different tours we've done since 1990.
Jordan: Since the band was so well-known and went through a complete over-haul...
Fish: I wouldn't say it was an over-haul, I would say it's a bit more severe than that. [laughs] Was it something I said? Yeah, I got a bit of a shock. For the listeners out there who are wondering what the hell's happening, what happened was that the band had developed since 1988 when Mickey Simmonds joined, who recorded most of the Vigil material with me, and then Frank Usher came very soon after. It was always Frank who was considered my right-hand man in the band, although he wasn't musically the most powerful influence in the band -- I think after Mickey left Robin Boult was the most powerful musical influence -- but Frank was like a lucky charm for me. He was somebody I just needed about, and I was kind of shocked when I got a phone call from America saying that he didn't want to go on the long tour that we were proposing. I mean, if Sunsets is as big a record as we all hope it is we could be on the road for a minimum of 12 months. So Frank was a bit scared about going out for such a long time, and Frank's 44 years old now, and it's kind of hard to ask somebody "Excuse me, but could you give me a year of your life?" You've got to enjoy the touring, and I don't think Frank was enjoying the touring as much... I think he was feeling a bit like a hamster on a wheel. And on the album... he didn't play as much on the Sunsets album as on previous, I mean, he didn't actually have one single solo on the album -- he did a joint thing with Steve Wilson. So I think he didn't feel part of the project, which I think was another reason why he decided that he just wanted to pass on it. And I think when Frank left a bit of a tremor ran through the band. I knew that I had to phone round everybody immediately and say "Right, okay, who's coming into this? I need to know now." Because I didn't want a situation where we were getting too close to the tour and we were having to replace members. So it was like Houston and the Alamo, and there's the line, who's gonna cross it? And basically the only person who crossed it was Dave Stewart [laughs], who I fully expected to when it came down to it.
Ewen Vernal was the next one to leave, and he's got a wife, he's got a kid; he's got a jazz project he's been working on for the last three years, and he's finally gotten to the point where he's getting a deal with it. He told me that to come on the tour financially made sense to him -- that he'd love to come on the tour just for the laughs, but that he's gotta do the jazz thing this year. And on top of that his kid's starting school in August and he feels that he should be about while the kid goes to school for the first six months. And you've gotta bow down to that, I mean, again the guy's in his late 30s, and it's another one of those cases where when you're 22 and you're faced with three months on the road it's like "Whoopee! Where's the condom machine?" [laughs] But when you get a bit older it's like, "Wait a minute... this is work". You gotta put your nose straight on the stone and go for it.
And Foss Paterson, Foss is like Columbo. We ask him a question like, "You want a cup of coffee, Foss?" and he's like, "eeeeeehhhhhhhh..." [laughs] "What do you want to do today, Foss? You want to go down the road or up the road?" "eeeeeehhhh, ummm, I, eh, uuhhhhhhhhhhh..., I don't, eh, well...", so I knew Foss wasn't gonna come out on the tour, because he'd signed all these contracts for all these people to do bits of music for them, and even his wife said that she didn't know how he was going to do it and that she thought he was gonna get sued for not delivering on time [laughs], so I just wrote Foss off in the nicest possible way.
And then the shock of all shocks was when Robin phoned up and said that he didn't want to tour because he had been getting a lot of corporate commercial work. He's been doing a lot of stuff, like library music and things, and building up a name for himself. Robin's an incredibly flexible guitarist who can turn his ears and fingers to anything, and he said that he wanted to do more on the outside of things and do occasional gigs and he said to my production manager that he doesn't want to tour for longer than three weeks. To me three weeks is, well... I spend longer on the toilet in the morning! [laughs]
So I had to find a new band, and, I mean, it ain't that difficult. I've got a good reputation on the road, and I think I've got a good reputation in general. And so we picked up Keith More on guitar. He's a brilliant guitarist and to get someone of that calibre I was quite amazed. I was really concerned about replacing Robin and Frank, and when Keith offered to take over both of the guitars and when he told me how he was gonna do it, I was like "Yeah! Let's go for it... let's go back to a five-piece band again". And of course with Dave Stewart being there... a bass player from Edinburgh named Steve Vantsis who's played with a number of Scottish bands came in -- another brilliant bass player, he plays five-string stand-up -- the whole bit. And we've got a keyboard player, we're talking to this 19-year-old keyboard player down in London who is not named yet because I've still got to meet with him and sort things out, but playing-wise Keith's assured me that the guy can handle it. So Fish is going out with a five-piece band this time and he's going out with a brand new setlist... and Sunsets on Empire is so aptly named, it's really strange. It's the end of one era, but it's also the beginning of another one. The album itself musically marks the start of a new one, and as a band it marks the end of another one. It's sunset to dawn.
Jordan: Did you need the outside influence of Steve Wilson to bring new musical ideas in order to re-invent yourself?
Fish: Yeah. I'm glad I made the right decision on that, because the other choice was to write within the band and bring somebody else in as an overseer. And if I had done that Sunsets wouldn't be as it is. Steve Wilson was such a big influence -- he co-wrote seven of the ten songs on the album, so I think with that and with being producer, he was the one who had the steering wheel.
Jordan: Neil Young once said that he likes to write lyrics which seem obvious at first glance but which reveal deeper truths and meaning upon closer inspection. On some songs on Sunsets on Empire -- such as the title track, and particularly "Say It With Flowers" -- is that what you were going for?
Fish: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes with simplicity it's better and more immediate to work on that level. I mean, I couldn't write a song like "Script" now. I listen to that now, and I really like it, and for its time I think it's brilliant, but now I couldn't do it. It seems too wonky to me now. It's a real garden of words, and sometimes it just needs to be simplified a little bit. Sometimes I feel that on some of the early stuff I was using words for words' sake, I mean, I was using them more like instruments I suppose. I was very conscious of the fact that I wasn't a musician, therefore by using a lot of words in a certain manner I felt I was qualifying myself in the band -- Now there's an admission for you! But I think that as I've matured and as I've gotten older, I've realized that sometimes simplicity in wordplay can be beautiful.
Jordan: Aside from the obvious "Grendel", is there any early material that you absolutely, completely refuse to do now, that you just can't get behind no matter what?
Fish: I'd say probably all of it. If you're talking about now, at this very moment, as we're approaching a new set, there's nothing I could see from any of the early Marillion stuff. From the "Script" album there's nothing I could see that fits in with the vibe and the feeling of the present set. There's nothing really from the "Fugazi" album, although we might play about with the Fugazi track itself. I think if we come to North America I'd be more inclined to throw in something like, perhaps a He Knows You Know/Fugazi medley-type thing, which we used on... was it the last tour? But as far as playing an entire song in its entity? Nah, nah nah. Not in the present set. I mean, musically, yeah, I could maybe go and play it in a one-off situation. Actually, I've done it... at the Paul McCartney Institute at the Liverpool College, a band drug out Script, and asked would I come up and sing it with them. And I went up and sung Script since... I think it was the first solo tour in 1990. And it was a great kick, it was brilliant to do. It was a completely different approach. But I'd definitely say that in the current set with the current band, that's not where it's at.
Jordan: The one song from "Script" that I could've seen you do is "Forgotten Sons". I don't even know if you've done that one since leaving Marillion...
Fish: Yeah, I think it was the 1991 tour, we threw that in.
Jordan: I could see a comparison between that track and "Brother 52".
Fish: Yeah, yeah, where it goes [starts singing the middle instrumental section of Forgotten Sons] [laughs] Yeah! Thank you very much! You've actually given me an idea there. Hmm... Yeah, you've just given me a very good idea.
Yeah, the thing is, with the one guitarist now the difference is going to be I've got to avoid some of the songs on the solo albums that depend too much on twin guitars. I'm gonna have to dunk some of them. But it's great... I've really got a cartload of songs. It's a really interesting diverse bunch of fuckin' material, you know? [laughs]
Jordan: Do you diversify your set list, or do you keep it pretty constant for each leg of the tour?
Fish: Um, well, [laughs] we take stuff off, and then it tends to change. I mean, usually numbers get cut, because almost every new tour ago I came and I'd say, "Okay, we're only going to do an hour-and-a-half, maximum hour-forty with encores, right? And that's it guys." "Right, right, right." Okay. Last tour we never did a set less than two hours. Most nights it was two-hours-fifteen. It was getting stupid [laughs], but we just couldn't get off. I mean, there was all these things on the Freaks mailing list -- you know, "Fish, you can tour with Phish", those crazy guys from Vermont, and we could do full-day events [laughs]! It was actually great coming across that band, reading about a band that was actually doing that. Because there really are all those bloody bands out there that play for an hour and go off, and they're charging like 8 or 10 quid a ticket, and play for an hour, and you're going "give me a break!"
The longest set we've ever done was I think about three hours. I think if you get in a situation like that... I mean, obviously you wouldn't play a set like that for a crowd that wasn't into the music. The crowd makes a hell of a lot of difference. If the crowd's well-vibed up and the crowd's lifting you, then you tend to float above that [laughs; puts on a fake-bravado voice] You don't think about the pain. You know? You just get so wrapped up in the adrenaline that the adrenaline just takes you over and shoots you up, and once that silver bullet catches you, you're off! But sometimes it's very difficult, because again you get the reputation of doing sets that long and people start to go "How come you only played for two hours tonight when you played for two hours and fifteen minutes the other night?"
Jordan: I suppose that with such a fanatic fan base there's a need to keep things constant, since if you give one group more than you would give another one, jealousy sets in.
Fish: Well, no, to be honest the way I look at it is if you've got 15 guys down front going apeshit and the rest of the guys in the hall are there but they're not really going through it, there's no point in pushing it. If the hall wants an encore you give the hall an encore, but if it dies after that then you don't go on and do the encore for 15 people because what you'll do is you'll destroy the experience for everybody else, because everybody else is going "aw, God, what's he going on about now?" And you've gotta be careful, there is that problem. I mean, I would never play a two-hour-fifteen set if I felt... I mean, I would play an hour-forty-five if I felt the audience wasn't really going for it. You've got to watch the audience's experience, because you can't overstay your welcome. And other times... I mean, I've deliberately dropped numbers or added numbers in a set, or maybe taken out an extra couple of acoustic versions to suit the crowd, you know? I do gauge that, but that's after 16 years' experience as a frontman. But if I was coming to America and you've only got the five guys going nuts, you cannot go and play to five guys in the front when you've got 200 guys in the back who just want to drink beer, at least in an encore situation.
Jordan: One thing that's cropped up constantly in your writing is the relationship between fan and performer. Is it important for you to maintain a personal as well as professional relationship with your audience?
Fish: Yeah. I mean, the songs about the relation between fan and performer... I'm both, and I don't mean I'm a fan of myself, right? I'm a fan of music and I'm a performer of music. And because I was a fan until I was 22... I didn't start singing until I was 22, so I've got the soul of a fan in me with regard to music. I mean, I'm definitely a fan of music, and that makes me appreciate what it's like to be a fan. I can remember writing to Jon Anderson when I was a kid and not getting any answer, and going "Aw damn" [laughs], you know what I mean? So I can understand to some extent how much it means to people. I mean, I don't answer a lot of e-mails. I can't -- it's impossible, when I get e-mails saying "when are you coming to the States". That's why I put things in the mailing list saying "PLEASE do not ask these questions". I'll answer questions on the mailing list which are, let's just say specific to a lot of people, or if somebody writes in and comes up with an interesting question on an e-mail into the office, then I'll answer it on the Freaks list. But, yeah, I'm very conscious of giving the deal, like today we're putting together the prices of the tickets of the shows for the UK leg, and you've got to be really careful how you price yourself and you've got to be aware that certain areas are not as well-off as other areas, etcetera etcetera.
Jordan: How would you price the tickets for the North American shows?
Fish: I've got no idea, because I've got no idea of the market. It's a bit different [in UK] because I actually manage myself over here, so we know this place -- we know what to do when we go to Germany and Holland. But in America, that's why Jim Pitulski is my manager there -- he's my guide out there.
Jordan: In recent years there's been a number of independent labels run by artists such as Dick Bros. and Robert Fripp's DGM label which put emphasis and arise from issues concerning artists' rights. Do you see this as being the future of music and prompting the collapse of big-money labels?
Fish: Yeah, I mean Bob Fripp was like myself in that he took the situation at EG [Fripp's old label], etcetera. I mean, yeah, he can get deals in majors, but when it comes down to it, yeah, Bob's the same as me -- we've got a fan base out there, we know we can get into that fan base, we know what they want, and to form an independent label gives us more contact to them. I mean, the fact that we can put out live albums... if I was with a major record company there's no way I would have been able to put out the number of live albums I have. We've got I think five on the catalogue at the moment, from all different tours and all different setlists. But with a major record company you're talking about bootlegs. I mean, Marillion were bootlegged to hell, and the same with the earlier stages of my solo career. And with the laws, I mean, it was never really effective the way the majors dealed with bootleggers. But what we did, was we basically put out higher-quality goods at a far cheaper price. The double-CDs bootlegs we've got at the moment are all 12 pounds each. And you're talking about people who are going in and buying single-CD bootlegs for like 15-17 pounds. Also, the quality's pretty crap. So what happens is that for the last four years there's been no Fish bootlegs. The only ones that get bootlegged are the ones that come off of the radio, because they know that the radio ones are the only ones that can compete with the quality of the live material we're putting out through the label here. So again, it's very much an indication of an indie band with a guerilla style, and there's a lot of us out there who are doing that. There are more and more bands now that do not fit into the concept of what the major labels consider to be, let's just say major-market potential. So what happens is that there are more musicians peering into what they consider to be minority markets that are life enough for them. They're moving onto the net, and I think there's a lot of new bands that will start going, "well, maybe we can start banding together". I can see the Internet becoming the world's record shop, and I welcome it. For me, what the net does is it supplies this attitude that used to exist before the big major chain stores. When I walked into a record store when I was a kid you'd say "well, I'm into Yes" and someone would say, "Well, this is the Rick Wakeman solo album", or "Chris Squire's got a solo album coming out in the next six months". You'd be directed into other bands -- "oh, by the way, if you like that you'd like King Crimson or maybe you'd like the Genesis stuff", and I was introduced into a lot of bands and a lot of music that way. But in the big chain stores and in the big hypermarkets you don't have that -- you've got a 17-year-old kid behind the till who doesn't know who the original members of the Rolling Stones were who's being asked questions by people who want to know, and the guy behind the till -- it's not his fault, because he's been employed by a major store that's only interested in shifting vast numbers of units. And okay -- that's the way it goes; that's the way it is. We've got to put up with that. But I think with the Internet, the way it's going, I think what's going to happen is you're gonna go on to people's sites and I think people are gonna be more inclined to start buying on a mail-order basis than in the traditional way. Or they're gonna find out what the albums are and THEN go into the stores and buy them.
Jordan: As someone who's been labelled progressive rock for better or worse, do you feel the need to incorporate elements of what's currently cutting-edge, or do you just make music you like regardless of whether it's hip or not?
Fish: Well, I find some of the cutting-edge stuff real interesting. I mean, I'm not just going in and saying "Aw, bugger it, I'm gonna use a jungle rhythm" or something like that. Well, hmm... we've got a new song called Jungle Ride but it's not jungle! [laughs]
Jordan: Although the percussion on "Do Not Walk Outside This Area" sounds a bit like a jungle beat.
Fish: Yeah. Well, I really like that hip-hop vibe, I'm getting really into it. And I think there's ways you can bring that stuff into your music and play about with it. And it does give an edge and is interesting. In the last year or so my ears have become a lot more open to other influences, and I've really been taking off on some stuff.
Jordan: I was surprised how well you managed to pull off the rap in "What Colour is God".
Fish: After I did that I was extremely nervous and I had to take it to a couple of very good friends and I had to go "Does this sound okay?" [laughs] "It doesn't sound really straight, does it?"
Jordan: Most music critics seem to now think that a song has to be three minutes long and straightforward to be good. Since your songs are neither short nor straightforward, do you think that the current machinery of music criticism is completely ill-suited to write about and judge your work?
Fish: I don't know. I mean, to be honest I feel sorry for a lot of journalists. From my experiences as a DJ which has been very useful for a number of reasons, when you're bombarded with so much material from so many record companies every week, it's really hard to disseminate exactly what you should be listening to and what you shouldn't be. From years ago, when you had the chance to listen to an album four-five times before you were able to write a review of it, you're now in a situation where you make it two times if you're lucky, because you're writing 16 reviews that week for the magazine, plus you're trying to do all the other bits and pieces in your life. So, yeah, I can understand perhaps why there's some cynicism and why people are a little more vicious nowadays. Anything that's considered suspect is just slain, because "how dare you do this and waste my time", you know? The blows are landing a little bit heavier now when they do land, but at the same time I still believe that you can still catch people in seven minutes as well as catching them in three. If you lay in the plot and you draw people into the sound they'll hang about til the end.
Jordan: Has the lack of success in the USA ever made you tempted to just screw it entirely and concentrate on your stonghold areas, or is it an area where you've always wanted to reestablish yourself?
Fish: Well, I'm a stubborn bastard and I don't tend to give in to places very much. [laughs] You think America's bad, the one that's the real thorn in my side's Australia, actually. I've got a real problem there that I'm not even gonna discuss in an interview situation [laughs]. I've fallen out with a number of people down there -- I've got people who never answer their phones. But the way it goes with America... if I could take it there with just one album it'd be brilliant, just to say "Yeah, I've done it," you know? Every time you go "Aw, bugger, I've got to do something about America" you get the fan who comes in going "I think it's brilliant, it's great, there's people here who really love your stuff, I've just discovered you in the last three months through a friend of a girlfriend who discovered you through somebody in Milwaukee", you know? And you go "there's people out there who could really get into this stuff". I think I'm more in tune with a lot of people there now, because I think there's a lot of Americans who really appreciate that lyrical depth -- more so since the Alanis Morissettes and Sheryl Crows have become more acceptable as well. People are going "yeah, I'm really getting off on lyrics now." And I think somebody like myself who comes across, who's got groove, who's got depth and so on, I think we've got a good chance of breaking into some really heavy college and university markets.
Jordan: Is it reasonable to say that you're closer now to touring North America than ever before as a solo artist?
Fish: Easy. I mean, I've got a couple of severe slaggings, like from that poor guy Ron [laughs]. Has he killed himself yet? I was getting really worried cause he never came back, so I was like, "oh, shit", you know? I hope he's alright. [laughs] I think he just got out of bed on the wrong side in the morning the same time that I got out of bed on the wrong side in the morning. It's like, he went "Grrrr..." and I went "ROOOAAARRRRRRR!!!" I was just getting sick of the stuff going "America America America". I've been working my ass off for like a year... we had a deal with Renaissance sorted out way last year and basically they had a load of investors who pulled out at the last minute and left them in the shit, which left us in the shit. We were hanging about and we finally decided we couldn't go ahead with it. So we basically gave Renaissance somewhat a finished product to sell across there so at least we could show them we were trying to do something by putting the albums in at basically domestic rates. But Renaissance was still trying to pin down investors, therefore we decided that we had to start looking for somebody else because it didn't look like Renaissance were going to be able to supply us with what we really needed. On top of that we were meeting flak from a lot of the shops who were going "Well, there's no promotion and there's no tour on the go, so we don't really want to take the risk on ordering stock", so again a Catch-22 started to develop. Meanwhile we were working really hard to try to find other people interested; we eventually got Jim Pitulski on board for management and that's given us the big lift -- suddenly I've got someone on the ground out there who's talking for us. Because before, you've got to appreciate that everything's been done on the phone. We phoned round America, we were sending off packages to people, and sending off loads and loads of material trying to get people interested and talking to people until 12:00 at night.
I mean, last year it was on -- I mean, the deal with Renaissance was signed, and we were ready to come over and it was all there, but then it just fell apart. You can't plan for that. I mean, a lot of people expect a music business career to walk along straight-line ratios, like you set your sights and that's it. They forget that you're operating like some sort of goddamn pinball -- if major success happens somewhere you have to follow it. You can't just turn around and say "I'll just not bother following up that single just about in the top-10 in Germany, I don't really want to go to Germany just now, I'd rather go to Turkey". Basically what you do is you go "fuck it, I'm gonna go into Germany and I'm gonna turn this into a major top-10 single". And THEN you go to Turkey. And I think a lot of people forget about this, but you do have to react to situations, and when the American situation went down with Renaissance we had to turn away from it. We couldn't just go "Okay, we said we were going to come in at that time so we're gonna come in". It was like "Wait a minute -- let's replan, rethink, reroute." And this year the route march is looking good, because we've put a lot of work into the album, we've had Bob Ludwig master it which gives it a lot of credit across there, and Bob Ludwig loves the album! What we've got to do now is Jim's got to seal the deal, we've got to work it with the promotional market, and then there's the tour.
And then there's the single. We've put the single back from the 21st to the 28th. We got a new PR company over here -- they handle the Spice Girls, which shows you what sort of calibre they are; these guys are top pluggers. And the guy said "I think Brother 52 is great, I think we've got a brilliant chance with it, I need four weeks. If you could put the single back to the 28th we can devote four weeks' worth of national plugging for you" so we said "okay, one week doesn't really matter, we'll throw it back to the 28th". And suddenly it's like "What the fuck is going on, how dare you put the single back?" Give me a fucking break, you know? But I like the [Freaks] list, there's a lot of nice people -- I like Cesar, he's a nice guy. [pauses and laughs] What the fuck are we doing? You're gonna have to cut some of this stuff for the radio.
I'm grown-up enough to go "Okay, I'm wrong." There's things in my career where I can say "yeah, I did that wrong". But I'm not gonna take someone who's gonna question my integrity or my sincerity. I mean, to say that the only reason I'm doing club mixes is to break into that market and make a load of money and sacrifice what I've been doing for years. Give me break -- the word "bollocks" springs to mind! I like clubs! I go dancing! Believe it or not I actually go to raves. On the 95 tour after nearly every gig we went dancing and the adrenaline you've got when you come off stage, you just go into the clubs and burn it off. Brilliant. I love it. And that's why to take Brother 52 and take it to a club mix is wonderful, to hear someone interpret what you're doing as well.
Jordan: I want to get political for just a moment...
Jordan: ...Just the fact that "Brother 52" struck me as a slightly sympathetic look at right-wing militant groups. Were you playing devil's advocate, or do you see those groups being somewhat justified in their beliefs?
Fish: There's no devil's advocate there, I mean, I don't think it's a pro-right-wing song at all. What I'm looking at is basically a bunch of guys that basically said "this is my area, I don't want to screw with you and you don't want to screw with us, so let's just agree to keep away -- we'll live in our little part and you'll live over there and we'll be happy". And then someone says "you can't do that". I mean... some people make bad decisions... I come from a country that's just been through the worst shooting disaster ever. Dunblaine has traumatized this country. And I agree totally with gun control. I would hate to think that roundabout me there are people wandering about with AK-47s and army tanks. That's a horrible, frightening concept to me. I'd hate to think that somebody was going to break into my house with a gun. I don't agree with that stuff at all. I'm thankful I come from a country that's never had a problem the way the Americans have. You get into a fight in Edinburgh and the worst that'll happen is that you'll get a blade put in you. Nobody's gonna start pulling a 9mm or a .45 or something, you know? So the song is definitely not pro-gun lobby or anything like that. I mean, it's just a viewpoint on a man.
Jordan: Okay, last question -- this is just because you told me it was the only thing the Web USA didn't get when they interviewed you, and I want to get an exclusive... what's the size of your willy?
Fish: [laughs] Not big enough for a tattoo! I never discuss prick size on a telephone line... somebody might be listening!
Interview 10th May 1997