Transcript of phone interview with Fish by Karl Olsen
Karl: I was thinking about asking you a little about these posts you have mailed to the Freaks mailing list. I think it was very interesting to read. I know nothing about those things but... I know what I hear on the radio, what kind of music I hear, and that's definitely not... Fish, to put it that way.
Fish: Well it's just very difficult to get radio play nowadays, a lot of the radio stations prefer to stick with the Spice Girls. Nobody wants Backstreet Boyz, they want poppy material and... You know I think that there always used to be a place for rock music but it's become less and less as the years have gone by and I think without radio and without TV it's very difficult to get yourself recognised and especially to let people know what you sound like or what your songs are like. So you become very dependant on the live shows. But, if people don't get excited or are coming to see you live or people don't have the money to see you live it's very unusual to pick up, or it's very very difficult and a very very slow process to keep on coming in and playing live shows and I think... You know I'm 40 years old this year and I think if I'd been in this situation ten years ago I wouldn't have a problem, but I think being 40 years old I don't really want to spend the rest of my life on tour.
Karl: No, I see. But... I mean, someone have said that people don't want to... they don't want artists that are too old...
Fish: Yeah, I mean, I really believe that. I think especially within major music companies, if they are gonna sign artists they prefer to sign somebody very young. I mean it's... because I think that the music business is built on image, a 40 year old guy who's 6 ft 5, slightly overweight and bald is a very unattractive proposition when it comes down to it. You can pick up 22 to 23 year old kids that dance very well, you know? They're gonna get in the papers, they're gonna get in the teeny fashion papers. You know it's too difficult, it's too much work to break an artist like myself. And I just realise, I mean, you know it's my position on the Freaks list, and what I said was... I'm not giving up music, but what I'm doing is I'm just spending a lot less time promoting it. There's no point in going on the road for seven months and losing a lot of money like I did on the last tour, I mean, we played Oslo, we had a great gig in Oslo. We didn't particularly make any money at it. And the same happened in Denmark, in Sweden and... I'm trying to promote a record, but we're not making any, I've just got to say OK, there are fans out there, I've got a lot of fans in Norway, a lot of fans at the universities especially, that are very into my music, and we're gonna make it available on the Internet on mail order. I think perhaps that... Dick Brothers as a record company will still release the catalogue, but personally I'm more inclined to do movies or write novels than go on tour at this moment in time. So I'm still gonna make albums but I'm just not putting the work into them like I used to.
Karl: Yes, I see that. It's very understandable I think.
Fish: It's ridiculous when you think about it that... in the UK alone it costs 70.000 pounds to break a single, and that is just a single... You just write that off. And that is a figure from a major record company. And, how can a small and independent record company like the Dick Brothers Record Company afford to spend 70,000 pounds putting out a single and knowing that you will never see that money again? And, you must add together the promotion of the album and all the rest of it. And then you must add Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France and start putting that together, and it's impossible for us to really work it, you know? And we're caught in a middle ground where we don't sell enough records to really try and do the big push forward. And we don't have the money behind us to be able to risk... in fact we have no money to risk in a situation like that. So the situation is impractical, therefore I've made the decision to get rid of the Dick Brothers Record Company, to license my material to maybe a big indie so that they can put it in the shops and sell the rest of it on the Internet.
Karl: It must be very frustrating not only to not get any airplay but... people don't know or don't recognise what you do nowadays.
Fish: Yeah, it's a problem, I mean, EMI, it was great, it was Kayleigh with the Marillion days you know, and I think my first solo album was well received and we sold well on it, I think. I never believed that EMI worked hard enough. I think that it was... which was one of my problems with falling out with them. I felt we could have done a lot more with Vigil than we actually did. Plus we never got a US release which I think would have been a lot different to my future with EMI. But... you know, the problem was that I disappeared for quite a while because I had a big legal problem with EMI and then signed to Polydor. And, the two albums at Polydor, I mean, our relationship just didn't kick off, we didn't have good sales together. So when I went independent it became very hard. And nowadays I find it strange that people turn around and say "well, your promotion of the album is bad", "why don't you promote the album better?". It's like... People forget you have to buy promotion. With albums in the UK you've got to buy shop windows, you buy pictures in magazines, you buy listening posts. You don't get given them free, you know. And it becomes impossible to actually make it work. It just doesn't happen anymore. It's frustrating sometimes when people go "It's Fish and Marillion", and you go "What? Wait a minute, I've actually done other stuff than that". And people, especially when they come up and ask for autographs and you go "Can you name my last two albums?" they go "Oh, you put out albums? We didn't realise you made solo albums!". And that has happened, in Scotland as well.
Karl: Yes and... you're probably not the best person to tell that to, but... of course Marillion has the same problem. It's strange to go to shops and look for... I've been looking for singles...
Fish: Yeah, I think Marillion have got exactly the same problem as I have now because, you know that now, on an independent company, I mean, I think they are moving very close to exactly the situation that I'm in. And it's very awkward and I think that there's maybe some older musicians out there, and I mean musicians in the thirties, or mid thirties, are sitting there going, "What am I gonna be doing when I'm older?", I mean it's worse than being a football player. You don't get coaching jobs when you're a musician!
Karl: As a fan I always use to think, and so do probably you, that if only more people got to know about this music, got to know that it's very good and all that, they would like it and go and buy albums, but as they can't even find the albums in the shops it's...
Fish: There's no point in becoming bitter about it, you must try and adjust. And you've just got to take the attitude that... I'm healthy, I've got a beautiful family, I've got a beautiful daughter... I've got marriage, I'm happy with this, and if I can write books, and get movies together and grow vegetables and have some chickens, and I've got a dog at my feet, and I can afford to go down to the bar every couple of nights then it's great, you know? I never wanted to be a millionaire, never fancied it that much!
Karl: What importance does the Internet have at the moment?
Fish: It's important because it enables me to communicate, I mean... even in the nineties, you know... When I left Marillion or when I was in the court case with EMI, because I didn't have the press, it was very difficult to communicate with people and let people know what I was doing. And, you know, I definitely think that if I had had Internet access back in 1990 / 1991, when everything was going very horribly wrong here with the court case, then I think it would have helped me a lot. But, I can't live in the past, I've got to keep on looking forward and... You know I'm looking forward to doing more movies, I'm looking forward to getting involved in writing novels and writing screenplays, and I'm still gonna look forward to making albums, but at this point in time, I mean financially, we have a problem as well because of the loss we took on the tour. Plus again because of the strong British pound, because the music business in general is in a bad way, we've been let down by people who have been owing us money and who have not paid us. And I'm in a situation where I must sell my studio and the house, which is something I didn't really want to do. But at the same time I think it's the right thing, I think it's time for me to restructure my life and leave the business stuff behind and start becoming more of a creative artist. I enjoy creating things and that's what I want to continue to do.
Karl: I'm just thinking... You have some very die-hard fans... a very passionate following and all that, but... Some of them , I suppose, still live in the past and prefer... like Kayleigh and Clutching at Straws...
Fish: They're great songs, there's nothing wrong with those songs you know, but I mean, a lot of this stuff, some of the material we still play live, but I mean, that's not the end of my career, even if they were our most commercially successful songs. I don't think technically some of these songs were the best I've ever done, either with Marillion or as a solo artist.
Karl: I should think that the world has evolved... but... No, I just hope that things will turn out...
Fish: But this is the thing, if 25,000 people went out and bought the album in Norway tomorrow it would help an awful lot! But I mean that's what it takes, I think if we sold 100,000 more albums last year across the catalogue - which is 10 albums - which is like selling 10,000 of each of my solo albums, if I'd done that in Europe - which was possible - then I wouldn't be in this situation now. But I mean, as it is, I must deal with it. Buy the bloody album!
Karl: I definitely agree with that, I do, the gig in Oslo was great...
Fish: It was great, I've always loved playing Oslo. If we come up on tour there's no way I'm gonna walk away from a date in Norway, it's so nice to get something together but... in the future my touring is not gonna be as extensive as it was.
Karl: Of course, when it costs you that much money... so... it's a tough business...
Fish: Yes, a very, very, very tough business.
Karl: Well I think then I just have to thank you for doing this on very short notice.
Fish: That's OK, no problem
Fish: I'm gonna be playing football tonight, good luck in the World Cup, OK?
Karl: The same to Scotland! Let's both stuff the Brazilians!
Interview 16th February 1998