KUNO-Das Videomagazin interview, Germany, Hamburg, Alsterkrug-Hotel.
Interviewer: Sven Kardelke of KUNO-Das Videomagazin
Sven: Your new album sounds rockier and much more like the Nineties than any other Fish album before.
Fish: Yeah, it's relevant, it's a very relevant album for 1997, it's a big difference. The Suits album was the first album ever to be released on Dick Bros. Record Company. We played it kind of - I wouldn't say "safe"- but we were very aware of the fact that it was the first original album on Dick Bros. I think we over polished it, but that is not to say that it is a bad album, but I think we could have been a bit more brave and on Sunsets I knew that I had to change slightly. For years I've been trying to capture the energies and keep the edge on albums- and keep the aggression- I mean, live on stage I'm always well-known for having that very dynamic, very attacking quality, but I had never been able to translate that on one of my albums. But I think the benefit of having spent two years on the road with Yin and Yang, the best of albums, and then the whole recording and writing process of Sunsets being overlapped by the end of the Yin and Yang tour, because we were actually doing festivals and open-airs, while we were writing and while we were into the recording. The tour itself didn't finish until August of 1996, by which time we were nearly finishing the recording. So the performances that I caught during the album, during the recording, were very live. And on top of that, when Steve Wilson who I met though a friend who is a publisher, when Steve and I got together, we said that we wanted to keep the energy in, but at the same time create a cinemascope-type production, so that was more like of a Floydian sense, but keeping the balls in it. A lot of the writing that was done, was done one and one, just Steve and I in the studio, which meant when we set the computers up and set the writing programmes up and put the loops together, and the lyrics were done at the same time as he was working, so there was a space in it as well. When I went into the actual recording the demos were actually part of what became the final recording. It wasn't as if there were two separate recording processes, they sort of carried on. And when I went into the recording I used a Shure 85 microphone that was hand-held. I didn't have the nice microphone setting up in front of me, nine inches off my face where you stand there and sing properly. I was physically singing it, I was contorting my body while I was singing, so it was a very physical type of singing in the style of Joe Cocker or (Roger) Chapman. And that's the way we approached the sound. I think that all gave it the energy and gave it that aggression. And of course, unlike Suits, which was predominately written on keyboards, Sunsets was written predominately on guitar, and I think a guitar will always give you more aggression than a keyboard.
Sven: You regard the Yin and Yang tour as some sort of purification of dark personal shadows. What do you mean by that?
Fish: Just before the Yin and Yang thing I had a number of major crises in my personal life, things I won't openly discuss in an interview, but I found something about myself that frightened me. I lost control in a violent way. And that violence scared me. So when I went on the road, I felt I had to go on the road to escape, I had to go there and hide. I thought I was going to hide, but actually I had to confront a lot of things. I mean, my marriage was in danger of breaking up, I had to look at my relationship with my daughter, and I think the most important thing I had to look at was the relationship with my father. It was just an inability to communicate. I found out that I was very dysfunctional in relationships. My grandfather was not close to my father, there were certain things they couldn't talk about in the same way like my father to myself. My father was obsessed with work. In the same way I was hiding on the road, he was hiding in the garage, which was the family's business. I didn't know him when I was a kid, when he came home from work he was too tired, we didn't talk, we didn't go to football together, he didn't come to see me when I was doing things. I think the father-son relationship is much more important than a mother-son relationship. After analysing that, my father and I have become extremely close. He is my best friend now, we are so close - more like brothers than father and son. In the same way I was perhaps going on the road to get away from the fact that I couldn't deal with my daughter, I found out that I have to have a working relationship with my daughter. I've got to supply something. There is no point in "I'm on the road. I'm making money to put a roof over somebody's head"- somebody that I don't know. So I'm continuously working on that relationship. That was all involved in the writing of Sunsets. On top of that I was in the role of a father, as well as a singer. When you go as a father to places like Rio de Janeiro or Chile or Soweto or to Bosnia, you see some of the horrors that are there on the planet. Seeing some of the chaos definitely affected me. The first time, when I got the chance to phone home from Bosnia, we were out there, there were no mobile phones. It wasn't as if it was very easy to get a phone. We were out in the sticks with the United Nations, with the British army. It's kind of difficult when you walk to the HQ and there is a helicopter crashed up and a tank is broken down in the middle of a village, and the crew might be in danger. It's not the right time to go "Where is the office, I've got to phone my wife". The first time I did get the chance to phone home, I talked from the hotel and was crying solidly for 20 minutes. It was just a trauma, I mean we were fired in Bosnia at the second last gig. It was pretty heavy!
Sven: Sunsets contains very long pieces of music which are not very radio-friendly...
Fish: There are edited versions available. I mean, Goldfish and Clowns, What Colour is God, Tara, Change of Heart and Brother 52 have all been edited. And we've got to do another version of The Perception Of Johnny Punter for America, because we just signed a deal, but the record company is extremely sensitive about the possible racial problems that might exist for that first verse. I've got a number of coloured friends that I've played the track to, and they had no problem with that. In America, the company is very afraid of the fact that someone could get the wrong impression, I mean, the fact that I use words like "nigger", "motherf****r" or the second line "a spooky piece of white trash". So I had to change the opening lines to avoid any problems. I mean, anyone who listens to the album or reads the lyrics of let's say What Colour is God will understand that there is no way that I could possibly be perceived as a racist. God is always seen as an white man with a white beard. When my six-year-old daughter Tara came back from school one day she was talking about Jesus and God and I said "What colour is God", she said "God is a white man with a white beard." And I said "No, he's not. God is not man, not female, God is any colour and every colour." That's the problem with racism. As long as you're teaching that white is superior to black, the white is clean and privileged, black is dark and evil, as long as you're doing that you will always have racism in society. The Americans are very sensitive, therefore (makes cutting noises). But I'm keeping the word "motherf****r" in, just to show the reason why it's done is because of respect of their sensitivity, rather than doing what maybe perceived as the commercial sell-out.
Sven: How does it work with the American record company? I mean, in the past you've had some very heavy problems to get over to tour the USA.
Fish: Yeah, America is not like going to Holland. With America you've got to get visas, even just to go across, you'll have to explain why you're coming over. The American concerts you'll have to declare who your record company is, who's bringing you over. You don't just pick up your guitar, go across and play. You've got to get a visa to work there. On top of that it costs a lot of money to fly the guys over. It's a lot of time, and when it comes down to it, it makes more sense to tour in areas where I've got a record, where I'm actually backing something up. We tried for years to find an American deal, but we just couldn't find it. And you've got to remember that Marillion were not big in America. We never happened in America. We had pockets of fans, but we were never a big band. We had very bad support from Capitol Records, they had no idea how to deal with us. So in '87 (!?) when I left the band, when I went solo and we presented them with the Vigil album, they said "No, we don't want it!" So Vigil was never released there. One and a half years later I went to Polydor to put the Internal Exile album out. And it came out very late, it was October, November 1991, but it was never released until the summer of the following year. And when that came out, the American record company understood that I was having problems with the UK company, and what they didn't want to do was to back an album of an artist who might not be on Polydor next year. So basically they pulled out the plug on Internal Exile and never released Songs from a Mirror, and when I left in 1993 to form the Dick Bros. Company and went solo, we were trying to find a deal, but it was very difficult to get interest. And Yin and Yang we managed to get out through a distributor, but there was never any backing. For Sunsets the company will be named at the end of this week, but we'll get major distribution, it's an independent company that goes through the biggest distribution chain in America. We've got a chance to work there, at the same time our back catalogue is with another company. I've got a chance to work, which means, when I'm going to America to tour this year, I've got the umbrella, I know that I've got a company that is getting airplays for me, a company that is getting me press, there are going to be records in the shops, we are actually working behind something. And that qualifies the time that I need to spend there. I'm not shy about spending three, four or five months in America. If the results are there and we feel that we are achieving something then I'll keep on pushing it. I mean, America is important, but Europe is primarily focused, which is why the main European tour is going to be at least three and a half months long this year- very similar to the last one. There will be twelve shows in Germany, and we are still looking for shows actually in the summer before we'll go to the States. As well, there's a possibility of doing a very, very big festival down in the Bonn area. Every area is important, I'm an independent artist. I've got to keep working, I've got to keep moving, I'm a professional musician and a career musician. I'm not just in it for a quick buck.
Sven: What's more important, touring or albums for your mortgage?
Fish: I don't think I'm ever going to discuss the financial implications how it all works, but I say one thing, is making money on tour is extremely out nowadays. You need the tour to back the album up and you need the album to back the tour up, it's a symbiotic process. You've got to put out a new product to enable you to tour, That's why Yin and Yang came out. After the Suits album, we've done Germany, we played Holland, but at the same time we had to break in other areas, therefore the best possible passport we could find, was to put out a best- of album that got me into South America, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Turkey. And it woke up the States as well. So, the albums and the tours, you need both.
Sven: The Yin and Yang tour you regard as a "do or die" tour and you had to sell at least 300.000 copies of both albums in order to keep your house...
Fish: I won't discuss the financial agreements with you.
Sven: ... but it all worked well?
Fish: Obviously, 'cause I'm here. But we didn't sell 300.000 copies of Yin and Yang, but we survived. Though. I'm not a millionaire - full stop. And that's as far as I'm going into that stuff. We still need to sell albums to survive. The difference between now and then is I don't give a f**k anymore. On the Sunsets tour I will see kids playing on the beach of Rio de Janeiro or you'll see guys in Singapore or you'll meet people in South Africa. They've got far less than what we've got here. When they enjoy their lives more than we do, when they are a lot happier than we are, then there's something going wrong. I've actually stopped caring about pressures and stuff. I do an album, but I don't feel this obsessive compulsion to keep on and sell, sell and get really involved in it, it's like "Cool, if you wanna buy it, buy it, if you don't, don't". I'm proud of it. Sunsets is a brilliant album, a great piece of work , but I'm not to become a suicide, just because it doesn't sell so many thousands copies. If it doesn't, I'll find something else to do, being an actor or a screenplay writer or maybe I'll do another album, but I'll decide that in a year's time. Enjoy it, it's nice to be in Hamburg a day. That's it, I'm lucky, I'm really privileged, I make music and write words and make albums that give me the chance to travel these countries. Where else am I going to get to South America or Argentina or travel down to South East Asia? I've got a lot of fun and at the same time I have a family that I take a lot of care of, I'm lucky in that respect. I'm not well-off, but you don't have to be well-off to be well-off, if you know what I mean.
Sven: How does a typical FISH song come into being from beginning to end?
Fish: There is no such thing as a typical FISH song, I suppose. It starts in different ways, with Sunsets On Empire I woke up five o'clock in the morning and I knew that's what the album's gonna be called. And Brother 52 was a fan club guy who wrote me a letter, and I saw this letter and noticed that there was a lyrical idea in there. It's something that comes very naturally to me, and that's very, very difficult to explain. It just happens.
Sven: You've had major line-up changes recently. Why?
Fish: The boys didn't want to tour anymore. The name on the top of the record is FISH. It's not a band. I don't want to work in a band again. I'm lucky as a solo artist. When the chemistry changes, people can leave the band without getting lawyers involved, and without getting the media upset, because someone leaves the band. People can leave the band, and that's cool. We treat guys very well in the band and we have a lot of fun. This isn't like the old days, we don't have to stay together. And we stayed together, because we wanted to stay together. To ask people like "Can I have another year of your life to follow my dream" is kind of unfair. Therefore I can't force people to come on tour with me. Therefore you ask if they want to do it, and my band didn't want to come out. I mean, it's tough. You do go on a bus, and you spend four days in a bus, you go to Poland or whatever and you have cold showers for four days, and you're eating food that you wouldn't buy in a restaurant. It's hard. You're going out there, and you're doing two hours every night, and you're coming off that stage, going on that bus and your kid's on the phone going "Dad, when are you coming home" and your wife's saying "I really love you and I wish you..." It's hard. We don't get paid extraordinary amounts for that. If I can break even on a tour, then it's positive. You can't keep on asking people to do that, you've got to have a magic within the band. The 1995 tour, the Yin and Yang tour was the finest tour I've ever been on with the finest bunch of musician I've ever worked with. We've had a lot of fun, we have stories to tell our grandchildren for months about that tour. This one, Sunsets On Empire, is a rebirth album, it's a new album and it's a new start, therefore new musicians come in. It's all changed, it's a new chemistry, a new energy, something positive. Four years ago I would have been devastated, if I had everybody in the band phoned up and said "I don't want to do it", now I look at it as a positive thing. Okay, let's change the chemistry, let's take a new bunch of guys, let's go for a magic that is different , but the same, if you know what I mean.
Sven: Is Steve Wilson going to become a permanent member of the band?
Fish: Steve Wilson's not in the band. He is the producer, who played on the album. He's never been in the band.
Sven: ...but he has co-written a lot of songs on Sunsets.
Fish: He has co-written seven of the ten songs on the album, but Steve's got his own Porcupine Tree project and No Man project. But we are already making plans for working together next year sometime.
Sven: Originally, you planned to release three albums in 1996/97, Sunsets On Empire, a more abstract project and a cover version album. What happened to those plans?
Fish: Sunsets On Empire came up. Things change.
Sven: It's gonna happen?
Fish: I don't know. I don't give a f**k. Just roll with it. That's really what I do. It's like, when I feel like doing something, you know. There could still be an abstract thing happen, there could be another cover version album, but there are no fixed plans at this moment in time. I'm more concerned with the tour and to go around the planet again. Got my tickets, here I go. There are a lot of people in Germany turning around and saying "Why did you put Yin and Yang out, why did you put all the live albums out, why is it so long since Suits?" If you listen to Sunsets On Empire, you can easily hear why it has been taken me so long since Suits. What's the point in following this pattern a lot of bands follow: "I have to put out new material on another little silver disc."? There is no point in putting out a silver disc, if there are only two out of ten songs that are really good. On Sunsets there are no weak tracks, there are ten brilliant tracks, they all say something, they've got a lot of depth, it's great rock'n'roll, it's great to sit there listening to it at the end of the night and lose yourself. That's what it's all about. It's not just another silver disc in another jewel box. This is something that is really special and that's why I take my time over it, because I do take great pride in what I do.
Sven: Would you still regard Sunsets On Empire as a progressive rock album?
Fish: It's nouveau progressive. This is not 1980's revisit, it's not 1970's revisit, this is 1997 nouveau progressive rock.
Copyright 1997 KUNO- Das Videomagazin. Reproduced with permission.
Interview 28th April 1997