This interview first appeared on Alternate View. Reproduced on BOA with permission © Alternate View / Ian Oakley for BOA Publications Ink. 14th May 1999. Also appears on the Bathtub of Adventures site by Ian Oakley.
Notes: By undertaking some prior research around the net, I found that some of my planned questions about Raingods with Zippos had already been answered by Fish in other recent articles and interviews available around the net and collected at the Fish site 'The Perception of Fish' - a big hello and thank you to Mo Warden for running this site.
In order to save some time and concentrate on 'new' relevant topics a lot of the more obvious questions were dropped prior interview. However, I have made notes (*) under the relevant section that I hope will answer some obvious questions about the album not actually asked in this interview.
First of all I explained to Fish that I might appear a bit nervous, as this was my first interview [Thanks for the break 'Alternate View']
Fish: Oh dear, is that why you sent me the e-mail? - You Cheat! (Ah the famous Fish humour already) I hate doing them, I can't handle it, takes me fucking ages to do E Mail interviews and the Americans still insist on doing them, it's still the 'hip thing' - Ah they think that "I'll just do the questions and the guy can write his responses and we'll just put them up" - Get lost! OK let's get this interview done. (A note for potential Fish interviewers there) Let's go for it.
Raingods with Zippos
* Title: Raingods with Zippos - An analogy to the opposing natural elements of Fire and Water. Also perhaps suggesting a "confrontation between spiritualism and materialism" - Raingods - Zippos.
Ian: First, let me say that the main thing that comes across with this album is how confident it and you sound. You seem far more relaxed and assured. Is there any reason for this?
Fish: I agree, because I am confident and assured. Well I think it was last year 98 I was coming through the debacle of 97. There was definitely a do or die issue about it. I thought, fuck you, this is what I do - if you don't want to buy it - then fair enough I'll go away and find something else to do - you know what I mean. I'm going to make an album that I want to make and it's a thing that I consider the best thing I've ever done and if you like it - then cool - if you don't, I'll find another job or take a different approach. I think that confidence came from that kind of approach. But as well, I think the realization came from the Marouatte Castle but, wait a minute, I'm a good song writer - working with other writers and getting a lot of things shown to me from other musicians and songwriters came to make me realize that, wait a minute, this is what I should be doing - you know - not doing the business stuff - but getting involved in the creative thing - I enjoy being creative, any kind of writing. I like dealing with images and words. I think the confidence came from the fact that the realization was there, after a long time, that this is what I'm good at- so let's go for it! I thought - fuck it! - this is the album, this is what I do - I don't have to apologize for anything I do. When you get a bit older you think - Ah you gladly suffering fool you hardly make fools suffer.
Ian: Let's look at the album track by track.
* The classical piano start represents that "beautiful wakeup in the morning feeling you when you hear the birds singing through your window then, suddenly you remember you've a world of shit to deal with immediately" - The calm to the storm.
Ian: I love the way this album opens with Mickey Simmonds classical piano introduction juxtaposed to the later main riff of Tumbledown and that also gives us a small hint of the delights to come on Plague of Ghosts. You haven't recorded with Mickey since Internal Exile - have you just been waiting for the right material?
Fish: It's because Mickey fucked off and went away to work with Paul Young and Mike Oldfield for a long time - Mickey and I have to get away from each other - otherwise we would end up killing each other. He's a really good friend of mine, but we both irritate the hell out of each other. We both know that there's no point trying to change either person, he's got his views about my music - I've got my views about his music. Mickey doesn't like the album. After recording Tumbledown and one of the other ones, he said who's going to play that 'out of tune' guitar on it. Mickey doesn't understand. To me Mickey is an 80s keyboard player. He always will be and that's where he's really happy and there's no point in trying to convince Mickey to play anything else. Which is why Tony Turrell plays most of the keyboards on the album. Mickey's a great friend of mine and he'll understand my reservations about this. Mickey's a great classical piano player and Mickey's bits on this album are classic Mickey bits, but the rest of the album was just right for Tony. For instance, the original keyboards sound that Mickey had for Tumbledown was more like Emperor's Song - that kind of thing. I didn't want that - I don't want an 80s album. If I wanted a fucking 80s album I'd make a pure 80s album. I wanted an album that was a late 90s album - contemporary - and placed in the late 90s. Mickey and I we talked, after being on the road 18 months with the guy your tolerance levels start to fray a bit. Mickey and I are not going to fall out but - but he turned round and said that he wasn't really into [where] the Rain Gods stuff was at so I'm off to work where Tony's at. Mickey and I will work again in the future but not at the moment. He's working in an ABBA tribute band and with Mastermind in America - doing some gigs with them - good on him that's the kind of thing that he's brilliant at. But I just wanted to do something that was just a little more contemporary.
Ian: How do you pick the musicians you work with?
Fish: It comes into availability and whether or not they're at the end of a phone call or away on tour and I was lucky that everyone I wanted was available for this album at the time I needed them. That's kind of how it works.
Ian: It just comes together with synchronicity
Fish: Yeah - More than anything else
Ian: Fish, you can't play an instrument, can you?
Ian: So how do you write with them? Do they come up with the tunes and you provide the lead vocal line and lyric, or vice versa? How does it work?
Fish: I hum!
Ian: Yeah, I used to work in a band myself - as sound man - can't play an instrument, but I used to write the lyrics and compose by humming the top line so I know sort of what you mean
Fish: I can do a wee bit more than that. For example Tumbledown - I was having a shower then came to Mickey and said - Can you play this - Da da dar da dar dar and he said yeah easily do that so then I said now Didi de da da dar didi da da.. bam bam - And Mickey can do that and Mickey will write the passage he will play me the bit - I'll sing over the top of it . Then he will say where this is where we need to change and then I suggest the chorus part and stuff. You don't have to play an instrument to be part of the writing team.
I think that anybody that listens to the Clutching at Straws material, the stuff on that extra bonus disc. Listen to material like that that and it's a real ranged creation. It's easy to see that it was a five-piece range. Not a case of four guys that write the music and another guy came in and threw a load of words on it.
* Co-written by Rick Astley (Yes the "80s" Rick Astley) and Paul Thorn. Fish has said before that the song has to do with his love of The Faces.
Ian: A high-energy rocker that almost takes me back to the Glam days.
Fish: It's just a good rock song
Ian: What interests me most about this track it is that it was one of the tracks that came out of the Marouatte Castle writing sessions. From what I have already read the concept sounds fascinating, almost a clinic for "songwriter's block", or have I got that completely wrong?
Fish: Yeah, you've got that completely wrong. It's basically a bunch of writers that are invited down, very creative writers that are working all the time, but gives them a chance to work with people that otherwise they wouldn't get a chance to work with. So it's not for writer's block at all! It's just got to do with a man in a publishing company - he knows other men at a publishing company and 24 people come down. 8 belong to one company, 8 to another and 8 are independent so I went down as an independent. And everyday you're put together in 8 groups of 3. One from one company, one from another, and one from an independent. Which means that at least one 5th of the people's input is by the company that is financing the whole thing - which in this case was Miles Copeland and his company. Which is really cool. I got a chance to work with people that I would never usually have a chance to work with - never mind meet. It's not a clinic (laughs).
Ian: So, again it's synchronicity working
Fish: Yeah I'm really proud to say that that particular session at the Castle was the most productive session that had ever occurred in there. Everyone came away with 6 songs. 144 songs happened in a week.
Ian: Is it because you're almost locked in a room and you can't get out until a song is done?
Fish: Well, you don't get taken out and hung from a tower if you don't write a song that day. But it becomes a matter of pride, you want to write a new song each day - it's an opportunity to write - so you write. You've got the freedom there with no distractions.
Ian: It sounds really good
Fish: It's brilliant.
* About a couple gradually drifting apart, that don't know why.
Ian: The first single - How is it currently doing?
Fish: It's doing all right. But it's doing much better in non-English-speaking countries than it is in this little shitty island we live on.
Ian: I agree that seems to be the real problem with 'good' music and the UK these days
Fish: It's crap. I can't get any coverage. I'm over 25 years old, bald, a stone overweight and therefore I'm not relevant. But I'm sitting here talking to you about the album and talking to people in Germany etc. We are getting airplay all over mainland Europe, but I can't get played in the island I come from with my own native language. It's just terrible.
Ian: You duet with Elizabeth Antwi - The combination of the voices is very effective. I have not come across her name before. Can you tell us more about her and how you teamed up?
Fish: She was in Incognito before and that's it. She's kind of looking for a new deal.
* In Bosnia landmines are marked by a St Andrews Cross that leads Fish to the imagery of a "Tilted Cross". Since visiting Bosnia Fish had wanted to write a song about landmines.
Ian: Both these songs, Incomplete and Tilted Cross, come over as a perhaps Celtic / American folk crossover. In feeling, reminding me of the tracks found on Neil Young's "Comes a Time" album.
Fish: Well the songs were written by Americans. Two Americans were involved in writing Tilted Cross. Doug Millett that was involved in Incomplete came out of Nashville. That's the beauty of the castle sessions, you get very interesting fusions of different styles - very progressive fusions.
Ian: The old classic Sensational Alex Harvey Band track. To me this seems at odds with the rest of the album and would have been better placed on "Songs from the Mirror". It seems a major reworking of the piece that I am afraid, to my ears, has lost a lot that I loved about it - The long bass build up almost gone, the opening hesitant guitar riff lost completely. Ok that's just my opinion; perhaps this was done intentionally to make it into a shorter, more modern 'radio friendly' feel. What were your feelings when you approached covering this track?
Fish: Well this is a far more modern version - The live version we did back in 89 was done by a very young band and basically we then copied the Alex Harvey version 'moog solo', etc. But I didn't want to do a 70s sounding track. I wanted to add a lot more drama and a lot more kind of evil in it and kind of give it a different colour. That's what we did the version on Raingods I'm very proud of. It's very different, very modern and probably a not more relative than the original version was. It's a great song. I feel that when you're working with a 'great' song its easier to work with.
Rites of Passage
Ian: I just love this song. It seems very personal and very brave of you (and your wife) to lay your heart open like this on disc for the world to see. I have already read that there were tears in the studio when you first played it to Tammy.
Fish: Well if you know the story - I don't really want to discuss that song because it's just too personal. It's in the lyric. I get tired of talking about lyrics sometimes.
Ian: Rites of Passage has an almost classical avant-garde ending that closes side one (I like to think of RWZ as an old fashioned LP) and gets the listener ready for the feel and the mood of "Plague of Ghosts". Was this deliberate?
Ian: The keyboard work in this section and later parts of Plague really remind me of the work of modern classical composer Michael Nyman (soundtrack "The piano" etc)
Fish: That's not really deliberate. I like classy stuff and all the rest of it, Nyman's great but I'm not a great big fan of the really serious modern classic stuff. The end of Rites of Passage is the closest I get.
"Plague of Ghosts"
Ian: To me this is the crowning moment in your career to date and a big SHUT UP! notice to all those reviewers / press that start everything with "former Genesis-clone-band front-man". It sounds so fresh and vibrant and may prove to be the track that defines your career. You must be very pleased with the critical reaction to the track so far?
Fish: I'm really pleased, really proud, I consider this one of the finest pieces I have ever written in about 17-18 years.
Ian: If you met someone completely unfamiliar with any of your past musical history and no pre conceptions - How would you describe "Plague of Ghosts"?
Fish: I wouldn't - I'd just fucking play it to them. (laughs)
Ian: I know that in other interviews you have already said that it is up to the listener to work out lyrically what this track is about.
Fish: That's right, I will never discuss what Plague of Ghosts is about. One of the things that's a really magical component of Plague of Ghosts is the mystery. If you take away the mystery it's like taking the wrapping off Christmas presents..
Ian: I understand that the track grew out of an ambient piece called 'All These Christs' by Mark Daghorn and Tony Turrell. Can you tell us how this came about and how you developed the piece into what we now know as Plague of Ghosts?
Fish: Well, it didn't just come about, it was very organic... I felt I just wanted to work with it.
Ian: Do the ambient / techno music fields interest you as an area to work further within?
Fish: I don't know, I'm really into the idea of exploring. Tony and Mark have already sent me up some new pieces that are kind of in the same line as Plague. But yeah, I could see myself quite easily moving along that line.
Ian: Elliot Ness has very sympathetically and atmospherically produced the whole album and especially Plague.
Fish: He's a brilliant guy.
Ian: Did you have much of say about the final production and mixing?
Fish: Well you kind of sit there as executive producer - nuts-and-bolts and oil changes.
Ian: In Plague you have used the combined ideas and talents of Mark and Tony, Tony Turrell and the wonderful guitar work of Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson. Not forgetting the strong rhythm section of Steve Vantis and Dave Stewart. This seems such a very successful and rewarding collaboration.
Fish: That's just the way it sometimes happens - there's no magic tricks
Ian: Will you be trying to keep this team for the next album?
Fish: I don't know - ask me in a year's time. For all I know I could die of cancer next week.
Ian: To me, with this album Fish is almost becoming a Kate Bush for the next decade, the self styled 'Sympathetic warrior' always experimenting and using the best available musicians as guests to influence and develop his work?
Fish: Nah, Nah, Nah, I'm just Fish, I'm not anyone else - not Peter Gabriel... I just do my thing. I've got to the point that (big sigh) I'm kind of like bored with it at the moment and I'm excited with it at the same time. I'm getting pissed off with this country I must admit. I'm going across and playing Europe and playing America and I'm catching a lot of big vibes across there - really positive things and I find I get really upset because I come back and I'm really positive. But, I'm back for a couple of days and you get infected with the cynicism, the negativity, and the apathy that exists in Britain. It's really starting to get to me now. I read certain things. take the recent Scottish election - I just found it embarrassing. It was so significant and just where this fucking country's at - the first election in 300 years and only 60% of the populace got off their arse to vote and the rest won't vote because it's raining and they decide to stay indoors. I don't even identify with these people - I get really sick when they say "Oh well, see what happens". It's the same with music - I've had the shit kicked out of me. Some days I just want to give it all up, other days I'm really up for it. I think it depends when you ask me. Like today I've just come back from Holland. Yesterday I had a really fun day playing football and everything, and I come home and try and deal with the shit and the mess back here. So someone asks me what I'm going to do on the next album and things - well I don't know. My wife's away for a few days, my daughter's here, and I'm more interested in what I'm going to be doing with my daughter this weekend than the American tour, the promo or whatever. That's kind of where I'm at now. I've really changed a bit [he paused here for a moment] and Kate does what Kate does. What I would appreciate is having Kate Bush's financial security.
We've been very unstable for a large number of years now and I'm trying to provide that kind of security for my family - because that's what it comes down to. I don't really give a fuck about music. I love it in as far as I love creating it and all the rest of it, but what with all the shite that goes with it. I hate all the having to sell it. I think I enjoy interviews a lot less than I used to, no disrespect intended to yourself. - [None taken] - But sometimes, some of the demands that come with music that I was willing to accept a long time ago, I think they're harder to take now. Especially when you realise just how many other people live off the fact that you are making music. I kind of object to that a wee bit. I'm trying to get my life back and get my personal life back. As I said, my wife, my bairn and my private life are more important to me than they've ever been. As I say, this is Friday, tomorrow's the weekend and that's what I'm looking forward to.
Ian: Look after number one [The family] - Get that one right first
Fish the Novelist?
Ian: To me, some of Plague sounds almost like an Iain Banks novel. Have you ever considered writing a novel yourself?
Fish: Yes I have - just haven't got the time. I'm too busy trying to get my life sorted out. Got a lot of things on the go, my house, keeping ideas for the next album at the back of my mind and stuff. I've got a lot of things going on at the moment. Writing a novel is not going to come just like that - it's not going to happen till next year some time - my mind is so busy at this moment.
Ian: Plague sounds like it is going to lend itself to a highly technical and visual display live.
Fish: I have no idea what it's going to be like yet. We don't start rehearsals until June and nothing will be considered till then. On the American tour we are not carrying lights or PA - if I want to play America I've just got to accept a certain amount of restrictions regarding the production. The lights, P.A and things in America will be just what we find on the night. We can ask for certain things, but at the end of the day when we arrive at the venue what we find we work with. I can't afford to carry a lighting designer with me to America, so we just use the local guys, which can be interesting. But we are just playing small places so you don't really need it.
When I've been a front man for 17 years I don't feel I need a 156 lighting effects within a 20-minute piece to make it 'happen' for some people in front of me. When we get to Europe and play bigger venues then Ok I'd like to do it - but then again I don't know if there's going to be a European tour this year!
Ian: God, Lets hope so
Fish: It just depends on the money. You know it may sound really cynical and all the rest of it - But I'm just not going to tour unless I get paid for it.
Ian: So, we can't definitely expect you in Europe at all?
Fish: You ask me when I'm going to do a novel.... so I think wait a minute, am I going to do some writing or go and lose money on a tour? - I think I'll go and do some writing. You've got to understand this Ian, to some people, touring is a 'Pavlovian dog' attitude - we've got a new album so then we must tour. But I say NO! We don't have to do that. The reason why I'm going out on the American tour is that I had a great deal of fun in '97. America's a really vibrant place - lots of great, great, great vibes out there. I've never been to Mexico; I've never been to Costa Rica. I've only been to Brazil and Argentina once so far. Now we can go down there and we can make money. So fine, we'll do it. But we don't want to go back to Munich, Cologne, Birmingham working our asses off losing 2000 pounds a night - I DON'T FUCKING THINK SO!
Ian: You've got to put a stop to it sometime, haven't you?
Fish: Yeah, Ian, you've got it. It's a waste of fucking time.
Ian: Let's just hope that Raingods takes off.
Fish: Don't get me wrong, I love being on stage and I love being live and everything, but you have got to find the balance. You can't just go full steam ahead straight into the touring principle and not think about the consequences of that tour. I've got to think what other choices and angles have I got. What else can I do with my life than go away on tour for eight months? I've probably got another thirty years on the planet or something, if I'm lucky! And if the choice was spending 5 years of that on tour or with my family, there's no argument. I really love my family and I don't want to be away from them for long chunks of time.
Ian: I agree, the family has to come first.
Fish: Yeah, I don't go away to lose money. That's just fucking stupid. Look - when it comes down to it I almost lost my house last year. And if I had lost my house, no one gave a fuck really. The loyal and brilliant fans that they are helped us through and if 8,000 people had given me 10 quid each then great, I would have all my problems solved. But I had to pay the tax, pay the debts off, and in the end nobody gives a fuck. And I've got to deal with all the stuff myself. There's a lot of people in the fan club and in the company that helped us out last year. Bought a lot of merchandise that perhaps they didn't really want to buy just to help us out. But at the end of the day I earn my money from being a professional musician - from T-shirt, CD sales etc. That's all I do. No one gives me a cheque at the end of each month. I don't work in a bank, get off at 6 o'clock and go to a rock and roll gig. All I do is make music and I'm forty-one years old. So you get to the point where you have got to be clever, you've got to be realistic in the way you deal with it. Going on tour and losing 70,000 pounds like I did in '97 is a stupid, fucking, dickhead way of dealing with touring. And that's why now, unless we get the money we don't tour. I don't care who begs. I don't care if people think I'm a complete twat - you've made a new album so you must tour - well if you want to pay 300 quid a ticket for us to put on a production, great. People were complaining on the last tour - why didn't you have a light show, why didn't you have special effect s, why didn't you have costume changes - well figure it out, please, get real. It costs me now 4,500 pounds a day for a full lighting production. You don't have to be a financial genius or an expert with a calculator to work out that you cannot play 500-capacity clubs when you're needing 4,500 pounds a day a put a great lightshow on. So. Europe. It's up to the promoters. If the promoters pay the money, we tour. If the promoters don't pay, we don't tour. Full stop. That is it. That is the equation.
Ian: OK, just one last question on the American tour. Can you give us yet a list of the band personnel you will be taking on the road with you?
Fish: OK - Tony Turrell, Dave 'Squeaky' Stewart, Steve Vantsis, John Wesley, and an as-yet-unnamed backing vocalist.
Fish the Thespian
Ian: We've discussed the possible book and a few things - but there is another side to Fish. Fish the thespian. You looked like you really enjoyed hamming it up for 'The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star'. How much was you and how much was the script?
Fish: It was all script, except for a couple of one-liners here and there. It was really fun to do it.
Ian: Are we going to see a lot more of Fish the thespian? Any current plans?
Fish: Well there's maybe at least two, possibly three, movie possibilities getting lined up for late this year, early next year.
Ian:I have heard that they are going to start filming Iain Banks' book 'Espedair Street'. I think that this has always been one of your favourite books. And I think I read that you have said before that you would love to play the main character Danny Weir. [It could almost have been written with Fish in mind].
Fish: The truth is Ian, that there is no Espedair Street yet. There's been no funding organized although the rights were sold about a year ago.
Any Other Business
Ian: Finally, a few general questions. The so-tagged 'Progressive Rock', if you want to call it that, genre seems to have been making a bit of a commercial comeback, at least in mainland Europe.
Fish: Couldn't give a shit! I really can't give a wank about that. I'm only interested in what I'm doing. I'm not interested in any movements and all that shit. There are too many of those types of wank bands around - I can't be bothered - forget it. Steve Wilson's said it all before in the Classic Rock magazine.
Ian: A question from a friend in Germany. It has been reported that your German accent is so good that you speak like a native. [Peter Gabriel once recorded one of his albums in both English and German.] Have you ever thought of recording anything in German?
Fish: No, not really, it's not my natural form of expression. It's a language I use to order beer and argue with my wife with.
Ian: Finally, I personally, currently keep recommending three albums - [Spock's Beard's Day for Night, Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream and Raingods with Zippos] - to anyone with a love of good music / songwriting. What albums, currently on the Fish playlist, do you think people should make an effort to get to listen to?
Fish: Lots of John Coltrane, Shaun Mullins' new one - I think that's a really cool album; I recently got some Marvin Gaye re-masters, Divine Comedy; the new XTC album; a new double Alex Harvey album, which is interesting if you're an Alex fan, but the quality is like a bad bootleg; loads of different things.
Ian: Well, thank you very much for finding this time to talk with me, Fish. I wish you great success with the forthcoming American tour. Take care.
Fish: Thank you, Ian. This is Fish on a Friday night signing off. Cheers Ian. Bye-bye.
Notes: I found Fish a quite an easy person to interview. However, Fish has his own agenda and its really up to you to find the right question that he wants to talk about. You hit the right one and he takes it from there... So if ever you get the chance to interview the man - Take a tip from me have plenty of questions ready and if he just answers Yes or No to a question move straight on to the next.
Thanks: Like to thank Frank Blades of Alternate view for his encouragement re my writing and giving me the chance to do this interview for his site. Roadrunner for setting it up. And a big thank you to Fish for being patient with me during my first ever interview.
Now go and buy the album!
Interview 14th May 1999