Interview December 1999

These questions and answers have been sent ahead to magazines in the USA. They are intended as a 'pick and mix' selection rather than one long interview.

Q: How did you come up with the title 'Raingods With Zippos'?

Fish: I always find that coming up with an inspiring title tends to open the door to the ideas surrounding the album. 'Raingods with Zippos' came to me in the middle of the night. Because it works on a number of different levels, I was immediately attracted to it. Raingods representing a kind of spirituality/mysticism and Zippos representing a more material image combined with the fire and water elements. It was always meant to indicate a kind of confrontation, when it is stripped down it represents the confrontation between my private and personal lives. On a simple level it is snappy and memorable.

Q: Since you don't play an instrument.. (well, other than your voice) how hard is it to write a song?

Fish: I have always worked with musical collaborators and have never attempted to put together a song myself. I prefer the chemistries from different writers. It always tends to keep me more fresh.

Q: There seems to be two albums in one with 'Raingods With Zippos', the first one beginning with 'Tumbledown', and the second beginning with track 7 (subtitled 'Plague Of Ghosts'). Where did the idea for the semi concept, for lack of a better term, album come from? Was it meant to be part concept?

Fish: It was never my intention to have an album that was divided into two parts. The album was mostly inspired by experiences from the road that we travelled in 1997, 'Plague of Ghosts' in particular has a number of images that became strong pivotal points in my thinking in 98.

Q: How much of the lyrics on 'Raingods' are from personal experience... or autobiographical if you will...

Fish: All of my lyrics have tended to be autobiographical but as the years go by I tend to spice them with a little bit of fiction. The spines of the songs tend to come directly from personal experience.

Q: What is the status of a US tour to support the 'Raingods' CD?.. I for one thought you were fantastic live the last time you came... you don't get nearly as much respect as you deserve...

Fish: The original tour that was planned for the summer of '99 I regretfully had to cancel after being advised by Roadrunner Records. I had signed to the company the previous year on the promise that they would exploit my catalogue in territories that had previously never been exposed to my career. Obviously after the success of the '97 US tour, I felt that North America with a professionally organised promotion and marketing campaign combined with good distribution could provide a lot of potential. After setting up the tour and booking the shows, I was extremely surprised to be told that Roadrunner records were only interested in exploiting my existing fan base in North America and providing the minimum amount of promotion and marketing. The figures that we had on the '99 tour meant that we had to have radio promotion in order to draw people's attention to the tour. As Roadrunner refused to provide any radio promotion whatsoever and a minimum of media cover, it would have been too much of a gamble to embark on a tour of this size with no safety nets. In short, the guarantees from the promoters did not cover our costs and we needed strong turnouts and the venues in order to break even financially. After the disaster of the '97 World Tour I could not afford to take a gamble. I personally hold Roadrunner records responsible for this debacle and if I had known their intentions in '98 I would not have signed to the company. Not only did Roadrunner Records let a lot of fans down but it meant that all my band and crew were laid off for the entire summer as it was impossible to replace the gigs. At the end of the day, I am recovering my catalogue for America and will hope to be re-releasing the said catalogue sometime next year together with the new studio album which has the working title of 'Fellini Day' and is scheduled to be released sometime in the summer of 2000.
In 1999, we played a two month tour in Europe with a new band which featured John Wesley - a phenomenal guitarist from St. Petersburgh in Florida. John and I have become firm friends and he asked us over to his wedding on 22nd January. As all the other members of the band and crew want to attend, I decided to take this opportunity to put together a mini-tour of 5 shows. We will be playing:

1) 1/13 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse on sale 12/3 tix $17.50
1099 Euclid Avenue, Atlanta GA 30307 tel (404) 524 7354 fax (404) 524 3215

2) 1/15 Washington, DC 9:30 Club On sale 12/2 tix $17.50
no details yet

3) 1/16 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of the Living Arts (TLA) On sale on internet now or 12/11 regular / $20
1231 Vine Street Philadelphia 19107 tel (215) 569 9400 Fax (215) 569 0616

4) 1/17 New York, NY Irving Plaza On Sale 12/8 tic $20
17 Irving Plaza NYC 10003 phone 212 777 6817 fax 212 777 6885 web site www.irvingplaza.com

5) 1/19 St. Petersburg, FL State Theatre On Sale 12/3 tix $17.50
687 Central Avenue, St Petersburg Florida FL33701 tel 1 941 921 7271

Q: Assuming there is a tour, who will be the touring band this time around? Will it be Mickey, Steve, Dave and JJ?

Fish: The current band line up is Tony Turrell - Keyboards - Co-writer along with Mark Daghorn of Plague of Ghosts and main keyboard player on the RWZ album.
John Wesley - Guitars
Steve Vantsis - Bass
Elisabeth Antwi - Backing Vocals - co-writer of Incomplete and backing vocalist on RWZ.
Dave Stewart who has been playing drums with me for a number of years is unable to come on this tour due to prior commitments and he will be replaced by Mike Prator from Florida who is also John Wesley's drummer.
John Wesley's band will be supporting on all the dates.

Q: When did you get the idea of a world-wide release for 'Raingods With Zippos', it is a genius move.. (In my opinion)

Fish: I was very disappointed with our inability to deal with the 'Sunsets on Empire' album which I considered my best album since 'Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors'. My Company - Dick Brothers Record Company - did not have the ability or the financial backing to provide 'Sunsets' with the distribution and promotion it deserved and knowing that the 'Raingods' album was of a similar standard, I elected to sign to a company that had international distribution and the ability to provide the promotion and marketing that we were unable to. I signed to Roadrunner giving them a 'best of' album, a completely remastered solo catalogue and a new studio album. The initial promise wore out rather quickly and I found myself once again with a company that was not particularly interested in my career and who were more interested in exploiting my fan base with the minimum of promotion to provide the maximum of return. Needless to say, it became a very depressing situation and the eventual outcome is that Roadrunner agreed to return my catalogue. The idea of signing to a major company was sound but at the end of the day, I honestly believe that these releases were wasted on an international level and on hindsight I would have been better continuing with my own independent label and working through partners.

Q: What is your favourite song on the album?

Fish: 'Plague of Ghosts'.

Q: What was the hardest song to write?

Fish: The whole writing process seemed very organic and apart from occasional writer's block there was nothing that was particularly difficult. Once the structures were in place, everything clicked together in a very simple fashion.

Q: What about your favourite song since you went solo ten years ago?

Fish: Once again, 'Plague of Ghosts'.

Q: How about the hardest song to write in the same ten years...?

Fish: 'Shadowplay', mainly because of the lyrics and the phrasing that was necessary. I tried to put too much into too small a vessel.

Q: I was listening to 'Sunsets on Empire' the other day and I found it ironic what is going on in Kosovo...especially when I was listening to 'Perception Of Johnny Punter', and 'What Colour Is God'... What is your take on what is going on over there?

Fish: Obviously having been in Bosnia with the UN forces, we heard a lot of stories and saw the debris left by the war in the mid 90s. When the images of Kosovo started to appear on the TV, it was difficult not the see the parallel and I was particularly affected by that situation. It seemed ironic that 'Tilted Cross', a song about landmines which was written in France in early 98 should provide a backdrop to the reality of that situation! In my opinion, the UN went in too late - again.

Q: Speaking Of 'Sunsets on Empire', that album blew my mind, it has a harder edge and was awesome top to bottom, when you were writing 'Raingods With Zippos', did you try to top 'Sunsets on Empire'?

Fish: I never try to top an album, I just try to do the best I can every time I go into a writing/recording situation.

Q: Can I ask your thoughts on the Marillion remasters.. (up to 'Clutching At Straws', obviously) I personally was eagerly awaiting the 'Clutching' remaster since the announcement to have the remasters came out... and it did not disappoint...

Fish: EMI records own the copyright to all the Marillion material therefore when they announced their desire to remaster and re-release the catalogue they could have done it without our permission and without any input from either myself of the band. Out thoughts were that if EMI and going to re-release these titles then we should at least get involved and make sure that the packaging, sound quality etc should be as high a standard as possible in order to give these pieces of work the respect they deserve. It would also make the product more attractive to fans and provide them with a better deal on the knowledge that most of the fans would be buying them.

Q: How did you get the name Fish?

Fish: Before I became a singer I worked for four years in forestry. During that time I spent a year in north Scotland working as a cutter in Speymouth Forest. I had digs with a local landlady, a seventy-odd year old witch who was always finding ways of getting extra money from me. She only allowed me one bath a week and on every other night I had to pay an extra 20 pence. On the one which was my 'free night' I used to stay in the bathroom for up to two hours, constantly filling the bath. As the only toilet in the house was in the bathroom and the landlady, having the typical great British desire for endless cups of tea, every time she had to relieve herself she had to go to a neighbour's house. One particular night a friend had come to the house and waited on me to exit my Wednesday night bath ritual. It was he that asked if I was some sort of fish and as I moved on and into different town and professions, the name stuck. With a real name of Derek William Dick, it became very necessary to find a nickname as quickly as possible.

Q: Your new album 'Raingods With Zippos' is outstanding! What are your feelings and thoughts on the album now that it is completed? What does the title make reference to?

Fish: I am really proud of 'Raingods with Zippos' and I think it followed the curve that had been dictated by the 'Sunsets on Empire' album. I am more aware of the two sided feel as the months went by but I think all the elements on the album as separate pieces work extremely well. The next studio album 'Fellini Day' will be following the style and structure of 'Plague of Ghosts'.

Q: I loved your version of 'Faithhealer' by Alex Harvey. He must be smiling in heaven right now after you did his song such justice! It really kicks ass! Have you always been a big Alex Harvey fan? You sound a lot like him on that cut!

Fish: I first saw the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB) supporting The Who in 1976. Much later in my life I have the privilege of fronting them together with Dan McCafferty of Nazareth when they attempted a reformation and were looking for new singers to front the band. They also performed 'Boston Tea Party' with me on my 1993 album of cover versions 'Songs from the Mirror'. We became great friends and are still in touch and Zal Clemenson was asked to fill the guitar position in my band in 1997. Sadly he declined as he didn't want to leave a very successful career in the computing industry. I always loved Alex's voice and the band's style as, like mine, it was spread over a number of genres and could never really be summed up in simple terms. I always loved Alex's dramatic approach both in stage presence and vocal style.

Q: Do you feel the new album is a culmination of all of your previous musical outings? Or do you feel it is a reflection of what has been going on in your life presently?

Fish: The new album is very obviously a Fish album therefore a continuation of style which is shaped around experiences that happened during the 8 and a half month tour in 1987.

Q: The liner notes indicate that it was not an easy task getting through the process of recording this endeavour, were there many road blocks in your way?

Fish: No. I think the liner notes are perhaps giving you the wrong impression. It was relatively easy and quick to put this album together and in reality if Roadrunner had not gone with the best of album 'Kettle of Fish', then 'Raingods with Zippos' would have been out in Sept/Oct '98 rather than in '99.

Q: What are your ten favourite albums of all time?

Fish: This question is too difficult to answer and moods and feelings tend to dictate albums for moments. At an absolute push, I would probably say 'Dark Side of the Moon' is probably my favourite of all time and I say that only because it is the album that is played the most in the house, especially after 3am.

Q: Your band is real tight. Are all the members people you have known for a long time and have played with previously? It just seems that way by the sound of the album.

Fish: There is always a great feeling in the studio, a relaxed atmosphere and together with the professionalism of the musicians I use, helps achieve a feeling of unity and tightness.

Q: What are your plans for the future? Any interesting projects outside the studio coming up?

Fish: After my recent experiences in Europe in recent weeks, I decided that long term organised touring is not benefiting either my life or career in both a private and professional sense. I have decided to give up this style of touring and concentrate on events and gigs that are both financially viable and more importantly provide fun for both ourselves and the audience. The short mini-tour coming up in January is probably going to be the only dates in America next year. I am not quitting the music business as has been reported by some but rather redefining my approach. As I have already indicated, I still intend to continue writing and recording but I am returning to a more independent method of distribution which will be led by my internet site and mail orders through the fan base. I already have two acting roles in movie projects lined up in the first half of the year 2000 as well as an offer to play a lead role in a 12 part TV drama. I am also in the process of writing an original screenplay for a movie called 'Weeds' and am hoping to begin work on a novel sometime next year. I intend to concentrate a lot more on my acting and movie career and at the moment I write this I have just finished work on a TV drama with John Hannah ('Four Weddings and a Funeral'/'The Mummy').

Q: What are your feelings of what the Internet has done for music both positive and negative?

Fish: I don't really see any negative effect of the Internet on the music business. On the positive side it had made record companies and musicians re-examine the way they approach music both in creation and distribution. It represents a more direct and honest approach between the artist and the fan. The very fact that artists like myself can financially benefit to a greater degree means that it offers a chance for artists with smaller fan bases to be able to provide a living for both themselves and their families and provide the capital to develop other music projects without relying on minuscule royalties from record companies. In all honesty, I believe it is the saviour of the professional musician.

Q: How would you compare this album to your previous solo efforts, from 'Vigil in Wilderness of Mirrors' to 'Sunsets on Empire'?

Fish: I don't put them up against each other and I don't have the perspective to really comment on this. They are all different albums recorded at different periods and mean different things to me.

Q: How would you describe your songwriting/recording process for this record?

Fish: Easy.

Q: Do you ever plan to do the theatrical performance thing you used to do with Marillion where you acted out the songs?

Fish: I have always used drama as a means of communicating with an audience. It is just that I don't wear the grease paint any more as I got too many zits!

Q: Why do you think it's difficult for progressive rock to become popular in the mainstream? Do you think the music is too complicated and too focused it will never appeal to anything other than a niche crowd, or do you think if it got enough hype it would be just as popular as grunge or pop-punk?

Fish: It seems that anything that is hyped to an extreme degree will eventually happen. The music doesn't have a general appeal therefore it's not the type of genre that would immediately suggest that kind of investment. The length of songs and the complexity of some of the styles also create problems at radio. I don't really get involved in 'tribal' issues and I don't like standing other under people's flags, I just write and play that music that I want and if people are still buying the albums in the years to come in the same quantities that they are buying them now, I will be reasonably happy.

Q: What do you think of the current music scene?

Fish: I try not to expose myself too much as I find it makes me physically ill.

Q: What's your favourite music? That is, what music does the band listen to and currently like? Who would you cite as influences?

Fish: I don't have any favourites. I listen to anything as long as it is good. We listened to a lot of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra on the last tour and it will probably greatly influence the next album. As far as my personal influences go, there are too many to mention from over the years.

Q: This is your first release of new material on the Roadrunner label. What brought you to this label?

Fish: I thought that because they were an aspiring independent label rather than a corporate system that they could provide the weight and the attention I considered necessary if I was going to build on my career.

Q: Many of our readers are younger than the average progressive-rock listener, including myself? What can you tell those that may not be too familiar with your previous work about yourself, your music, your influences, and how the musical career of Fish all began? Maybe start with telling us how many albums you've recorded?

Fish: I am 41 years old, born in Edinburgh in Scotland. I was a forestry worker for 4 years before deciding to become a singer. After starting singing in 1980, I went through a staggered succession of bands before joining Marillion in January 1981. I recorded 4 studio albums with that band and enjoyed enormous success with that band, particularly in Europe. I left the band in 1988 and released my first solo album on EMI records in 1990. So far I have recorded 6 solo albums - 'Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors', 1990; 'Internal Exile', 1991; 'Songs from the Mirror', 1993; 'Suits', 1994; 'Sunsets on Empire', 1997; 'Raingods with Zippos', 1999. There have also been two Best Of Collections - 'Yin' and 'Yang' (released as two individual albums and featuring re-recorded solo and Marillion material), 1995 and 'Kettle of Fish', 1998. There are also 7 official live 'bootlegs'. The albums are all available via mail order on our internet site as in America they are still difficult to find. For those who have never come across my music, it is extremely diverse and accommodates a number of styles which are gathered from influences which go as far back as the early 70s British progressive rock bands such as Genesis, Yes and Floyd and on the way take in Little Feat, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Free, The Faces and Massive Attack. For example, on the 25 minute piece on the new album 'Raingods with Zippos', we take in Jazz vocal phrasing, atmospherics, beat poetry, Celtic folk music, strong funk groove patterns, drum and bass and classical influences. On paper this shouldn't work, but through the constant feel and soul of the piece it is an effortless curve. If anybody wants an introduction, then they should listen to that track in particular ('Plague of Ghosts').

Q: The album's artwork design is busy, almost demanding attention at times. What can you tell us about it? Who is Mark Wilkinson and what convinced you to work with him?

Fish: Mark Wilkinson and I have been working together since the fist Marillion sleeve. We enjoy working together and in fact will be releasing a book next year which contains all the graphics and illustrations we have put together over the years as well as explanations as to where original ideas and images came from and our thoughts and intentions when putting together the images and their association with the music. The artwork for 'Raingods with Zippos' was the first time that Mark had worked with computer graphics on one of my sleeves and the colourful lurid 'dizziness' reflects some of the feelings within the music and especially the lyrics. If you want any further information, get the book which is due out in May 2000 and has the working title of Masque!

Q: 'Incomplete' features an Elisabeth Antwi on lead vocals with you. What can you tell us about her, and working with her?

Fish: Elisabeth has been my backing vocalist in the recent European Tour. We first met in the Chateau Marouatte in France in 1998. We were asked down to the Castle together with 22 other musicians from all over the world by Miles Copeland, Sting's Manager. The objective was to put together a number of artists all with different styles into an isolated location and inspire creativity. Every day we were put together into 8 groups of 3 and out objective was to write and demo a song every day of our stay. One particular day, Elisabeth was part of my group and with Doug Millett, we co-wrote 'Incomplete'. Liz hasn't got much of a history, her major claim to fame probably being as a member of Incognito. However, she is an accomplished writer and a great singer and I am sure she will be coming to a lot of people's attention in the near future. She will be with us on the mini American tour.

Q: 'Plague Of Ghosts' is a 25-minute opus. Can you tell our readers about each chapter of this song? Inspirations for this opus?

Fish: The song is far too complex to rally an explanation of in a few cunning paragraphs. It also contains a number of deep personal experiences which I don't feel comfortable in discussing with complete strangers. I would prefer to allow the listener to implant his own meaning on this song as I think many people will identify with the emotional curves.

Q: 'Rites Of Passage' is one of my favourite tracks. It's hypnotic, touching. Is there a personal theme for you in this song?

Fish: Yes, it's a single frame camera shot of one of the moments in my marriage. When Mickey Simmonds and I wrote this song, he advised me not to let my wife see the lyric. She actually never heard the song until it was completed and when she entered the control room to hear the playback, everybody else made a sharp exit. We were both in tears at the end of it as we both remembered that particular shadow that came over us. I have a very healthy marriage but like everyone's there are sometimes patches you would like to forget. One of the reasons for writing this song was to make sure that I didn't forget.

Q: Can you tell us a little about each of the other tracks?

Fish: 'Mission Statement', 'Tilted Cross' and 'Incomplete' were written at Castle Marouatte together with 'Chasing Miss Pretty' and 'Mr Buttons' which were released on the Best Of album 'Kettle of Fish'. As these tracks involved different writers, the styles are all very different. This was the crystal that began the move into the 'Raingods with Zippos' writing sessions. 'Tumbledown' and 'Rites of Passage' were written together with Mickey Simmonds who had been a co-writer on the first two solo albums. There is a cover version of the SAHB's 'Faithhealer' and the album concludes with the 25 minute epic 'Plague of Ghosts'.

Q: What are your goals with this particular album?

Fish: The goal was to expand awareness of my music and especially in North America. As far as I am concerned I have not achieved any of these goals. I am obviously disappointed but I have yet another proud jewel in my catalogue which, as is obvious from the hits on my web site, is constantly being discovered.

Q: Are you writing for another album already? And what is your songwriting process like?

Fish: There are ideas beginning to come together but I tend to spend a long time thinking about what I am going to write before I embark on the writing process proper. At the moment I am too involved with writing the screenplay for 'Weeds'.

Q: How involved are you with the 'Perception of Fish' website?

Fish: Mo Warden is the mastermind behind the 'Perception of Fish' site. My input is purely from an information and content level. I am not particularly adept with computers and would far prefer to leave people who are gifted in that department the freedom to express their ideas. Mo Warden's contribution to my solo career has proved invaluable and we are discussing taking the site into another level entirely as my current career decisions take shape.
 

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