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Marillion’s Steve Hogarth talks ‘kick-ass’ new LP ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’

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The last time Marillion uncorked a new album with 2016’s “F.E.A.R.” longtime frontman Steve Hogarth said he was feeling an undefined sense of foreboding regarding the future of the planet which was reflected in that record’s subject matter. “An irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm,” was how he described it then before adding “I hope that I’m wrong.” It may not have been the feel-good hit of the year but “F.E.A.R.” was widely received as a top-tier offering from the veteran British prog-rockers.

Hogarth says he’s always had a strange ability to sense what is to come and that sense informed the subject matter for Marillion’s 20th studio album “An Hour Before It’s Dark” in spite of his early fears that nobody would want to listen. It’s nearly an hour of musical drama, action, suspense, horror, romance and gratitude loaded with twists, turns and grooves. Or as Hogarth put it during an interview with The Maine Edge: “It’s a little more kick-ass.”

Marillion formed in the post-punk landscape of the late ‘70s, a time when most prog-rock bands couldn’t get arrested. The band’s path to relative early success lay in the music, an accessible contemporary progressive rock base blended with melodic pop. They sounded like no one else.

Marillion’s first six albums hit the top 10 in the UK, including “Misplaced Childhood,” a 1985 number one that spawned top-five hits with “Kayleigh” and “Lavender.” The band was a lucrative property for label EMI during the 1980s as they amassed one of the most famously dedicated audiences in rock. The fans stuck with them when original lead vocalist Fish departed for a solo career in 1989, making way for Steve Hogarth to enter the story. Marillion took their fans with them in 1997 after they left the label to become crowd-funding pioneers.

During the following interview, Hogarth reveals why he feared nobody would want to hear the lyrics he wrote for “An Hour Before It’s Late.” He explains how the “Care” suite, kicked off by the divine “Maintenance Drugs,” will become a living tribute to the healthcare heroes who led us through the pandemic. Hogarth also looks back to the moment when Marillion truly became an independent band responsible only to their fans.

The Maine Edge: After 33 years and 16 albums with Marillion, what does “An Hour Before It’s Dark” represent to you personally?

Steve Hogarth: It’s a reflection of what I was feeling in the moment that it was written. What’s kind of strange is that the last album, “F.E.A.R.,” was kind of redolent with a sense of foreboding or a coming storm. Here we are. I was writing this one in a world locked down in the middle of a plague and a crisis of the planet. The last thing I wanted to do was write about the pandemic because I thought nobody would want to hear about it but it was our reality. The climate crisis and the pandemic worked its way into the songs against my will in a way. We were in and out of the studio while the world was locked down working on headphones behind screens trying to stay away from each other.

TME: Even though you cover some pretty heavy stuff on “An Hour Before It’s Dark,” there is a sense of hopefulness in these new songs. Are you more hopeful today than you were a few years ago?

SH: I think the music on this record is less trance-like and more kick-ass as you Americans would say. There’s a bit more rock and roll to be honest and a definite groove to the record. “Reprogram the Gene” is a rock and roll groove. “Maintenance Drugs” has this big rolling groove and I’m very pleased with how that all came out. It’s really beautiful and I’m especially pleased that I’ve managed to finish this record with a thank you to all of the healthcare professionals out there, some of whom gave their lives. What they had to endure is just unimaginable to me. I’m quite experienced at making things up as I go along but not under that kind of pressure. It’s not enough of a thanks but it will always be there to honor those people.

TME: Did “An Hour Before It’s Dark” come together like previous Marillion records where you guys jam for hours on end then listen back for pieces that can be turned into songs?

SH: That’s exactly how it came together and it’s how we’ve always worked. The only slight difference is that during some of the early parts of the jamming process, Steve Rothery (guitarist) wasn’t present because he was afraid that if he was to catch this thing it might kill him.

TME: Marillion fans are known for being very passionate supporters of the band. Do they sometimes reach out to you with their interpretation of what the songs might be about?

SH: All the time and it’s really beautiful. The most common message I get from people is that they feel like we’ve written the soundtrack to their lives and their life experiences have changed we’ve continued to reflect them. Our music has become like a permanent friend and a kind of therapy and maybe even a sounding board they turn to during a crisis. I’ve been in crisis myself from time to time and that’s inspired what I’ve written. I’ve also had these strange feelings about what’s coming this way and a strange habit of being spookily right.

TME: About a month before Marillion revealed the full title for “An Hour Before It’s Dark,” you announced the acronym: AHBID. That prompted some very creative guesses from your fanbase. What was the funniest one you saw?

SH: My favorite is “All Hard Bastards in Doncaster,” which is a fairly hard town in the north of England in Yorkshire where I grew up. That guess creased me up completely (laughs).

TME: Like the last couple of records, you recorded again at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. What do you get from that experience that you don’t get from recording in the band’s own Racket Club studio?

SH: Going to Real World is the combination of a treat, an escape and a return toward being a gang together and living together. When bands form when they’re young, they’re a gang. When they’ve been together for 40 years, if they’re not careful they turn into a firm of architects or accountants or lawyers. On second thought, I’ll take lawyers back, it’s never that bad (laughs). Going to Real World binds the five of us together because we’re there day and night and it becomes our world. We get away from the gas bill and the school run and we go to this cathedral of technology that is Real World. You walk into that control room and it’s like being in a church. It’s huge, beautiful and state of the art. Outside it’s pastoral with a duck pond and kingfishes flitting around. It’s like our holiday home and we go there when we feel we deserve a treat.

TME: “An Hour Before It’s Dark” is available in multiple formats including beautiful orange vinyl. Were you surprised to see vinyl make such a strong comeback?

SH: I was surprised and I’m kind of glad it has but that might be because I’m old. I remember the extreme pleasure of placing “Abbey Road” down on my little record player in my Mom and Dad’s bedroom and not moving for about five days. I remember being in that place and thinking ‘Oh my God, this is the best thing ever.’ There’s a feeling of pleasure in something being that real. A CD disappears into a slot, a live stream or an mp3 doesn’t bloody exist at all. You feel like you have ownership of something precious when you have a record. You have that feeling of holding it in your hand, placing it on the turntable, dropping the little stylus on it and hearing the magic happen. I’m grateful that vinyl has made such a comeback but to be honest it’s an absolute bastard for musicians because there are so few pressing plants in the world now, you need to sit on your hands for three or four months and wait due to the queue. That’s been quite frustrating. We delivered the album in November and had to wait until March to release it which has been driving us crazy.

TME: The vinyl version’s larger print also makes it easier for your fans to find their name in the credits. Marillion pioneered crowd-funding. You work for the fans not some giant music conglomerate. How important is it to you to maintain this grass roots relationship with your audience?

SH: This was very early in the development of the internet. It all started with two guys in America named Jeff. We left EMI and kind of put a message out that we weren’t able to tour in America because we didn’t have major label funding. In those days, we never made any kind of profit in America, it was always a loss. The two Jeffs said "We’ll pay for it" and one of them opened a bank account while the other put up a message on an internet notice board. When I first heard about it they already had $20,000. They subsequently raised $60,000, just gave us the money and said "Come on then."

In Cleveland, we met Eric Neilsen, a young guy who knew how to create websites which was really cutting edge weird shit at the time. We brought him to England and he built us the first rock and roll based website in the UK. If we’d done as he suggested and registered a ton of domain names, we’d all be millionaires. He kept coming into the room while we were working and suggesting we buy this domain or that domain for 30 pounds each. We could have registered BBC.com, BP.com, we could have had the lot! We kept saying "Bugger off, we’re musicians!" But we did end up with the first website in rock and roll, then we could talk to them, then we could email them. Our database accumulated tens of thousands of contacts overnight.

We learned two things from that American tour fund: The internet was the future and we’d better get on it. The second thing we learned is that our fans are just mental. They completely trust us. They send us their money based only on trust and they know we won’t let them down. That level of faith and the importance of the internet both exploded in front of us back in 1997. We never had any trouble getting record deals but what did frustrate us was that feeling that we were only getting record deals because we had a fanbase and it was free money for those labels. They didn’t have to be invested in it, they didn’t have to believe in it, they didn’t particularly have to promote it. What we really needed the labels for was the advance to make the record. That’s all we were going to get out of them anyway. It occurred to our keyboard player, Mark Kelly, that if we could sell our next record to the fans in advance of recording it we’d have more than enough money and we’d own the music. That was the point when we invented crowdfunding.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 March 2022 06:50

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