hmv.com talks to... - March 4, 2022

"It’s the stuff that’s underneath that takes a bit more work, that’s what makes people fall in love with music..." - hmv.com talks to Marillion
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

"It’s the stuff that’s underneath that takes a bit more work, that’s what makes people fall in love with music..." - hmv.com talks to Marillion

For anyone that grew up in the era of punk or the generations influenced by its aesthetic that followed, 'progressive rock' is often thought of as a quite unfashionable genre, conjuring images of self-indulgent, 20-minute keyboard solos and arch, neo-classical grandiosity that are often held up as an exemplar of rock's capacity for pompous excess.

Even amongst the genre as a whole, few bands have been as oft-maligned with the 'unfashionable' tag as Marillion, a group who enjoyed the peak of ther commercial success in the mid 1980s with a string of hit albums, including their chart-topping 1985 LP Misplaced Childhood.

But Marillion have endured, thanks in no small part down their early - and, in hindsight, pioneering - adoption of the internet as a way of not only communicating with their loyal fan base, but also crowd-funding their recordings when they tired of the machinations of the music industry.

Despite the DIY ethos adopted in their later years and their steadfast refusal to chase trends of any kind, Marillion nevertheless found themselves back in the Top 5 of the UK Album chart in 2019 with their 18th studio album Fuck Everyone and Run. (F E A R).

In the meantime theyve released an album featruring an orchestral twist on reworked songs from the back catalogue, With Friends form the Orchestra, but this week they're back with the 20th album of their 40-year-plus career.

An Hour Before It's Dark arrives in stores this week and ahead of its release we spoke to the band's longtime bassist/guitarist Pete Trewavas about their new album, their upcoming shows, and why they're long past dreaming of world domination... 

 

20 albums is quite a landmark, did you imagine when you came in part way through Script for a Jester’s Tear that you’d still be in this band for it’s 20th LP?

“No, probably not, no. In fact, definitely not. As you say, I joined the band 40 years ago. Actually it’s 40 years later this month. I think it was the 24th of March I joined.”

 

You remember the exact date, too? Wow…

“Yeah, well, I played a gig on that date and that’s what I call the day I joined, the first gig I actually played with the band, and I remember we played at the General Wolfe in Coventry, so I know the date. And then we went on a little tour of Scotland, and I was thinking ‘Well, I’ll join for a few weeks because they need a bass player.’ I wasn’t really doing progressive rock at the time, I was doing other things, but then I realised that there was something going on. And it’s still going on 40 years later. It’s amazing, and it’s gotten stronger if anything.”

 

What do you think the secret to the band’s survival is?

“I think there’s an integrity to what we do, we try to stay true to our goals and our beliefs, we try to write words that are current and honest. And you know, we have the occasional love song too. Usually as a result of record company persuasion or something.

“But we have a bond with our audience. We came to a kind of crossroads with record companies and stuff where we thought: We know more about all of this than the young kids that are running the record labels, or the ones that we were getting involved with anyway. And then the internet came along.”

 

You became early pioneers of the crowd-funding thing long before it became as common it is now, didn’t you?

“We had a fan club already anyway, it was all mail order, flyers and leaflets and things. And then all of a sudden there were message boards on college computer networks and things, and a very early version of email. But you could only access all that late at night, when a whole world of computers would join up. And that was the start of the web, of course, as we know it. So we took advantage of that early on, we were the forerunners of all of that. We had a website in the UK years before anyone, when it was still pretty nerdy. And then the corporate world caught on and realised that this stuff was a lot cheaper than sending things in the post. So that allowed us to really connect with our fans and it’s just gotten stronger and stronger with each album.”

 

The last release was something a bit different, recording with an orchestra – the previous album saw you back in the Top 5 for the first time in a while, were you not tempted to continue down that same path and capitalise on that? Or are you beyond that kind of thing at this point in your careers?

“I think we’d have been kidding ourselves if we’d have thought of that as ‘Hey, lads, there’s something going on here! We could have world domination if we’re careful about it!’ You know, it was nice, and in a way it was like ‘Oh, my goodness, what a time for this to start happening’, but I mean, true to form, we never do what people expect and we never do what people think they want, either. Because what people think they want, they probably don’t really want. It might pacify them for a while, but it’s the shiny stuff that you get bored of, isn’t it?

"It’s the stuff that’s underneath that takes a bit more work, that’s what makes people fall in love with music. When something slowly dawns on you, sometimes years after hearing it for the first time, what the song really means, or what a song can mean. There’s a strength in that quality to being able to have more than one layer in your music and your lyrics, and we use that, I guess. Not deliberately. We don’t do anything deliberately. We’re not very good at writing songs, but what we are very good at is getting together and creating atmospheres and feelings, and when the feelings in the music and in the lyrics marry as well as they have on this album, there’s a very strong message coming across.”

 

What made you want to do the orchestral thing with your last record?

“Well, as you mentioned we were putting together the With Friends from the Orchestra album, we put that in place basically so that we didn’t have to think about writing the next album, and we thought that with our back catalogue there are so many songs that would work or benefit from a different approach. I’ve lost count of of the amount of people who have suggested that we should play with an orchestra, but because some of our music is quite orchestral anyway, if you’d put a full orchestra along with it you’d sort of lose some of the special qualities of the way we work, we thought it would dampen it all down and make it less than it could be, and it wouldn’t be as powerful.

“So what we decided to do was pick a string ensemble and then a couple of other choice instruments. We chose French horn, because I love French horn, and a flute. We got some great players in and Mike Hunter, our producer and arranger - he’s kind of our sixth member, actually, but he’s very shy – he’s the person that puts a lot of this stuff together and he did all of the arrangements for that album.”

 

When did you actually begin putting together material for this new album?

“In and around all of the rehearsals for that and various other commitments over the following years, we get together and jam, because we famously write by jamming together, so we don’t really know what we’re going to be doing and it stops us all from sitting around in a studio thinking that we’ve got to write music and just staring at the walls, waiting for it to stop. So we much prefer and enjoy the company of each other and just messing around with music. Somebody will start something off and we’ll just see where it takes us, people will join in just by ear.

“We do an awful lot of that, and then we throw most of it away because we think it’s rubbish, but once it’s all sifted through – and again that’s the job of Mike Hunter, he’s a sort of librarian for all this stuff – he takes all of the things that are worthy and have a musical sense to them. Sometimes it’ll be a song or a section idea, sometimes it’ll be the lyrical content. So we did a lot of that and eventually we had the building blocks for the album. We started working seriously probably the middle of 2019, and 2020 we were always going to have off to finish the album, so we were quite lucky in that we were probably one of the few bands that didn’t have to cancel any tours. When social distancing stopped we made our studio as compliant as we could and just got back into it.”

 

Was there any particular track that kicked things off on this record, or set the direction for the album as a whole?

“There were quite a few sections of music, but I think there were parts of ‘Be Hard On Yourself’ that emerged as quite interesting, and also ‘Reprogram the Gene’, although that’s quite a straightforward song. There’s three sections to it, but it goes through a fairly straightforward song pattern, for us, and that was kind of a starting point, It was a strong thing, it was a bit more Indie-based, there was a bit more aggression and chaos in it, which is something that we were quite excited about. We didn’t want to write the same sort of album again, we wanted to do something different. Maybe some of the frustration of the last few years came out in the writing.

“’The Crow and the Piano’ was another thing, that was sort of piano-based, it’s sort of like a poem, really, inspired by Leonard Cohen. And then we had a few sections of music and the one that became the song ‘Care’, the angels section, which was around for quite a while, we knew that was special. Just a very special piece of music in the same way that a few years ago we had a song called ‘Pieces of Neverland’, based around a really strong set of chords and a really good vibe about the energy it was inspiring. ‘Care’ was the same, albeit in a very, very different way, it seems to sum up an awful lot of what people have been feeling over the last couple of years. We’ve all been affected by this, and up until about two weeks ago everything that was spoken about on this album was really relevant. And it still will be, of course, but obviously at the moment our thoughts are with other things, like the people of Ukraine, of course.”

 

Does Steve Hogarth still handle most of the lyrics?

“Oh yeah, he writes all of the lyrics, we leave them up to him. He’s the lead vocalist but he’s also proved himself as an exceptional lyricist, he’s written some inspiring words, not just on this album but over the years as well."

 

Have any lyrical themes or concepts emerged on this album? Did you have a clear outline at the begging?

“There’s no real concept, but there are themes that run through the album and threads that we allude to over two or three songs, one of the main ones being climate change, and then ‘Murder Machines’ and ‘Care’ are about the pandemic and the predicament that people have been in. There’s a lyric in ‘Murder Machines’ that goes ‘I put my arms around her and I killed her with love.’ That could just mean swamping a relationship or smothering someone with love to the point that they just have to get out, or it could mean in the very literal sense of giving somebody the virus.”

 

What are your touring plans for the new album? What sort of live show can we expect?

“Well, we’re second-guessing, as we have been for the last few years with the music business, but we’re hoping Europe is going to be open and we’re doing conventions. So we’re actually going to debut our album in Poland in about a month’s time. For people who don’t know, we do three nights, three very different nights, to the point of having different lighting and stage arrangement. Three different shows, none of the music is repeated and we tend to pick themes, so one night will be the new album, we’ll premiere it, another night will be Season’s End, another one of our albums from back in 1989, and then another night will just be a lot of favourites and uptempo songs. That’ll be a party night, when we’re feeling a bit more frivolous.”

 

 

 

An Hour Before It's Dark is available in hmv stores now- you can also find it here in our online store.

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