The 1970s represented the halcyon days for progressive rock. Back then, bands like Genesis, Rush, ELP, Pink Floyd, Yes, and others regularly churned out ambitious concept albums rife with 20-minute songs, superior musicianship, and a dizzying array of time signatures.
Born out of this era is the English band Marillion. Formed in 1979, the band has for more three decades routinely pushed the musical envelope. One of the UK music scene's best kept secrets, Marillion has consistently bucked popular trends and ignored often nasty media criticism with one overarching goal in mind: to make the music that it wants to make.
The band's latest release and seventeenth studio album, Sounds That Can't Be Made, has just been released, and the band is about to embark on a tour of the United Kingdom. I recently sat down with lead singer Steve Hogarth to talk about the new album, the state of the music industry, and how the Internet now allows bands to reach their fans directly. The following is an excerpt of that conversation.
To watch the entire video, click here.
We take each album as an opportunity to redefine ourselves. For instance, the opening track on this album, "Gaza" is a foray into Arabic melodies and Arabic rhythms. It would be a simplification to say that it's Arabic because it's moving around musically all of the time. But we've not really been in that area before.
We have a lot of trust out there amongst our fans. If I open my mouth and say something, they don't necessarily agree with it, but they'll go and check it out and get online and open some newspapers. Why is Steve H suddenly going on about this place? What's really going on there? What's upsetting him?
What I'm hoping this song will do is raise awareness of what's going on in Gaza, what Gazans are having to endure. Then, beyond that, perhaps people will get into reading about its history. It's not an anti-Jewish song. I must stress that. I was careful not to say anything that condemns the state of Israel although I've already started getting some pretty angry criticism.
The song simply outlines the stark reality of daily life in that prison-of-a-city and says "People shouldn't have to live like this."
Gaza is a situation that's worsening year-on year and the world needs to get in there and do something about it because it's becoming a breeding ground for hatred and we all need to pour a whole lot of positivity into that place. I genuinely and passionately believe that empathy and caring can move mountains. Governments seem to look at everything from a point of view of mutual suspicion. Well, we all know where that gets us. It gets us here.
We have the Americans really to thank for the whole Internet thing that we embraced. The Americans brought it to us. Some of our Americans fans started it all off and raised a bit of money to go and play in the USA back in 1997. This was the first I knew about it. They already had $60,000 in a bank account somewhere. They would give us a big bag of money to go and tour America. I certainly had no idea. Most people in 1997 in Europe thought that the Internet was some weird thing that people did in sheds if they had a computer. They really didn't imagine that it would become part of everyday life in the way that it has - seemingly in no time at all.
We were fortunate that the American tour fund woke us up. Whatever this Internet thing was, we had better get on to it. Secondly, our fans would put their money where their hearts and mouths were--no problem. It woke us up to the fact that we really didn't need a record label. The realization that we could ask our fans to buy a record we hadn't recorded yet was really the key that unlocked it.
CD sales are in free fall. Our CDs sales are in free fall just the same. People are getting to listen to their music for free. They're starting to expect that. No one going's to pay for anything they don't have to, are they? If cars were free, you'd probably go get a free one, wouldn't you?
Music piracy isn't legal but no one's going to arrest you for it. You can't blame people for stealing music. From my own perception, if you're in a new band and you're trying to forge a career it's like it exists on two levels. You can do it in-house which is what we're doing. And then there's the Simon Cowell TV talent show "instant fame" thing. I can see a time in the future when it becomes more like subscription and licensing; you'll maybe pay for a license and then all the music and entertainment content will be free as part of the package. You don't have to buy and own music anymore. Let's hope they find a way of automatically paying a royalty to the artists who create what you hear - that's the tricky bit. Complicated, but perhaps no harder than automating the congestion charging system in London. They managed that alright..
If you had asked me a few years ago, I'd have told you that The Blue Nile is a huge inspiration and their singer Paul Buchanan. I would have said Paddy McAloon, Mike Scott, John Lennon and David Bowie, of course. It's very hard to pick them out. I love Joni Mitchell and great wordsmiths.
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