I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m a big fan of the band Marillion, although I came to be one in a roundabout way: finding a cassette tape of their concept album from 1985, Misplaced Childhood, in a cutout bin. By the time I had it, the synths had already dated the recording somewhat, but I listened obsessively anyway. In 1989, original lead singer and lyricist Fish struck out for solo territory and was replaced by Steve Hogarth. Hogarth’s voice added a new dimension to the band — he was suited for just about any material the band presented, and was able to give those songs a great pop feel.
While that would have made “H” the new guy, the position was once assumed by drummer Ian Mosley, who joined in 1984 for the band’s second album Fugazi. Now the band — Steve Rothery on guitar, Mark Kelly on keyboards, Pete Trewavas on bass, “H” at the microphone and Mosley behind the kit — is in full write/record mode for their fifteenth studio album. It is projected to be a double CD, lavishly packaged in a hardcover book in slipjacket, as was their 2004 entry Marbles, and funded primarily by pre-orders from ravenous fans. While the band may be only a blip on the radar in the US, their fans have been known to migrate to the UK from to attend the band’s convention/festival Marillion Weekend.
Popdose recently contacted the band via e-mail, and Ian Mosley took a moment away from the rigors of the creative process to answer a few questions about what’s happening with the group, with music in general, and with the state of the music professional in the up-for-grabs world of illegal downloading. (A side note: You will notice we have posted some MP3s from the band — in the interest of full disclosure, these examples are just that, examples, and have been cleared by the band through their communications manager Lucy Jordache. It is the intention of Popdose to expose new listeners to the music and, hopefully, compel them to buy the full albums.)
Now, on to the interview with drummer Ian Mosley!
How is 2008 finding the band in general?
Very busy and excited about the new material that we are currently working on.
How far along is work for album 15?
Every morning, we go into the studio and we jam for an hour before we get down to serious arranging of existing ideas. Usually, we would stop jamming and just concentrate on the arranging, but Mike Hunter (producer) thinks that we are going through a very productive phase, and he tells us that every time we jam something magical happens. The material that we have been arranging to date, everyone is very excited about — but it really is too early to tell you any more.
The Marillion site indicated the album has moved from a single album with a disc of extras to a committed two-CD set. While the outward direction of number 15 leans toward Marbles, the band is back with Michael Hunter, who helmed Somewhere Else. What were some of the factors in the change?
We decided on making a double album because the writing process has been very prolific, and it seemed a shame to put a stop to that while the light was shining brightly.
The band still gets tagged with the Progressive Rock label, and while some songs lean heavily that way, the band also has tried on many different styles over the years (i.e. Anoraknophobia.) Does it bother band members that the music is boxed into that corner, or is there a degree of acceptance?
Personally, I still don’t really know what progressive means. In some people’s minds if a piece of music is over 10 minutes long, it automatically gets the label of being progressive. I always enjoy playing arrangements kind of in a classical format, which is in movements. To me, music is either good or bad; it doesn’t matter what the label is. The kind of progressive label that I don’t like is the one that involves lyrics that quote dancing gnomes, Stonehenge and fairytales, etc.
This incarnation of the band has lasted roughly nineteen years, which is itself an achievement. What keeps everyone together, and what can younger bands learn from this relationship?
I suppose the problem with being young is that you tend to overreact to the slightest problem. Marillion were certainly guilty of this in the early days, and maybe it is true that with age comes wisdom. The most important thing for a young band is probably self-belief and a feeling of all traveling in the same direction musically.
While everyone has been fawning over Radiohead’s recent business model, it’s important to note that the past several releases from the band were funded with fan pre-order, subverting major label input. Now, with Somewhere Else, you tried something different, no?
We still had some money from Marbles, and we thought the fans were tired of pre-orders, so we tried to do it without.
Number 15 goes back to the Marbles plan. Does it just work better this way?
We have had a lot of feedback about the lack of a pre-order or any kind of special packaging, extra material, or the popular “my name in the credits” versions of the last album. We thought people might have got tired of the idea, but the majority of our fans told us we were wrong!
How much of an impact has illegal downloading made on you, even though you keep business so self-contained? Does the self-containment make the impact worse? I’m put off by the thought that fans themselves would involve themselves in piracy. Do you find that it is, in fact, the case, or that third party interests are primarily at fault? I’m reminded of the rumored numbers of how many actually paid for In Rainbows versus just taking the album for free.
As we have said on our website, illegal downloading is really hurting us, and unauthorized file sharing is hurting us. Racket Records releases are up on the Internet within a day of release and, as those releases can only be bought from our self-contained business, it is the fans that are doing it. More and more people believe that music is too expensive (which it isn’t) and the ease in which filesharing sites allow people to exchange music so easily, makes it too easy for people not to pay for music.
One last Radiohead question: Marillion did the whole massive packaging thing first with Anoraknophobia‘s baby steps (long before In Rainbows), then full-blown with Marbles and now Number 15. Do you feel like you’ve set a trend, or that it was just an obvious choice for bands maintaining physical product?
We just like doing it! If fans are going to trust us with their money months in advance, then we feel it is only right to give them something worth waiting for. The majority of Marillion fans do still seem to prefer physical CDs in the long run, and certainly all the people who have pre-ordered are doing it because they want to help us continue.
In America, except with the fans, Marillion is recognized as something vastly different than it is today (or has been for a long time). Do you worry about those perceptions anymore, or are they always somewhere near the surface?
We don’t worry about the perceptions. It is even nice that you think people remember the Fish era in the US!
Speaking of Marillion fans, they’re particularly voracious. There was, last year, a limited offer for a vinyl version of Marbles. I was ready to order, except I just didn’t have the money. A week later, when I did have the money, you were completely sold out. That was (if I recall) 500 copies of previously released material snapped up in a week. How do you feel about that loyalty, and what has the band done (aside from the music) to foster such a relationship?
We feel completely flattered and privileged to have the trust of our fans to send us their money before we have even written a note of music — it’s quite exceptional. There are various things things, the online forums and the Marillion Weekends, which help keep us close to the fans — especially the ones living far away who we don’t get to visit as much as we would like, if at all.
The state of modern music: Thoughts? Criticisms? Hopes?
I think there’s some really good young bands around at the moment. I personally feel quite detached from the American Idol genre of music and search of fame, but even such shows can show off some extraordinary talents. However people are discovered, if they have the luck and the talent, they will survive in the business. Good luck to anyone that can earn a living out of making music.
Your initial associations in music seemed to not be specifically related to band life (i.e. the handful of Steve Hackett albums and joining Rick van der Linden’s Trace for the Birds album.) Moving into a band that would occupy your time for the next two decades seems like a drastic move. What made you decide that Marillion was the proper fit?
From the age of 16 to 29, I was a freelance musician, and for whoever called, I would do the job, whether it was an orchestral session, a tour, an album or a gig in a pub. Due to the economic climate, I was often asked to do album sessions (Steve Hackett, Gordon Giltrapp, etc.) and also their album tours, but none of these projects were ‘real’ bands, as the whole responsibility was on the solo artists’ shoulders. It seemed that the only way in the ’80s that you could join a ‘real’ band was if a member died! So when Marillion asked me to help them out with the Fugazi album on a session basis, I jumped to it, and after the first gig I realized that there was something very special about this band. During that first tour, they asked me if I would join on a permanent basis. So I took an immediate cut in pay (and it’s been the same ever since!) and have never looked back.
How has technology changed the way the band writes and records? Good aspects / bad aspects?
I can only answer this question from my own personal experience of recording. I really enjoy the versatility of the whole Pro Tools recording process. The writing process has never changed for us.
Will there be touring involved with Number 15, international, not, or will the emphasis be placed on Marillion Weekend?
We haven’t started planning that yet, so it’s impossible to answer!
Will you be doing some more solo work once the 15th album is finished?
Marillion are fortunate enough to have their own recording studio, so whenever there is any serious downtime (which isn’t likely in the foreseeable future) I always like to get together with some musicians for some fun, so my answer would be yes — time permitting.
A gear-geek question: What drums do you prefer, and what does your preferred setup consist of?
At the moment, I am using the drums and cymbals on the setup chart below, but I also really like Yamaha and DW drums.
All cymbals are Zildjian
1. 14″ Z Custom Mastersound Hi Hat
2. 22″ A Swish Knocker
3. 20″ A Earth Ride
4. 16″ A Custom Medium Crash
5. 18″ A Custom Medium Crash
6. 20″ A Custom Medium Crash
7. 22″ Z Custom Ride
8. 22″ A China Boy Low (Brilliant)
Bass drum & toms are Tama Artstar II (Bird’s Eye Maple)
A. 22 x 16″ bass drum
B. 14 x 6Á‚½” Ludwig Black Beauty snare
C. 14 x 3″ Tama brass piccolo snare
D. 8″ x 8″ rack tom
E. 10 x 10″ rack tom
F. 12 x 11″ rack tom
G. 13 x 12″ rack tom
H. 16 x 16″ floor tom
I. 18 x 16″ floor tom
All hardware is Tama, including rack system, double kick pedal and Iron Cobra hi hat stand
All heads are Remo.
Snares -Coated Controlled Sound batter, black dot on bottom
Ambassador Snare, snare side
Toms – Clear Ambassador batter
Clear Diplomat, resonant side
Bass drum – Clear Pinstripe batter
Ebony Ambassador display head with custom printed logo
Sticks – Shaw Sticks Á¢€ËœIan Mosley’ Signature model
The dumb clichÁƒ© question that has to be in every interview: recent music, books, television and film on the band’s radar?
Books — Harlan Coben
Films — American Gangster
Books – The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
Music — In Rainbows – Radiohead
TV — Lost Season 4
Films — No Country For Old Men
Books – Sir Bobby Charlton, The Autobiography.
Music – Dirt Farmer by Levon Helm (The drummer in The Band)
TV – TV Burps Harry Hill
Films – No Country For Old Men
Books – The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Music — Have almost stopped listening to new music. Last thing that moved me was “Starz In Their Eyes” by Just Jack
TV — QI
Films — Amelie…and most of what Tom Hanks has done.
Music — Sigur Ros
TV — Heroes
Films – Once
Thank you for the time and opportunity!
Good luck with your Presidential elections!
Although it was not the intention to end the interview on a down note, Popdose respectfully offers condolences to Steve Hogarth on the passing of his mother, Elaine, on February 3, 2008. Our best goes with them.For more information, visit the band’s official site: www.marillion.com