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Progressive Rock Interviews

Fish

Interviewed by Jason Hillenburg

Interview with Fish from 2014

MSJ:

So how did your first day getting ready for this upcoming tour go?

It was good. There were a lot of trials and tribulations in recent months, as you've probably read about. We did the first show with John Beck on keyboards in Rome a couple of weeks ago and it was fantastic. It was brilliant. It certainly felt like a complete unit again. We've got a series of festivals in Poland, Barcelona, then we're in Germany. We've got some open airs in September, then we've got the main European tour, which is 59 shows over three months. That's going to be quite a trial. With the UK tour having been postponed and rescheduled because of Robin Blout's chicken pox infection, it added another fourteen shows to the European section. I'm at the stage where when we go out, I insisted that in the middle of the tour we added five days so everyone could go back and be with their wives and families to just chill out for a bit. I'm 56 years old now and there's no point trying to kid myself I'm 30.
MSJ: I can understand your reasoning. I recently read someone say, "They pay us to travel, we play for free". The gig is the most enjoyable part of it all and everything leading up to that is a bit of a pain.

Yeah, especially when you're in a situation like myself. I manage myself, I've got a production manager who helps with the touring, but everything else, I deal with. It's a lot of added responsibility. I'm not just sitting here waiting for people to call me up. I'm the guy who makes the phone calls.

MSJ:
Exactly. I wanted to turn the conversation to the album for a second. A Feast of Consequences has been out for a while now and I was wondering if you're appraisal of it has changed any since its release? Do you think it's a stronger record than what you did at first? Has it aged well for you?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the days of the eighties are long gone, the kind of formula they used back then, like EMI, that's a redundant formula now, especially if you're an independent. You don't work on the "fireworks principle" where the album comes out, you tour, and throw a match on the fireworks and hope it sets fire to something. Nowadays, you work on a far longer-term basis. I've just done a deal with Amazon in Europe so we'll be selling the standard version of the album direct from Amazon. It'll mean people in Europe can get their hands on it without paying excessive postage costs. It makes it more readily available. I've got downloads, I've got it up on ITunes. It was just the other day too that I was talking with my producer about remastering the whole solo catalog apart from Vigil [In A Wilderness of Mirrors], which is owned by EMI. That's all going to be going up on ITunes in the next two or three months. The entire catalog will be up there for download, it'll be remastered, and what I'm looking to do is put an entire album up there plus all the tracks from the album in a daily download format - mostly live since I've been recorded a lot across the years. So my music is going to be out there in a bigger way than it has for quite some time and having A Feast of Consequence as a spear point on it all, there's a good chance to get a breakthrough. Of course, there will be physical versions of the remastered back catalog, which we'll be looking at putting together over the next year. I'm continually rolling with this album - I've got Dutch promotion kicking in, German promotion kicking in, we're taking out Facebook promotions, we're looking at promoting on Amazon. It's a hell of a lot of work. On the other hand, I'm not sitting here and getting a minor royalty statement every six months.
MSJ:
I wanted to ask about the song "High Wood.” I was deeply, deeply impressed with the objectivity of the writing. There's no sermonizing or finger pointing and when the lyric does make an appeal to the listener, it makes it from a place of common humanity. Was rendering that experience accurately important to you when you were writing it?
Absolutely. Both my grandfathers fought in that war. A hell of a lot Scots died - really, there was an entire generation just obliterated from the planet. It happened here, it happened in Germany, England, and France. There were so many people who would have been leaders or influential people that just disappeared. When I approached it, I had to treat the subject matter with great respect. I didn't want to take that kind of eighteen-year-old heavy metal vibe and I wanted to try to deal with, as you said, the humanity of it. It kind of tied up the trust of the whole album, about the planet we live on and was the thing that held it all together. "The High Wood" became a metaphor for it. When I got the original idea, I went and did a lot of research - I've never done as much research for a lyric or lyrics as I did for "The High Wood.” I was reading biographies, military history. It's funny, but my mother said, “you started off wanting to join the military, be a military historian, and that was going to be what you wanted to do when you turned eighteen, but you've gone into the music business and come full circle!” I was holding myself back with the song near the end when I wanted to follow up with the whole Sarajevo thing. I've stood on that bridge where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. I started reading about his Gavrilo Princip and spent a week reading and looking up things on Google! I just got lost in the whole thing. It became an obsession. The thought crossed my mind if I should carry on with it, make a whole album with a World War I thrust, make another album with the other six songs, and add to them. It was going to take too long, though. It was going to mean another three or four months writing and then would it suffer? I just decided to go with the intensity of the five-song suite with the other songs around it.
MSJ:

Do you think Western governments have really learned much since 1914?

Not at all. In all honesty, with all due respect, it seems like America's been fighting the same war ever since. World War I was a precursor to World War II and it's been followed up with Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. It's the same thing. Throw as much resources at the problem as you can and hope it overwhelms it. In the First World War, when the Americans joined at the end of 1917, it was the manpower, munitions, oil. It was everything that came with it that overwhelmed the Germans. The same thing happened in the Second World War and, because those formulas were successful, it's been used ever since. It was the same in Iraq, in Vietnam with B52's were going bomb, napalm, and overwhelm the subjects. It didn't work. I think it's been proven that George Bush and Tony Blair lied to us all. This is a really horrible thing and it's open knowledge now that there were no WMDs. I see Tony Blair's back on the news saying maybe we should go back and I'm like, “What the f*** are you on about?”
MSJ: It's really a greedy imperialist agenda.
Yes, that's exactly what it is! They were going there for one reason and the reason was money. The same has been proven with the Vietnam conflict - there was a lot of people who made a lot of money with that! The First and Second World Wars too, let's be honest about that.
MSJ: I think any moves by modern governments are always motivated by some sort of bottom line.
It's all about resources. It's always been a battle for resources.
MSJ: A lot of writers are really hard on their own work. Has yours developed for you in a satisfying way? 
Yeah, absolutely. I've got to be honest and admit I loved writing the lyrics for this album more than any other I've worked on in recent years. There's a different kind of drive to what I do now and I'm finding music a little restrictive. I need to branch out and do other things, work in other mediums. A straightforward novel, my biography or, the thing that attracts more than anything else, screenplays. That's kind of where I'm going. I'm 56 years old now. I don't want to be sixty and a parody of myself on a tour bus with a masseuse to work on my aching back.
MSJ:

There are a lot of your peers who unfortunately are.

I'm not going to do that. I'll be living in Germany in the next two years. I'm planning on moving to Europe. That's when I'm going to be making some decisions on my career at that point but, to be honest, most of them have already been made. I've seen too many guys who are 60 years old and that's all right if you're The Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen, that's not rock and roll touring really. It may be touring, but doing a gig once a week and staying in a five-star hotel, that's not the touring I do. Even on this 59 date tour, I get a hotel room every four days. It's an easy gig for a young man, but once you get older, the wear and tear starts to set in. I don't have a pension. I just do what I can, but there comes a point when I've just got to start looking after myself. I just can't be a singer for all those fans, as much as I respect what the fans want. I can't be going on stage at 63 or 64 delivering songs that are a parody of what I used to do ten or 20 years before.
MSJ: What was the last book you read?
The book that I'm about to finish is Rat Pack Confidential by Shawn Levy. It's about Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and all those other guys. It's fascinating. I admit to playing Sinatra and Dean Martin regularly in my house. People say “what do you listen to?” I don't listen to new stuff. I want to listen to Frank, Dean Martin, Joni Mitchell, a little bit of Floyd. I listen to music that I know.
MSJ: Hey, Sinatra's one of the greatest song stylists of his generation.
The lyrics! Some of his lyrics were amazing as a singer. My dad used to play Sinatra on eight-track as we used to drive about and I used to hate it, but now I hear it and think, “this is actually quite good.” But it wasn't cool to like Frank Sinatra back then. I've got loads of vinyl Sinatra stuff, including his Capitol stuff, as well. I've been reading Robert Harris as well. He's a Scottish writer and writes about a detective in the 1940s. He's quite good. I kind of duck and dive between books.
MSJ: What kind of movies have you seen lately that really impressed you?
I actually enjoyed “A Million Ways To Die In The West.” I didn't think I would. I quite like “Family Guy.” My bass player is a nut for the show. I've seen the Robert Redford one (I can't remember the name of it). It was a brilliant film. I've been watching TV a lot lately. I really like HBO. They've put some great stuff together like “Boardwalk Empire.” I really like “Game of Thrones.”
MSJ: One more question I thought I'd ask before we wrap up. I read a quote from Bon Dylan last night where he said the highest purpose of art is to inspire other people. I was wondering what your take would be on that.
I'd probably agree with him on that. Not just in areas of creativity, but in their lives. I got something today about someone who'd died from cancer and when you've helped touch people like that or guys who come back and say you helped get them through difficult times, that's inspiring for me. To do that as a side effect of what you do as a writer is a good feeling.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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