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Progressive Rock Interviews

Steve Hogarth

Interviewed by Jason Hillenburg

Interview with Steve Hogarth from 2014

MSJ:

The first question I have about the diaries is, considering the personal nature of the form, what kind of concerns, if any, did you have before publishing them?

Well, first, I had to get someone to read them through and check I couldn't be taken to court for anything I said. There's been very few changes made from the original diaries. Obviously, I was scribbling them out in the early 90s on paper, it was long before I owned a laptop. I think I got a hold of one of those big old thick gray Mac books back in 1993 or 1994 before I was going straight to digital. So before then, it was all written down. Very little has been altered or censored because, I guess, I censored myself a little, so if there was anything I didn't want anyone to hear, I didn't write it down in the first place. I never intended this diary to be a sex, drugs, and rock and roll thing. I just wanted it to be about what my life was really like and, if there was anything I felt was a bit too private, I never even wrote it down in the first place.
MSJ: In reading it, you never have a feeling that there's substantial chunks missing from it. In your foreward to it, you mention that there's substantial gaps of time in the book that aren't covered and that you were probably recording or something at the time and didn't have headspace for it. I thought the book seemed remarkably complete and representative of your life in those years.
Good. It's great to hear these things from people who've now read it. I kept saying to the publisher before we put it together, there's a chap called “Robert Hammond” at Miwk, the publisher, “are you sure it's not too boring? You want me to cut some of it out, you know? How much of got up, went to the park, fed the ducks, came home, watched the telly, and went to bed can people read before they find it thoroughly dull?”

He kept saying, “no, no, leave it all in, it works, it gives a flavor of the light and shade in your life.” So he badgered me into keeping everything that I had, at least. And, as you say, there are bits of time missing from it because it would just stop and then, sometimes, it would resume eight months later. That was just what I happened to write.

MSJ: Where did the idea come from to publish the book?
As I said in the foreward, the idea to write it in the first place was a promise I kept to my father and it never would have existed if he hadn't asked me to make that promise. So it was kept as a way of paying him back because he had quite an interesting life in his own way, but I guess not quite as nuts as mine. At the point I made him the promise, he was retired and living his life quietly in a bungalow doing his garden and watching the television. I think he just thought, “you know, there's been some interesting moments in my own life, I wish I had written them now, and now I see my son living this rich, peculiar and, in many ways, privileged life, I'll ask him to write about it.” So I was suppose it was a way of making sure the interesting things I was doing weren't lost even if the interesting things he'd done only stayed in his memory. That's why I kind of felt honor-bound, not just by the promise, but for him because he had given me so much. I'd always hoped someday it would be published, but it isn't one hundred percent of the reason I was writing it. One day, it's all happened this year, Lucy, who manages us, emailed and said, “there's a publisher who'd like to publish your diaries and he's also a self-confessed fan, would you be interested in meeting him?” I'd rather, in every way, this thing be published by people who understand what it's about rather than a more generic publisher who's interested just because it's rock and roll. I'm quite an obscure rock star, if you can call me a rock star, I'm not exactly a household name. This was always going to be more of a niche thing and it was great having someone approach me who knew what I, and Marillion, are about.
MSJ: I'm glad he did. Do you any other kind of creative writing outside of songwriting?
Not really. Our songs tend to start life as dreams or thoughts. People always say, “what comes first the music or the words?” And, in the case of Marillion, it's usually the words. So I usually have words that exist. I wouldn't be so grand as to call them “poems,” but they're trains of thought that often rhyme and have a meter which means they're poetry in the broadest sense. They tend to start life like that so, at any point in time, there's an awful lot I've written that's never been set to music. It'll probably set on the shelf until it does. I suppose if I quit the music business then I could publish all of the words I've got left as poetry or whatever, like “The Random Thoughts of H.” I've not made an attempt yet to write a novel or, even in my latest and wildest dreams, I haven't got a plotline tucked away for a novel. But, you never know, in my ripe old age, I might have time, you never know.
MSJ: I was impressed by some of your reading choices in the diaries. You seemed to have a fondness, or at least you did for a time, for the Russians, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. It's not the usual thing you encounter in a rock star memoir. What kind of books are you reading nowadays?
At the moment I'm reading a thing called “Mirrors” by Eduardo Galeano. I don't know if you've heard of that. It's a series of little paragraphs, a history of the world told in very short paragraphs. I'll give you one as an example.
MSJ: Sure.
This is called "Precursor of Capitalism." "England, France, Holland, and other countries owe him a statue. The goodly part of the power of the powerful comes from the gold and silver he stole from the cities he burned, the galleons he pillaged, and from the slaves he rounded up. Some fine sculptor ought to carve an effigy to this armed functionary of nascent capitalism. Knife between the teeth, patch over one eye, peg leg, hook for a hand, parrot on the shoulder."
MSJ: That's quite nice.
This book catalogs in funny little paragraphs the history of the world or so-called civilization. The more of it you read, the more you realize it was, essentially, founded on slavery.
MSJ: Not cheerful reading, but instructive.
Yeah, but it's quite gaily written! I'm just going through some of the other books next to my bed. I've got the Galeano book, Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes. I don't know if you've heard of that book, but it's been dubbed a modern masterpiece. I haven't started it yet, so I'm looking forward to that. And strangely, I'm not just saying this because you're on the phone, but Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Steve Brown.
MSJ: I've definitely heard of it, but I've never read it.
It's bad. It's a really harrowing read in the sense that it catalogs the extent to which the Native Americans were betrayed and then re-betrayed and then re-betrayed. I can't say too much because I'm not American, but if I was American, I'd really have a go. It's not the right of an Englishman to point a finger.
MSJ: I think it's the right of anyone with critical thinking ability to take a look at situations like that and say what's on their mind. You certainly wouldn't offend me at all.
I haven't totally gotten my teeth into that book yet, but even the first chapter leaves you worn out with how comprehensively they were betrayed and slaughtered. It's probably English people doing it, to be fair. But to answer your question from earlier, I did go through a phase reading the classics. I hadn't read a lot of classics growing up and I reached an age where I thought, “I really ought to be reading this stuff!” I found that, to my amazement, once I got my teeth into War and Peace, I really, really enjoyed it. I used to take books like that on holiday and my ex-wife would think I was nuts. I'd be sitting on some sun-drenched beach somewhere reading War and Peace. Recently when we were over in Miami for that Cruise to the Edge thing, we had a couple of days to soak up the jet lag. I went down to South Beach to see what it was like and I was sitting in one of those open strobe bar discos. The music was pounding away, all the waitresses were wearing bikinis, and I was reading George Orwell's 1984 while sipping a cocktail. I thought to myself, “I bet there's not a lot of people who've sat here reading 1984.”
MSJ: Too bad someone didn't snap of picture of that. That would be quite the contrast.
I got a few looks. It was strange because it's such a bleak, horrible vision of the future, London of the time with the fog and this gray, oppressive regime coming off the pages and I'd look up at the insanity of South Beach with roller-skates and discos. It was an interesting juxtaposition.
MSJ: I've read you remark in various places that work on albums like Brave and Afraid of Sunlight sapped your energy and left you emotionally drained. I read you describe yourself as a lost soul during this period and thought some of that creeped in on the diary entries. I remember reading one where you imagined yourself falling off your balcony. Has keeping these diaries been a cathartic experience for you?
Phew. Possibly yes. Although, of course, I have the songs, as well. The words I've written over the years have, in general, been a true reflection of whatever crises I was going through at the time, so I always had that slightly more immediate catharsis to write down whatever pain I was in, to try and articulate whatever alienation I was feeling and that would come out in the music. In one case, I think that can be freeing. On the other hand, getting up to perform it night after night to sing it can be absolutely exhausting. It can also take its toll on the people you love because they can see themselves in your words. Then you have to ask yourself, “do I really have to write , to be exposing my innermost self, to an extent that the people nearest to me see themselves in these works of art?” I can always laugh them off and say, “you know, it's just a song, it's just the stuff I wrote, and this particular line might have just been a good rhyme, but it ain't necessarily the truth.” A lot of what I've written has much more than the ring of truth in it. So, with catharsis, I have that luxury in the music. As far as the diaries are concerned, no, because I just wrote them at the time and never really went back to them, but when I went back to them this year and looked at what I had, that was very peculiar. There was a previous marriage, a previous time, a previous home. We all have our memories, but to go back through the minutiae, the moment by moment of a day from a long time ago from the vantage point of now, living another life, was very weird. That was hard work, to be honest.
MSJ: I can imagine that revisiting some of those memories wasn't a comfortable experience.
Diaries are who we were. They're not who we are. So you go visit who you were, but you visit it in such detail, that's what's strange. Because you could normally visit who you were in your memory, but it always exists in a haze…unless you've got a photographic memory. But you drop yourself back in there, every minute, you're sitting on a village green somewhere with your ex wife, your little girl falling over and skinning her knee, and the blackberry crumble you made from the blackberries you picked coming down the lane. That's really strange to go back into the details of those moments.
MSJ: Another impression I got from the entries is that these cathartic moments like we were talking about earlier and the opportunity for self-expression make this whole endeavor of celebrity and performance worthwhile, but fame, to the man in these diaries, appears to be a constant negotiation. How to maintain your integrity and how to be there for your family? It also seems like, in the post 1997 era, you are becoming someone who's moving away from that, the traditional confines of celebrity, and moving towards a more serious aim in your life: settling down, focusing on your art, and being more serious about that. Is that a fair assessment?
I think it is. I think it's all about growing and getting older, of course, but in my case, at least, it's also about how our career has coincided with massive, massive changes in the music business. As a relatively young man of thirty, we were signed to a major record label. As you read in the diary, someone's constantly on the phone with someone from the record company saying something like, “can you do breakfast television tomorrow?” or “can you talk to ‘The Daily Mirror’ about such and such?” We were always talking to tabloids who'd ask, “What do you think about ham and eggs?” or something equally stupid - whatever will get you two inches of newsprint the next day. There were people at EMI employed to try and get their artists into newspapers, however it had to be done. So when I was younger, there was that element in our careers. These days it still is, we get reviews, the live shows get reviewed as well, so there's still a media aspect to our lives. It's not as tacky as it was back then. It has much more to do with the art. Not trying to sound high-falutin', but if you want to call what we do art, it's more about the art now than it was back then. Back then, it was more like we'd be delighted to hear if you had an auntie who died, that'd be a great story for this magazine, that aspect of celebrity where they'd go searching for some trauma in your family to write about. Everyone can feel sorry for you and learn about your painful past and learn from it and grow…all the s*** that's usually in magazines.
MSJ: It's just cheap titillation.
It's a kind of titillation. That's what it is. That aspect has gone away and we've just gotten older and grown up. And we've also had this sea change in the way we do business because, since the Internet happened, it's been cataloged how we've been a sort of pioneer in the peer to peer business, pre-funding…like this Kickstarter thing, which wasn't stolen from us, but copied. The fact that we did that and have grown into it means the way we do business with our fans is now much more direct. The fan base has kind of turned into a family and we're so much closer to them than we were in the old days when we had a major label deal. If anything, we're even freer, creatively, than we were back then. Even though EMI never really made us feel like we had to compromise, there were ways they could compromise the art. They would, for instance, suggest a producer and then whisper in the producer's ear while he was making the record about the kind of record they wanted him to make. Of course, we were all blissfully ignorant about the process, but the process is there. The reason why they put us with producers was to have influence over the product. That's gone away now. We don't have any of those compromises sneaking in. What we make is totally pure - you can argue if it's any good, but it's certainly pure.
MSJ: I think it shows. I think it's clear there's none of the rushed quality that might have existed in albums from the mid 90s. I think the band has a lot more freedom to take time.
That's certainly true. We were always rushing back then. These days, it takes as long as it takes.
MSJ: Like you said, the paradigm's broken down. It's not tour, album, tour, album, anymore and there's not this constant need for new product. That's what these big conglomerates did - that was their sole basis for existence. To keep stuffing out product and keep bands on the road.
The pressure to produce the hit single was always there. I guess as far as the music business is concerned, that's still there, because an artist stands or falls on that. They either have a hit or they don't. We seem to exist in a place orbiting the Earth existing outside of that, as well. Somehow we seem to get by, make a living, and sell enough records to enough core people to carry on. We're very, very fortunate. We're privileged to be so free, to get away with that, and not have crashed because of that freedom. I think a lot of artists probably have over the years.
MSJ: A couple more lighthearted questions - depending on your point of view: have South American tours improved? It seemed like a pretty challenging experience in your diaries.
They were challenging, and I think it probably gets worse in Volume two! I remember one night in San Paulo when I called my wife and she said, “that's it, I can't be married to you anymore.” And, I was sitting on the other end of the phone line in another hemisphere thinking, “what can I do about this, there's nothing I can do. I can't go home to try and talk about it and, on the phone, what can I say?”

Some of those tours were pretty hellish back then in so many ways. Sometimes we'd go onstage at midnight, come off stage at a half past two, get back to the hotel by four, then have to get up at five to get on a flight for the next town. We did learn from that, so insomuch as you can within the confines of economics, we've imposed rules where we do get more than five hours of sleep a night to make those things work. We were touring South America this year and had a great tour, so it's been much better. I think we've had more people coming to the shows than we did on the last South American tour. The ticket sales were up, the feeling and vibe was up, so we decided it's a place we're going to visit more often. I think we made the mistake in the 90s of just taking a vibrant reaction and then going away and not coming back. South America was good. Another thing is, in the old days, you went away and your only way of keeping in touch was a hotel phone. Used to cost a fortune per minute to call home to England, so you'd call once a week and the whole time you were talking, you were conscious of the money going by. Now the Internet and Skype mean that you don't have this horrible thing where you leave home and feel completely, totally, separated. You can call home, you can Skype home, and you can chat with them for forty minutes without having to sell the house to pay for it. It used to be tough back then, but now it's easier to stay close when you're touring.

MSJ: Have Marillion's sound checks gotten more efficient over the years?
[laughs] Absolutely not! I would have loved to have said, “yes,” but some people live and learn, and some people don't.
MSJ: I noticed that, without throwing fits about it or anything, you seemed really self-critical of your vocal performances. Has that changed any or gotten better as you've gotten older?
In Volume one, I would always be singing into these monitor wedges. It was the era before in-ear monitoring. It was constant fight because, in order to hear yourself above the band, you always had to be right at that point where the monitor was almost feeding back. You'd have monitor engineers always trying to stop you from feeding back from back down the speaker to the microphone. You'd get a ringing sound and the only way they can really stop that ringing is to EQ it out by filtering that frequency that's ringing or turning it down. Either of those processes tend to make it harder to hear what you're doing. Just to hear myself was a fight and, because of that fight, I would over sing constantly. Instead of singing, I'd be shouting or screaming more or less, and that would take its toll on how much voice I had for the next night, and then the next night, and then the next night. It was really tough. You'd rarely walk off stage thinking, “I've sung really well tonight.” You'd think, “well, I got by.” Lately, occasionally, I walk off stage thinking I sang really well. For me, singing is like balancing on the head of a pin. You can fall off in any direction. You either miss a note or you sing a line and realize you didn't know what you were singing. Or you've gone on to tour pilot and you're not living a song anymore, you're just singing the song. That's not what I'm about, I live those songs. If I fail to live them, you can really hear it because of the kind of singer I am. If I am inside the song, I will really sing it two to three times better than if I'm not. It's got nothing to do with the pitching or anything, just if there's truth there. Those words are true and, if you're singing them as if they weren't, you’re doing a huge disservice to them. So there's a million ways I can fall off that pin. I can miss a note or be distracted, There's so much to distract you when you're on stage and my job is to make all of that go away and live inside the song. [laughs] And you can never do that really. You can do it for a verse and a half, then you lose a line and, inwardly, you're chastising yourself for losing that line. It's like trying to playing a perfect game of tennis. You might win, but you walk away thinking about all those stupid shots you let go. Singing is a bit like that.
MSJ: Sure, but it keeps you up to a high standard of performance. I don't think any Marillion fan would disagree with that.
It's not about what you're doing, but what you're searching for. There's nothing wrong with falling short. It's what you're aiming at when you fall short that matters.
MSJ: I'd say some of my favorite albums are far from note perfect and they gain luster with me because of what people might call their "flaws.” They're genuine moments and I know that's what I respond to as a music fan. One last question about the diaries. What can readers expect from the second volume?
What can they expect? There's some really funny episodes in the second volume. I also get to meet Neil Armstrong in the second volume. Not too many people get to meet Neil Armstrong! Then there's me attending Donald Campbell's funeral the day after 9/11. There's lots of big moments in the second volume, including the collapse of my marriage. There's some ups and downs for sure. I think it has a different flavor - there's a feeling of loss of innocence.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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