A Conversation With Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mike Ragogna: Hello, Mary Chapin! How are you?
Mary Chapin Carpenter: Hi, how are you?
MR: I'm fine...you know, the polite answer. But honestly? I really haven't been. But your new album Ashes And Roses has been helping me pull through something pretty traumatic, especially the song "What To Keep And What To Throw Away," your survival checklist. But first, this album is very personal, and this has been a tough period for you.
MCC: It was. The last few years have not been easy. A number of things--changes--have taken place in my life, and among them was a real serious illness and then the end of my marriage, and my father passed away last October. Any of those things alone would have been really awful, but all of those things together really kind of made life very difficult to navigate. As a songwriter, it certainly was something that I didn't think I could avoid, in terms of writing about my feelings and how I've been sort of making my way through the world since it's all sort of changed in so many ways. So it seemed like a natural thing to write about, but daunting, as you can imagine.
MR: Oh, yeah. The lyrics on this project are so..."appropriate" isn't a great word for them, but they really are. And as far as the melding of music with lyrics and presenting storylines or concepts in a fresh way, this went beyond.
MCC: Well, you're very kind. I appreciate your words very much. The response that I've gotten since it came out last week has been just... I don't know how to explain it, Michael. This record, as you have said--and I would not disagree--is a very personal record, and it's as if people have responded in kind. It's like they have spoken to me on deeply personal things as well as reviewers who I don't know have almost seemed to respond to it in a personal way. I don't know how to explain it. I'm being awkward right now.
MR: (laughs) No, it's pretty clear. But I also want to throw this out there. I think it's because you've touched people in ways that... it seems like people don't even have, or make the time, to grieve appropriately.
MCC: Well, I don't know if it's time that they're lacking, but I do think that, let's face it, in our society, in our world, in our culture, it's as if you get knocked down, you should get right back up.
MR: Perfectly said, Mary Chapin. Right.
MCC: One of the things that I've been talking to people about has been the reality of how long it takes to grieve something. I've had these experiences. I'm still having them, where you have good days and bad days, as you well know. You're not having a good day, and you run into somebody, and they kind of give you that look where you know what it means, which is, it's as if they're saying to themselves, "Oh God, I wish she'd just get over this."
MR: Oh, trust me, I know. I've lost a friend or two because of my...
MCC: ...no, no. I think you discover that your world becomes much smaller, and the people who kind of fall away are the people who just don't want to be around that kind of person who is experiencing that. They don't show you quite overtly, but you can just sense that they're just kind of rolling their eyes and sort of checking their watches.
MR: (laughs) Or they start texting.
MCC: You feel kind of judged because you haven't been able to shake it off, and anyway, I don't have an answer, really, to all of it, but I think the thing is that this record is personal, and as such, it's not any different. We all go through the same things. We all, or rather, many of us, have experienced loss and divorce and betrayal and illness and so many of these things. They're hard to talk about, and it's very isolating. When you read a book that speaks to you about your experience, or you hear something that connects to you or resonates in some way... I guess what I'm saying is that what I've discovered in the last week since this record came out is people sort of wanting to talk about those things without turning it into one big therapy session. But there's a certain element of that. (laughs)
MR: Hey, bring on the therapy! To me, it's grieving and processing, and especially when you can't find resolution due to a lack of communication or whatever is preventing closure, I believe true friends will forgive that you're in crisis and help you through the process.
MCC: Well, I think we're helped by...at least I know I am when I read a book or see a movie or experience some sort of artistic medium that allows me to feel less isolated, less alone in what I feel that I'm going through. It feels like a gift, so my radar is always up, always looking for something like that that'll help make it a little easier.
MR: Absolutely. Mary Chapin, your first track, "Transcendental Reunion," to me, is a song that's an overview of the album... Well, I'll stop there. Because you're such a good writer, I'm afraid of not interpreting this properly. But for me, it's about the journey we're all on, and it contains an overview of what's up ahead, like how you mention in the lyrics, "We're travelers traveling, we're gypsies together, we're philosophers gathering..."
MCC: First of all, you can't get it wrong, so don't worry about that. Everybody responds in however personal way they do, so it's not going to worry me at all if you have a different take on it, but I'll tell you what I was thinking. First of all, there's a reason why it's the first song in the set, and that's because I feel that it sets up the rest of the songs. It's a metaphor for everything that comes after, flying alone. Right off the bat, it's about this new way of being in the world from what I was, and you're kind of suspended, and you're not sure where you're going, and you're alone in the adventure and somehow people that you don't even know, it's as if their camaraderie, their fellowship, their elbow-to-elbow sense that you have with them makes you feel less alone in the world. Your suitcase, it's as if it's all the tools that you have for living. You don't want to get lost along the way. You don't want to be damaged. You don't want to take the wrong exit or the wrong stairwell or whatever it is. You end up in this big room, and there are all these people, and you're kind of like, "Where did all these people come from?" And you realize that that's the world. You really are in the world, and you have to be there, and you have to accept it, and you have to just let your guard down and let things go. You get through it, and then there you are outside the gate, and all these people are going in all different directions, and it's kind of like you're finally on your own. It's about realizing that that whole journey is from darkness to light, and it's about having faith in yourself and hope in yourself and hope for the future. I could go on and on, but that's basically the metaphor for the song.
MR: Beautiful. I wanted to ask you about recording this kind of album. How did you get through it with all of this depth? I mean, this is a lot of emotion to be packing into a CD.
MCC: It wasn't easy, but there's a point at which you just focus very hard, and I was in the studio with some really amazing musicians who I know quite well and know me, and we've worked together in the past, so it all felt very comfortable. The one thing I wanted to say is that this record is not as dark as we may be presenting it. It's important to me to point out that it has a narrative arc, and about three quarters of the record the themes start to shift, and that's because I believe that there is a sort of other side to all of this. You start coming out and discovering that. So I think it's important to point that out.
MR: And to that point, let's talk about "Soul Companion." I believe that's one of the songs we're talking about, right?
MR: So the message of the recording... Well, I'm going to let you talk now. (laughs)
MCC: Well, it's a song about believing, even though you have, in that moment, not necessarily any evidence to believe it, but just that somewhere out in the world, there exists someone who you can feel sort of completely known by and accepted by. That can be, whether platonic or romantic, a soul companion. It may just be too romantic for some people or idealist, but I believe that, and I always have, despite what I experienced in the last few years. I believe in all the things that are important about connection and the renewal that comes along with that.
MR: And speaking of "Soul Companion," you have a friendly companion on there, James Taylor, with you. How did that all come about and what was it like recording with him?
MCC: Nowadays, with the technological advances that come along every day, you don't have to be in the same room with someone, and he had just gotten back from Europe, so he was back home, and he has this beautiful studio in his barn. We were able to email the track to him, and he played on it, which was so generous of him, and he sang his parts. They're so beautiful. The way it came about was that my manager was in touch with him and asked him, and he was so lovely to say yes. I was thrilled! I was beyond thrilled. I don't even have words for it. So grateful and so happy that he felt able to connect to that song and wanted to do it.
MR: Yeah, and what's great about the theme of the song "Soul Companion" is it's like you're saying, "...and here's a soul companion, somebody who's going to help uplift me." You also have another great player on this album, or rather singer, player, producer, etc., Mac McAnally, who is also an awesome songwriter.
MCC: Great writer, great singer, great producer, great person. Great everything. Mac has been on many of my records, and we met years and years ago, and I just have nothing but the deepest admiration for him.
MR: Yeah, a real mensch.
MR: I opened for him at The Peanut Gallery in Tampa, Florida, years ago, and we bonded over Henry Gross, the guy who sang the song "Shannon."
MCC: (laughs) Oh yes! Well, Mac is also a repository of knowledge and music and history and humor. He's just an amazing guy.
MR: Yup. Mary Chapin, other people have recorded your material over the years. You have many of your own hits and you've won Grammys. You have gold, platinum, multiplatinum albums, singles, all that. Looking back at your career at this point, from where you started and the ride that it's been, what are your thoughts about the ride?
MCC: Well, I think you used the right word to describe it. At times, it does feel like an amazing ride. You know, Michael, I don't know if I... I'm not very practiced in stepping back on a regular basis and sort of looking at things' perspectives, but rather just trying to--at the risk of sounding kind of woo-woo--I just try to be present every day and just appreciate what I have and appreciate how hard the people I work with work on my behalf. This kind of work and this career is not something that you can really do by yourself. You need a lot of help, and I'm fortunate to work with some extraordinary people, and I think that's really important because it can really turn your head, all the attention and the things that come with celebrity and fame and that sort of thing. It can be difficult, and even though television tends to portray it as something that everyone should have, I think it's important to just be careful about who you work with and be appreciative of all the good things that come your way and to work hard and be honest and be a good person. Treat people right. Those are rules to live by no matter what your profession is.
MR: Well, you know, in your last song "Jericho," you do have the line that sums it up wonderfully, "We are the places that we've been."
MCC: Yes, we're informed by all those things--all of our experiences--and they make us who we are, and it's sort of common sense if you think about it. So everything I just said, I would repeat again.
MR: (laughs) Mary Chapin, I would love to ask you--and I ask everybody this question--what advice might you have for new artists these days?
MCC: Oh gosh. I'm not good at giving advice. (laughs) I imagine that nothing I could come up with would be original, and anything I would say probably would sound like some second rate commencement speech. Just the same things we were just talking about, you know? Whatever your profession--let's just say you were choosing music--you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection. You have to be prepared for sort of just following your happiness as far as it can take you and trying not to care when people dismiss you or whatever. As long as something makes you happy and you feel passionate about it, then I think you have what you need to weather the storms. As far as anything more technical than that, I don't think I can give advice. I would just say play all the music you can, write what's in your heart, and, like we said, be a good person and treat other people right.
MR: Beautiful. When you listen to "Passionate Kisses," the artist Mary Chapin Carpenter then and the artist now, what would you say is the major growth that's happened for you between that period and now?
MCC: Well, gosh, it was a long time ago that I recorded that wonderful song by Lucinda Williams. I was so grateful that she gave me her blessing to do that. There's been a lot of miles traveled between then and now and a gazillion shows and experiences. Through all of it, I'm so amazed and grateful that I'm still making records and touring and being able to do that. That's the thing I'm most grateful for--that I have this job, if you call it that. I feel that it's such a privilege. As far as having grown, I would hope that as a performer, I've gotten better at connecting with audiences, and as a songwriter, I just hope that I become a better writer, that I can address things and that my tools are well honed. You want to feel that there's inspiration all around you, and you want to be able to take from it as freely as possible.
MR: The only other question I have is just how great is drummer Russ Kunkel?
MCC: How great is Russ Kunkel? The greatest, the greatest! My hero, my soul mate, my dear friend. I love Russ Kunkel with all of my heart and always will.
MR: Yeah, I think there should be a major push for a Russ Kunkel fan club.
MCC: I think there are probably many already.
MR: (laughs) Mary Chapin Carpenter, thank you very much for talking with us today.
MCC: Michael, it's been a pleasure, and thank you for having me. I truly appreciate it.
1. Transcendental Reunion
2. What To Keep And What To Throw Away
3. The Swords We Carried
4. Another Home
5. Chasing What's Already Gone
6. Learning The World
7. I Tried Going West
8. Don't Need Much To Be Happy
9. Soul Companion - duet with James Taylor
10. Old Love
11. New Years Day
12. Fading Away
Transcribed by Kyle Pongan
A Conversation With Magda Rosa Galbán, Daughter Of Manuel Galbán
Mike Ragogna: Magda Rosa, how would you sum up your dad Manuel Galbán's musical contribution to the Cuban culture and to Cuban music?
Magda Rosa Galbán: He was always a true defender of popular Cuban music. He was one of the first to play the electric guitar in Cuba, and one of the first to overlay it with vocal quartets such as Los Zafiros. Sometimes, a small band accompanied the quartets and he'd accompanied them on his electric guitar. He created his own style, which has been imitated by many others. As a musician, he was very flexible. He could easily integrate into different formats, such as when he played with La Vieja Trova Santiaguera or with the vocal quartet Los Zafiros or with Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club.
MR: How would you sum up his last project, Bluechacha?
MRG: He really wanted to record Bluechacha. The album covers many of the different genres that he played during his entire career. And also, it was the first time we could work together, and that made him really happy. Thanks to God he could make this dream come true.
MR: Can you tell us about Bluechacha's musical guests?
MRG: It was a true pleasure having the possibility to work with so many talented artists, such as Omara Portuondo, an artist with whom my father worked with on so many occasions. The beautiful voice of Rosa Passos, Eric Bibb's charisma, who has always admired my father and wanted to be part of this project. As well as the great contributions made by musicians such as Jose Antonio, Marcelo Mercadante, Balleke Cissoko and Adam Levy. To all of them, we thank them for joining us and my father on this celebration.
MR: What are the musical highlights on Bluechacha?
MRG: My father always loved albums that were varied, attractive and not boring, and on this album, he wanted each track to be a surprise. Our aim is a record that reflects the essence of Galbán as a guitarist, a project that is both elegant and ambitious. It was made with honesty, and above all, a lot of love.
MR Can you tell us about the DVD's historical and documentary-style content?
MRG: Even though my father was already ill, he worked as long as necessary during the filming of the DVD. The crew that worked on the DVD were very kind and they really looked after him, they respected him and cared for him throughout the filming. He loved the camera, he enjoyed it and he was touched when he saw the final version. When they were filming in the streets of Havana, often, people called him "El Zafiro mayor," "The Big Zafiro." He really loved it when they used this nickname.
MR: Did he ever share his thoughts with you about Buena Vista Music Club? How about his time with Los Zafiros?
MRG: He was part of Los Zafiros during his youth, and it was an important part of his career. He would always talk about how they would harmonize their voices, and he knew very well the vocal range of singer in the band. He would also do the arrangements of the songs that the composers would bring him, and he'd adapt them to the group's style. The TV would often play Los Zafiros videos that they filmed in the 1960s. He was proud of them and would enjoy watching them. With Buena Vista Social Club, he had the chance to be part of a project that included great artists that he had worked with in the past, artists such as Cachaito, Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, etc. And he also travelled around the world, playing popular Cuban music. It was through this project that he met Ry Cooder, and later, they recorded together on the album Mambo Sinuendo that won the Grammy.
MR: What was your musical interaction with him?
MRG: From a young age, he educated me in a musical environment. I grew up breathing in music. Sometimes, we would have different ideas, but we agreed on many things. For example, we liked to play together--our four hands at the piano--Peruchín, a pianist who we both admire a lot.
MR: What is your favorite recording by your dad?
MRG: I really like the Los Zafiros' records. I told him one time that when I listen to "Orfeo Negro," it really reminds me of him. Also "Mi oración," a recording that I remember with a lot of love for the beautiful melody that he played on the guitar.
MR What is your favorite memory of your dad?
MRG: Everything that comes to my mind when thinking about my dad are really nice memories, but above all these things, what I will always keep in my mind is his smile.
MR: What advice might he have had for new artists?
MRG: He would always advise them that they respect the harmony, in that he was a traditionalist, though he was always open to new ideas. He would get annoyed when things didn't work out, but he'd offer his knowledge with a lot of humility and he would help everyone who came to seek his advice.
MR: And what's your advice to new artists?
MRG: I would tell them to look into their roots, into their traditional music in the older musicians, but also to work hard and with humility and ready to learn from the others.
1. Pachito Eché
2. Tierno Amanecer
5. Y Deja
6. No Te Importe Saber
8. Alma Mia
9. Alma De Roca
10. Rumba Del Ángel
11. Bossa Cubana
12. Lluvias De Mayo
1. Blue Cha Cha with Manuel Galbán
HUFFPOST EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: ERIN BARRA "GOOD MAN"
Erin Barra's new music video for her single 'Good Man' is a mini film, which investigates several aspects of the relationships between two people. It takes you on a journey exploring everything from power dynamics and gender roles to the complicated idea of how and why people love each other. Intended to make you have an emotional reaction, this unique music video is a play on the Stockholm Syndrome done in reverse chronology a la Memento. It was written and directed by Terence Nance (MOMA's New Films New Directors and Sundance Film Festival Official Selection 2012) and Cinematographer Shawn Peters (Pharaohe Monch's Black Hand Side, Blitz The Ambassador's Native Sun).
Also, Erin will be appearing at SummerFest in Milwaukee, June 30th, as part of the Emerging
Artist Series, and at the Knitting Factory, July 6th, 7:30pm, as part of the CBGB Festival.
A Conversation With Marillion's Steve Hogarth
Mike Ragogna: Hello, Steve, and welcome to Solar-Powered KRUU-FM. How are you?
Steve Hogarth: Hello! I'm fine! I'm speaking to you on a telephone entirely powered by rain here in England.
MR: (laughs) Aren't most things powered by rain in England?
SH: (laughs) It's all we've got! It's been raining for a month!
MR: Oh my. Well, come on out here! We've had a lot of good weather in Iowa lately.
SH: I hate you for your good weather. I'm coming, yes.
MR: (laughs) Very nice. Steve, Marillion is embarking on a tour, and it's a little different than most, right?
SH: Well, yes, I think what's different about this tour is that some of the key cities we'll be playing. We will play for two nights--not one--and we will play two shows that have absolutely nothing in common with each other except that five of us are on stage, of course. There won't be one song that is common to both nights. There'll be two almost two-hour shows that will be completely different in terms of music. So you have every reason to come to both. If you miss one, then you'll have missed a whole show. You won't just have missed a couple of songs.
MR: And you'll also be performing on many continents as well.
SH: During the year, goodness me, yes! We're playing South America a little later this year. We're with you in North America and Canada of course in June. We'll be in Scandinavia in July. We'll be in Poland a little later in the year, and we might pop up to Russia. But I think they're still pulling that together, and then Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico toward the end of the year. And then, of course, as soon as we get the year out of the way, we'll begin rehearsing for the next convention, which is basically a thing where the world comes to us. We take over at Center Parcs' Holiday Camp in Holland, and people fly from everywhere and party for three solid days, and we play three completely different shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to everybody. That went on sale, and that's just two and a half thousand people, but I think it nearly sold out in the first day, so we're looking forward to doing that next Spring as well. So this is going to feel like one long tour with this weekend party on the end of it.
MR: Sounds like a party, I want to go!
SH: Oh, you should come! It's an amazing experience. I mean it really is like someone's taken all the fans we have from every corner of the planet and put them together in a bar to have a drink and watch their favorite band play. It's an amazing atmosphere.
MR: Well, speaking of fans, can you also go into what this Swap The Band fan submission endeavor is?
SH: Yeah, sure. That's something we've done ever since we started these conventions up. In addition to playing three two or two and a half hour shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which, of course, entails us rehearsing about seven hours of material, we also opened up a competition to fans. There are a lot of fans out there who are very good musicians in their own right, and we said send us tapes or CDs or MP3s or whatever of you playing one of our songs on whichever instrument you play, and you can replace one of us. You can actually get up on stage, and if you're a guitarist, our guitar player will sit out, and you can play a song with the rest of the band. You can basically become a member of our band for a day or for as long as it takes, and we usually have someone come along and play the drums instead of Ian, and then Ian will get back on stage and someone will play keyboards instead of Mark. We even had young Kali Armstrong get up and do a song last time. She's the--let me get this right--granddaughter of Neil Armstrong, the astronaut. She got up on stage and replaced me! (laughs) It's always great fun to stand at the side of the stage and watch somebody making you redundant.
MR: First of all, no on can replace you, Mr. Hogarth. Although, let's educate the fans a little bit here, let's have just a slight history lesson. Steve, you took over as Marillion's lead vocalist after a certain Fish left.
SH: That was in 1989. Yeah, he left in '88, and they made four albums with him, which included a very successful album called Misplaced Childhood over here in Europe, and he left in '88. I joined in January of '89, and we went on to make another--now let me get this right--twelve albums, not including the compilations and the live stuff, but another twelve studio albums. We're making what will now be the band's seventeenth album, just now.
MR: When Fish left and you took on the reins of lead singer, the band absolutely changed as far as material and direction. May I ask you what you feel you brought into the mix that contributed to that?
SH: Well, when I met them, I said, "What exactly is it that you're looking for here?" I didn't say this, but my gut feeling was that I was the wrong man for the job because I thought they were going to say to me, "Here's our last album, and it sounds like this, and it's sold quite a lot of copies, and we're making quite a good living. Do you think you could do this?" But they didn't say that to me. They just said, "Look, we've heard what you do, and we like what you do, and we were just wondering if you'd just do what you do and we'll do what we do, and we'll see what happens. We'll see what that produces." So I was given the brief, really, when I met the band, to be myself, and you can't be given a much better brief than that. So I guess from the moment we met, I was myself, and what myself is, I guess you'd have to listen to all those albums to start to discover what I'm about. But I'm a very personal and truthful writer; I'm quite a confessional lyricist. But then, so was Fish, to be fair, so I don't think I brought that, though I suppose I brought my own confession. And I've also brought a sense of adventure to the band, musically. We really started kicking out into all kinds of wild areas shortly after I joined the band.
MR: Which areas would you say?
SH: Goodness, where would I start? You know, we've explored reggae, we've explored gospel influences, we've made songs that sound like Phil Spector, we've made songs that sound like The Beach Boys and The Beatles. All of those influences have kind of been mixed together with what the band was to start with, so album to album, we've attempted--not in a self-conscious or manipulative way--to make a rule that we should try not to repeat ourselves, and we should keep trying new things. So album to album, we've been changing an awful lot.
MR: And certainly the arrangements. "Cover My Eyes," with that beautiful falsetto hook you sing, has always been one of my favorites because of the freedom in the arrangement and the passion and energy in your vocals. It should have been a US hit.
SH: Well, thanks. I'm blessed, really, with quite a range, and I can sound, in my lower registers, quite moody; but I dip in and out of falsetto as well. I also have quite a high range in full voice. I can sing quite high in full voice before I need or choose to use falsetto, so that gives me the chance to just play with it a little bit. And, of course, because we write the way we write--which is by jamming and just generally experimenting--it's not like someone else is writing it and saying, "Here's the melody." So I'm coming up with all the melodies, and I can experiment and be as peculiar or as sensible and wide ranging, really.
MR: Is there a little backstory you can share about "No One Can"?
SH: You know, when you're in a band, you're parted from the people you love a lot. You get onto a bus and get driven away and taken to other parts of the world. It's not the easiest environment in which to hold a loving relationship together, and sometimes, you've just got to remind the person you love that you're there's and not anybody else's. I wrote that song for that reason.
MR: And, of course, there's your classic, "Easter." What a wonderful folk-meets progrock adventure that is. What's the story behind "Easter?" Maybe how you created it, what it's about, all that?
SH: Yeah, well, interestingly enough, that's a song I wrote before I met the band, so right up to where you hear the guitar solo start, I had actually written and demoed that song in that form. When I met the band, I was carrying all these little cassette tapes around in a red plastic bucket, and when we were writing together, if we were getting a bit low on ideas, the boys would say to me, "What have you got in the bucket, Steve?" So I dipped into the bucket one day, and brought this one out, and they all liked it and took it from there. You know there's a song called "The Skye Boat Song," which is almost an anthem for Scotland. I wanted to try to write "The Skye Boat Song" for Ireland. I wanted to write a song that could be an anthem for the Irish people. I had spent a bit of time in Belfast, and I was shocked by what an uplifting and free place it was, much to my surprise, because in those days, it was the height of the trouble, and whenever you'd turn on the TV in England, you saw this city that was portrayed as some kind of war zone with terrorists around every corner and a deeply divided city. So when I went there for myself and discovered that it was quite the opposite and one of the friendliest and most easy going cities I've ever been to, almost like a very large village, my heart went out to the people in Northern Ireland, the ordinary people who wanted nothing to do with all of this trouble, who, nonetheless, had to live amongst it and had to bring their kids up around soldiers with automatic weapons wandering down their streets. So I tried to write a song for those people, the people who wanted nothing but peace and freedom from that every day oppression. That was really where the song came from.
MR: Thank you very much for that explanation. I've been curious about it, and it touches me to this day. Steve, let's get back to the concert series again. There's one other feature about, well, not so much the concerts, but for the merchandise that you're selling. There are profits that are going towards a charity. Can you go into what that might be about?
SH: Yes, the Hoping Foundation is a foundation which exists to try to give kids in Palestine, and particularly in Gaza and the West Bank, artistic outlets. They provide facilities so these kids can go to music school, so they can paint, so they can do drama classes, dance classes, and this foundation really exists to try to get the next generation of Palestinian children into a better place in their heads than the environment in which they're living might push them. It's a very, very difficult existence that a lot of people, particularly in Gaza, must endure. Like Ireland, a great majority of the people just want to live their lives like we all do everywhere in the world, but the political situation and history has thrown them into this predicament where they live as permanent refugees. It's not good enough, and I'm busy writing a song about that at the moment. I'm writing a song that is primarily for the children, and so we will contribute to the Hoping Foundation. I've got to stress that this is in no way connected to Palestine on any sort of political level. It's simply for funding art projects and extra-curricular schooling activities, in particular, the arts for the young people of Palestine.
MR: You've undertaken a lot of ventures over the years, and a couple of them were fan-funded projects. For instance, you fan-funded a tour, and even an album.
SH: Well, it was you guys in America who did this for us. We're eternally grateful for where you guys took us. What happened was after we parted company with our label EMI, we didn't have the kind of tour support that we had needed in the past to play the club tours that we played in the US. All we said was that we were sorry, but we can't come to America this time out with this particular album, which happened to be an album called This Strange Engine back in 1997. Some guy over in the States decided that wasn't good enough, and he opened a bank account, and he put up a message on an Internet message board because in those days--we're talking before browsers even, we're just talking about message boards--this guy called Jeff Pelletier put a message up on a board and said, "I want to raise the money for Marillion to come here, and if anybody feels the way I do, I've opened a bank account. Here's the number, send the money." And by the time I heard about it--and bearing in mind I'm the singer in the band, for God's sake--they'd already raised $20,000. They subsequently raised $60,000 and said, "Okay, here's the money. When are you coming?" So of course, we went, and we came away from the experience with three things. First of all, we came away with a guy that we ran into in Cleveland, Ohio, called Erik Nielsen, and he knew how to program websites. He understood the coding and all of that stuff, which is still a mystery to me, so we brought him back to England. We came back to England with the knowledge. We learned two things--these fans of ours will think nothing of putting their hand in their pocket and putting their money where their hearts and minds are for us. The second thing we learned was that the internet, something we should get onto. So we became the first band in the UK to have a website, and from that day forward, we began using the internet to create a real feeling of a family...not a fan base anymore, but a family. The people who were into this band were our people. It was no longer a one-way thing, it was a two-way thing, so we have a dialog with our fans, and we keep very close to them. Over the years, this whole thing has been lauded as a business model. I believe they're even asking questions about it now. Oxford University music business economics exams are including the Marillion business model. But the truth of it really is that this was something that one American, along with a whole load of other American faithful fans, gave to us as a present, and we're eternally grateful for it.
MR: It's amazing to see that kind of organization and from fans had. Now, they not only funded an album, but hit singles as well, and one of them charted at #7.
SH: Yeah, it carried on from there. Once we started, we certainly thought, "Okay, let's not do another record. They give us some money to make a record, and then they put ten times as much money into their bank account and then offer us some more the following year. Why on earth are we doing that? Wouldn't we be better off to have control?" So by the time we started thinking about this, we had started collecting data on our fans, and we started to have a good idea of who a lot of them were, and we had been collecting email addresses. We started putting emails out saying, "Look, we've had this idea. How would you guys feel about this? Suppose we asked you to buy the record that we haven't even recorded yet, and buy it tomorrow. How would you feel about that?" Everybody came back and said, "Sure, where do we send the money?" So, suddenly, we were in this position where we were selling tens of thousands of albums that we hadn't recorded yet, and we didn't need to do a record deal, and we had complete control over our music. We didn't have to sign the rights of our music away to anyone. In fact, I think the second time we did that, we then went to EMI records and said, "Okay, we've got a business proposition for you. Would you be interested in licensing our next album," which was Anoraknophobia. We said, "We're happy to license this to you worldwide so you can put it out." And they went, "Well, of course," and we said, "Well, there's a catch. You can't have the first 15,000 copies. They're ours. Are you still interested?" They said, "Well, it's unusual. We've never heard of anyone coming to us with an offer like this before." I think they figured maybe they could do at least another 85 to 100 thousand copies, so they were prepared to let us have the first 15 thousand. So we began, not through any kind of genius, just through evolution, creating these new ways, that it was possible for a band to go forward in the music business with great control and with much more involvement and closeness to their own fans.
MR: Steve, what advice do you have for new artists?
SH: Well, it's the same advice anyone might ever have had. First of all, get good. If you've got to do it, do it properly. If you've got to write words, write words that mean something. If you're going to write music, make sure you write some good tunes, and make sure you get yourself a good band together, step one. And then once you've got that good band together, put all your time and effort into the creative process. Don't get too sidetracked on doing covers and trying to keep people happy. You're artists, for God's sake! Make art! And then, once you've gotten good, get out and play live as much as you can. Expose what you're doing. Be proud of yourself, and expose what you're doing to as many people as possible. When you've finished your set or your show at the end of the night, be sure to say to everybody, "Look, if you like what you've heard tonight, if you're into what we're doing, there's a bucket in the corner there, go and leave you're email address in it for us, and we'll keep in touch with you and let you know what we're going to do next. We won't sell your names to anyone else down the river. You can trust us. It'll be just for you and us. We'll let you know what we're doing, where we're going to play next time." You need to know who it is who's getting excited about what you do. If someone's excited enough to come see you play and wants to come and see you play again, then they won't mind you having their email address either, if they feel they can trust you. And you should make it clear that they can. And it's not going to be easy, but then it never was. Back in the good old days or bad old days, you'd spend ten or fifteen years trying to get a record deal. These days, you don't have to do that, but you still need to take the time it takes to get good and to build up an audience, maybe one guy and one girl at a time. But make sure that as that audience builds up, you know who they are and you can email them. Then you can get to a point where, provided there's a sufficient amount of faith and enthusiasm for the music you're making, you will discover that those people will support you. They'll do anything for you because they believe in you. That's the advice I would give to kids out there today starting up. Don't wait for the music business to come to you because it won't. It's down to you. Make it happen. Believe in what you're doing, and make it happen yourself. But make sure you know who's listening to you.
MR: It's been a pleasure talking with you, Steve. I want to join Marillion. How does one do that?
SH: (laughs) You have to sleep with the drummer! It's as simple as that! I did!
MR: (laughs) Is there any other way?
SH: Not one I can think of! You could probably bump one of us off! (laughs)
MR: Any more words of wisdom? Any new releases by Steve Hogarth?
SH: Well, I've just released one with Richard Barbieri. It was a joint effort between me and him. Richard is the synthesizer player with a band called The Porcupine Tree. He used to play with a band called Japan in the 1980s, and he's a genius, and we've created a really beautiful album together called Not The Weapon But The Hand, which is on K Scope Records, and I believe that's in the shops at the moment there. So check that out, and please, please, please come and have a look at https://www.Marillion.com, our website. And please also come and have a look at my website https://www.SteveHogarth.com. I have a guest book there where people come and leave messages for me. I go and have a look every few days and sometimes put a message up there myself. You'll start to get a feeling for what we're all about if you come and have a look at the guest book and read what people are saying. You'll get the feeling for the kind of spirit that we've got going in my band. It's a beautiful thing. We once joked that it wasn't just the band, it was a better way of life, and it kind of became our slogan. So find a better way of life, and come and have a look at our website.
MR: Thank you so much, Steve. I really appreciate your smarts.
SH: Well, you couldn't get a word in edgewise, could you. I do talk too much.
MR: (laughs) No, I gabbed a lot myself. Please come back sometime in the future, this was fun.
SH: Yeah, thank you for your time, too. It's been a pleasure.
MR: And don't be surprised if I end up at Center Parcs' Holiday Camp in Holland.
SH: You'd be mad not to!
Transcribed by Kyle Pongan
(l-r: Steve Rothery, Mike Ragogna, Steve Hogarth)
photo credit: Gerald Grohmann
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008