Interview by Victoria Llewelyn / Photos (C) Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media
MARILLION’S STEVE ROTHERY TALKS ABOUT A LIFETIME OF EVOCATIVE MUSIC, MARILLION OVER THE YEARS, THE UPCOMING STEVE ROTHERY BAND SHOWS AND SPINNING PLATES IN 2023.
With several different projects on the go it’s proving to be busier than ever for guitar virtuoso and Prog Rock Royalty Steve Rothery. The Steve Rothery Band return for a 2023 tour, Marillion Weekenders are being rehearsed, albums are planned with Steve Hackett and Thorsten Quaeschning, and another solo project is on its way. There’s a lot to discuss!
MGM: Marillion are a unique band in so many ways, over the time the band has evolved there seems to have been no scarcity of inspiration when it comes to new music. What is it that keeps this machine moving ever-onward and the creativity at such alpine levels, and for you in particular when it comes to creating new music?
SR: Firstly, you have to enjoy it. You’ve got to enjoy each other’s company. Steve (H)’s been in the band for 34 years and 99% of the time, we all get on really well together still, so that’s the first thing. More importantly, however, we still have an amazing creative chemistry between us. We still all get very excited about creating new music, which usually isn’t the case by this point in a band’s career. You have maybe your first three or four albums and then you almost turn into a tribute band to yourself, and we’ve bucked that trend. The last album showed that we still have a lot to say, we’re not burnt out, we’ll be doing this until one or more of us falls over.
Creatively, with Marillion, it’s down to the five of us being in the room – we had a bit of a break during the pandemic, then when I came back into the writing process, I was so happy to be back in the room and to be able to play. I think a lot of the time musicians express themselves better through their music than they do with words. We’re all maybe a little bit dysfunctional when it comes to that, so it was great to have that outlet again. Outside of Marillion, music is just what you are, so every time you pick up a guitar, you might have an idea. It’s always a struggle not to repeat yourself, just to feel it, it’s an almost intangible thing, the whole creative urge and the desire to create something out of nothing.
MGM: How does the creative process work with Marillion, between the five of you? Do you have a winning formula or is the old blackboard and chalk method the band is known for still in operation?
SR: No, that’s long gone! Everything we do is recorded and catalogued on mp3s on a private SoundCloud account, so as we’re pulling together the ideas for an album, we all make our shortlist of favourite ideas, which we then work on moving forward. But the funny thing is, we had to choose, once, ten ideas out of thirty at one point, and not one of us chose the same idea. There was zero overlap between the five of us, so it’s quite ridiculous, it’s amazing we ever agree on anything! Then it comes down to the producer, really, it’s a creative team of six people. You have to trust the producer’s expertise, things change and evolve, and maybe ideas that you didn’t necessarily feel too excited about you might come to with fresh ears and you add something to it that in your mind, transforms and elevates it.
MGM: Marillion have always been a big touring band, almost every album released has been taken on tour in your history. After the enforced hiatus putting a stop to this do you feel things are back to normal now?
SR: It’s getting there. I don’t think it’s quite back to normal, but it’s most of the way there. The pandemic was very strange. We were quite fortunate that the only thing that we had booked during that first year was the Cruise to the Edge, which was postponed anyway, and is ironically, when everyone in the band who avoided COVID for the previous eighteen months caught COVID. Touring is just part and parcel of being a musician, sometimes it can be a lot of fun, sometimes it can be drudgery.
We did a tour around Europe in November of last year and we were on a tour bus for over four weeks. I don’t really sleep well on a tour bus, so by the end of that, I was exhausted. You come back and you’re run down and then you get ill, usually, which I did, a really terrible cough for a couple of weeks. So that aspect of touring isn’t so great.
On the other hand, the first time we went to Brazil, we had a show in San Paolo followed by a show in Rio six days later, so we had six days off in Rio, which was very nice! We chartered a sailing boat off the coast of Rio and it was like being in a Duran Duran video. Those are the good parts, many happy memories there.
MGM: Marillion shows can be quite breathtaking, with the added spectacular light shows, and fans watching get very emotional and immersed in the music. As performers you’re all very different onstage. You appear very still and introspective, highlighted by Steve’s animated, emotional performance a few feet away from you. Where are you, in yourself, when you’re playing live onstage?
SR: I probably don’t move because I’m too stubborn! I’m not a performer in the running around the stage, throwing shapes kind of way. For me, it’s all about the music and trying to convey the music with maximum emotion and intensity. For example, when we play ‘The Crow and the Nightingale’ from the last album, we get to the end of the song and the guitar solo, and you see the reaction of the audience to that. The release of emotion; it’s quite moving.
I remember we had a show in Mexico City about ten years ago and there was this row of guys in the front with tears streaming down their faces because the music was resonating so deeply with them and it meant so much to them, which is an amazing thing. It’s a bit of a responsibility at the same time, in that you never want to make a bad record because God knows what would happen if you did! The way that music can connect so deeply with people, it’s magical.
Our music’s not pop music, it’s not disposable, have something on in the background while you’re doing something else type music. It’s music people immerse themselves into and they feel a lot of the things that Steve writes about lyrically, people identify with them, be it a loss or a love, it connects very deeply which I think music should do. All my favourite music has that quality, both lyrically and musically, to transcend just five guys on stage making a noise, and to aspire to be something more involved and more important than that.
MGM: Marillion Weekenders – these events are legendary amongst fans, the next one being Leicester on 27th and 28th May this year. What are your thoughts about these uber-gigs and which ones stand out for you?
SR: The Port Zelande shows are off the scale because 3000 of your most dedicated fans have flown in from around the world and they’re going to have a party no matter what, and they react in such an incredible way to the music. We cycle around from our chalets up to the tent with the stage, et cetera, and sometimes I’d go in one of the bars there to have a drink and a chat with some of the fans. The last time we did it, which was in 2019, things had got a little bit too intense to do that. I walked in to try and catch up with some of my friends and I only got a couple of steps inside the door before I was bombarded by people wanting selfies and autographs and stuff. You never want to disappoint people and you see exactly how much it means to them, but if you’re in a room with 800, 900 people who all want that, and you’ve already played a two plus hour concert, and you’re pretty shattered, and all you wanted to do was grab a drink and say hi to some friends you haven’t seen in years it can be a little bit of hard work in that respect.
MGM: The Steve Rothery Band is coming back to Manchester in June, for two dates at Band On The Wall, prior to heading out to Europe in September for a few weeks. Are you looking forward to getting back with the SRB, and have you any more projects going on with other musicians currently?
SR: We’ve played Band On The Wall a few times and whenever the SRB put together a few shows, be it London or Cambridge or Glasgow, Band On The Wall is always the best. I’ve only got little windows of opportunity both with the Marillion timetable and with Martin (Jakubski) the vocalist, who sings in two other bands and works in the real world as well. Trying to squeeze these shows in was quite a challenge, but we have them, and then shows all across Europe in September and beginning of October, so it should be quite a party. The band get on really well. It’s always a fantastic atmosphere. It’s more like going on a holiday with your best mates than going to work.
They’re all lovely, lovely people. We’ve known each other since the first album was made nearly ten years ago. Dave Foster is with us, Leon Parr is on drums, Yatim Halimi on bass, who’s based down in Swansea but is originally from Singapore, Martin Jakubski from Glasgow sings, and Ricardo Romano is on keyboards. I’ve just been doing some work with Ricardo; whilst everyone else had a week off where they flew to various parts of the world, I was locked in the Racket Club writing some music for my space themed album ‘Revontulet’, and also working on some tracks for an album I’m doing with Steve Hackett that we’ve been talking about and working on and off for about the last six or seven years.
MGM: For the Band On The Wall shows, you’re going to play the entire ‘Misplaced Childhood’ album on one night, and the same with ‘Clutching At Straws’ on the second, along with a variety of other Marillion songs and some from the ‘Ghosts of Pripyat’ album which has recently been re-released. How do you feel about performing these early albums now and what does it mean to you?
The early music, it takes you right back to that age you were when you first heard it, how it felt and what your personal situation was, maybe, at the time. Certain music has the same effect on me – I always remember a couple of albums by John Martin that I used to listen to when I was about 20, and it’s evocative.
MGM: What would you say have been the high points in your career in music and why?
SR: For me, it’s always been hitting the milestones. The first time you hear yourself on the radio, the first time you have a record in the charts, first time you do TV, first time you play outside of the UK – when we did a concert in Germany, as special guests to Queen, which was about 160,000 people, just bizarre! One of the last shows we did with Fish was a headliner at a festival in East Berlin, and I think that was about 90,000 people just to see us, which was crazy. I was saying about these two shows in Brazil, they’re on film as well, it was just incredible to walk on stage in a country you’ve never been to, and there’s people with their lighters up all around the stadium, 70 or 80,000 people cheering for us and flickering their lights in in the heat in San Paolo. It was so unexpected, to have that kind of amazing response from that audience.
The first Albert Hall Show that we filmed, that’s up there with one of my very special occasions, I’d say. I’m just so grateful that we managed to capture that, because I can’t imagine ever beating it as a concert. We’ve had so many great shows in the Netherlands. The Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht is always incredible. The Zenith in Paris, we have amazing shows there. We’ve had so many fantastic shows all around the world that they all kind of blur together to a certain extent.
Sometimes you get to the end of the year and look through the photos on your phone of all the different places you’ve been and things that you’ve done, and it’s exhausting just to look at them. You can imagine 40 odd years of that. It’s like a lifetime.
MGM: Have you ever wanted to do anything else but music?
SR: Not really. Photography is the other thing that I really enjoy, that I’ve got any sort of ability for, but pretty much music is all I can really do, or all I would want to do. I do a little bit of production and stuff, but writing music gives you a satisfaction that pretty much nothing else could.
The first volume of photographs I published, ‘Postcards From The Road’, came out a few years ago, and that’s still available from the Marillion website. Volume two is something that’s been a work in progress, but given that I’m in the middle of making three other albums apart from Marillion at the moment – my Revontulet space album, my album with Steve Hackett, and also an album with Thorsten Quaeschning from Tangerine Dream, I’m spinning a lot of plates! It may be a while before I can turn my attention to that, but it actually starts with my photos from the chateau in France where we did the recording of ‘Brave’, they are some really atmospheric and interesting photos. I’m looking forward to publishing them, when I can get a minute!
Tickets for the Marillion Weekender in Leicester and the Steve Rothery Band in Manchester are available from
marillion.com | The Official Website