Steve Hogarth Interview: Marillion's Masterpiece of Waning Moments
Image attributed to Anne Marie Forker
Steve Hogarth, also known as “h,” is an English singer-songwriter and musician. Since 1989, he has been the lead singer of the British rock band Marillion and also performs additional keyboards and guitar. Hogarth was formerly a keyboardist and co-lead vocalist with the Europeans and vocalist with How We Live.
Marillion formed in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in 1979 and was the most commercially successful neo-progressive band of the 1980s. Fish (Derek William Dick) became widely known as the lead singer and lyricist from 1981 until he left in 1988. Along with Hogarth, the current members are Steve Rothery, Mark Kelly, Pete Trewavas and Ian Mosley. The band releases its 20th studio album, An Hour Before It’s Dark, on March 4, 2022.
"We were working during the lockdown, so any form of honest expression of my feelings couldn’t help but reference the plague."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Should I call you “Steve” or “h”?
Steve Hogarth: You can call me anything you want, sweetheart
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, since the other “Steve” is not here, we’ll use that name for the purpose of this interview. An Hour Before It’s Dark is truly an outstanding record. What was the process of coming up with the theme of the album?
Steve Hogarth: The theme arrived on its own, actually, despite my initial pledge not to write about the pandemic. I figured every artist on the planet would be writing about it, and no one would want to hear about it. So it was a no-no. We write by a process of jamming, listening, throwing everything away apart from accidental good moments and then distilling, and the happy accidents really happened without referencing the plague. Similarly, the climate crisis is very much into song arrangements.
Once we began getting into writing the songs, I was on the microphone looking at all my words or scatting streams of consciousness along with the music as it was jammed. The pandemic just kept finding a way in. We were working during the lockdown, so any form of honest expression of my feelings couldn’t help but reference the plague. The same was true of the climate crisis, which I think is very closely related to it. Cause and effect. This was also on my mind and has been for some years, so the lyric to “Be Hard on Yourself” had already written itself really.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you write all of the lyrics for every song, or was this a collaborative effort?
Steve Hogarth: I am cursed and blessed by the band to have complete responsibility for the lyrics. They have never gotten involved in them or asked me to change anything. Even when I namechecked Gloria Gaynor a few years back in a song called “Circular Ride” – partly out of devilment, ‘cause I knew it would rankle – no one asked me to change it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) What are the similarities and the differences between the music of An Hour Before It’s Dark and F.E.A.R. released in 2016?
Steve Hogarth: Similarities? Well, the writing process was identical. We have always written by jamming, listening and distilling, so that was the same. We never have a vision as such. It is only at the end that we can stand back and judge the work. Lyrically speaking, I sometimes have good things that aren’t used because they haven’t been lucky enough to sit with what the band were jamming. Sometimes, lyrics can sit on the shelf for years before they find a good musical home.
Differences? I think An Hour Before It’s Dark on the whole is a more energetic and relatively up-tempo collection of songs and music. F.E.A.R. was more trance-like and a moodier journey overall. This one often kicks ass, as you Americans would say.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Indeed, it does. “Murder Machines” is about the virus but also personal relationships?
Steve Hogarth: We’ve just lived (and many in the world are still living) through a time when to embrace another human being could carry the risk of killing that person. Not being able to hug the people you love is such an unnatural notion for us to cope with – like being in prison. The thought was how “Murder Machines” started.
My lyrics usually work on more than one level, sometimes several. You can kill someone by loving them, especially if that love is unrequited or “the love that dare not speak its name,” and I’m not just talking about what Oscar Wilde was referring to – but all “forbidden” loves. So the murder machine is the virus, but it can be people, too.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: “Be Hard on Yourself” was released last year. What kind of response did you get from fans about its message to take care of the planet?
Steve Hogarth: We played it in the UK on the November tour last year, and we were pleased to see it went down exceptionally well with the crowd. I don’t know if anyone changed their lives after hearing it. Every little nudge helps, though, I think.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How does “Sierra Leone” fit into the theme of the album?
Steve Hogarth: It kinda doesn’t in the sense that it’s not a song about the environment or the pandemic. But on the other hand, it is a song which questions consumerism and is more about human dignity. This poor man has just found a diamond as big as his hand, and yet, he refuses to sell it. It’s a symbol of power and defiance, a power he has for the first time in his life. He has a power to say “No,” a luxury he has never had before. So he lies on the beach and stares through it into the infinite.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: “Care” is possibly my favorite song on An Hour Before It’s Dark. Was it based on a true story?
Steve Hogarth: Section One, “Maintenance Drugs,” was inspired directly by my friend, Conrado, in Mexico City, who discovered he had inoperable tumors along his spine. He underwent many sessions of chemotherapy, and whenever he was having the treatment, he would send me a WhatsApp message with a smiling and defiant selfie. So I accompanied him on his journey. I am happy to say he is now in remission and feeling very well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So happy to hear that.
Steve Hogarth: “Care” is really a reflection on our mortality. No one knows how much time they’ve got left. None of us do. The middle section of the song ("An hour before it’s dark, and every cell") represents someone reconciling themselves to dying, treasuring his sacred memories and acknowledging and being grateful to those who have loved him and those he loves.
The third section represents the journey out of life but is also a thank you to the healthcare professionals who dedicate their lives and sometimes give their lives in the cause of caring for others. The angels in this world are not rendered in bronze or stone. They are working while we’re all sleeping. They’re caring.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Steve, why were you thinking about leaving music altogether before you joined Marillion?
Steve Hogarth: I’d given up. I had begun to hate it. My band, How We Live, had been through a record deal with CBS (now Sony) and put in the pressure cooker to deliver hit singles. A bunch of paranoid A&R men, accountants and lawyers, were trying to sit in judgment of our every move. It was awful. I decided to pack it in and become a milkman.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Good thing that didn’t happen! You’ve said, “If we had known when I joined Marillion what we know now, we’d have changed the name and been a new band.”
Steve Hogarth: Well, all of us have been dragging the dead skin around behind us which was “Marillion-with-Fish” versus “Marillion-with-h,” but we were always going to be a brand new band after I joined. That’s what everyone wanted, and that’s what they said to me. The decision not to change the name was borne out of defiance.
The boys wanted to say, “Fish wasn’t Marillion. We were.” So I understand them wanting to make that point. I’m sure there was also the fear that if the name changed, the fans might leave, and we might end up out in the cold without a record deal. So although we should have done it, there just never felt like a good time to do it. And there still doesn’t. The downside is that we have to put up with the comparisons from a handful of people who probably haven’t noticed Buddy Holly’s dead yet either.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes. There are still threads on the internet titled, “Fish era vs. Hogarth era.”
Steve Hogarth: Buddy Holly is dead. Elvis is dead. And Prince Philip. And Meatloaf. You can’t have ‘em back. Get over it. The band that wrote “Easter,” “Estonia,” “The Invisible Man,” “Gaza,” “The New Kings” and “Care” are not the band that wrote “Kayleigh.” That band is dead, too. We just happen to have the same name. If you don’t like what we do, go home and listen to Fugazi. It’s really not my problem.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How would you describe the average Marillion fan?
Steve Hogarth: The average Marillion fan is affectionate. It’s beautiful to behold.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: On Marillion’s website, it says the band is “one of the UK music scene’s best kept secrets.” Why is that?
Steve Hogarth: Because we’re not mainstream. We’re not even in the music business – the hit single, the radio hit, the zeitgeist, the “where it’s at.” We’re not “where it’s at,” but we’re where you should be.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’ve been listening to your podcast called The Corona Diaries to understand your “psyche” as the intro says. What does make you tick?
Steve Hogarth: What makes me tick? The love of a good woman, my family, my kids, nature, good words, good music, the fans, friends, gin, tequila. Probably in that order.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: On the podcast, you also talk about some of the stories that have shaped your life. What’s one of those stories?
Steve Hogarth: My dad was a sailor, and he used to come home on leave and tell me stories about the equator and the Panama Canal, Montego Bay, flying fish, dolphins, banana spiders. He lit the fire of wanderlust and romance in me and showed me there was a big world of magic out there way beyond the little town where I grew up. I think that was pivotal. Everything else – good and bad – flowed from that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David Crosby recently said he was done with Spotify not just because of Joe Rogan but because they are “scummy people,” as they and the other streaming services are ripping the artists off by not paying them what they should be paying them. Comments?
Steve Hogarth: It has always been the case that the music business rips off artists. Spotify are the latest gang to the table. I haven’t met them, so I don’t know if they’re scummy people. I heard they did cash deals under the table with the major labels for their catalogues, though. As such, those deals weren’t liable for royalty payments, so the artists didn’t receive royalties at all on the big deal. That’s pretty scummy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Name the one musician in the world you’d love to spend an entire day with and why.
Steve Hogarth: Dead: Keith Moon because it would be a scream. Living: Ronnie Wood because I think he’d have a few good stories. He’s a painter as well as a musician and, by all accounts a very nice chap.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your daughter, Sofi, has done some singing with the band. Are your two sons also musicians?
Steve Hogarth: Nial, my older boy, is a drummer. He has also sung on our albums occasionally. Emil, my youngest, also drums, and even at his young age of 13 is pretty deft with the LogicX, cutting up samples.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: As you’re getting older, do you ever get tired of the travel and the preparation of a tour?
Steve Hogarth: No. I consider myself very lucky to live this way. As for performing, well, everything else is worse.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Any final thoughts, Steve, on An Hour Before It’s Dark?
Steve Hogarth: Too early to say … it’s going down well, though.
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