In its 37 years as a band, Marillion has accomplished almost all of the things that a collective of musicians would strive for. The group has had platinum-selling releases in its native country and elsewhere, recorded numerous internationally-charting hit songs, played large venues on most of the world’s continents, and become regarded as one of the top artists of its genre. The fanbase of the prog-rock band is so dedicated that it has not only produced an annual Marillion convention for nearly a decade and a half, but it crowdfunded a United States tour before that concept even really existed.
Released on Sept. 23, FEAR is the 18th studio album by Marillion. Produced by Mike Hunter in conjunction with the band, FEAR has already charted in the Top 10 in England, Scotland, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. International touring in support of FEAR continues with a Nov. 8 appearance at the PlayStation Theater. The current touring lineup of vocalist Steve Hogarth, guitarist Steve Rothery, keyboardist Mark Kelly, bassist Pete Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosley has been in tact since 1989, promising Marillion’s live set in New York to be tight and focused as ever.
Downtown caught up with Steve Rothery for some Q&A, covering the past, present and future of Marillion. The quintet can be visited online at www.marillion.com, beyond keeping up accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
Where was the first gig that you ever played live in New York City? What was it like?
SR: It was at the Pier 84 supporting Todd Rundgren on the 8th August, 1983. It was a pretty good audience as I remember, unlike our subsequent New York concerts later in the year supporting Rush at Radio City, which was like being thrown to the lions!
For someone coming to see you at the PlayStation Theater, what should be expected? A mix of songs from all your albums? I ask because, your band has now released 18 albums and its songs are known to be more than four minutes apiece.
SR: The set will be a mixture of what we consider to be some of our strongest material from over the years, and will also include two or three tracks from our new album FEAR.
How would you describe the new Marillion album to a long-time fan that hasn’t heard it yet?
SR: It’s powerful, cinematic and contains some of our strongest work. Most critics have placed it in the top three of our album releases.
Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
SR: Probably “The New Kings” or “White Paper.”
When it comes time to writing longer songs, or “suites,” what is the creative process like? Do you write everything cohesively? Or piece together fragments?
SR: We jam around ideas for a few months which are then used as the building blocks for the creation of the new songs. They continue to evolve over time.
Marillion is possibly the first notable band to ever put out a fan-funded album. Where did that idea come from?
SR: When we announced that we couldn’t afford to tour the U.S. in 1997 because we’d lose $60,000, a fan started a tour fund using the Freaks mailing list on the Internet; this was before the WWW became popular. The fans raised $70,000, enabling us to tour the U.S., and we noticed that the single largest contribution was from the U.K. It showed us that the Marillion fanbase was a global community and that the Internet would one day be very important in us reaching that fan base. When we were free of a label, we approached our fans and asked if they’d be interested in paying for a new album a year before it was released. Over 10,000 said yes which enables us to make the Anoraknophobia album.
Years before that, the band also had a U.S. tour crowdfunded. Beyond loyal, is there a way to describe the average Marillion fan?
SR: Intelligent and passionate about good music.
Next year brings the 15th Marillion Convention. What happens at one of those?
SR: They’re a gathering of 3,000 of our most ardent fans from around the world. We play three different concerts over the three nights and the atmosphere is truly incredible.
More than 35 years since Marillion first formed, is there a particular accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
SR: Making the music we wanted to make with very little interference and the consistency of our albums over the last 34 years.
When not busy with Marillion, how do you like to spend your free time? Are you still running the British Guitar Academy?
SR: Free time, what’s that? (laughs) I released my solo album The Ghosts Of Pripyat in 2014 and I’ve toured that quite a lot. I also recently released the first volume of my Postcards From The Road photographic diary.
Do you have a favorite album of 2016?
SR: Dave Foster’s Dreamless.
In having toured New York for decades, do you have a favorite restaurant in town?
Finally, Steve, any last words for the kids?
SR: I’m really looking forward to playing New York again, it’s such an amazing city. I’m even staying on for four days afterwards for a holiday with my wife.