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Fish: “I like the spiritual essence of the garden, because you are doing something and you are there. You are physically watching it grow. I think at this point in time, it is very positive.”

Na onze tweeledige introductiereeks is de tijd nu aangebroken om ons derde deel van het grote interview met Fish te publiceren. Het afscheidsalbum ‘Weltschmerz’ is nu verkrijgbaar en dit bijkomende gesprek gebeurde dan ook nadat we dit album hadden kunnen beluisteren. Onze gezellige finale met de rijzige Schot verliep als volgt.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 23 oktober 2020

Hello Derek, this is our second conversation this year and now we focus on the album ‘Weltschmerz’ itself. You worked on it for five years and of course lots of things happened in the world and in your personal life in the meantime. Can you tell something about the things that really struck you during this period of writing?
A lot of things happened indeed. I got this idea in 2015 when I was doing the ‘Farewell To Childhood’ tour, but things got to be moved, because I got an issue that turned into a viral infection and my keyboard player broke his arm. So we moved the dates to 2016 and at that time I already knew that my father was ill. Coming back from the tour, we had to deal with this situation and eventually he died at the end of May 2016. That was difficult to deal with. I could not write anything and went to the garden all the time. The problem was that my head was full of ideas, but I could not get them on paper. At the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 I had two big surgery operations, one on my back, one on my shoulder which took me out of business for months. I really did not manage to get something on paper until the end of 2017. That was the song ‘Little Man What Now?’ which was the first one for this album. Then we came down to the music and Steve Vantsis and producer Calum Malcolm were involved, but that was early 2018 that we started to write the songs. But then we had the ‘Clutching At Straws 30th Anniversary’ tour which was very good, but the writing was not going as fast as I thought it would. It was very slow. I was suffering from depression. I also had sepsis twice in 2019 and my mother needed permanent care, so we let her move in here to help her. I was going through strenuous days, psychological and physical   In the end it was not earlier than the end of 2019 before we had the core of the album.

So the album is a reflection of what you were going through…
Obviously it has affected the album. The writing was affected by what was happening. A lot of the songs are very personal. All my emotions were sublimated and freed when writing.

Since it is so emotional and personal, where comes your co-writer Steve Vantsis then in sight?
Yes, we have been writing together since ‘13th Star’. Steve wanted to write with me way back in 2006. It was okay, we tried something to see what came out because he has a very different approach. We are genuine people when it comes to writing and things. I have stories, he understands what I try to come across, we discuss what the song is about before we really work on it. We have pieces and then we change keys and change time signatures and see what we can find. There is a lot to juggle around at the computer, we can alter things, and that’s how a small idea finally turns into a song. That’s how we assembled it, it is like a giant crossword.

One of my favourites is the long track ‘Rose Of Damascus’. Can you tell a bit more about that?
Yes, it is an incredible piece of cinema. I think that song could be a film, it is a screenplay itself. Actually we approached it with a very cinematic attitude. We wanted it big, we wanted to take it through different acts within the screenplay. It was intriguing and very challenging to put together. I wanted to use some spoken words on this last album and Steve said: ‘How do you see this end?’ I did not want a big crescent ending, I wanted it to fade out and leave it to imagination.

One of the parts that really moved me was: ‘in the debris of memories, it is a struggle to survive’…
That’s one of my favourite parts of the song actually. We call it: before going into the war section, the debris section. Both parts are very moving and I said to Steve ‘why not a key change there, I just need something to move on’. And he came up with that beautiful key change which is extraordinary.

It is an amazing album and another pro is that it is so long, a double album!
It is an album which works as a whole. The problem is that people approach music differently now and do not rate music anymore, they rate tracks on Spotify. But my aim is still writing an album. It is going to carry you over 84 minutes. I still have the wish to take the listener into the whole thing, involve them in the stories.

In April we talked for the first time, now in September we are still dealing with covid-19. How did you experience this whole situation?
A very strange experience. I feel very isolated from the entire album release experience. All the media is handled with telephones, from a distance. As I said before, we are living in our little oasis on the countryside here, but I am still very aware of what’s going on. We are working in the garden and stay at home. Now we are waiting for the album coming back from the manufacturing process. That’s the next mountain. When we finished the album, Steve Vantsis said: ‘Great, that’s it’. I said: ‘Wow, that’s it for you. Now I got the next mountains to climb.’ I am walking on a range of mountains and the next one is the promotion. Then we got the release and then we are going to move on from there, but it is a very different rhythm, it is a different temperature. It is a very strange experience at the moment.

It is impossible to talk about upcoming shows, because they keep being delayed…
I moved everything to next year so far. Just be logical. We are not going to have a vaccine until next Summer for the general population. The uncertainty is the worst thing to deal with. The real problem is that the infection won’t be going down. In winter we are going to have another rise till February, March, so in July we will be in the same position as we are now in September. With another winter coming on. We keep on moving the gigs, but the problem is that in the end they are coming in the way of my farewell tour. At the moment I have a contract for all these dates. When we have to wait for another year for my farewell tour – in all honesty – I’d rather forget about all the gigs next year and go for a Farewell Tour in 2022. It is very frustrating, because we do not have a record company and sell everything through http://fishmusic.scot/ We are ready for that, so it is very strange. The merchandise and the gigs are the main selling experiences. But I have no willingness to travel across the country at the moment. It is difficult for my wife though, because we still have family in Germany. My two stepdaughters, one is in Germany and one is in Greece at the moment. We are kind of stuck at the moment, it is too dangerous. Sometimes it is heartbreaking and difficult, but we have to deal with it and there are people is a worse state to face these facts. So I am quite thankful for the ‘Grace of God’, just like I sing in the first song on the album.

Why do you consider ‘Clutching At Straws’ the best Marillion album?
Because I do (smiles). I really do. We were moving into a higher level – invited for TV shows like ‘Top of the Pops’ –  when we started to write songs like ‘Sugar Mice’ and ‘Incommunicado’. ‘Warm Wet Circles’ was another great song and single.  There were songs at that time who were moved to the ‘Vigil’ album, my first solo record. I wanted to write them, because the vision was so strong. That’s why ‘Vigil’ was so strong, I am in contact with Warner and probably ‘Vigil’ will be re-mastered early Summer next year.

Yes, I remember buying that album ‘Vigil’, still on vinyl of course…
The vinyl of ‘Weltschmerz’ is incredible. I have been listening to the vinyl version and it sounds so warm. It has a half speed mastering technique, which means that you catch all the details and it is so warm. Really beautiful. It is strange that I listened more to the album on vinyl than on CD.

How far are you in the process of making the video clips?
They are all done. The last one is ‘This Party’s Over’ which will be the next song that will be revealed at the end of September. It is some computer animation on a green screen by Miles Skarin. It works well. The video will be on the deluxe version of the album. There is vinyl, standard version which is a double CD and the deluxe version including clips, interviews and live stuff. That’s all versions coming out. Some bands release packages with T-shirts and things like that, but that is too complicated. Let us keep it simple.

Is there a perfect timing of the day when you get inspired?
No, it can happen anytime at any place. But I do not think of writing music anymore. This is really my last album. I ran into a film director a couple of weeks ago and we are talking about the idea of historical drama TV series. I was very excited to talk about that. When I start to become animated and highly enthusiastic, that’s a good sign. It is just an idea, let’s see where it goes in the next year or so. That is what I want to do. I want to write screenplays, I want to write memoires and I want to spend time and get my life back. As I said that is why covid-19 is so frustrating, because the lifeline is important. You cannot plan lifelines at the moment. It is not only about delaying gigs. You got to rehearse with people, you have to book them a hotel, you have to book a nightliner… look for rehearsal places. At the moment rehearsing is senseless, since we don’t know what’s going to happen in six months from now. There is no insurance for covid-19, thus the risk is so high. It is crazy.

How is it going in the garden?
They talk about climate change and I am starting to believe it, because in September and October I can work in the garden in T-shirt. Normally we don’t have carrots after July, now they keep on growing. We have lots of potatoes, We got salad, the pumpkins are coming through, The garden is doing great and next year, if I cannot tour, okay, I got a year in the garden.

I can imagine it feels like a kind of solace working in the garden…
I like the spiritual essence of the garden, because you are doing something and you are there. You are physically watching it grow. I think at this point in time, it is very positive.

Does your daughter already understand the value of it?
Last night she came over and we had dinner. Everything came from the garden except the pasta. The chilli, the onions, tomatoes, the peppers… everything came from the garden. It is a great feeling you know, watching grow something and eat it. Next year the garden goes to another level. Maybe I can give interviews in gardening (laughs).

Is there something you want to add to occlude this interview?
Well, like I said, we just have to deal with it, it is very frustrating. My sound engineer is living in Manchester and four weeks ago he said ‘I am going crazy. I am looking out of my window and there’s two pubs in the street and they are full. Nobody is wearing a mask and they are just acting as if nothing happens’.  He wanted to scream to them: wear a mask, think of social distancing, wash your hands and just do these simple things until we have it under control. If it is not under control, there are no live shows. These people should stop bothering people. The music business is left alone. I feel sorry for a lot of young bands. If this had happened back in 1982 when we just made the ‘Script’ album, if we had our first album and some people would have stopped it, that would have been outraging. Having your dream become real and being stopped by a virus and people’s behaviour would have been terrible. It is going to have a terrible effect on the young generations that’s coming through at the moment. I really feel sorry for the young bands, for the crew, for the bus drivers, for merchandising guys… they are all sitting there with nothing to do. I really appreciate the calls for theatre, actors and things like that, but you got to remember how many thousands of people are unemployed within the music business, unable to survive. The magazines… recently I talked to someone from an event magazine. It does not exist anymore, because there are no events. The music business is hit on so many levels.

And culture seems to be the black sheep…
But the good thing is that people are listening to music and I think that ‘Weltschmerz’ is an album of its time. It is an album you can sit down and listen to. I think it is going to be an exciting time over the next six months, when people start to discover it. I hope people start to hear the tracks on Spotify and conclude: ‘I want to get this album.’, because they want the whole thing together. That is my silver lining in the whole bug, you know. The album should have been called ‘Zeitgeist’ and I think it is a great album. I am very proud of it.

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