Rothery, Steve (Wishing Tree, Marillion) (June 2000)


A Chat With Tree Surgeon Steve Rothery About His WISHING TREE

[Several years ago I had the pleasure to meet Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery in London to talk about his then newly founded project The Wishing Tree and his own Dorian label. So far only three Dorian releases have ever been released: Wishing Tree's Carnival Of Souls in '96, Jadis' Somersault in '97 and Mr. So & So's The Overlap also in '97. Since then we have heard very little. Even the website, which can be found at www.dorianmusic.co.uk, still holds all of the same information from three years ago. {2011 - now belongs to a Scottish band -ed.} Nevertheless an interesting interview!]

Steve Rothery (courtesy)I'm pacing up and down amidst the massively filled racks on the first floor of the Virgin Megastore in London's Oxford Street. Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery had called to meet me at half past two in the basement: "where the books are." I notice that the "basement" is filled to the rim with videos whilst the ground floor has become a "shopping mall" for dance crazies. Times change! Now the books, I find, are on the first floor. I wander through the many Beatles biographies, trillions of pages on number one hype Oasis and more potential gifts. I expect to find my contact tucked away in one book or another, but alas no Rothery. Half an hour later than arranged, the escalator brings his round figure into my neighbourhood. We agree to find a quieter spot to talk about the man's project The Wishing Tree. Right in the middle of the music shops in Denmark Street, just opposite ex-Zombies' Rod Argent's, we find a nice coffee shop. The fact that it's run by Indians does give it an extra (loud) flavour, however my tape recorder is still able to record what's necessary for posterity. So keep the tape running and bring us two cups of your wonderful tea please!

Bo Bo: Is The Wishing Tree your very first solo outing next to Marillion?

Carnival Of Souls (1996)SR: As a matter of fact it is. At one point I did write "Winter Trees," a B-side for one of the Marillion singles ["The Hollow Man"]. It was the idea that each of us would write some stuff on his own to use it as B-sides. In the end it looks like I was the only one actually doing it.

Bo Bo: Up until now you have limited your "side-line" activities to a quick guest appearance and/or producing someone else's record. Did you use your influence to give certain people that extra push?

SR: In the case of John Wesley I have to say that I thought his material [on Under The Red And White Sky] was very very strong. On top of that he had become a really close friend, so I simply had to work with him. With Arena I did it because Mick Pointer had always been a good friend of mine during our Marillion period. As soon as I heard that he was back in the cards I immediately offered him a solo on his album [Songs From The Lion's Cage], to find the "balance" again. The French band Arrakeen had been the support for Marillion on a couple of occasions. It got to the point where I got [on] a very good understanding with guitarist Sylvain Gouvernaire so I lent a hand as well. Concerning Enchant I have been friends with drummer Paul Craddick for some time now. The band had already recorded some tracks with another producer but they were not very happy with the result. I offered them my services and produced and remixed part of their Blueprint Of The World debut CD. We were recording Brave at Parr Street, Liverpool with Marillion and so I also worked with Enchant. In the very beginning I have also worked with Jadis. In all these cases I did it mainly because it concerned friends whom I wanted to give a little "push." People tend to listen to new product easier when someone "famous" is linked to the project.

Bo Bo: In what way is the Wishing Tree material not suited for Marillion?

SR: There are a couple of ideas on The Wishing Tree CD that I had already offered to Marillion. "Evergreen" I once started playing when we were recording Clutching At Straws and Fish was still in the band. The chorus part in "Midnight Snow" dates from when we were writing Holidays In Eden. "Nightwater" is something we used to play when Steve Hogarth did his audition to join Marillion although he found the lyrics too "gothic." I don't sit down to write specific music for either Marillion or Wishing Tree. What I do is write music and once I like the end result I use it for one of both bands. Nowadays it is much easier than in the past when most of the Marillion material was mine anyway. Today there are many composers within Marillion, which means I can limit my contribution and reserve some songs for The Wishing Tree.

Hannah Stobart; (c) S RotheryBo Bo: You discovered Hannah Stobart in 1994. How did you get in touch with her and how have things evolved since then?

SR: During the Brave tour, after a gig in Bristol, I met Hannah and some fellow musicians backstage. Shortly afterwards she sent me a tape containing her versions of a song by All About Eve together with "Me And A Gun" by Tori Amos. In her voice I finally found what I had been looking for for years: a cross between Kate Bush and Tori Amos: vocal purity! On top of that Hannah's a very clever girl [she's studied French and Italian at a university in France], she doesn't have an ego, she looks enchanting and it's a pleasure to work with her.

Bo Bo: You were looking for the ideal voice for some time now. Did you know from day one that it had to be a female voice?

SR: I [had] already started thinking about a solo album way back in ... 1985! At that time it was the idea that the album should be a rock album. My original idea was to work with Juliane Reagan from All About Eve. Both our managements negotiated but in the end they weren't interested. I did have an interest in the singer from The Escape Club who had a contract with Hit and Run. Her voice reminded me of Annie Haslam [of Renaissance] but when I met her I knew this wasn't the right choice. I simply didn't like her attitude. She knew nothing about the music industry but pretended she knew everything!

Bo Bo: There are plenty of folk elements in the music...

SR: A lot of the material is based upon the first [few] Joni Mitchell albums which you can hear very clearly, especially in "Hall Of Memories" and "Fire Bright." Next to that I had been raised in a place called Whitfield in Yorkshire. They used to have this "folk week" every year. Musicians from all over England would come down to Whitfield to play the most wonderful folksongs. Who knows maybe the element of nostalgia is also apparent in the entire work? During the recording we also worked on some other songs as well. Amongst them is an unfinished song with a rather commercial feel about it. Maybe we'll release it as a 4-track EP later this year, especially with the intention to get airplay.

Bo Bo: An edited version of "Nightwater" could also get a decent amount of airplay?

SR: You're right and that's exactly what I'm going to do. When I go back to Liverpool where we are mixing the new Marillion [This Strange Engine] album I will take my Wishing Tree computer data with me to edit it in the studio.

Bo Bo: Where does the name Wishing Tree come from?

SR: It's the title from a film by a Russian director that tells the story of a community on the eve of the revolution. Also the title of our album, Carnival Of Souls, is taken from a film. This time it concerns a dark, sinister American B-movie about a travelling freak-show.

Bo Bo: What do you want to achieve with Wishing Tree?

Steve Rothery (courtesy)SR: It would've been easy to release a string of guitar solos as a solo album. That's not what I want. A first album outside of the band should be a "balance." It doesn't have to sell truckloads of albums but it has to be slightly more than a hobby and slightly less than a fulltime job!

Bo Bo: Looking at the production side of things, the album remains an "open" record, a "nude" record. There are no outrageous arrangements spoiling the end result...

SR: The main point was that it had to be an honest album, without frills. The "statement" had to be made without any extras; it had to be a "straight" album. It's like I delivered a delicate painting with music on one side and the delicate lyrics on the other. I used Hannah's voice as the glue to hold it all together and I didn't need any other gimmicks at all. "Thunder In Tinseltown" I tried twice with a band but it didn't work. With Hannah it did. I can already tell you that I will release another project this year, a project which will be more rock oriented and more bombastic than what I have done with Wishing Tree.

Bo Bo: Would you do certain things on the album in a different way now?

SR: At one given point I had decided that the album was finished and it had to be released. If I hadn't taken that decision there and then I would still be recording it and maybe the album would only be released next year. You should know that I have been working on Carnival Of Souls for about two years, in between the many Marillion activities. At one point I had decided to call it a halt and to finish the recording. The final mix I had done at six in the morning on a Saturday evening and my son is born the next morning at 3 AM. Talking about perfect timing!

Bo Bo: I had expected the album to sound crystal clear which in the end it doesn't. A mistake?

SR: At first you would think it has something to do with the mastering but it isn't. As I already told you I do the rough mix myself. The final mix was done by someone else because, for my first solo outing, I wasn't confident enough. Looking back at things it looks like I could've done a similar job to say the least. In the meantime all of the various stages in the pressing plant were taken care of so the mix had to be done by a certain deadline. I know that the acoustic guitar for "Hall Of Memories" that I had recorded myself sounds better than the one that was recorded by someone else. But as I already told you, you learn the trade through trial and error which is why I will bear this all in mind for the recording of the next Wishing Tree album.

Bo Bo: How do the other members of the band react to the album?

Marillion circa 1998; (c) Neils van IperenSR: During the recording there were some interactions. Mark and Ian told me they liked it, Steve heard the finished product and loved "Midnight Snow" and Pete played on the album, which is a thing he wouldn't do if he didn't like the music.

Bo Bo: Can and will it be done live?

SR: I'd love to do some acoustic showcases if I see the possibility to quit Marillion for some time ... and if I can get Hannah out of that university!

Bo Bo: Could the Wishing Tree open for Marillion?

SR: Theoretically everything is possible but I don't think it's such a good idea. With John Wesley things were different, as I wasn't part of John's band. With Wishing Tree I am the cornerstone of the band so I have to climb onstage with Hannah. It wouldn't work if I had to do the support first, freshen up and then enter the arena again with the main act! What I see as a possibility though is to take one of the bands's from my own label on tour with Marillion. As you know I have recently launched Dorian Music, not only to release Wishing Tree product, but also to give other artists a chance. Recently I have signed Mr. So & So for a three album deal [the band already released Paraphernalia in 1992 (Pagan PMCD004) and Compendium in 1994 (Cyclops CYCL014)]. So it could well be that Mr. So & So opens for Marillion on their forthcoming tour. I will also be releasing the new Jadis album Somersault.

Bo Bo: What is the real motivation behind Dorian?

SR: When I look at the current progressive scene I think it's a disgrace what certain musicians are being paid, if they get paid! Most of the contracts are bad. All artists are entitled to an honest pay especially if you start adding up all the hours of rehearsal. In a lot of cases the band is the last link when money is being handed out. This has to change and that's where Dorian will do some pioneering. In the case of Mr. So & So they get the opportunity to use my own studio and that of the Racket Club which is the Marillion hangout. Nowadays you can even record in your bedroom and still get a decent sound. For the recording of the drum parts you do need to find a good studio as this is the most difficult part of the entire recording session. A lot of the very expensive studios have the atmosphere of a factory! A small, family type of studio sometimes is much more interesting than a studio bulging with all the latest technical developments. The artists on Dorian don't have to sell half a million albums (although they might!) but I will already be satisfied if we can force up the amount to something in between 20,000 and 50,000 CD's. That way I will be able to pay the musicians a fair wage through which the profession of musician will again be made livable.

Bo Bo: Don't you fear the fact that you will be inundated with prog bands now you have given Mr. So & So a chance?

SR: It's already happening. What I will try to do with Dorian is to maintain the quality. I will be very selective and severe before I will offer any band a contract. I am mainly looking for originality and pluck. I noted a lot of interesting points with some bands but they simply aren't fit to enter the studio yet. It not only concerns a financial injection but also a lot of my own energy and I simply can't afford to give that to every single band that crosses my path!

Dorian Music logoBo Bo: What is the most difficult task to get Dorian the popularity it needs?

SR: Today most of the bands sell their albums through mailorder which means they get ?5 per album they sell opposed to the 90 pence or so they get when they sign a distribution licensing deal. A lot of albums are being sold at concerts, which means you only attract a specific kind of audience. It is our task to enlarge that audience and that's where radio is top priority. Look, as a journalist you can promote the album as much as you like, people simply don't fork out ?14 for a CD they have never heard. On top of that so much material is being released every week that it's impossible to keep track of it all. I have been making music with Marillion for over seventeen years now and you'll be able to find our albums in the shops but the owner will not buy Wishing Tree as long as he doesn't know us. When the album is not in the shops our potential buyer will not be able to buy it and most of the time this person doesn't know about the possibility to order it through mailorder or that he/she is able to buy it at concerts. It remains a difficult problem and I honestly don't know what I have to do to solve it. Delivering quality will be one of the keywords though. Distribution in Benelux, Germany and France is OK but here in Britain it doesn't go all that well.

Bo Bo: When you look at the genre in the seventies then you knew it was prog rock only by looking at the sleeve. Nowadays it's the same clinical plastic jewel case for all kinds of music...

SR: Indeed. And that makes it even more difficult to explain to the public what they can expect when they buy the CD. I could put up posters in the bigger chains but to do so in shops like Virgin, HMV, Our Price, you have to pay. Our Price has about 200 shops scattered all over England. To display our posters in all of them for only one week you should expect to pay between ?3000 and ?4000. Wow, that's money I'd rather spend on a better production or mastering or invest in a new project. I will however have some radio jingles done for Virgin radio, as this is the station Marillion fans like best.

Bo Bo: Compared with a lot of other bands, Marillion probably has the most loyal fan base in the world with plenty of fan clubs scattered all over the world. Surely this is a great advantage?

SR: I'm convinced that 30% to 40% of all Marillion fans would also buy The Wishing Tree if only they knew about its existence. This remains the hardest part: informing the potential buyer about your product. For Dorian I have my own website on internet but my provider is very slow which means it doesn't work to the fullest. Once it is up and running I do expect a lot of reactions. Meanwhile EMI will re-release the entire Marillion back catalogue so automatically this leads to extra attention, which can lead to some extra sales for The Wishing Tree. There will also be a two-CD retrospective on the entire career of the band titled The Best Of Both Worlds [also available as vinyl picture disc] and in the booklet you'll find our website address. Again we hope to get a lot of reactions through this.

Bo Bo: Has the face of radio changed over the years?

Marillion - Afraid of Sunlight (1995)SR: College radio, which used to be the kind of radio that was very close to what Marillion was all about, nowadays has completely switched to indie music. Indie takes a big slice of the current music cake. When "Beautiful" [from the Marillion album Afraid Of Sunlight] was released, Bryan Adams was high in the charts. "Beautiful" didn't get any airplay simply because they already heavily plugged Bryan Adams' ballad. That's the way radio now works. Imagine we had released "Beautiful" in a week where there were no other ballads, then maybe it could've become number one with gigantic worldwide sales as a result. Unfortunately Bryan Adams got to number one and "Beautiful" remains one of our most wonderful songs which didn't sell!

Bo Bo: Is it possible to tell us something regarding the new Marillion album?

Marillion - This Strange Engine (1997)SR: We've just finished the recording and the album is going to be called Strange Engine. This is also the title of a 16-minute track on the album. Again, it has become a very strong album with a lot of variety and very melodic songs. It also contains some surprises. The song "Hope For The Future" is totally different to what we have done so far. The album will be released in April and will be the first to be released on our own label through Castle Communications. Meanwhile Steve Hogarth's solo album Ice Cream Genius has already been released on Intact with Blue Nile and Talk Talk as musical references. With Marillion we hope to tour in April, first in England, then Europe.

Bo Bo: What will happen when The Wishing Tree becomes bigger than Marillion?

SR: [ponders, big deep grooves in his forehead] That I will decide when the moment comes [smiles]. The material I write for The Wishing Tree is in no way intended to compete with Marillion. They are two different projects, two worlds apart but the only thing they have in common is the fact that I want to give the best in me to both of them!

[Marillion's most recent release is marillion.com, and they are working on their next album even now {and since this was first republished, Marillion have gone on to release a further 7 studio albums! And Rothery has put out a second Wishing Tree CD called Ostara } - ed.]

Steve Rothery


Discography:
Wishing Tree:
Carnival Of Souls ()
Ostara (2009)

Marillion:
Script For A Jester's Tear (1983)
Fugazi (1984)
Reel To Real (1984)
Misplaced Childhood (1985)
Brief Encounter (ep) (1985)
Clutching At Straws (1987)
The Thieving Magpie (1988)
B-Sides Themselves (1988)
Season's End (1989)
Holidays In Eden (1991)
A Singles Collection 1982-1992 (1992)
Live At The Borderline (1992)*
Live in Caracas (1993)*
Live in Glasgow (1993)*
Brave (1994)
The Making Of Brave (1995)*
Afraid Of Sunlight (1995)
Made Again (1996)
Kayleigh (1996) (Dutch comp)
Essential Collection (1996) (UK comp; same as above)
Real To Reel/Brief Encounter (1997)
Best of Both Worlds (1997)
This Strange Engine (1997)
Rochester (1998)*
Piston Broke (1998)*
Tales From The Engine Room (1998)
Radiation (1998)
Christmas 1998: The Web Christmas (1998)**
Kayliegh: The Essential Collection (1998) (UK comp.; diff. from above)
Unplugged At The Walls (1999)*
Marillion.com (1999)
Zodiac (1999)*
Christmas 1999: marillion.christmas (1999)**
marillion.co.uk (or bonus disk) (Ver 1-2000)
The Singles: '82 - '88 (box set) (2000/2009)
Christmas 2000: A Piss-Up In A Brewery**
Crash Course (Sampler) (2000)
ReFracted! (2001)*
Anoraknophobia (2001)
Another DAT At The Office (2001)*
Christmas 2001: A Verry Barry Christmas (2001)**
Fallout (2002)*
Anorak In The UK Live (2002)*
marillion.co.uk (or bonus disk) (Ver 2-2002)
Brave Live 2002 (2002)*
Caught In The Net (2002)*
Crash Course (Sampler) (2002)*
The Singles: '89-'95 (2002)
Brave Live (2002)*
AWOL (2002)**
Christmas 2002: Santa And Elvis (2002)**
The Best of Marillion (2003)
View From The Balcony (2003)**
Christmas 2003: Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003)**
Curtain Call (2004) (3CD Box)*
Crash Course (2004)*
Marbles (2004)
Remixomatosis (2004)*
Christmas 2004: Baubles (2004)**
Popular Music (CD oop, avail. as download only) (2005)**
marillion.co.uk (or bonus disk) (Ver 3-2005)
View From The Balcony (Sampler) (Ver 2-2005)
Marbles By The Sea (2005)*
Marbles Live (2005)*
Handful Of Marbles (Sampler) (2005)*
Christmas 2005: Merry Xmas To Our Flock (2005)**
Unzipped (The Making Of Anoraknophobia) (2005)*
Crash Course (Ver 4 - 2006)
Smoke (2006)*
Mirrors (2006)*
Marbles Vinyl Edition (2006)
Christmas 2006: Jingle Book (2006)**
Somewhere Else (2007)
Crash Course (Ver 5 - 2007)*
Christmas 2007: Somewhere Elf (2007)**
Family (2007)*
Friends (2007)*
Crash Course (Ver 6 - 2008)*
Happiness Is The Road - Volume 1: Essence (2008)
Happiness Is The Road - Volume 2: The Hard Shoulder (2008)
Early Stages - The Official Bootlegs 1982-1987 (6CD Box) (2008)
Christmas 2008: Pudding On The Ritz (2008)**
Happiness Is Cologne (2009)*
Live From Loreley (2009)
Recital Of The Script (2009)
Less Is More (2009)
Size Matters (2010)*
Tumbling Down The Years (2010)*
The Official Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 2 (2010)
Live From Cadogan Hall (2010)*
Live In Montreal / Saturday (2010)*
Live In Montreal / Sunday (2010)*
Keep The Noise Down (sampler) (2010)
marillion.com Deluxe Digipack (2011)
Somewhere Else (2LP) (2011)
Marbles Deluxe Digipack (2011)
Marbles (2LP) (2011)
Live In Montreal / Friday (2011)*
Season's End Live 2009 (2011)*
This Strange Engine Live 2007 (2011)*
Afraid Of Sunlight Live 2003 (2011)*
A-Z (2012)
Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012)
Crash Course (2012)
Sounds Live (2012)
The Glow Must Go On (2012)
Christmas 2012 (2012)**
Best Live (vinyl box set) (2013)
Radiation 2013 (dlx ver) (2013)
Best Of Leamington (2013)
Best Of Montreal (2013)
Somewhere In London (CD/DVD) (2013)
Brave Live 2013 (2013)
Sounds That Can't Be Made - Special Edition (2013)
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (Dlx Collectors Box) (2014)
A Sunday Night Above The Rain - Holland CD Version (2014)
A Sunday Night Above The Rain - Montreal CD Version (2014)
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (3LP) (2014)
A Collection Of Recycled Gifts (comp) (2014)
Live At The Forum (2014)
Christmas 2014 (2014)**
Glass Half Full - Making Of Marbles (2015)

Recital Of The Script (VHS/DVD) (1983/2003)
Grendel/The Web (VHS EP) (1984)
1983-86 The Videos (VHS [oop]) (1986)
Live From Loreley (VHS/DVD) (1987/2004)
From Stoke Row To Ipanema (VHS/DVD) (1990/2003)
A Singles Collection 1982-1992 (DVD) (1992)
Brave, The Film (VHS/DVD) (1995/2004)
Shot In The Dark (VHS/DVD [oop]) (2000/2002)
The EMI Singles Collection (DVD [PAL only])(2002)
A Piss-up In A Brewery (DVD) (2002/2010)
Brave Live 2002 (DVD) (2002)
Christmas In The Chapel (DVD) (2003)
Before First Light (DVD) (2003)
Wish You Were Here (DVD box, oop) (2005)
Colours And Sound (DVD) (2006)*
Marbles On The Road (DVD) (2005)
Bootlet Butlins (DVD) (2007)*
Somewhere In London (DVD) (2007)
This Strange Convention (DVD) (2009)
Snow De Cologne (DVD) (2009)**
Out Of Season (box set) (DVD) (2010)
Ding Dong Loreley On High (live) (DVD) (2010)
In-Tube DVD Sampler (DVD) (2010)
Out Of Season (DVD boxset) (2010)
Live In Montreal (3DVD) (2011)
Holidays In Zelande (Discs 2&3) (2012)
Holidays In Zelande (Discs 4&5) (2012)
Holidays In Zelande - Special Edition (BR) (2012)
Clocks Already Ticking (2DVD/3CD) (2013)
Brave Live 2002 (DVD/CD) (2013)
Brave Live 2013 (DVD & BR) (2013)
Christmas 2013 (DVD) (2013)** A Sunday Night Above The Rain (DVD & BR) (2014)
Breaking Records (BR) (2015)

* Racket Records releases; ** Fan Club only

Added: June 10th 2000
Interviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Hits: 1577
Language: english
  

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