Steven Wilson climbed off his tree and had a taste of freedom

Steven Wilson has a very fruitful solo career, to say the least. He’s already produced three studio albums (one of them a double record), a remix album and two live records – in the space of only five years. On the other hand, Porcupine Tree, the band he’s leading and for which he was heretofore most famous, hasn’t released anything since The Incident in 2009, aside from a few live albums.

This solo project probably brings him the freedom he used to have with Porcupine Tree during the early years, when he was still the one and only master on board and the band was, as a matter of fact, more a solo adventure than an actual band. For even if he remains Porcupine Tree’s leader, Steven Wilson told us in the following interview that he has to make compromises within the band – and not in his solo career. Said compromises seem to hold him back today. According to Steven Wilson, in order to move forward, Porcupine Tree will have to reinvent itself.

All this and more in this interview.

Radio Metal: Are you satisfied of the shows you did for the album Grace For Drowning? Last time we spoke you were really looking forward to these shows, you really wanted them to be very special, so how was it?

Steven Wilson: They were! They were very special, at least for me anyway. I hope also for the people who came along but for me, it was a very special experience and it was the first time I really felt I could be a frontman and fronting a band rather than someone who is more a performer, a musician that was also singing. This time I could really concentrate on performing in terms of singing the material of the songs. We also put together a really special visual presentation accorded to the sound. It was very exciting to be at the center of all that stuff going on. In fact, the reason the new album has come so quickly after the last album is because I felt very inspired to write music for the band that I had put together for the live shows. It gave me a whole new direction and idea of music that would somehow capture the chemistry that the band that played live had together.

About your new album, you recorded this new album with musicians that toured with you for the previous album. Was it intended to give to this album the energy you guys have on stage?

Yeah, absolutely, I think I’ve said it in the last answer. The idea in that was very much to catch the chemistry, the feeling and the energy this live band has, absolutely, yeah.

Actually, the first track that have been released, “Luminol”, shows some very technically demonstrative parts. Did you feel the need to do that, to include some technical or some very energetic part in this new album, because the last album you did with Storm Corrosion was a very quiet one?

I wouldn’t call it technical. This title starts on a very high energy, yeah. I think that wasn’t so much a decision based on the last Storm Corrosion but it is a decision based on my last solo record. Grace For Drowning started off with a very quiet, beautiful piano and vocal piece and this time around, I wanted it to be energy and excitement right to the very first note. That was a really deliberate decision so the album would really kick out with a bang and a real sense of punch and excitement.

« This album feels like a look back to that music that really brought me to be a musician in the first place. »

The album is very diverse and very synthetic at the same time. Can we say that you wanted this album to be a summary of your career, and so you wanted it to be very mature, with no superfluous part?

I feel like that about every album. I feel like every time I’m starting a new album, it’s going to be some kind of definitive statement, some kind of definitive summary of everything and every parts of my musical personality. I think that’s not a strictly unusual thing to be aiming for with a record. This one is more close to my musical DNA in the sense that it’s an album that kind of looks back to the golden years of the 70’s hard rock or progressive rock, the vintage era of that music. That is the music I grew up listening to, not because I was listening to it at the time but because I suddenly went back and discovered that music from an earlier era than the one I was growing up in. This became my music and it became very special to me; it became the root of my musical character. So in a way this album feels like a look back to that music that really brought me to be a musician in the first place. Next, it is a kind of a reference to the early parts of my career rather than the most recent parts of my career. For instance, the last three albums I made with Porcupine Tree had a lot of metal influences. This album has none of that. It has no metal, and no electronic music which has also been a part of my previous albums. So I think in a way this is a more vintage, a more “getting back to a golden era of progressive music” sounding record.

The six tracks on the album are various stories of the supernatural. Can you tell us more about that theme? Why did you chose to dedicate your album to that?

I always like to have a kind of overall theme for every record I make. I’m always looking for some subject or some theme that I can base all of the music on, because I like the idea of the album as a complete, cohesive musical journey. This time around, I was reading a lot of short stories, ghost stories, supernatural stories, particularly from the late 19th century/early 20th century. At the same time I was writing music which I felt had almost a storytelling quality to it. Even before I had lyrics, even before I had words and ideas, the music felt like it would tell stories. So the two ideas started to play together and I decided it would be very lovely to do on certain songs almost like a book of short stories, like a book of classical supernatural or ghost stories, again, most specifically in the classical style, not in a modern style, but in the kind of book you find in antique bookstore, that was written about one hundred years ago, with again a very vintage feeling to it. In a way, it goes back to what I was saying about the music. I felt like the music was almost looking back to the past, so I wanted a kind of historical feeling also to the subject matter.

About Porcupine Tree: « I still don’t have any particular feeling, need, or energy to go back to working with that project right now. »

Last time we spoke, you said “I don’t think it’s possible to be creative in only one media.” Do you have some artistic ideas that aren’t musical ideas? Have you thought of writing stories or making movies for example?

This is a great example because the album comes with a book, and the book features short stories that were written before the lyrics of the songs. Some of the songs started as stories before they became songs and before they became lyrics. So the special edition of the album is exactly what you’re talking about: it is a book of illustrated short stories. Of course, it features the lyrics and a lot of illustrations too, but it does have these stories that became the foundations for some of the song of the record. In a way, I feel like what you were talking about is exactly what I’ve already done with this record. About making movies, I’ve always wanted to be involved in that kind of thing. It’s a very difficult area to get into. A few years ago, I did make a kind documentary for my first solo record, Insurgentes, which was about me going around the world, talking to musicians, talking about download culture and musicians of the 21st century. So I feel like in a way I’ve already kind of dabbled a little bit in the world of literature and cinema. I always see the connections between the different media and I would like to do more of that kind of cross-media stuff, absolutely.

Last time we spoke, you said about Porcupine Tree that it needed to reinvent itself somehow. Is the new face of Porcupine Tree shaping up in your mind right now or is it too early to talk about this?

Honestly, no. I feel like my solo project now is what I do and is the most important thing to me. I think that’s important that you know we haven’t broken up or anything, but I felt at the end of the last album cycle that I didn’t really knew what to do with that band next. I couldn’t hear the music in my head that band would play next and I still can’t. I still don’t have any particular feeling, need, or energy to go back to working with that project right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t get back together and do something one day, but there’s nothing to say about it really right now. It’s in the same place it was the last time we spoke.

Do you think that your solo work will have some kind of impact on what we could expect from Porcupine Tree in the future?

I’ve got no idea. I don’t really think about it that way. My solo project is obviously something that I’m completely in control of, but the direction of Porcupine Tree isn’t something I’m completely in control of. I’m not with No-Man, I’m not with Blackfield, I’m not with Storm Corrosion because they’re all collaborations with other musicians, so you have to find some thing you all agree on to find something to do. Porcupine Tree is no exception. We all have to agree on the direction of the music and that can be a wonderful thing, because it can give a band a very strong personality, but it can also be a very limiting thing. I think this is why for me now the solo project is more important to me: because it feels particularly right to explore several aspects of my musical personality rather than just one or two aspects.

« We all have to agree on the direction of the music and that can be a wonderful thing […] but it can also be a very limiting thing. […] There’s a lot of things that we can’t do together with [Porcupine Tree] because one or more people don’t want to play particular kinds of music. »

You were just saying that you couldn’t, for example, picture any new song for Porcupine Tree, you don’t hear any new song in your head, but wouldn’t it be more simple to just meet the guys and try to jam and see what can happen?

Well, I know what would happen because I know what we do when we get together. It’s specific to the kind of music we made for the past ten years. How would I know what that would be? I think the most important to me is that I hear in my head somewhere the band can go musically, not on individual songs but a sound or style that perhaps could reinvent the band. I don’t know what that would be yet, I know that the other guys in the band all have the same musical preferences and the same musical tastes, and there’s a lot of things that we can’t do together with the band because one or more people don’t want to play particular kinds of music. That’s why I kind of already know what that would sound like.

Aren’t the other members of the band tired of waiting?

I don’t know! It’s not really of interest to me. They’re my friends of course, but they’re also very busy, so I don’t know. I have a similar situation with No-Man, with Blackfield… These projects are all things I come back to when I can and when I feel there is something strong to do. Are they tired of waiting? Possibly, but I’m not stopping them from going on and do their own thing too.

Photos credits: Naki

Interview conducted by phone on February 1st, 2013.
Introduction by Spaceman.
Transcription: Chloé.

Steven Wilson’s official website: stevenwilsonhq.com

Album The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), out since February 25th, 2013 via Kscope.

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