In the midst of the "Fear of a blank planet" Porcupine tree tour, leading mastermind, Steven Wilson stayed a few days in Israel, and was kind enough to grant with an interview on a small café in Tel Aviv.
The new Porcupine Tree album, "Fear of a blank planet", is a definitive concept album, how would you summary to concept of the album?
Interview with: Porcupine Tree lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Steven Wilson
Well, basically it reflects my concerns for the current younger generation; a generation born into an era of accessible information, living vicariously through gadgets where they can download everything via the internet – music, movies, information, and pornography. Everything is available through the internet. About how all this affects the human quality of curiosity, and I believe that curiosity is one of humanity's most important qualities. Without curiosity we will never find what's
underneath the surface; the different meanings and interpretations and levels that there are to music as an example. How the overload of information affects their curiosity about the world outside their bedroom. My fear for this potentially blank generation. Or to use more a romantic expression, do the young people of today have the same sense of soul?
There is a lot of references to the way people consume their music these days, and basically the way people consume, in general, these days. What do you think is the future of it?
Difficult to say. This is the worst time in history for the music industry. Everyone agrees on it, artists and labels - everyone involved.
I believe that ultimately what will happen is that recorded music will become something no one will pay for. People will expect to get it for free, even now a lot of people don't think about buying music, just to download it. Recorded music will become an advertisement for the live show. I already see it in Porcupine Tree concerts, where the attendances keep on growing, and the record sales as well, but not in the same proportion.
People get to know the band from downloading on the internet for free but they pay for the shows. This has a positive side, because it means that bands who play real instruments, and can manage a good live show will survive, and the kind of manufactured artists like Britney Spears won't. These are interesting times.
Also, music is much more available now days, it's getting more and more into people's life, especially that almost everyone has an Ipod now.
Alex Lifeson (of Rush) and Robert Fripp (of King Crimson) both guest appeared in the new album, how did this co-operation start?
I heard Alex was a fan of Porcupine Tree through an interview he gave to "classic rock" magazine. The reporter asked him about which new progressive rock wave bands influenced by Rush does he love, and he mentioned Porcupine Tree especially. So I contacted him through that reporter, who interviewed me as well and asked him if he would like to be on the new album, he happily agreed.
Robert Fripp has toured with us some time, so we are in good relations with him, and we knew we wanted to have him on the album.
How does it feel to know that two great prog-rock legends embrace Porcupine Tree into their legacy?
Amazing, I feel very honored knowing that the musicians I grew up on are fans of the music I make. Of all the things I have achieved through music, the biggest honor is to know that musicians you grew on love your music as well.
Looking back, what is your opinion on "Deadwing"?
I think it's a good record. I'm actually really happy with all our last three records. I think they're my favorite Porcupine tree albums. I think that when Gavin joined us, and the more metal influences came in, the sound finally came together. It's more energetic and vital. But I do think the record before "Deadwing", "In absentia" was better because on "Deadwing" we felt pressured into including some songs that will work as radio singles, and so there were some tracks I wouldn't have normally put on the record. On the new album, "Fear of a blank planet" there was no attempt to create songs that will fit radio plays.
How would you describe "Fear Of A Blank Planet" musically?
Well, I wouldn’t describe it. I'm really against categorizing Porcupine Tree's music. Categorizing the music will imprison it in a musical genre. I have heard Porcupine Tree categorized as Rock, prog-rock, metal, psychedelic…and so on. If I had to describe porcupine tree music I would just say it is album oriented rock music, and about reaching for something more epic perhaps.
You are known to always progress with the music you are listening to; always listening to different and varied bands. What bands or albums would you say influenced you on the new Porcupine Tree album?
I can't say. Writing music is a very subconscious writing. I think on this album the music was very much driven from the lyrics and the concept of the album. I guess that everything I listen to subconsciously inspired me; I can't put my finger on a certain thing. There is one exception, which is that I wanted the track "Sleep together" to sound like NIne Inch Nails
, with John Bonham on drums, and produced by Massive Attack
! Apart for that I wasn't aware to any other influences while I was writing...
I remember you started writing the music for FOABP while you were working on the second Blackfield album here in Israel. Do you think working on Blackfield while writing Porcupine Tree music influenced the musical style? In songs like "My Ashes", for example?
Actually most of the music for "My ashes" was written by Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree's keyboardist). Blackfield influenced Porcupine Tree's music, because it liberated me from a certain aspect of Porcupine tree. There were some shorter, more song-oriented tracks that went on Porcupine Tree records in the past, which now I would use for Blackfield instead, songs such as "Lazarus" could've easily go on the "Blackfield" album. So in that sense, it liberated me from putting those more song-oriented tracks on Porcupine Tree albums, making Porcupine Tree's music much more pure, more experimental rock music, and more about the longer album-oriented tracks.
Writing the album in Israel as well as on tour, probably made it hard for the album to be a group effort. How did the writing process go?
I wrote the long piece around February while recording "Blackfield" at night. It was refreshing to write in a different country. In England Richard wrote the basic music of "My Ashes" and in July the band worked on four tracks together, of which only one got to be on the record. The other three tracks will come out on an EP coming out later this year.
The three tracks together last for about 25 minuets, and we will probably add some of the tracks recorded on the BBC sessions supporting the FOABP album, expending the EP to around 40 minutes of music.
Porcupine tree issued their first DVD "Arriving Somewhere…", and a Blackfield DVD is planned to be released around next year. Do you enjoy watching live DVDs by other bands? And do you find it appealing to create tour documentary DVDs like so?
Basically, I'm not interested in live DVDs. Because it can't replace the live experience, and usually I will find myself wishing I was present at the live concert more then I enjoy the DVD. I think people will enjoy a real Porcupine Tree show much more then they can enjoy a DVD. On the other hand, I know that it's not possible for everyone around the world to see Porcupine Tree perform, and it is nice to have it documented and to have the chance to experience the Porcupine Tree live show in this way.
I think we will try to release a live DVD from every album cycle from now on. Making a DVD is a serious time consumer, it's very hard work. If you think recording an album is hard, here you have the visuals as well as the audio aspects to take care of...
The second "Continuum" album will be release next month, what can you tell me about it?
It's slow doom metal with continuum ambient textures on the top. It's very much Sunn O)))
inspired, more pushing everything into the red and slowing things down.
What other future projects are in plan?
Hopefully the project with Opeth
's Mikael Åkerfeldt, which will probably have Mike Portnoy on drums. It will be heavier then Porcupine Tree but softer then Opeth.
Also, I'm planning on releasing a first solo album under the Steven Wilson name. I've written songs that don't belong to any project. It will be more laid back, and will have some longer ambitious tracks along with shorter songs. Maybe I will remix some of the cover versions which I've released. I feel there are some really good ones, such as
the Alanis track (i.e. "Thank U", originally by Alanis Morissette
), that should be heard, but weren't released in a way that they will be approachable to many people, being only available from my mail order until now.
You do a guest appearance on the new Dream Theater album "Systematic Chaos" - How did that came to be?
I appear briefly, yeah. Well, I'm not a big fan of Dream Theater music, but they are really good friends of mine. Mike called me and told me of this track "Redemption" they were recording, which was basically about people apologizing for things they've done. So I offered as a joke that I will apologize for disrespecting Dream Theater, and saying not flattering things about them in the media! And he thought it was a great idea, so I ended up apologizing to Dream Theater on their record. Which I think is kinda funny! It's a beautiful song in my opinion.
Your fan base has changed a lot during the "In Absentia" phase and on, why do you think that is?
It's quite simple actually. The more metal sound brought younger fans, and maybe alienated some of our older fans.
When you write music, do you think about gaining new audiences, or what your earlier Porcupine Tree fans would like to hear?
Definitely no. I'm staying true to the music that I make. I think that if you're not upsetting some older fans then you are probably doing something wrong, because a band should always evolve. And unfortunately there will always be some fans who won't like the new things. But on the other hand, they will always have the previous records to enjoy. And for every fan who isn't happy with the new sound, you get two new fans who are.
If you look at a musician such as David Bowie
for example, he constantly changed his sound and approach along the way, and it gave him a long and artistic career; probably disappointing some older fans but gaining new fans at the same time.
It's known that the artwork, and visual aspect was always important in Porcupine Tree's music, and to yourself as a musician. What five album covers (not your own) do you find the most beautiful and interesting?
– Black Sabbath
- Atom Heart Mother
Dead Can Dance
– Within the Realm of a Dying Sun
Public Image Ltd
– Flowers of Romance
What can interest you in music these days? And what albums do love these days?
Something I've never heard before. Something unique. Something that when I first hear it intrigues me and it grasps me. Good production work is also very important to me because I see myself as more of a producer then a guitarist or a writer. Musicians like Trent Reznor, who is a genius.
Of what I’ve heard recently I love the new albums by Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem
, Stars of the Lid
, and Gojira
What musical style would you never go into?
R&B, and Hip hop now is horrible! Though I can imagine Hip-Hop getting interesting again (as it was with bands such as Public Enemy
and so). But R&B is the most banal music, and I wanna go deaf every time I hear it. Apart from that, everything is game.
I would like to thank Steven for his time and kindness.