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Steven Wilson, The Progressive Music Legend, Talks To Stereoboard About His Solo Work (Interview P2)

Friday, 09 December 2011 Written by Ben Bland
Steven Wilson, The Progressive Music Legend, Talks To Stereoboard About His Solo Work (Interview P2)

In this, the second part of Stereoboard’s interview with progressive legend Steven Wilson, we discuss his work with projects such as Porcupine Tree and No-Man as well as his position in the progressive rock scene worldwide.

Steven, talking about Porcupine Tree, the band has been dormant since the Royal Albert Hall show last year. What are your future plans with the band looking into next year?

Well, I have none to be honest. That is not to say that we will not get together at some point and do something but at the moment we are all doing our own things. I am having a great time doing what I am doing. I also have a record coming out next year with my friend Mikael (Åkerfeldt) from Opeth, the Storm Corrosion record. They are doing other things as well. We will get back together and we will make another record, I am fairly sure of that. At the moment, however, there really are no particular plans for Porcupine Tree.

I was actually going to ask about Storm Corrosion next. What can you tell us about the forthcoming collaboration between you and Mikael?

Yes the album is coming out in April. If you had asked me what I could say about it six months ago I would have told you to expect the unexpected but…well, I think now that both “Grace for Drowning” and the new Opeth record, “Heritage”, have come out…I think you get more of a sense of where we are both at. In a way, you can think of Storm Corrosion as the third part of a trilogy of records. It has a lot of the same musical qualities except that I think it is even more melancholic, orchestral and twisted, in a way. It is a very dark record. There are hardly any drums on it. We have tried to use different musical forces, like woodwind instrumentation for example. There are lots of percussion parts rather than drum parts. It is not an easy listen. It is really dark and twisted. I am very curious as to what people will think about it. I suppose perhaps the best comparative points would be some of the darker moments on, well, both “Grace for Drowning” and “Heritage”.

I’d like to talk about Bass Communion for a bit. I guess that this is maybe the project of yours that fans of Porcupine Tree may not necessarily ‘get’ in the same way as they do other projects of yours. Personally I love textural music, ambient drone stuff. I was wondering how the creative process differs for Bass Communion in comparison to your other projects…?

Well in many ways I have always seen Bass Communion as research and development into the other projects. It has had a strong knock-on effect on to my other projects, especially my solo albums and Porcupine Tree and No-Man. At the time I was recording “Grace for Drowning” I was also working on “Cenotaph”, the new Bass Communion record. My creative process for Bass Communion is obviously dictated by the fact that the project is purely textural musical experiments. I am looking to find a sound or a combination of sounds, that inspires me and then I manipulate that over a period of time. I pretty much work with digital manipulation to create a kind of sound world in which you can immerse yourself for a period of time. The analogy I would draw would be filling a room with an incense or a perfume. It is an attempt to change the way you react to your environment or room for the period time you are playing that music. It is very hard to get people who are, I think, as you pointed out very familiar with the vocabulary of rock music, to relate to textural or ambient music or whatever you want to call it as music at all. If you take away melody and you take away rhythm and you take away harmony then you are left with something that lots of people do not connect with as music at all.

Interestingly when a lot of those same people go, for example, to see a horror movie they react to the same ideas but within film. The texture, discord and atmosphere of a horror movie attempts to manipulate the feelings of the person watching the film. So we are all, to an extent at least, familiar with having our feelings manipulated…but people struggle to connect with music that focuses upon doing that without a visual accompaniment a lot of the time. Some people have a very hard time wanting to actually listen to that kind of music. Me, personally, I love it. In fact I would say it is probably my favourite type of music. It is something you can immerse yourself in. It does not require the same amount of engagement and concentration that a lot of other music does. For me, that makes it more effective. It was, in a way, my first love with musical creation…experimenting with drones and textures. If people ask me what I do usually I don’t actually say I am a guitarist or a singer or whatever…often I say I am a producer. I think that is what I do best. I think the pure experimenting with sound and texture and production is at the very basis of what I love to do. It sort of is me sitting in a studio painting with sound and painting with texture. That is what I love to do.

I noticed that you recently did a show with No-Man after a while of inactivity with that project. I was just wondering if you and Tim (Bowness, Steven’s collaborator in No-Man) have thought about doing another No-Man record at all.

Again, there are not really any plans. Tim and I get together at very irregular intervals to make records…I think it seems to be something like every five years or so. I guess that maybe in a couple of years we will actually be due for the next one! There are no plans but what I will say is that none of my musical projects are finished or over. For me it is nice to say that I have a number of creative outlets and collaborations that I can go back to at any time if I feel the muse is in that place. I have no plans to make records with any of these projects at the moment. That goes for No-Man, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, etcetera. That is not to say that it will not happen though, not at all.

One of the recurring lyrical themes in your music over the years has been the concept of the serial killer…

Erm, yes it has…that’s true.

I was wondering what inspires you to write about such a disturbing topic, if you don’t mind me asking…

Well, there are two songs on “Grace for Drowning” about serial killers; “Raider II” and “Index”. I have often asked myself the question you just asked me about why I write about such things. Like a lot of people I am fascinated by things I have no understanding of. When I write songs I am often trying…well, not to understand because obviously I do not want to understand. I am trying to gain a greater insight into these people, and these things, that I do not, cannot understand.

I mean, serial killers are not the only thing I have written about in that regard. I have also written about drug culture and the iPod generation, for example. I just don’t see the appeal, so to speak. I mean I suppose I see people like serial killers as aliens. I cannot begin to understand what makes them do what they do. I cannot understand their lack of empathy. That fascinates me. In fact, it fascinates me enough that I read…no, I devour books about serial killers. I just want to gain some insight into why these monsters exist and what kind of trauma can cause them to act so horrifically. I would say that most of them do suffer some kind of childhood trauma, usually, and that begins the process or their moving towards someone who has no empathy for other human beings. That genuinely does fascinate me and as such I write songs about it.

I don’t want to keep you too much longer but I do have one final question for you. Whenever I talk to anyone about progressive and experimental music I find that your name always seems to come up, whether in relation to Porcupine Tree or Opeth or your solo work. I was wondering how you feel about your role in the progressive music scene in which you seem to have become such an important figure.

Well I think the thing about the progressive rock scene is that you have to understand that I have been doing this for almost twenty years now. When I started nobody wanted to talk about progressive rock music. Nobody wanted to listen to it, well that’s not true there was an audience, but they were rendered unimportant I suppose by the lack of any interest or even acknowledgement shown in progressive music by the mainstream music press. They would not even pay lip service. I came out and said “Look. I love progressive rock. I also love all this stuff you actually do want to write about. Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, trip-hop, etcetera”.

I could not understand why progressive rock, which seemed to me just as revolutionary as any other type of music…I mean, compare “Closer to the Edge” by Yes with anything Massive Attack or Aphex Twin did in the nineties…it is just as experimental and important as anything those artists did. At the same time it became a pariah, progressive rock, to the mainstream. You could not talk about them. Either I was going insane or I was right that progressive rock music was just as cutting edge as anything the dance or indie guitar scenes were producing in the nineties. The thing is when you talk to a lot of the musicians who made that music they will agree. They were afraid of what would happen if they admitted they listened to Pink Floyd! I mean, to this day, Radiohead have not admitted that they listen to Pink Floyd. How ridiculous is that?

Yes it is pretty silly…

It is RIDICULOUS. It is so obvious that they do. Their whole discography is shot through with the influence of that band, the way they make their music and the way they write albums rather than singles.

To answer your question directly though, I think I have been put into that position because I was not afraid to come out and say how great progressive rock is. I think the contemporary approach there is to doing it not only exists but it is worthy of attention. Since that time a lot of other bands, like Radiohead and Muse and The Mars Volta have come out and made progressive albums. They have mad prog rock fashionable again in a way by embracing it. In a sense I think the reason people respect Porcupine Tree and me is because we were prepared to stand up for progressive rock at a time when nobody else was. We were a bit ahead of the curve, through luck rather than design, but now that it has become a bit fashionable again I think people are looking at Porcupine Tree, in particular, and saying “well here is a band that was doing this whole prog rock thing again a while before anyone else was”. I think with age comes a grudging respect as well from your contemporaries (laughs).

Well thanks very much for your time Steven. Good luck with everything going into 2012. Hopefully I will get the chance to talk to you again sometime.

Thanks a lot. It was very nice talking to you. Goodbye.

“Grace for Drowning”, the new Steven Wilson solo album is out now.

The new Bass Communion album, “Cenotaph”, is also out now.

The debut album by Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth is released in April 2012 under the name Storm Corrosion.

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