PORCUPINE TREE’s STEVEN WILSON is keeping up his prolific FRANK ZAPPA-like pace, not only crafting his third solo album, The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), but mounting a tour with it as well, hot band of progmeisters in tow.
The album is an exotic trip comprising six long songs, three of which are based on ghost stories. What’s more, the penultimate version of the album will be issued as a 4CD set with a 128 page hardcover book illustrated by Hajo Mueller.
But why ghost stories? “The tradition of the classical ghost story,” says Wilson, “for me, is first and foremost something which is very close to my heart because of it is—or they are—ultimately stories about human beings and the human condition, and all the problems that we face as human beings. Now, what is the ghost story? What is the ghost, in fact? The ghost is, if you don’t believe in the afterlife, you don’t necessarily believe in ghosts—which I’m not sure I do—but the ghost is this wonderful symbol of something. It’s a symbol of man’s fear of their own mortality; human beings’ fear of mortality. It’s the symbol for regret, it’s a symbol for loss, it’s a symbol for things somehow left undone and unachieved in life. The ghost becomes this wonderful symbol for all of these things. And of course that then taps into all sorts of other things to do with just being, being on this planet, and being aware of the fact that one day you will cease to exist. And that everything you do in life, your happiness, your relationships, your family, your job, all of these things, you measure against the fact that you know that time is tick, tick, ticking away. And that is a fascinating thing to me. And I think it’s basically the basis of all artistic expression. In a way, if you’re writing about love, pain or anger or melancholy or depression, or whatever it is you’re writing, or happiness, you’re ultimately writing about mortality, and the fact that you only have a certain amount of time to try to make sense of the gift of life. So for me, the ghost story becomes a wonderful kind of device, with which you can use this symbol of the ghost as a kind of representation of fear of mortality, fear of loss, regret, and all these things that kind of obsess human beings, almost from when they’re old enough to think for ourselves. That’s the way I see it.”
One would have to figure that Steven’s most poltergeisting ghosts is the one that is constantly reminding him to make records, pointing at his ethereal wristwatch. BLACKFIELD, STORM CORROSION, BASS COMMUNION. NO-MAN, along with a bunch of pseudonym things at various levels of secrecy...
“I think I do have this kind of inherent drive to produce as much work as I can, while I’m able to,” notes Steven. “And I think part of that is almost like an attempt to leave behind some kind of legacy, some part of yourself. For example, I’m not very interested in having a kid. I question sometimes whether that’s normal. But actually, I find these days, I meet a lot of people that feel the same way as me, women too, that have no interest in having children. The need to procreate, I think is partly that need to leave behind some part of yourself, to create a legacy for yourself. And without being too pretentious, you can argue that creating music, creating paintings or books, or whatever the art form you’re working in, is also a form of creating some kind of legacy that will live on after you die. So I think there is something subconscious there, about that. It’s one of the reasons why I think I have such a strong work ethic and drive, that I feel that I almost have this compulsion to create as much music as I can while I can.”
But will it always be music? The evidence is that there is so much about Wilson’s releases that offer so much more.
“Well, I think I’ll always be connected to music. As much as I would love to be a writer, it’s not something that I… I don’t think you just suddenly decide, I’m gonna be writer today. I mean, I’ve spent 25 years honing my craft of being a musician, and I think I’m only just now beginning to make really good records, you know, 25 years into my career. So I would feel a bit of a fraud if I suddenly stood up and said, hey, you know what? I’m going to be a writer today. Or I’m going to be a filmmaker today. But, one of my, in fact, probably my number one biggest unfulfilled ambition, as we speak today, is that I would love to be involved in scoring a movie, and actually working very closely with a movie director on a great script, to actually produce a movie soundtrack. And the sound design relating to a movie. So I think a lot of my interest is to do with music still, but music perhaps connected with other forms of media. So for me, I suppose if you have an interest in one art form, it’s only natural that you would have an interest in all forms of creative expression.”
Cherry on the top of the album is the fact that Steven worked with the great ALAN PARSONS. “Well, he engineered the record,” notes Wilson. “I was looking for someone who had an expertise in recording, firstly, a band playing live in the studio. You know, this is quite unusual these days. Most people make records, they get the drummer in for a week, they send the drummer away. They get the bass player in for a week, they send the bass player... they get the guitar player… So you record albums nowadays mostly in this kind of modular way. But what you don’t get when you do that, and again, I suppose it goes back to kind of jazz influences, you don’t get that kind of chemistry with a real band playing together. So number one, I wanted an engineer that was familiar with recording bands in kind of an old-fashioned way, setting up in the studio and playing the music live. And that’s what all those guys did in the ‘70s. People didn’t do a lot of overdubbing in the ‘70s.”
“The other thing I wanted to do, was I wanted to have someone who had an expertise and some sort of knowledge and experience in making records in the ‘70s. Because I love the sounds of ‘70s records. I think they sound better than any records from any other era. They have a certain organic, golden, vintage quality, that for me, it’s vintage, but at the same time it’s timeless. Those records don’t ever seem to date for me. And I don’t really like the sound of modern records very much. So I wanted someone that had a kind of expertise of using analog equipment, microphone techniques, valve compressors, valve EQs, vintage mixing desks, all that stuff that was being used in the ‘70s. And Alan was top of my list, because Alan was the guy that recorded what for many people is the most famous album of all, from the ‘70s, Dark Side Of The Moon, the most beautiful sounding record of the ‘70s. So this is a guy who knows how to make records sound warm, organic and golden. And that’s exactly what he did with my record. I mean, I think it sounds lovely.”