PORPCUPINE TREE's Steven Wilson - "We Keep Fighting To Try To Infiltrate The Mainstream Any Way We Can"

May 9, 2010, 9 years ago

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By Martin Popoff

On the eve of a big Toronto stop for Steven Wilson and his esteemed purveyors of prog rock with a sheen of cool, the man with most of the band’s plan sat down amidst a furious gale outside a protective window wrap against Lake Ontario and thereby dished the goods about future endeavors. PORPCUPINE TREE, in North America, are resolutely moving toward that large theater zone, and tonight’s stop feels like a transition show, the guys bringing The Incident to a large no-nonsense hall called the Sound Academy (formerly The Docks), with mellotron hard rocking archivists BIG ELF in tow.

“Well, the next major release, which is any day now, is the DVD, which was shot on the Fear Of A Blank Planet tour,” says Wilson, asked first for some pure and newsy news. “It’s called Anaesthesia, shot high definition; it’s definitely a big step up from the first DVD – it’s coming out in the next two or three weeks. I don’t know exactly when in Canada, but that’s been the big project for the last few months; editing and mixing is a big project. That took a while. And I’m working on... I’ve sort of got three new albums in various points of ‘on the go-ness,’ including my solo record, which is very different from the last one, a couple of other projects in progress, coming this year - there isn’t going to be a new studio release from the band until next year.”

Photo by Lasse Hoile

As for the next solo album… “It’s a lot more… I don’t know if you know, but I’ve been working on revamping the catalogue of the ‘70s band KING CRIMSON. Not everyone knows that, but that’s kind of rubbed off on me quite a lot, so I’m learning how they made records, very interesting to contrast say how records were made at that time as opposed to how I’ve grown up with them; most people make records now by, on modern computing systems, an unlimited amount of tracks. You can dub 15 tracks if you want - people don’t track live. They tend to do drums, then bass, then guitars, very kind of piecemeal. So a lot of those albums were made by a live band, cutting live tracks in the studio, and then applying some overdubs of course. But listening the way they did it, they didn’t play to click tracks, so the tempo is all over the place, and I’ve realized one of the things about not playing to click track, is that you do get natural speeding up and slowing down. And it’s part of what makes the music exciting. Part of what makes rock music exciting is when a band is speeding up. Not deliberately, but you don’t get those kinds of things when you work in a disciplined way and you’re working to a click track, you’re playing your parts, and no one else is there from the band, just the drummer. And so I’m making this new solo record, and I’ve done a couple of sessions now. I’ve just got into a studio with a great band and just cut back tracks. And it’s kind of old school. There’s loads of mellotron on it, it’s got more of a jazz... it’s very progressive, I think it’s only going to be, possibly, I’m thinking of keeping it to the length of a 42 minute album, classic ‘70s; there’s a 21 minute track on it, very progressive, and a lot of fun.”

So are we going to see a lot of guitar, bass drums? Old-school instrumentation?

“No, it’s very varied. I’ve got loads of mellotron on there, electric piano, saxophone, flute, I’m going to actually do a session with a choir. So I’m going for big musical forces (laughs). And there are some special guests on it as well. You can probably guess who they are; it is very different from the first album, because it’s very dark and very epic.”

That indeed sounds like early King Crimson where they brought in some of those sounds, which are kind of Krautrock, really, in origin.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going for. And in King Crimson, in the early days, they would use bassoons, harmoniums, flutes, horns, almost chamber-like orchestral... and that’s really rubbed off on me a lot.”
“Let’s face it, the music industry as we know it is basically… it’s gone,” says Wilson, asked about his feelings toward making full albums… or not. “And this idea of the album release as an event is no longer in existence. Even if you still insist on making albums, this idea of making albums, the release date of an album, is no longer relevant. So the kind of event of an album release no longer exists. Even if you make an album, inevitably by the time it goes on sale, everybody’s already heard it. Now that does make it difficult to think of the album as the center of the musician’s life. Writing the material is still… you’ve got to have new materials to go play live. But certainly the idea of an album as a commercial event has gone. That’s not to say that I don’t think the album... for a band like RUSH for example, here’s a band who kind of made their name by using the album in a creative way as a kind of musical continuum, a musical journey. I can’t think of an album like Moving Pictures without thinking about the running order and the track listing and the way side one is structured and the way side two is structured, etc. etc. Now certainly the CD kind of eroded that slightly, and downloading culture has eroded it further, but you know what? I think there are still a lot of people out there who still love the idea of the album as a musical journey, a musical continuum. We have done our best to hold that up.”

Photo by Lasse Hoile

But all this talk of how music is released… fortunately, Porcupine Tree is a band that is followed by a tribe wherever they alight. Is it now, in this restless new age, more about the live show? Does Porcupine Tree count on their tribe to see them through?

“Well, yes and no. Yes, I certainly think that’s true. We kind of epitomize, if you like, the cult band, because we’re not in the mainstream media. Ultimately that’s the definition. Coming back to them - Rush. Here’s a band who was never a mainstream band; GRATEFUL DEAD, these kinds of bands, built up massive, massive followings without ever being mainstream. And that’s certainly true of us too. But we never give up, because we’re doing a whole bunch of mainstream festivals this year - Coachella, Roskilde, we did Download. There’s always opportunities to reach new people. So you never know. There are plenty stories of bands who were tribe bands for years, and then overnight, just suddenly something clicks, or the right song. Yet for some bands, it was the beginning of the end in a way; sometimes it can be a negative thing. But listen, I’ve never thought about our music as being particularly difficult or exclusive. I think, actually, like a band like PINK FLOYD, our music is quite accessible, really! So we keep fighting to try to infiltrate the mainstream any way we can. But I’m realistic and I know that certainly our core very much comes from word-of-mouth and touring, and nothing will ever change that.”

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