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Interviews : Porcupine Tree (Steven Wilson) – 09/01/2010

By on January 6, 2010


Porcupine Tree – Steven Wilson

Porcupine Tree have been around since the late eighties, but it’s only now that they’re getting recognition for their modern take on 70’s experimental music. 2007’s Fear Of  A Blank Planet was nominated for a Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album and it’s success has taken the band to new heights; only to be followed by the ambitious 55 minute epic that is 2009’s The Incident.

Metal Obsession chatted to main man Steve Wilson about all things ‘Tree.


Metal Obsession: Hey Steve how are you?
Steven Wilson:
I’m good man, very good thank you.

MO: So you released The Incident earlier this year, How’s the reception been?
Well It’s been amazing really, far beyond our expectations. I dunno what’s happened between the last album and this one, but something has happened. We just have some much more interest and twice as many people coming to the shows and it just seems like there were expectations this time around. We didn’t release the album into a void of disinterest, which for many years was always the case! This time there’s a real kind of buzz around the band, which is great!

MO: So The Incident 55 minute song that occupies one entire disc of the two disc set, was the idea to have one massive song pre-conceived?
No in fact it was pre-conceived, to the extent of that was what I was going to write, before I’d even written a note of music. I guess in a way I wanted to set myself a challenge, something that would make the album a very different feel, both the writing and music from the album before it.

So the challenge that I set myself this time was to sort of write an album in the way that say a novelist would write a book. So rather than write a bunch of unrelated songs and then finding a way to put them together, actually write a piece of music in a linear narrative way, let a plot develop and characters develop, and that was the challenge that I set for myself. Luckily It did work out and It did lead to a very different sounding Porcupine Tree Album.

Porcupine Tree - BandMO: After the success of Fear Of a Blank Planet was there any pressure to write the follow-up?
Well there’s always pressure but It’s self imposed pressure. I never feel pressure really to come up with music in a particular time frame or I never feel pressure to please the fan base, record label or manager.

My pressure comes very much from inside, to not repeat what has been done before and to evolve, do something that excites me. Every time you’re looking to recreate that buzz that you had when you wrote your first song. And it’s the same for me now, searching for something that excites me about the work. So there’s always pressure, but it’s more internal as opposed to external.

MO: Was there any particular influences musically or otherwise in regards to the new album?
Yeah the biggest influence on the new album is Porcupine tree! (laughs) And I don’t mean to say that to sound arrogant, the reason I say that , leading on from what I was just talking about, the biggest influence on the way the band develops is to not repeat itself. What you have when you write a new album is an awareness of what you’ve done before in your back catalogue and the sense of wanting to develop something a bit different.

That really is the strongest influence probably on any band that’s been around for a while, your biggest influence becomes your history. Outside of that there wasn’t any particular influence bar the desire to kind of emulate a novelist and literature. But there have been bands that have done that before, one track albums, like Jethro Tull or Mike Oldfield. I grew up listening to that stuff, so I’m certainly not the first person to do this but it’s not very fashionable these days, to write long songs at all and to write one that is 55 minutes long is quite a statement.

MO: In terms of producing your own music, is it hard to know when to stop working? I’d imagine with the experience you have as a producer, it’d be hard to step back and not get too carried away..
It’s hard to sometimes know when to leave it alone, yeah. I think for me the point at which the music starts to feel more like a technical exercise and less like music. What I mean by that is that when you write then produce, mix and master all these different stages of making a record, you listen to the tracks-I’ve never bothered to work how many times you hear a track-it must run into the thousands.

Certainly the hundreds, the amount of times you hear every minute of your record. And at some point your attachment to the music, and relationship changes from one of happiness and joy to being more about that snare sound or is that guitar sound in the right place or the level on that vocal and you become more technically involved with the production and sound. So I think that’s the point where you know when to stop, no longer enjoying it after working on a record for a month. And I think everyone in that position experiences that, it’s a very dangerous place to be!

Typically I think it takes about a year from writing to finishing the production of an album for Porcupine Tree. So I started writing this last October and released it in September (2009), that’s a long time to be living with an album!

MO: I suppose It’d be good to get out and play them live!
Absolutely! Because at that point when you play it live the music is re-born again. And it becomes again about performance and not about technical ability, putting emotion back into the songs. But then again touring also kills the music to an extent, I mean we’ve done fifty plus shows already, and I’d be lying if I said that every single one of those shows was inspiring, some of those feel like a little bit of regurgitation you know. But If you do any thing too much of course it becomes a bit boring.

MO: Are there any new bands you’ve been listening to that have impressed you?
Yeah I still discover a lot of new music all the time. There were a lot of great records this year. I really love the Mars Volta’s last album, I loved the last Sunn o)) record, I’m a big fan of Sigur Ros, I love the new Katatonia record. So all the time I’m discovering some fantastic new music, and I think right now is a good time for ambition in music.

For many, many years to be ambitious in music was so unfashionable. I mean think about that whole era of grunge, and then electronic and techno music. It was very difficult to be ambitious, it was considered very self indulgent. But I think what’s happened in the last five years is that a lot of fantastically ambitious music has come back again. Think of bands like Muse, Radiohead,  The Mars Volta, Opeth and Sigur Ros. Suddenly all this music has come right back again. It’s terrific! Obviously it’s great for me you know!

Porcupine.TreeMO: Having been involved in the music industry for so long, you’ve seen a lot of changes, any comments on where it’s heading in the future?
It’s very difficult to say right now. It’s one of those things that everyone knows the music industry as we’ve come to know it in this period. And now it’s evolving into something else. Music’s not going to go away of course, there’s probably more music now than there ever has been, possibly TOO much.

I think one of the down sides is the fact that it’s very easy to make music from your home , and it’s very easy to put it on the internet. So I think people are less likely to go listen to a myspace page, because there’s like 4 million bands that have pages. So think that music is definitely evolving into something else. I don’t think anyone really knows what yet. There’s a lot of people that will tell you that where the music industry is going. I don’t think they do! I don’t think anyone really knows yet.

It’s almost something has disappeared or something has been destroyed, and the dust hasn’t settled yet. Are people still gonna buy the product? I think they are, I mean this is only my opinion, my guessing, but I think it will be divided into two markets or two extremes. The one extreme will be people who are quite happy to download, they might pay for it, they might not, but the point is they’ll just download it, they’re not bothered about the physical product, they don’t care if the artist gets paid royalties or not. I think the other extreme will be the people that will buy not generic cd’s in crystal casing, but cd’s that are packaged in a special way. I think we’re already seeing a return in special packaging.

A lot of bands are doing beautiful editions, box sets with DVD’s, special posters, books, booklets, photographs and I think that is where the physical product market is going to go. Because if you want people to spend money on the physical product, you’ve got to give them something special. They’re no longer prepared to spend $15 dollars on a crystal case CD. But if you give them something really beautiful and artistic, really something that they are going to treasure, really cherish, then they will spend the money.

For me that’s where I think it is going. A very cheap download market and perhaps the more upmarket packaging of the physical thing. I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think it’s a pretty good compromise.

MO: Because with downloading it becomes so invaluable, so disposable. Bands should really just start pressing vinyl!
In a way they are! Vinyl is definitely on the rise again, and more things are coming out on vinyl than ever before. Sales have doubled in the last year! It’s still a small market but It’s really the only part of the industry where were seeing growth!

That’s interesting because it shows you that people are actually searching for that more physical product to hold in their hands. Being able to hold a 12inch vinyl in your hands with a gate fold sleeve and a lyric sheet, taking the record out and placing it on a turntable, that kind of sentimental, romantic experience of listening to music is definitely coming back-even with the younger generation.

MO: You’re touring Australia next year, looking forward to that?
Absolutely! We had a terrific time last year last April so we really can’t wait to get back!

MO: Anything to say to the Porcupine Tree fans of Australia?
SW: Looking forward again to experiencing the Australian crowds, the people, the weather, the culture, the women…Everything! We’ll see you there!

Q’s: Owen Wilson
Steven Wilson (Lead Guitars)
Date: 06/01/2010
Origin: England


Make sure to check out Porcupine Tree this February on their upcoming Australian tour.

Dates as follows:

5 Feb – The Tivoli, QLD
6 Feb
Enmore Theatre, NSW
7 Feb
– The Palace Theatre, VIC

Tickets are still avaliable through Ticketeck.