Interview with Steve Wilson in Preston 53 Degrees venue, date 20/4/07.
Hi how you doing?
FoaBP has just been released; can you tell me how it came about?
Well we wrote it, well I started writing Fear of a Blank Planet around January last year while I was in Tel Aviv working on the Blackfield album. And I was thinking for a while about an album that would somehow deal with the issue of the 21st Century and this whole issue of the Information Technology age and how its affects not just young people, but everyone, but specifically young people and I was reading a book by an author called Bret Easton Ellis, who you may know from American Psycho, he wrote American Psycho. He wrote a new book called Lunar Park and the central character of Lunar Park is a ten year old boy who spends all day in his room with the curtains closed night and day, kind of hypnotised by the gadgets around him, the I pod, Cell phone, DVD player, Play station, Internet portal, downloading everything from music to pornography, taking prescription drugs and this whole kind of issue of the blanket generation and about how technology has accelerated the kind of odd way that the boredom that young people suffer even before they are out of their teens. So FoaBP was trying to deal with that whole issue from a younger person's perspective, but at the same time I am aware that it not only affects young people, it affect you, its affects me, it affects everyone. We are all kind of tied to our Cell phones, Laptops to our I pods and a lot of the soul of life is kind of not going but it's becoming harder to catch hold of.
Is it a band composition or mainly yourself who writes the lyrics/music?
It's mainly myself that writes the music and the lyrics. One song on the record is written by all of us called Way Out Of Here and I collaborated with Richard on My Ashes but the direction of the band has always been very much dictated by my writing approach.
How have the songs been constructed for FoaBP? Is it lyrics first then music or vice versa? Has the concept for this album been there for a long time?
It wasn't as simple as that it was a few things coming together, The Brett Easton Ellis Book, the fact that I had just been observing this going on, you only have to switch on TV and watch MTV for 10mins to realise that something is not right. American Idol, Big Brother, Reality TV, you can see that there is something sick about modern life and there is something not right so you only have to look around so I guess that I was generally feeling that and I was moving toward making a record that kind of dealt with those concerns that I had. In terms of music and lyrics they kind of all come together, I mean, I had a lot of lyrical ideas I had themes so I would sit down and start writing the music and other themes and melodies and lyrics suggest themselves.
I have heard you say in many interviews referencing the dark and light side of SW, is Fear of a Blank Planet a dark side composition?
Yes it's all dark and if not dark it's melancholic, so it's all on the side of melancholia, negativity, sadness, depression, loneliness. It dwells on the darker side of things so that allows me to be as a person, well I guess as a human to be a bit more positive. It's almost like an exorcism of that side of my personality.
Yes it is
What was the thinking behind this and if it wasn't well received would you have went back to the drawing board?
No I don't think so, actually we didn't expect it to be well received, we expected it to be at the very most kind of politely tolerated because we were going out and we were playing the first half of the show, almost an hour of completely unfamiliar music and we expected our fans to be kind of, to tolerate it but also to be waiting to hear the stuff they knew. So we were very pleasantly surprised when actually the opposite happened in that everyone was very enthusiastic about the new material. I think if they hadn't been it wouldn't have affected us because we didn't expect them to be, we thought it was more for us than it was for them well actually that is not true cause it was for them too because we wanted to give something that they hadn't heard before. The main object of the exercise was to allow us to develop the material on the road, to play through, and kind of let the music breath a little bit and evolve a little bit before we recorded it. I don't think any of us expected to get such a great reaction because we thought, well, they don't know this music they are not going put up with it but they did.
So the album wasn't cut before you went on the road?
No it wasn't. If the fans had hated it, would we have changed direction, I can't honestly say. That's a bit of an in retrospect thing, there is one song that we dropped from the original album which is a consequence of playing it live, which is partly down to us feeling it wasn't quite right also the fact that the audience thought that it was the weakest song
What song was that?
It was the fifth song of the set, it has been replaced by Way out of Here on FoaBP and Way Out of Here wasn't played live at that time
Alex Lifeson (guitar solo on Anesthetize) and Robert Fripp, (sounds capes on Way Out Of Here) both play on the new album, how did this come about? Are they fans of PT, did they approach you or vice versa?
On the last album we also had a couple of guest guitarists, we kind of have this tradition now of having guest guitarists we had Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) and Adrian Belew (King crimson) on the last one and on FoaBP we have Robert and Alex. Robert is someone we have known, well I have certainly known him since the early nineties when I worked with him on my No-Man project and the last couple of years he has been coming out and playing on the road with Porcupine Tree doing Sounds capes. He has been to Japan with us, been to America with us, done some UK shows with us. I had the chance to get to know him even better and we all kind of enjoyed being with Robert, there is a mutual respect there and I wouldn't like to work with anyone that doesn't like what we do. Sometimes people say why don't you work with such and such a person, well because I am not a fan of theirs and if they are not interested in what we do then I am not interested in working with them and the fact is that the people we work with are fans of the band as well as we are fans of theirs. So Alex I didn't know was a fan of the band until I read an article in Classic rock magazine last year. He was very enthusiastic about Porcupine Tree so I contacted him through the journalist, and he was very happy to be asked to play. Rush were certainly one of the bands that I was brought up with and Alex I always thought was an incredible guitar player.
Will you be helping with any their future projects?
If Rush invited me I would be very happy to work with them.
I don't really know, you ask me to describe this record and to me it's a PT record. I can't really analyse it I think it's easier for you to see the development of the band than it is for me and the rest of the guys. We are always about what we are doing now and we are not really comparing. We are not really saying 'oh what we doing now' well maybe we have gone heavier, gone mellower or we have done this or done that. We are just doing what we feel like we want to do at that moment and then we release the record and the fans say to us oh you have gone heavy or you've gone mellower or you've got more progressive or you have got more psychedelic. Its often a kind of surprise to us, I am too close to see. This album just seems like a very strong PT statement
Is it for a different demographic of fans?
I don't think in those terms, I really don't. We have a lot of young kids at our shows now, teenagers and even below. When we are making a record we are not thinking about the fan base, we are not thinking about selling more records, not thinking about pleasing the record company, not thinking about pleasing the management. We are interested only in one thing at the moment and that is pleasing ourselves. And I believe that is what real artists should do. I don't think Picasso painted for anyone but to please himself or Van Gogh painted for anyone but to please himself. If you start thinking about how your fans are going to react to something or how your record company is going to receive something then you have become in that moment, you have gone from being an artist to an entertainer We are not about entertaining people, we are, but do you understand the distinction. There are some people that kind of see a market and create their music to fit that market and there are some people who create music because they have to create music for themselves.
How did the Roadrunner Records deal happen. Is this a broadening of musical horizons for Roadrunner then? Also with Roadrunner Dream Theater are coming on board so what a label to be involved with. Is it just for this CD?
They have Opeth as well and they do have a tradition of progressive music. I hope it isn't just for this CD. So far the relationship seems to be going very well, it's been a very positive step up for us. Certainly after having Warner's in the UK and Europe so I hope we will continue to do more records with them but that is something that we will judge each time we make a record. I was very impressed with what they did with Opeth and they were big fans and they seemed very motivated and very into the band and they obviously have a very good understanding of how to sell underground bands but at the same time they know how to take bands into the mainstream, look at Nickelback, one of the biggest bands in America, if not THE biggest band in America, and they are Roadrunner too. So Roadrunner obviously have the infrastructure, if they did it, to take a band into that league, so that's a great thing for us to know that they can support us on both levels.
The last album done about 150K worldwide and about 15K in the UK so I would hope that we would be going for 25-30k this time.
FoaBP could even chart this time in the UK.
It was no 17 midweek in the UK (first week of release), although I expect a lot of our fans went out and bought it the first day so I would expect that will fall but hopefully it will be top 30 on Sunday. (It reached No 31)
It's not important to me, but it's very important to the rest of the business, the music industry. So if you can show promoters, agents, retailers, distributors, magazines, TV stations, radio stations. Look we are on the radar, we are in the top 30, now you have got to take us seriously so in that sense it is very, very important.
I hope JW will always be available for us and so far he has been, we have not had a situation so far that Wes has not been able to make himself available and I hope that he will always be available for us and he does have a solo career and he is currently working on a new record. He is very important to us on the road of course.
Do you master your CD's and what do you feel about the problem today that most CD's sound the same because of the similar technique used in mastering? Do you miss the demo sound?
I have gradually taken over all the mastering of my projects and this is the first PT album that I have mastered because I was not happy with the way that professional mastering houses were mastering it. There is a tendency to make everything very loud, to try and get volume at the sacrifice of dynamics and too much treble and too much bass and not enough of that warmth in the middle. You know the pressure has been there from record companies to make CD's sound louder because they notionally sound more exciting that way. But over a period of 50-60 mins it really does start to tire your ears out, and that has been a problem with this CD generation, basically your ears get tired quicker.
With the tour underway, in the UK, USA then Europe. How do you cope with the rigours of touring and do you enjoy playing live in front of an audience?
Well yes and no, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. There are good days at the office and bad days at the office. I didn't enjoy playing Glasgow very much, not because the audience wasn't fantastic but we had a lot of technical problems, the video didn't work, as you saw, we were making a lot of mistakes, although we were kind of expecting that. For the first show you kind of expect that, last night (Newcastle) I enjoyed it more because everything was working better and we played better and I think it will only get better now. But yes when it is good its fantastic, it's the best feeling in the world, you know, so I certainly enjoy the process. In terms of the rigours of touring it is hard this year we are on the road almost the whole year particularly because I was out with Blackfield last month. So I am going to be out on the road for 9 months of the 12 months this year it's very hard, very hard and I don't have much of a personal life and that is a big, big sacrifice, very big sacrifice.
How difficult are PT songs to play live?
That depends, for me they are very hard because I'm not a particularly technically proficient guitar player, for Gavin I am sure it is much easier because he is so good. It's hard you know, Way Out of Here for example is a very hard song to play and we haven't played it properly yet. I have played it properly in rehearsals but haven't played it properly on stage yet. They get harder as I am writing music that gets more and more harder for me to play live on stage every night.
Yeah I guess so.
Wes complements you very well on stage every night.
Wes helps out quite a lot, as I couldn't possibly cover all the guitar parts live, he's a great player.
Yes there will be a new one playing tonight. And there will be one for anesthetize as well. But gradually bringing in the films as the tour goes on.
I think this adds to seeing PT as a live band, a PT experience if you like. Was this your idea to include the visuals?
I can't remember, know I honestly can't remember. It was probably a combination of band discussions about creating something more multimedia based it was probably something to do with Lasse or a visuals guy was pushing for that. But I honestly can't remember where the idea came from.
How have the audiences changed over the years that PT have been playing, are they getting bigger as in more at the gig, younger, older? What do you see when you look out there at the sea of faces?
Well it's changed a lot. In the early days we were known as a psychedelic space rock band and our audience used to be almost all guys almost all 30 or above, kind of old psychedelic space rock fans. What's happened over the last 5 or 6 years is the broadening of the audience to the extent now that we really have across the board, I mean, old people, kids as young as 9 (Newcastle, front row), metal fans, progressive fans, pop fans, rock fans, psychedelic fans, I think anyone and everyone could potentially could find something to enjoy in the music now which is great and I am really happy to look out now and see, you know metal kids and old Prog rockers who remember it from the 1970's and also the young kids who are into Mastodon, Opeth and Tool and everything in between, and that's great. I always thought that PT as a band could and should appeal to potentially any rock fan, not just not just a specific sub genre.
On the subject of being busy how do you find time to work on all your projects and also other contributions that you make to other bands whether it be producing or playing?
It's getting harder as Porcupine Tree is becoming more successful and Blackfield is also becoming more successful it's getting harder for me to do other things. I mean I am trying to work all the time. I have just been on the bus now doing a Bass Communion remix for someone. So I am working on the bus on my laptop during the day, but its getting harder and I have had to turn down a lot of production work that I would like to have done with bands. I really enjoy producing and making records and I wasn't able to do a lot of these things over the last two or three years so in that sense I have become a victim of my own success with Tree and Blackfield, that I am having to now put other stuff aside which is very important to me and I miss it to be honest.
What is next CD to be released for PT?
There is going to be an EP with the tracks that didn't make the record and I would like to get Lightbulb Sun remastered and mixed in 5.1 surround sound, although I think that is probably not going to be until next year, yeah my hunch is that will be next year.
What Steven Wilson solo projects are upcoming?
Bass Communion - Pacific Codex, Continuum II, Collecting Myspace
Will Cut Ribbon be on Collecting Myspace?
No because Cut Ribbon is part of a project with Mikael Akerfeldt so that will not be on there.
You must be aware of many other PT tracks that are out there that haven't been released officially. Is there any prospect that they will be released as official PT releases?
Yes we will probably do that. I think that the web is a positive thing. But I don't like the idea of people compiling and packaging and that kind of thing because I think that ultimately we will compile those tracks ourselves. I don't know when and in what format. I don't mind it, well what I do mind is when demos get out, there was a whole load of demos that I made for Inabsentia that did get out on to the trading circles, because at that time we were looking for a record deal so we sent out a lot of CD's with the demos on and unfortunately those got out and I am not happy about that. They were my demos that were not meant to be heard, so I wasn't very happy about that, and as far as trading shows go, I do know that goes on, and I am not happy if people have to pay money for that stuff and I don't like it when people, you know, wave it around in our face. You know as long as they keep it low key. I have actually had people come up to me after shows with bootlegs saying can you sign it, and I say no I'm not going to sign it, it's a bootleg, yeah but I thought you didn't mind, well your wrong. Just cause I turn a blind eye it doesn't mean that I don't take offence if someone brings up bootlegs for me to sign and they don't understand that you know. The bottom line is that its music for which the band are not receiving a royalty and we have to survive somehow
Finally...if you could choose one PT track to take away with you onto a desert island what would it be and why?
Wow, well I really like the last track on the new record, Sleep Together but I think if I had to pick one from a lyrical perspective and a music perspective it would be Stop Swimming from Stupid Dream, the reason is, well first of all it's a very beautiful song, I love the string arrangement, I love the whole atmosphere but lyrically it really summed up the way I was feeling at that time, a paradox of being a musician and trying to make a living from it, very often musicians are not business men, if you're a musician you are creative, you are using the part of the brain which is completely the different part of the brain that you use to be a good businessman, and I know a lot of great musicians that have never made it simply because they are not good business men. And in a way you have to be always playing these games. When we have finished a record we have to get involved in the whole circus of promotion, marketing, singles, videos and all that stuff. Its very hard and it can be very heartbreaking, it can be an extremely heartbreaking business. I say to a lot of people that come up and ask me about wanting to be a professional musician, and I say to them don't try and be a professional musician just try and be a musician, don't think about trying to make a living from it, if it happens...great, but don't try and be a professional musician cause you will get your heart stamped on so many times. You will have so many heartbreaks and unless you have a really strong personality and the strength to deal with that you will find it very hard, a very hard industry.
Well good luck with the new album and the tour and I would like to thank you for taking the time to chat with me today.