Porcupine Tree interview (01/2008)
|With:||Steven Wilson [Vocals, guitars]|
Jeff: - Hello Steven, thanks a lot for your time, how is the tour so far, how it's going on?
Steven: This tour… hum, it's been great, we're sold out at almost every show and we're touring with Anathema as you probably already know, it's really good and friendly it's good camaraderie… We've started touring in April and I feel that this tour just continues like if it was just one tour, I've hardly been home since April so I'm looking forwad to getting back home but it's going really well.
- Ok, this is THE question, I would like to know why you're so mysterious when we come to talk about the name of your band…
Ho no don't ask me that [laughs]
- [laughs] But why don't you want to talk about it, I don't want to know what Porcupine Tree "means"…
Hum why… for several reasons… the first one, it amuses me, I'm the only person who knows what it means, including the other members of the band, it's my sick sense of humour but also because I think that it's kinda nice that people don't necessarily know what it means it has a mystery, it has a kind of enigma about it… Sometimes to know too much destroys the myth, you know what I mean… it's a bit the same with the relationship of the people behind the bands, for me with the great bands like Radiohead or Pink Floyd or Tool, you don't really know much about the people and I like that, that's one of the things that really appeals to me about the bands I like so we try to maintain this kind of mystery with Porcupine Tree as well.
- Ok! But it's a good name! I like it a lot
Ok, but it's just a name, it doesn't mean anything to me anymore! [laughs]
- Let's talk a bit about your music now, how do you define the music of Porcupine Tree now? I'm talking about the latest album…
I try… I try not to… well, it's one of the harder things to do for the musicians, I mean that's the job of the journalists… But if you ask me to define Porcupine Tree, I will probably write a book… you know what I mean… Well, it's really hard to talk about our music in one sentence, people have called us Progressive, Progressive Metal, Space Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Hard Rock and many other things… Well the important thing with "Fear Of A Blank Planet" is that the Metal aspect that we've introduced a couple of albums ago has now become much more integrated in the vocabulary of the sound. A couple of albums ago, I think that some people were chocked by the Metal aspect but now that one of the language that we use. I think that "Fear Of A Blank Planet" is a much more balanced album, it's a real conceptual album and the lyrics, not only the lyrics but the whole music, well everything is really important. So for me it's one complete piece of music. Humm… Well, I can't really define our music and I don't really like the term "Progressive" and for me Porcupine Tree is Porcupine Tree. I hope now, after fifteen years and nine albums that we have a sound that you can instantly recognize just like when you hear Tool or Opeth… I hope that it's the same for us now…
- Your last three albums got a lot of positive reviews and I think that Porcupine Tree is becoming more and more famous, especially in the USA, nowadays… Do you know why?
I have my theories… My main theory is that what's happening now is like a return to the 70's models. In the 70's they got like a golden era maybe started with Sergent Pepper to finish with Punk later. During this time it was important to play and listen to music not to release singles, you have some bands like Led Zeppelin which have never released any single… I think that we live the same thing now because of the download culture and everybody is saying that it has a really negative influence on the music and I think that it's true in some aspects because it's harder for bands to sell records. But there is now some positive effects too, it's easy now to download studio recording music ok but if the bands sell less there is also a lot more of interest for live performances, especially for the bands which have always cared about their live performances and the quality of their musicianship. So I think that you'll not see Britney Spears audiences rising but you'll see bands like Porcupine Tree, Opeth or Anathema will always grow because people know that these bands will always deliver great live performances and finally they will always keep the faith of their fanbase. They will never be sell-out, they will never do the damn thing to try to become rich, they will always do it for the right reason which is the music. Now the kids can have access to these bands through the net, through Myspace, one of them goes to a show and tells others that it was great, and it's growing, it's slow but it's growing… it's different with the rest of the industry…. That's my theory anyway…
- About "Fear Of A Blank Planet", as you said it's a bit more Metal, why and when did you decide to play something a bit more aggressive, a bit more heavy?
Hum ok, well when I was very young, we got something in England that we call the "New Wave Of British Heavy Metal", you've probably heard about it?
- Of course I love it
Ok right! So when I was eleven or twelve years old I used to listen to all these bands like Saxon, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, probably my favorite band, and some more obscure like Tygers of Pan Tang, I'm sure that you know them too…
And all these bands became famous when I was growing up and I loved it! Two, three years later, I've discovered 70's music, Progressive Rock etc and I kinda lost my interest in Metal it was just a part of my adolescence you know. But I've never lost my interest in heavy music and even when I was listening to all this other music I was always trying to find the darker, the heavier, the most operatic and I was always trying to find the most extreme music in fact. I've never tried to find anything else in Metal, of course I heard "Master Of Puppets" or "Reign In Blood" but I kinda assume that nothing was really interesting for me. Some years ago, it was actually a French journalist who was interviewing me before that we do something a bit more Metal, who talked to me about these bands, Opeth, Meshuggah, Morbid Angel, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, I have a lot of respect for Mastodon… So he was talking about all these bands and I was saying "yeah yeah yeah… give me a tape…" and it blew me away! I said to myself, this is where all the interesting musicians are working! Because for a long time I couldn't find where all these creative musicians where going… You know in the 70's they had a lot of creative musicians like Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, I was thinking "where are all these people now?" and I found them, they were working in extreme Metal. These incredibly talented musicians making this very sophisticated but quite accessible at the same time music, and I particularly fell in love with Opeth and Meshuggah. They've changed my whole method of writing and I worked with Opeth and the first album that I produced for them had a lot of impact on my own writings… So I fell in love one more time with Heavy music and now I listen to Heavy music and I love it all over again… That's the story.
- And I know that you like Gojira a lot…
Hoo yeah, amazing, really amazing band!
- When I read your lyrics I have the feeling that you're not so optimistic about the future of our world…
That's kinda true and kinda not true at the same time because we've already talk about for example the kids who're returning to see good Rock concerts and I think that there is positive side in the whole Internet and download generation. On this album, I'm most particularly speaking about what I see when I turn on MTV for example. The kind of shows that you can see on this TV like American Idol or The Real World and all the reality TV, it's all about the cult of celebrity. You know, the worst thing with reality TV and all that bullshit these days is that they give young people the impression that the only thing important in life is to be famous. It's interesting… Have you heard, you probably have, some things about the shooting in Virginia?
- Yes of course…
It's really ironic because it happened the day of the release date of our album… Well It seems to me, that basically I felt that his own life was insignificant and that he was ignored, no one was interested in what he had to say, no one was interested in talking to him, no one wanted to be his friend, no one wanted to be his lover… I suppose that he had a feeling of insignificance and I believe that these kind of feelings come from TV and the Internet that make all the people believe that they have to be young, good looking and famous. And the other problem with Internet, I mean it's a great thing as well but it's also a negative thing, is I think that because of the Internet now we're all aware every day of our life how insignificant we really are, because we know what's going on everywhere in the world every time. When I was a teenager I didn't really know what was going on in the USA, in the Middle East etc… well of course we had the news on TV but now, you just have to log-on the Internet to know what's happening in the USA, Australia and now, because we're a part of this global community it can only increases the sense of paranoia. If you connect it with TV and the "you have to be famous" thing you'll only have negative things… Look at the kids now, they have their Ipods, they have hundreds of channels on TV, they have their Playstations, they don't have any reason to go out… But well, that is negative but at the same time as I said, I'm seeing a lot of kids coming to the show and I'm surprised. You always have an opposite reaction anyway, so I'm positive too.
- Ok! Now Steven let's talk about your work as a producer. How did you become a Producer in addition to be a musician? And what are the differences and the links between the producer and the musician?
It's a very good question! I've never really seen any division. You ask me when did I become a producer, actually I'm not really conscious of a point in time, I just did what I needed to do, to make my records. It's important to understand that I've never set-out to be a guitar player or a singer, I set-out to make records. I didn't care what I had to do to make records, if I had to play guitar, then I learned to play guitar, if I had to play piano then I learned to play piano but I've never had to learn to be a producer, I learned to be a mixer. So each thing that I've kinda learned, I've learned it in order to make my own records. In some way it's really a negative thing because it's like if you wanted to control everything but I want my baby to be born right. So I kind of learned to produce my own music by making mistakes, I mean that I made some horrible records to begin with but gradually I got better and gradually some people started to know that "Porcupine Tree sound" and started to ask me to work with them. And I just said "hoo ok… well let's produce them" and other bands like Opeth asked me to produce their records and gradually I realized that I had a reputation as a producer. But for me personally, I never knew this kind of contrast between the musician and the producer.
- You were in Israel when you composed "Fear Of A Blank Planet", is it the reason why you'll also produce the upcoming Orphaned Land?
I have a strong relationship with Israel… It's a long story but basically the first time that I went there, I fell in love with a girl from Israel and then I started to go there to see her. Well it didn't work out with her but I the mean time I began a strong relationship with the country and I made a lot of friends. And as I was going to Israel you know seven times in the year I met some of the local bands. Orphaned Land was one of them, and they were fans of Porcupine Tree and gave me their albums. I listened to "Mabool" and I found it fantastic but I said to them that the production sucked! [laughs] And they agreed and we started talking about the possibility of me producing their new album. But they're still writing… they're a really slow band….
- Ho yeah, they're not so fast [laughs]. Still about production, which bands would you like to produce? What can you give to a band which would like to be produced by you?
It's another good question… But it's a difficult question to answer… I suppose that if a band asks me to produce them, it's because they already know and like what I do. So I just go there and do what I do normally. If you ask me to explain what I'll do, I can't, I just have something in my head and say "let's try it". I have the chance that all the bands who asked me to produce their album already like my kind of sound. I would be really resistant if somebody just asks me to produce them and I didn't feel anything in their music…
- It was my next question! I wanted to ask you if you could produce everyone like a big mainstream Pop band?
NO, I wouldn't be interested but I've been asked! And… I'm not interested, because on one hand it would be great for my CV, but on the other I know that I will find it incredibly depressing… [laughs]. And I'm very impatient in the studio and if the guys cannot give me something that I would like to see, I'm sure that I could quickly get depressed… I cannot be one of these "for hire" producers, I like to do things that I like.
- So unfortunately you'll never produce the new Tokio Hotel? [laughs]
Correct! I will never do that!!! [laughs]
- You have a lot of projects, two weeks ago I did an interview with Mike Portnoy and we talked a bit about all his projects… So can you give us some new information? Maybe about the project with him and Mikael of Opeth?
Well, Mike kinda heard about myself and Mikael talking about a project together and said "I wanna be the drummer!"[laughs]… We said "hoo ok, he is not bad" [laughs], but to tell you the truth, we don't really know yet… For a good reason in a way, is that we've talked about it with Mikael a long time ago, it was during the Blackwater Park sessions, and since then Opeth keeps on getting more and more successful, Porcupine Tree keeps on getting more and more successful… Right now Mikael is in the studio working on the new album and we're touring, promoting our last album, when I will be free next year Mikael will be touring for the new album… So it seems that we'll never find the time, the window to get together. I hope! I hope one day really…
- My next question is a bit more classic… What do you listen to nowadays?
Everything! Go to my website and you'll see a playlist. I love the new Radiohead album, it's amazing. I'm a big fan of all the Drone bands like Boris, I like Drum N Bass music I have my own Drum N Bass project. I love the new NIN… what else? Go to my website and you'll see!
- Between fans… you like Iron Maiden so do you agree if I say that they were probably one of the first real Progressive Metal bands?
Yeah!!! Especially after the first three albums, it's pure Progressive Metal. But you know, Steve Harris is a massive Progressive Rock fan...
- Talking about Prog, one of my mates who will be in the venue tonight is the new POS' drummer. Do you know this band?
I love their last album, "Scarsick" yes, great record!
- Could you be interested to work with them?
Ho yeah why not, I think so. I didn't really know them before I heard this album and the funny thing in the end is that this record deals with the same kind of issues that we have on "Fear Of A Blank Planet". It's really angry at American culture, at the influence of the Internet… It's a really angry record, I like that! I haven't met Daniel but I really would like to because I think that we have a lot of things in common.
- I hope that you'll meet him then, it could be great! Ok now this is one of my last questions. Why did you choose Anathema to be your opener? I think that some people will come to see Anathema and will discover Porcupine Tree and vice-versa…
Yeah yeah, absolutely!
- Was it in your mind when you've asked the guys to join Porcupine Tree for this tour?
Yes. Well, firstly we're good friends we've already toured together in the past and it was a good time. Secondly they have a good strong fanbase and I think that one of the great things with Rock music is that you can share your audience. It has certainly happened in the past when the Opeth and Porcupine Tree connections happened. We got so many new fans and I think they got some new fans too, people who would never listen to Death Metal… It's one of the beauties of the whole Metal scene; this is something that for many years we didn't have. When Porcupine Tree started out we didn't really fit in any scene in any genre and we didn't have any kind of other bands that we can kind of connect with, I mean really nothing. We used to tour for years and years on our own… Since the last three years we can share our audience with bands like Opeth, Oceansize, Anathema. We're all fans of each other… Maybe it sounds cheesy [laughs] but it makes for a really great atmosphere on tour.
- So maybe that you'll help Anathema for their next album?
We're talking about it…
- That's good news!
They have a lot of fantastic new songs and I would love to help them if I can, yes.
- You'll play with Anathema at the Olympia in Paris in December, is it not a bit stressful to play on a stage where people like Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, The Beatles have played in the past
Haaa stressful no! My mum and dad will come to see that show! It will be a great night in a great venue and I hope that it will be sold out!
- You're really busy, when will you take a break?
Well, I'm not gonna do anymore touring for some months after the end of this one. I'll stay at home, I'll start writing new material for different projects. I'm not this kind of person who can just sit down and do nothing. I must do something, reading books or anything else. I will probably do a solo album, my first solo project. So I will just relax and work on it.
- Thanks a lot Steven!
- Can you just tell me what the show tonight will be like and what kind of feelings we will get out of it?
Hoo God, I don't know! [laughs] You've never seen Porcupine Tree before… Hum it's quite a visual experience. We have a lot of films and multimedia projections. Musically we try to make the show like we try to make our albums, which means that it must be a musical journey. You'll have heavy sections, long like short passages we try to build some kind of climax. People tend to stand and listen to our music… you'll not see a lot of people headbanging. It's kind of a visual experience and I really hope that you'll like it!
Thx to Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree and Bérangère @ Roadrunner Records France.
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