STEVE WILSON INTERVIEW

 AMSTERDAM, may 26th 2001

by Christophe Demagny

 

Chemical Harvest: The current tour seems to be a little bit "boring" for you. The Dream Theater tour seemed to be a good opportunity, a kind of obligation. Is it difficult to promote an album nearly one year after is released date ?

Steven Wilson: Oh, not particulary, no. I mean it's difficult the way that we work. It's almost strange to be promoting an album once you finished it anyway because, for example, "Lightbulb sun" was finished in february last year (2000), was released in may and we started to play shows to promote it. And already by that time, three, four months after you finished an album, you're talking about probably years since you started writing material for it. So my head is in completely different place, moved on, we have different ideas about the kind of material we are writing and playing. So even from the very beginning of an album campaign, it seems that you are always promoting something that is part of your past. Some of the songs for "LS" were written for two or three years before they were recorded. But the songs still seem fresh, we still enjoy playing them.

 

Why are there few changes in the setlist, even if the actual one is great, when you could play tracks like "stars die", "staircase infinities" songs, "every home is wired", "stranger by the minute" or "how is your life today" ?

Well, we never tried "how is your life ...", I think it's difficult. These songs are not really songs which lend themselves very well for live performance. "Every home ..." and "how is your life ..." would be very difficult because of vocals. I supposed we could work out arrangements for those songs that would be different to the studio arrangements. But in the same time I don't feel the need to be playing those kinds of .... but , back to your question, we didn't play many gigs last year, headlining gigs. So, we haven't really played this set. So, I understand there's some fans that travel to England, to Germany, to Holland ... but 99 % of the audience every night have not seen playing that set before so it's new to them. And this set works. The more we play the set the more comfortable it becomes, the different songs find their right place. Yes, it will be quiet a big step for the next time we'll have to completely reinvent the set. We'll probably do that the next time, in the autumn, we'll have to bring back some old material, try some new things. But for the time, I think that this material is still fresh to most people.

 

And what about changing just one track at the time, you have recently played "sleep of no dreaming" ...

We played "feel so low" last night which we haven't played very much before. So yeah, we do. But "Stranger by the minute" wouldn't be something on top of our list, to be honest, no.

 

And even older tracks like "straircase infinities" ones ?

The problem with the tracks before "Signify" is that they were all recorded by me as solo tracks. In some cases, the band is not interested in doing those tracks and I can understand. Before, they were not involved in the writing. It's much more likely we'd look back to tracks we haven't play for a while from "Signify" than tracks from "Staircase" because at least the "Signify" material was recorded during the period we were a band. "Staircase" is more as a solo. So probably not, not at all.

 

And do you plan to play other solo shows like the Delft one ?

I don't plan to, no. I was invited to do that. For me, it's not something I want to do particulary. I don't think that this context (acoustic guitar) really shows the songs in their best light, the best way to present the songs is with the band so ... But it was fun to do as a one-off, nice atmosphere, fans who come to see the band anyway ... I wouldn't do ...

 

As you told before, another PT shows are planned for the autumn ?

Yes, we'll probably do more shows in the autumn, I don't know exactly where and when, in Spain, Germany, perhaps with Marillion again in september and october. But we've planned to.

 

And headlining shows in France ?

I don't know.

 

You used to play forthcoming tracks. Do you plan to play some new tracks before the end of the tour ?

I think it's possible if we come back in the autumn. We might do that again.

 

The new IEM album ("Arcadia son") is coming out. Has its realisation been like the first one (very quick) ?

The first one was realised in two days, this one took me a little more longer. It's much better. The first was very Krautrock influenced. This one has still got a bit of that but has jazz, avant-garde, kind of industrial influences too. It's a bit of everything really. But it's a much stronger record than the first one. I'm very pleased with it.

 

Could you tell us more about this new idea of saling live and studio material on the net ? Is it a kind of "Racket Records" (Marillion) thing ?

Yes, It will be like that. It will be our own label to released things like live albums and anything we want to. Anything that we feel not necessary for the mass commercial distribution, more for the hardcore fan-base.

 

Like the Shepperd's show (that will finnaly not be officially released) ?

We have recorded this show and a few other ones and we gonna get through the tapes and sellect. I don't know if we'll keep a whole show or parts of these ones. We have to listen to know which is the best way to do.

 

Fish doesn't seem to listen a lot to the differents points of view of the people he works with. John Wesley, for instance, is not very present on "Fellini days". So, when you had worked with him, had you got the assurance of freedom ? How did it worked ?

I can't comment on John. I've worked on the "Raingods" album too and Fish wanted synth programs for the maintrack "Plague of ghosts". He wanted the musicians he worked with to create the soundwall. Certainly with me, he wanted to create a whole new sound for him. And we did. I can't speak for the new album, I don't know. I heard it, it sounds ... it's different again and I would say it's probably because of the musicians involoved .... The one thing about when I made the album with him is, toward the end of the album, there was more pressure to come up with singles, things that could be played on the radio. And a couple of tracks ended up on the album I personnaly wouldn't have put it on the album. Maybe it happened again with John on this album. Fish perhaps said "We need singles, we need pop-songs". But generally speaking, I think he very much does leave the musicians to create. I was left very much to. So, I suspect that's probably not true, John has been very involved. But to come back to your question, yes, I had complete freedom.

 

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater drummer) was in Paris on wednesday. Is a collaboration possible, with Transatlantic or in different way ?

With Transatlantic, no! Well, I would never say never. I would be a lot more interested in working with Dream Theater than I would be with Transatlantic for example. Transatlantic is a bit too old-fashioned while Dream Theater has a kind of contemporary metal thing. So yeah, that's possible.

 

And even for mixing a Dream Theater album ?

Mixing is always something I enjoy doing, so yes.

 

And for a future Steve Hogarth album ?

You know, I'm always interested by working with people I like so I can't say "sure" on anything but yeah.

 

And if you were involved in the songwriting with Steve ?

I really doubt I would have the time. Now, I don't have the time to really sit down and be involved from the beggining and write the album with the artist and record the album, produce the album and mix the album ... it's such a big project, at least six months. And even in the album I did last year (Opeth album), I wasn't involved in the writing. All the material was written. So, that's quite a very big commitment.

 

Just on a few tracks ?

Maybe, yes. But I've got my own tracks to write. So, not for the next year. The priority will be Porcupine Tree's next album.

 

Would you be interested by soundtracks for films ?

I'd love to do stuffs for films, even for the band. If it happens now, it wouldn't be that good because we will do our own studio album. People always say that our music, my music, is very visual, very cinematic, is very filmic and I think it would be very good to go with a film. I think that's true. So, yes.

 

It would be a music for the film, for the images and not a song from a Porcupine Tree album ?

Specifically write to go with images, yeah.

 

Could you give us a few explainations about some samples ? For example, the "Tinto Brass" sample and the meaning of this track ?

It's not a sample, it's my girl-friend (laughs). Well, it's an instrumental track, obviously. My girl-friend had a video of one of his films, a soft-porn movie, and I just thought the name was very beautiful, Tinto Brass, it's very musical. And even before I've seen any of his films, I wanted to use the name Tinto Brass. I just thought it would be nice to get Turimi, my girl-friend, at the beggining of the track to read out a text from a japanese book, she's japanese. She wanted to translate it but I said no, read it in japanese, it would be more interesting. So, she's just reading "Tinto Brass, born in Milano, 1938 or whatever ... a list of his films". So, no, it's not a sample.

 

And for the end of "Even Less" ?

The number station, yeah. There's a phenomena known as "number stations" since the last world war. If you're tuning on short waves radio, you can find these stations. There are voices, sometimes male, sometimes female, reading numbers. And the numbers sound like random. But what they actually are, they're used by intelligent services in different countries to transmit coded messages. So if you have the key to decode the numbers, they give you a message. Well, I don't know the message. It's just taken randomly from a number station. The whole concept of number stations is kind of fascinating. For all I know, this messages could be in order to assassinate, in another country, someone or kill a president ... You don't know what they say but the idea is something of deep meaning. It's kind of spooky.

 

Which Porcupine Tree album is your favorite one ? And which tracks in particular at the time ?

Well, my favorite album is probably between "Lightbulb Sun" and "Signify". My favorite track is "Stop swimming". But you can ask me next week it will change again. People always ask me about my favorite song and I answer the title I'm working on now.

 

Could you explain us the meaning of each "Lightbulb sun" track ?

I will group tracks together. So, there are five tracks: "How is your life today", "Shesmovedon", "Hate song", "Russia on ice" and "Feel so low" which are relationships songs about the ending of a relationship, the breakup of a relationship. "Hate song" is about the hate, the bitterness and the anger, on "Feel so low" you've got the depression and the melancoly. You've got different stages. "How is your life today" is like the resignation. There's another group of songs on the album which are more childhood reminiscences. "Lightbulb sun" itself is when you're ill as a kid. "Where we would be" is about when you're in love with someone when you're a kid, a kind of innocence in relationship with the opposite sex. It's not about sex at all, it's just about friendship. "4 chords that made a million" is about my frustration, I suppose, with the media and particulary the british media and the fact that they take band, like Oasis for example, I don't have problems with them, and they would make them sound like nothing anybody's ever heard before, the most unique and inventive, magnificent rock'n'roll band has ever existed. And reality is that Oasis are really old-fashioned combination of the Beatles and Stone Roses. That's pleasant, nothing new but the music press would say "This is genius, it's new, fresh and original !" and in the same time, the same people would be writing that Porcupine Tree plays old-fashioned music, belongs to the past. So, there's a frustration when I know that what we're doing is quite fresh and there's a lot of people that would like it, if this brick wall between us and the public wasn't there, this brick wall is the media, the radio, the TV and the journalists, the music press.

 

Yes, when some friends, who didn't know the band, listen to Porcupine Tree, they love the music. So if the name Radiohead would be on the cover instead of the name Porcupine Tree, everybody would think that it's genius !

Yes, exactly ! That's exactly what I think. The only difference is that those bands have the benefit of the media attention and we don't. Back to your question, we've got "Last chance to evacuate ..." is another childhood song, similar to "Where we would be", the same girl. But the last part of "Last chance ..." has nothing to do with the first part.

 

Yes, we talked about this the last time in London. But could you tell us why these two different things were put together ?

I don't know, it just fitted to go very well, musicaly. Even if the subjects have no connections. I can't explain. But these two parts were always together, from the first time I wrote them. They were not conceived separated at all. I don't know why ....

And the last song of the album, "The rest will flow", which I didn't really want on the album to be honest but it was voted on, is the other side of the relationship songs because the five songs about it are about the breaking up of a relationship and "The rest will flow" is about the beginning of a new relationship. It's closed to a traditional love song, the beginning of something new.

 

You didn't want it on the album because of the sense or ...

No, no, it's alright. The other people in the band thought it's a strong track. But I like it, it's purely my opinion ...

 

And could you give us a few explainations about the new tracks, style, titles ... ?

It's very difficult because it's going to be different. We have already written a lot of stuff. Some of the stuff I've written ... for the band ... they haven't liked. The stuff they have not liked so much is the very heavy stuff. So some of it might be voted out and will end up becoming part of a new project. I think, whatever happens, the new material will probably be heavier, some of it. And some of it will probably be more space, dark. It will be a darker record, more experimental record. "Stupid Dream" and "Lightbulb sun" were as closer as I wanted to get to pop music. So the next album will be darker, like "Signify". I want to get back to that. But not back in time, forwards, you know what I mean ?

 

Yes. And perhaps the work with Anja Garbarek, more atmospheric music, could be an influence ?

Possibly, but my work with Opeth will be more present. The Anja Garbarek record is a very experimental record. It needs a few listens. Our ways to make music are very differents. It's a good thing, it's fascinating. I could never write music like she does. For Opeth it was very much like I write. They're very influenced by Porcupine Tree, you can hear it in their music. So, my work with Opeth will probably be an influence. But I can't really give you much more ... I've got another two or three months of writing to know where it's gonna be.

 

A last question, what is your technical equipment on stage and in studio ?

A Vox AC 30 amplification, Fender Stratocasters. In fact, I've never been really interested in guitars. I'm a little bit lazy with this. I have never really explored, experimented with the guitars. Even in studio because the sound I get doesn't really come from the guitar. It comes from the effects. So the guitar itself is not as important as it could be for example for Eric Clapton or someone who really uses the tone of the guitar. So I have particular effects: 2 distortion pedals, a compressor pedal, a delay rack , a pitch shifting pedal ... a lot of things. And they all contribute to the sound ... I've got an acoustic pick-up on a guitar as well for an acoustic sound with the electric guitar ...

 

And the effect on "Stop swimming" ?

It's a napkin ring I have since I have 10 years-old. I made it in school. I used the side of the ring, the rough edge to vibrate the string, to create frictions on the string. So the place of the napkin ring is important to reach the right notes. My left hand is on the first fret of the neck to stop the other strings ring. It just stops all the strings from vibrating. But it's very easy !

 

Well, thanks a lot Steven and see you next time !

Thanks to you.