STEVE WILSON INTERVIEW

by Christophe Demagny

 

Saturday october 21st. Ten minutes after the end of the Porcupine Tree gig at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, Steve Wilson was in front of us. Even after a 50 minute set including "Shesmovedon" and "Hatesong" (it was the last date of the European tour with Dream Theater), he's still very nice and free. Far away from the rock'n'roll cliché of untouchable musicians. So, it's time for thank yous: infinite thanks to the band manager Richard Allen, to the tour manager (sorry, I don't remember his name !), Steve Wilson and, of course, Porcupine Tree for all their kindness and for having made this interview possible !!!

 

Chemical Harvest: Hello Steve, could you tell us more about your early days, the early 80's ?

Steve Wilson: Well, I was in bands when I was at school. First, there was a band called Paradox, another called Karma and then another one. The two tapes that we made by Karma ("The joke's on you" and "The last man to laugh") have become more well-known because they have early versions of songs I had later recorded for Porcupine Tree like "Nine cats", "Burning sky" and "Small fish" as well. So they became a kind of curiosity to Porcupine Tree fans but I mean they're not different, better or worse than any other 14-year-old kids demo tapes as far as I'm concerned.

 

Is it at this time that you played with Brian Jelliman and Diz Minnit ?

No, later, when I left school, I joined a band called Pride of Passion started by two guys who used to play with Marillion, Brian and Diz. Brian Jelliman had just left and so I replaced him as a keyboard player, Diz Minnit was the bass player. So I never worked with Brian Jelliman. Then, Diz left the band as well and I replaced him as a bass player.

 

And is it true that you've followed Marillion on the Saliva Tour in 1981 ?

Well, when I was really young, when I was like 12 years old or something, I used to go to see bands localy in my own town and Marillion played their first ever concert in a place called Berkhamsted in march 1980, I was 12 years old. I had gone to see a local band called The Chiltern Volcanoes and Marillion came on after them. I didn't know at the time that it was their first ever gig and I only found out 2 or 3 years later, but I thought it was great, I loved it and followed them for the next 4, 5 years right through the period they have being signed by EMI and "Misplaced Childhood" having first picked a n° 1 album. Basically through my teenage years, Marillion has been a favorite band of mine. And then I later met the band and said I was at this gig in Berkhamsted, they told me "Oh, it was our first ever gig !". There were about 10 people there so I'm kind of privileged. I found a lot of interest in them for many, many years and obviously, for being involved in Marillion by working with them, we became good friends. So they have always been present in my life and still are, I worked with Fish and on the last Marillion album.

 

And you think you'll work with them again ?

I'm sure. We're good friends so ... I'd loved to ! It's a time thing.

 

Great ! About the ".com" album, it's difficult for us to evaluate your work because we have not heard the earlier mixes of the album. But it seems that a lot of elements are yours.

Yeah, I think they're going to release some of the early mixes because they're doing a kind of "Making of" CD (like the double CD "Making of Brave"). There will be earlier versions of tracks from the 4 albums that came on after "Brave". But you know, I haven't heard the earlier versions myself so I don't realize what I did. I imagine there are some great changes in music. But they really liked them and I was really happy to go with them.

 

To go back to Porcupine Tree, could you tell us more about the samples ? Do you create them or do they come from movies or from somewhere else ?

Well, it depends, a bit of both. Give me a specific example.

 

"Voyage 34" ?

The samples of "Voyage 34" come from the 1960's, basically the birth of the acid generation, the LSD generation, 66, 67, 68. There was a lot of albums released around that time, propaganda albums. Some of them were pro LSD and some were against LSD. Our manager, Richard Allen, has collected a lot of these albums and lended me some of them. So that particular track samples are taken from these recordings.

 

And "Last chance to evacuate planet earth before it is recycled" ?

I have always been kind of fascinated by religious cults in a kind of a sick way, I find very disturbing the whole concept of religious cult, particulary American ones. And one religious cult is more famous than any other, the Heaven's Gate cult. They whole killed themselves in the early 90's in the belief that they were from another planet and the only way to return to their own planet was committing suicide. The guy who was the leader of this cult, a guy called Doe, was insane, absolutely insane. He convinced all these people that he was a great spiritual leader, that he was from another planet. Anyway, they left a suicide video to the rest of the world, they filmed their suicide comments, their last message to the rest of the world. And the voice in "Last chance ..." is the voice of Doe himself, his last words in this video were "last chance to evacuate planet earth before it is recycled". So, it's very disturbing, very powerful and there was nothing else I could add to this. Sometimes you hear things that make you write a song, write words, and sometimes I hear things and there's no need to elaborate ... just presenting the words of that person is enough. There's nothing I could say or write anymore, more disturbing or powerful.

 

Sure ! So would you be interested in the making of a concept album, not necessary a 70's typically progressive one but more "modern" like "Brave" or "Operation: mindcrime" (Queensrÿche) ?

Yes and no. Personally, I'm not a great fan of concept albums that tell a story because I think that the problem with those albums is that because they tell a story, the music takes second place. And Porcupine Tree always work on the basis that we record 10, 12 songs or whatever and then we listen to the songs and decide which one works best as the opener, which one works best at the end of the album. The order of the tracks is very much dictated by their musical qualities. And if you are in the situation where you have to tell a story you have to have this song at the end, you have to ... So you get in a situation where the sequencing of the album, the highs and lows of the record are dictated by the story. That's a very hard thing to do, I think. Because I consider more myself as a musician than a lyrical writer. I will always give preference to making musical journey sounds right. But I think it's possible to make a concept record in an allusive sense, not necessary driven by a narrative. For example, for me, "Signify" is a concept record. All of the songs on that album are about the same subject. But there isn't necessarily a story being told. There's no beginning and end, it's not like reading a book, page to page. For me, last Nine Inch Nails album "The Fragile" is like that as well. There's very much a feeling of completeness about all the material on that album. Everything seems to fit together and be part of one album. And I think Porcupine Tree will always tend to that rather than the story telling side.

 

About "The rest will flow" single, has its release been definitely cancelled ?

Not necessarily cancelled, because, originally, we were supposed to be doing our own tour at the time. And we go off to the Dream Theater tour which we decided was a good idea first to do because we could play to a lot of people that didn't know the band. So the record company decided to wait until maybe spring, until our own headlining tour. Singles, for us, are like something the record company do. So we decide what will go on the singles, the B sides. We try to give the fans as much interest as possible but singles are just like another marketing. It's like a poster, an advert, it's the same thing. It's just a way of getting people that didn't know a way to hear the band. So there's no interest in singles for the fans except in the extra-tracks.

 

Like "Buying new soul" ?

Yes, the thing about this track is that it will come out. I don't know where or when but it will come out. It really depends on the record company, if they decide to do another single from this album or if they rather wait for the first single from the next album.

 

The next album, for 2001, 2002 ?

I doubt for next year. Probably early 2002. We've done 2 albums in 18 months, so ... probably early 2002.

 

"The delerium years" ?

Yes, it will come out next year. This Delerium years double CD is quite a big project with a lot of unreleased tracks on it, remixing, ... There will be comprehensive sleeve notes with the whole history of the band, pictures and so on. We're working on the text that will go with the album. I think it will be very interesting, a major release for next year.

 

And you will tour next year ?

Yes, we'll be touring from february to summer with some festivals as well. I think it will probably be on and off, not continue. We still haven't toured as a headliner to promote "Lightbulb Sun". So, it has to be done ... and it will be done, yeah.

 

And was it great with Dream Theater ?

Yes, it was great. But tonight is the low point really because we began to play early with a few of the audience. But the rest of the show has been great, you know, we really enjoyed it. It really was a way to reach more people.

 

To conclude, do you have a message for "Chemical Harvest" ?

Yes, the Porcupine Tree has always built his fan base by word to mouth and friends telling friends, fans telling fans. So my message to people is always just bring in the word because Porcupine Tree are banned from the media. The music press, the TV, the radio stations attempt to ignore us because of the kind of music we play. So we got very good relationships with our fan base, just have a look at the internet to see how many websites there are ! So that's very important and precious to us and I would like to send big thanks to all the people who have introduced other people to our music, so the process continues ! Keep playing the record to other people, you know. Keep it up !