>>> Steve Wilson interview - 04/10/00 - by Eric Guilbot >>>
Eric Guilbot: What are your first impressions of this tour with Dream Theatre ?
SW : Very good. The thing is when you support another band, you're kind of playing to a very vast audience in favour of the headlining group. So you never know quite what to expect. But actually on Monday night, just the only show we've done so far, we went damn very well, and I was very surprised. Because in a way, some people would say " you should do well because your music is quite similar ". But I never really thought it was similar. I think very much what their music is about is complexity and very much the technical side of music. Ours is kind of very atmospheric compared to theirs. But there must be some similarities, because their audience seemed to enjoy what we did very much.
E G: Do you have plans to come back to France for the next tour in 2001 ?
SW : Well I mean to come all over Europe next spring. Again it does very much depend on what sort of interest we get from promoters and live venues in France. It costs a lot of money for us to tour, as I'm sure you probably appreciate. We lose quite a lot of money when we go on tour, and so we have to make sure that if we do a concert somewhere, it's going to be promoted properly, it's going to be advertised well, there's going to be enough people there to make it worth our coming. I think now we've got some stage in France where we probably can. We have a fairly good cult following. And obviously the advantage of doing a Dream Theatre tour is next time we'll come back, some of the people who came and saw us play a 30-35 minute set will want to come back and see us play a full length concert. So that's obviously one of the reasons why we felt it was better to tour with DT now and then come back and do our own tourafterwards. I think that ther will be much more people wanting to see us after this.
E G: How do you choose songs you perform on stage ?
SW : Well in this case we are promoting the new album Lightbulb Sun, so we try to play as much as possible, as we can from that album. I think it tends to be a sort of natural process the way new tracks get introduced to the set and then get dropped from the set. You get to a point where you realize that you're no longer enjoying playing certain songs you've played too much. And I think we felt that very much with some of the older material, like " Radioactive Toy " and " The Sky Moves Sideways " that we have played so often. And if you're not enjoying, then the audience I think can sense that the enjoyment and enthusiasm is no longer there. If we enjoy playing some tracks, we tend to always try and get them in the set. An d the set at the moment represents for us what we still enjoy. And And obviously that includes a lot of the new stuff because it is still quite fresh, still quite new for us. But also there are some older tracks we still do like Voyage 34 or Signify.They are very fun to play. So you know the choices are made in a very natural way. It's not something we have a hard time doing. Obviously when we come as support for a band like DT, we try to tail the set to what we imagine their audience is going to appreciate more. There would be no point in playing to DT's audience kind of slow spacy stuff. So what yiu'll hear tonight is very much Porcupine Tree rocking, you know. The rock stuff. It seems to work so we have to hit the right formula. Cross fingers.
E G: You are now in the process of writing the next Porcupine Tree album.
SW : Yes, I've written about 4 songs.
E G: How is it going so far ?
SW : It's a bit early to say. Some people have asked me about this. The next album will be quite a change from the last one. It's always been important for me that Porcupine Tree continues to evolve and to change from album to album. I think one of the criticism I heard about the last album, the only criticism I had really, was people liked the album but they felt it was the first time that Porcupine Tree had not made a significant step forward in style from the previous record. Stupid Dream and Lightbulb sun are very much kind of 2 sides of the same coin. Which in a way was to be expected because they were recorded and written so close together. Within 3 months after Stupid Dream we were recording Lightbulb Sun. So I feel now that having done these 2 albums that the time has come to try and do something more experimental, much darker and possibly less commercial, whaever that means. I think we've done our " song records ". It will still have, as all Porcupine Tree records, a strong continuation of the identity that you have in Porcupine Tree. But I think that the material I am writting now is gonna be a new departure. But it is a bit early to say exactly how that will manifest itself. Expect the unexpected is what I'd say.
E G: One of the main aspects of the two last albums is the work on voices. Do you wish to go on this way ?
SW : Yes I think so. I think the vocal side of music has becomemore important to me. I feel like I'm more of a songwriter now than I used to be. I used to be someone who would construct atmospheres and textures in sounds. I think that is still there, but I feel now the song writing is as important to me as the construction of the sonic side of the band. From the 4 tracks i've written so far, 3 are vocal and one is instrumental.
E G: The lyrics you write tend to be nostalgic and sometimes a little bit sad. Is this something you want or is it due to your own personnality ?
SW : It's not something I think about. I mean I don't set out to write lyrics in any particular style. It's a direct reflection of me. It's like a mirror that reflects the personality. But I think the thing to say is that for me sad songs have always found in my own personal listening taste. Sad songs are for me the most uplifting, the ones that make me feel the most positive. And happy music music makes me feel very depressed.
E G: So I guess you like blues ?
SW : Yes, I find it very uplifting. And all the groups I've always liked have always tended to be very dark and very kind of depressed and nihilistic. When I hear the Spice Girls on the radio it just makes me so depressed. Because music that is artificially happy and optimistic doesn't say anything about my life. I think the very sort of sad and melancholic and nostalgic songs are the ones that most people can relate to, and I'm no exception. Because I think we all have had negative things in our lives, and it makes me feel more secure and better to realise that other people have had the same kind of emotion, same kind of feelings. And you relate to those and you become a part of their songs. But I don't set out to try and being negative or cynical. You know I've had a pretty happy life, I've not had a great deal of tragedy in my life particularly. But I would say there are two elements to my lyrics. One is kind of nostalgia for the chidhood. A lot of my songs are written from a perspective of looking back on my childhood. The other thing is that there are a lot of dream elements in my music, surreal, abstract dreamy type of images, which sometimes people interprete as very negative and very nostalgic and very melancholic. But I have to think of them as quite positive. There's one song on the new album called " Where we would be " which for me is a very positive song. It's looking back on an aspect of my childhood in a very positive way.
E G: By the way, the last verse of the song sounds a little bit pessimistic…
SW : But it could also be regarded as positive. All I'm saying is that you never become what you think you're gonna be. When I was a kid, I thought I was gonna be an artist or something. I end like a musician. That's a pretty good trade, I'm pretty happy with that. All I'm saying is in a way it's funny that you always imagine yourself in the future and inevitably you end up somewhere else as a completly different person. Possibly a much better person. It's not necessarily a negative thing. But it's interesting just the way people think about Porcupine Tree. They immediately interprete things in a negative way. Maybe i in my mind have conceived in a positive way.
E G: Talking about childhood, can you tell us how and when you started playing music ?
SW : I started playing music when I was about 10. For me the 2 things that really came together were falling in love with music as a listener and almost immediately I found myself obsessed, it's the word, obsessed with records and buying records and listening to records and getting involved in a whole culture of music and bands and all that stuff. Almost immediately I found that I wanted to do it myself. For a lot of people that doesn't necessarily happen, they're quite happy just to be a fan and to be a listener of music. But for me it was almost immediate that it was what I wanted to do. And I started to play guitar in a basic way. The interesting thing is that, almost from the beginning, I was not interested in playing other people's music. I was interested in writing and creating my music. And still to this day some people ask me all the time " can you play something we know ? " I can't play anybody else's music. I can't even play " Stairway to Heaven " ! ! I must be the only guitar player in the world that can not play it. I have no interest in playing other people's music. From the beginning it was not so much the idea of being a musician. So much was the idea of making records, creating, producing, putting the whole thing together, the whole picture. I learned to play guitar, and then later I had to learn to write lyrics and learning to be confident about singing. And all those things were part of really wanting to make records. They were things I had to do in order to make records. And so almost immediately I was trying to form bands at school. I never had lessons or anything like that.
E G: Apart from music, what are you interested in ?
SW : Well, I'm certainly interested in almost all forms of art. I read a lot, I watch a lot of films, I like contemporary art. But really, my main obsession still from that day, at age 10, when I discovered, is still listen to music. Music takes almost all of my time. Listening to, exploring, producing, writing music. So the other things come in a long way in the background. I'm kind of interested in film. My best friend in England is a film maker. We're planning to work on a script for a film together some point later this year. It's something I'd like to get involved in. It seems a natural thing for me to be writting songs. I'm not the first musician to feel this way. It seems natural that if you songs, then you feel that you have a certain visual idea of how the song would be interpreted on film. So I'm kind of thinking for the next album almost in term of visual elements. I don't know what form that will take. It could be a short film, or a full length film or just for a video. But film may probably be my next major interest.
E G: I guess you have a huge record collection at home ?
SW : Pretty big. I've got about 3 000 CDs and albums. But I know people that have 10 000 or 20 000. I still buy about 50-60 CDs every month. I tend to get rid of about half of them. I don't keep things that I don't really connect with. I know a lot of people who just tend to collect . And they buy things, listen to it once and say it's alright. If I listen to a thing once and say it's alright, I get rid of it. I give it away or l take it back to the shop. So everything in my collection is something l really admire and enjoy.
E G: What do you think of the " Progressive Rock " label that sometimes sticks to Porcupine Tree ?
SW : It depends. Sometimes it's a very positive thing because it obviously brings people to the band. Ultimately you need to have some kind of label in order to sell anything. It's been useful for us to be connected with progressive rock scene because a lot of people that like that kind of music have bought the records. And some of them have liked, some of them haven't. A lot of these people have become fans of the group. The down side of the progressive rock label is that it tends to exclude a lot of other people and particularly we found it problematic with the media. Not necessarily with the fans, but with the radio stations and the magazines. If you are labeled as a particular kind of band that does give you problems when it comes to getting exposure in the media. We've had problems in England particularly where progressive rock is very much in negative. I don't know what it's like here, but certainly in England it's very much a negative thing. I think the English have a particular negative reaction to progressive rock because they invented it in the seventies and all of the major progressive bands came from England. And then of course punk went along in the late seventies and wiped all that out. Ever since then the music media in England have had this kind of suspicion. They're kind of embarrassed by it by the way. They hang on to this idea of the Sex Pistols being the saviours. The band that saved rock music from disappearing. And so progressive is having a hard time. Dream Theater's worst market is England. I had never heard of them until very recently. When I speak to people in France, Holland and Germany, they like this huge, famous group, but not in England at all. And l think that all comes from the embarrassment of english media. Not the english fans. There's a lot of fans in England.
E G: Do you think that new media like internet could improve the band's exposure ?
SW : Yes. Internet saved us really, because we found that without any encouragement from our part, internet sites have been poping up all over the place, yours being one of those. It's been so good because it's been such a great way for us to completely bypass the whole media circus, and go straight to the fans. And I don't know what we would have done without it really, I mean it's essential for us.
E G: Do you think it could be more important in the future than it is today ?
SW : I can see it's continuing to grow. The only reservation I have about the internet is that you still need to give people a reason to visit your site. So in other words, it's very well saying " I"ve got this site so I don"t need advertising or I don"t need a record company ". But you still got to get people to come and visit your site. And how do you do that ? You're back to square one : You've got to advertise, you've got to promote, you've got to get press, you've got to get radio stations to mention it. So you are in a situation where you have to get people curious first. Once they're curious, you've basically done the job, because they come to you site, they can hear the music, they read the bio, they can see the discography, they can buy the stuff by mail order. That's why again it's great for us because we don't even have to sell our records, we do so already. We don't have to sell them more. We just have to let the people know about the websites. People can go away tonight, if they liked the group, they can go and check up on the websites, find out all about the group and it's fantastic for us. So yes I can see it continuing to grow in importance really as more and more people come on line.
E G: What do you think of Napster ?
SW : Well I don't approve people making money out of it. There's two sides to this argument. The Metallica thing with Napster : it's a bit difficult when a band like this gets upset about Napster because obviously they are so rich anyway. People tend to think " well what they"re complaining about ? They make so much money out of their fans ". Then you have bands like Porcupine Tree. We barely manage to survive financially. We are professional musicians, but just. And we lose a lot of money everytime we tour. We do it because we believe in the music and we want to bring as many people as possible. If a company like Napster made our music available - I don't know if our music is available, I haven't checked - for nothing, so the people would not have to pay for it, that is crippling to a group like us. On the other hand, obviously it is a very positive thing that people can hear the music on the internet, but there are ways to do it. Giving away whole albums for free is very dangerous for bands our kind of level, where we're just about managing to make ends meet. So I'm not very keen on the Napster thing for that reason.
E G: I would like to ask you a few questions about your other projects. One french fan wanted to know if the next No-Man album which is due January will sound like the " Carolina Skeletons " single ?
SW : It's in that style. It was recorded at the same time as " Carolina Skeletons ". We've been recording this a couple of years ago. It's very much in that vein, very textural, ambiant romantic music.
E G: Do you plan a re-release of the older No-Man stuff which is no longer available ?
SW : Yes in fact that's the next thing. After we get the No-Man album released, we want to do a double CD that would have all the stuff from 1991 to 1993 on it. Because that stuff is very hard to get now. Maybe next year…
E G: How did you start your collaboration with Tim Bowness ?
SW : I was putting a compilation together, when I was still quite young in the mid 80's, of progressive bands. He was in a band called Plenty at the time and he sent me a tape. I just loved his voice, and I said " would you like to sing on my tracks as well ? ". And so he came down just on that one track on that compilation album and we just hit it off. Almost immediately afterwards we started working on No-Man tracks.
E G: The second IEM album is recorded, but is it in a new style ?
SW : Yes. It's not as kraut rocky. I released a 12'' single last year and it's going to be on this album as well. It's much more schizophrenic. It's difficult to describe. There's lot of speech on it. Just recording like mad people. There's some jazz on it, some quite heavy stuff on it, it's more insane. It's very psychedelic as well.
E G: The second Bass Communion album was released some months ago. Do you think that you could do techno music one day ?
SW : Yes it's possible. I like rythmic electronic music. I have done a lot of it. I felt and I still feel there are so many artists who do techno music, some of them are very good, some of them are not so good. There's a lot of people that do it very well like Aphex Twin. But I've really felt that there was no one doing good ambiant music. Purely ambiant without rythm. I just didn't hear anybody doing it. I really felt that guy like Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and all guys in the 70's were still the best, and that nobody was doing as well as them. And I felt there was an opportunity for someone to make music in a kind of ambiant style in a contemporary way. I just felt there were so many artists doing the techno thing so I just did not want to be one of that group of people.
E G: Can you give us some names of people that influenced you ?
SW : There are too many to mention. Every year I'm influenced by someone new. Last year I was very influenced by Nine Inch Nails. I can almost tell you with each album who I was listening to. It's so obvious to me when I listen to the albums. I can remember exactly what I was into because I can hear it in each record. Right now I am listening to a lot of metal music, and I'm sure that will come out on the next album. Very heavy stuff like Morbid Angel. So that's my influence at the moment. I tend to go through phases, I just listen to one kind of music and I discover lots of bands in that vein. And then I get bored with that kind of music and I move on to a different kind of music.
E G: Do you have an idea of how many copies of Lightbulb Sun have been sold so far ?
SW : About 40.000 so far. But we have not toured yet properly so this is a kind of beginning. The tour promotes us. It's still a lot of work to do.
E G: Do you have something special to say to French fans ?
SW : Apart from what I have already said - expect the unexpected - just keep spreading the word. I don't know what the french media is like here, but I imagine we haven't had a great deal of press and exposure in the media. So if you like the band and you think other people would like it, keep spreading the word. Because I think that with that kind of band, friends tell friends, it's just word of mouth, it always has been. It's been a good way for us to work out fine, but it's so slow you know.
E G: Can you tell us a few words in french ?
SW : My God ! I failed my french at O level I'm afraid. So probably not. What can I say ? Perhaps i can say what I told in english in french but I don't think I can. You'll probably teach me. I 'll see you later and I will try and prepare something. That's the best I can promise for the moment.