By Jonathan Matthews
This time we had a chat with Steven Wilson, who will be performing with his band soon in Australia. Steven was the founder of bands such as Porcupine Tree and Blackfield, and we chatted about his songwriting, his new record ‘To The Bone’, and his spectacular live show.
SR. You’ve got an Australian tour coming up, but you’re not stopping in South Australia, is there a reason for that?
Honestly I’m not sure. It always comes down to the local promoters. I’d love to play in Adelaide and Perth, but for some reason, this time the promoter has only organised three shows. I’m not quite sure why, it’s not really up to me. I love to play anywhere where I have listeners or fans, and I’d like to think I have fans in Perth and Adelaide. It’s a little frustrating, but I’m sure there’s some logistical reasons. My show isn’t cheap to put on, it’s quite spectacular, so for whatever reason, I have to miss out on those cities this time.
SR. Your latest album ‘To The Bone’ has recently been released, what did you do differently on this album, compared to previous releases?
One of the things I try to do with every album is to change up the process. The one thing I can’t change is me, I’m always the same, but I can make the circumstances different. That can sometimes be about collaborating with different musicians, or working in a different studio. There were a couple of key changes for this record. The first is that the record was co-produced for the first time, I worked with a guy called Paul Stacey. He’s a very gifted co-producer, and a very gifted guitar player in his own right. The second thing I did was make the record more direct, I wanted to keep the focus on the songwriting process. I pushed the more conceptual aspects to the background, and focused much more on the melodies, the accessibility, the hooks, the songs are a little more compacted. Both of those things made the record distinctively different to the ones that precede it.
SR. That’s awesome. You performances are three hours long, that’s quite a long stretch, how are you feeling about that?
Well, the three hours does include a fifteen minute interval, for the band and the audience, so everyone gets a little break. All I can say is that it doesn’t feel like three hours. I like to think that the way the show is presented, the visual aspects, that quadriphonic sounds, there’s a lot of things that keep people engaged. That’s the trick when you have a long show, if you can constantly keep people interested, it feels like it goes by in an instant. I believe, with confidence, that my show does that. It doesn’t get boring and it doesn’t drag out, It’s going to be a great show.
SR. You’ll be playing some porcupine tree in the midst of your set, do you still get a sense of enjoyment having those songs in the mix?
Well the thing is, I don’t really think of the as Porcupine Tree songs, to me they’re all Steven Wilson songs. They’re all part of the body of work that I’ve created over my career. Sometimes I forget which songs were recorded by Porcupine Tree and which were recorded by Blackfield, they’re all in my set though. There’s songs that I’m very proud of, and ones that I’m not particularly proud of. Like many artists, I have some songs that I think are better than others, so I just go through my catalogue and pick my favourites, and songs that resonate well with each other. I try to pick ones that are a bit unexpected, not always the obvious choices. I’m not really an artist that has many hits, in a way I’m glad that I don’t, because I can play whatever I want, and people aren’t going to be expecting to hear and certain songs. It’s a journey through my catalogue, there’s a bit of something for everyone.
SR. That sounds fantastic. Out of your entire catalogue, do you have an absolute favourite?
I have a handful of songs that I really love. As a songwriter, I have a fairly strong relationship with my own songs. It’s almost like you write them and then you leave them behind, then they belong to the people that listen to them, not you. It can be hard to be as enthusiastic about your own music as you might be about somebody else’s music, and I never think of myself as being in the same league as the other artists that I admire. Having said that, there are a few of my songs that make me think “You know what, you’ve really got it right with this one”. There’s one song ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’ which I’m really proud of, it’s a really beautiful song, almost to the point where I think “Where did that come from?”. I wonder how the hell I could write a song so beautiful, and that’s an amazing feeling to have. I get very emotional when I perform that song. I’m also really proud of a song on the new record called ‘Permenating’. It’s different to anything I’ve done before, it’s a joyous piece of music, and I’m very proud of it. It’s really fun to play that on stage.
“…I don’t really think of the as Porcupine Tree songs, to me they’re all Steven Wilson songs…”
SR. You made a music for that track, ‘Permenating’, how did that video come about?
Like I said, that song is really important to me. People wouldn’t really expect me to write a track like that. I grew up in a house where my father would be listening to ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’ by Pink Floyd, and my mother be listening to ABBA or the Bee Gee’s, so I was raised on a wide range of musical styles. Finally I managed to pull off this pop style track, and I wanted something visual to reflect that. I wanted it to be a kind of dance videos, to confront the expectations of my audience. The last thing my audience would ever expect is a Bollywood dance scene. It worked so beautifully, and really fitted the song well. I had the girls from the video come up and dance with me on stage, and that was really fantastic, the audience didn’t expect it at all. That’s got to be one of the greatest moments I’ve ever had on stage.
SR. Are we going to see anything like that on your Australian tour?
Well, I would love to do that, but not this time unfortunately. The Bollywood girls aren’t coming on tour with me, this time I’m going to be focusing on the performance in a different way, the girls dancing was more of a one off experience. People can check that performance though, it’s on my live DVD which is coming out in early November.
SR. That’s certainly something to look forward to. Do you know if you’ll be coming to Adelaide and Perth sometime in the future?
I’m not aware of it yet, but I have been talking to my management about it. I feel the time has come where we need to play in all of the major cities, because I know we have a fan base there and I don’t want them to miss out on anything. It’s definitely being talked about.
SR. Do you have any final messages for your fans in Australia?
I always love coming to Australia because the audience is so receptive and passionate. I think it’s partly because it took me so long to make it down there, and it was such an incredible feeling to know that there have been people who have been listening to my music since the beginning of my career. That was extraordinary and very moving, so I’ve always had a strong connection with my Australian audience, and I look forward to going there very much. It can be very tiring coming to Australia, It’s a very long flight, and it’s not easy, but the audience always lifts it to another level, and that always makes my time over there so special.
You can see Steven Wilson on his Australian tour for To The Bone in Brisbane, Newtown or Saint Leonards. Grab your tickets now, because they will sell out, and you don’t want to miss out on what’s said to be Steven Wilson’s most immersive and spectacular show yet.
Get tickets now: davidroywilliams.com/