Interview Steven Wilson: ‘There’s A Lot Of Mythmaking Going On These Days…’

We meet the brains behind Porcupine Tree.

Steven Wilson is a name known to many, but also a name known too little. He is the brains behind the successful prog-rockers Porcupine Tree and appeared on Pendulum’s No. 1 album ‘Immersion’, but he is still somewhat of an unfamiliar name within mainstream music circles. In late September Wilson released his second solo album, ‘Grace for Drowning’, touring the country with record shop signing sessions in promotion. We decided to meet up with the man himself as he visited Glasgow to find out more.

Do you think it’s important to branch out to your fans with in-store signings like these?
I think it’s important for two reasons. That’s one reason, but the other reason is to connect with the independent record stores. These stores are struggling a bit in the sense of trying to compete with the Amazons and the Plays, so I think the difference that the musicians can make is to show their support directly to the record stores, and in doing signing sessions you’re bringing customers actually in. People like me, and a lot of musicians - we grew up with a record store culture. On a Saturday morning you were able to go down to your local record store and check out the new releases, talk to the guy that owned the record store and get recommendations. And that’s like a disappearing culture in a way. So, being able to connect directly with what remains of independent record store culture is great, and I can do some shopping along the way too.

Is ‘Grace for Drowning’ the true Steven Wilson?
Yeah, it is, because when I write for Porcupine Tree, I know who I’m writing for, so that in itself is kind of a limitation. All bands are limited and that’s a good thing, because that limitation is what gives a band an identity. A band is a group of people and you have to all agree on what you’re going to play, and that area where you all meet is what gives the band a sound. So when you take a member out of the context of being in the band, they no longer have to please the other members of the band, and suddenly they can do all these other things that they couldn’t do in the context of the band - that’s not just true of me, it’s true of all the other guys too. The solo album has a lot of things in it that I probably wouldn’t be able to do within the context of the band, so it’s probably a truer picture of me and my musical character.

What is the future for Porcupine Tree at the moment?
The simple answer is that I don’t really know. Right now I’m concentrating on my solo album and that’s my priority for the next few months. I’ve got the tour coming up soon. Porcupine Tree…we’ve made 10 albums now, and if we are going to make another album I think we need to do something a bit different next time. I don’t what it would be yet, but we’ll probably get together early next year and see what happens. I never want to be in the situation where I felt like I had to deliver an album for the sake of it. It would be very easy for Porcupine Tree to get into the situation where people expect us to deliver an album. So I think we’ll take our time and make sure that we do something genuinely creative, because I think the last album for me was closing a particular chapter on a particular sound in particular era in the band’s history, and I think it’s time to do something quite different now. In a way my solo album is a step towards that, because I’ve moved away from the whole metal thing, and in fact moved away from guitars in way; it’s much more keyboard orientated, using things like the choir and the woodwind and the flute and saxophone, bringing in all these different colours.

You’ve got a project with Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt bubbling away too, called Storm Corrosion. How’s that coming along?
I just finished it this week actually, and it’s coming out in April on Roadrunner Records. And it’s not what anyone’s expecting.

There were rumours of former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy playing on it too?
The thing is, I’ve been planning a project with Mikael for years and years and years, and Mike [Portnoy] heard about it and wanted do drums, and we were like ‘Okay, great, he’s a great drummer and everything’, but in the end when we sat down and made the record, we kind of did something that didn’t even really have a role for a drummer. It’s quite an orchestral record, a lot of strings and woodwind, a lot of guitars and vocals of course, but the role of the drummer was quite minimal. If we’d done a progressive metal thing, then Mike would have been perfect for it, but in the end that’s not what either of us wanted to do.

Porcupine Tree plays some massive venues – you sold out the Royal Albert Hall last year - but they are largely unheard of in the mainstream. Why do you think this is?
The reason that the mainstream doesn’t cover us is because the music we play has been for many, many years something that they deliberately try to sideline. Progressive rock - they just don’t write about it. The British media and mainstream press are still hung up on the idea of Iggy and the Stooges, the Velvet Undergound, sex, drugs and rock and roll – they don’t like the fact that progressive is more kind of cerebral, more intellectual, less about drugs and rock and roll and more about making great music. That’s not very sexy, quote unquote, and unfortunately the British media are always hung up on this idea of the sexiness and trendiness and the rock and roll cliché that people like Liam Gallagher play up to - but we don’t. I can hold a conversation with a journalist – most of those guys can’t…‘What are your influences? ‘Oh, I like the Beatles man’. That’s about the level of conversation – you’d think journalists would be more interested to speak to people who can talk passionately and intellectually about music, but unfortunately, I don’t know what it is, their demographic or their publisher, wants to promote this idea of the rock and roll rebel, smashing up the hotel room, taking drugs. And of course that’s not me and that’s not us.

So you’ve never thrown a TV out a hotel window?
Never, I’m afraid. People never do that anyway, there’s a lot of mythmaking going on these days. People used to do it in the 70s, but the thing is, you can’t do that anymore and be a professional musician. We go on tour for two or three months at a time – you can’t be getting stoned or drugged out of your head with this kind of music. You have to be quite disciplined to play this kind of music every night, and you can’t be getting pissed every night and smashing up the bus, you can’t do that. So you have to be focused and professional about it, but again that’s not very sexy to the British media. They love to hear the stories about Oasis falling out or Kasabian or whoever it is. I’m sure a lot of that is just created by their media people anyway. I’m not into that, I’m a music lover – it’s where I came from, it’s what I do.

One last question – are you happy with your life?
I am yes, I am. It’s very easy to moan about your life isn’t it, but I do pretty much what the hell I want, and I’m able to make a living off of it. What more can you ask for? But I work very hard, and I have to, because my music is not in the mainstream. I’d love to be selling a million records, of course I would, I’d love to swap places with Thom Yorke – he has mainstream success and he’s cool and all that - but I’m not that. I’m not Thom Yorke, I’m Steven Wilson, and I have to work a lot harder to be able to make a living, but, it could be a lot worse. I do exactly what I want to do, I don’t compromise in any way musically or artistically, and I make enough to be able to keep on doing that. So I have to be really happy with that, and I am.

Steven Wilson’s new album ‘Grace For Drowning’ is out now via Kscope Music Records.

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