INTERVJU: Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson släpper ett nytt soloalbum i sommar, som är influerat av klassiska popalbum han växte upp med. Givetvis avhandlade vi detta, men även annat, som exempelvis ett nytt album med Storm Corrosion eller hur framtiden ser ut för Porcupine Tree:

“The whole idea of going back to a band situation, to me, is very unappealing and the more time goes on and the more solo records I make, the idea of going back to Porcupine Tree seems like a very backwards step, both personally and professionally. I wouldn´t rule it out one day, but I can honestly say that right now I´m as far away from Porcupine Tree as I´ve ever been. “


As I understand it, ”To the bone” is a bit of a nod to albums you grew up listening to, like Peter Gabriel´s “So” (1986), Kate Bush´s “Hounds of love”(1985) and Tears for Fears “The seeds of love”(1989). What is it about those albums that you really like?

There used to be this thing called… well, it wasn´t called anything, but it´s what I think it it´s best called… there used to be this thing called smart pop. Basically they were pop records… they had strong melodies, they had catchy choruses, but at the same time they were incredibly sophisticated. They had many layers in the production, they had great musicianship, they had great performances, great songs, they were epic. They were just easy to enjoy, on one level as pop records, but also they could be enjoyed as very multifaceted, sophisticated, ambitious albums or musical journeys. You know what? Somewhere along the line, people stopped making records like that. It seems to me what happened is that pop music itself became more and more shallow and more and more banal and so called ambitious music is still very ambitious, but became more extreme, more artsy and much more underground. What you are left with is this kind of void in the middle… records like “Hounds of love” and “Seeds of love” and “Purple rain”… where did these records go? They don´t seem to be made very much. I know there are exceptions though. I didn´t want to do make a nostalgic record and I didn´t want to recreate the sounds of those records, but I wanted to make a record that kind of occupied a similar place in the musical spectrum.

Those records you mentioned, for me, there´s also an intelligence behind those records and they really say something, compared to other albums from that time and I also feel that pop music these days is just about instant gratification. Kids listen to it and then they “throw it away” and go on to the next one.

Yes, it´s become the equivalent of fast food. I think that actually in a way there´s always been pop music like that, if you go back to the 50´s and the 60´s, but at least you could engage with it on multiple levels. You could engage with them as great pop melodies, but at the same time you could engage with them on a very deep level, as you say. The lyrics meant something, it felt like the people who wrote those songs really thought about what they were singing about and they believed they could change the world with that pop music, in the way The Beatles did in the 60´s and of course, The Beatles is where it all started. That´s quintessential. They wrote incredibly smart and intelligent pop music that you could engage with on a very deep level, whether it was cultural, politically, personally and I just think that there has to be, somewhere along the line, a return to that kind of approach to making music. That´s kind of what I´m trying to tap into.

Do you see yourself as a beacon of light in a dark world, so to speak, when it comes to music?

I wouldn´t describe myself as that, but to paraphrase, I´ve always felt slightly on the periphery of whatever is going on. I´ve spent many years making a form of music that was incredibly unfashionable and in some respect I find myself still doing that, although, I think gradually the musical climate has become a little more open and a little more sympathetic to what I do and the way I approach music, I think. You know, I´m not young anymore. The kind of people that should be making these records should be in their 20´s. Here I am pushing 50. I don´t think I´m gonna interest the younger generation much at the age I am, unfortunately. I just don´t think I have the ear of that audience, but you know what, the motivation to make music is always to please yourself. Do something your proud of and then you should try and share it with as many people as possible and try to reach as many people as possible as you can and that´s what I continue to do. That´s why I always do as much promotion as I can. I love talking about it, I love discussing it. But also, the other reason for doing it is to try to share and reach as many people as I can. Ultimately, if there´s gonna be any real change in the musical climate, it has to come from the young generation. It´s always been the case, it always will be the case and right now there´s not a lot of what you would call sophisticated music in the younger generation, which is very different to when I was growing up. There were these incredible artists. Even Michael Jackson´s records were amazing and Madonna… incredibly sophisticated music, relatively, compared to today. It´s been quite disappointing to see the way it´s gone, really.

And we´re living in a world of alternative facts and the dumbing down of the media. It´s fascinating.

It´s like the twilight zone, isn´t it? It´s like everyone had this really bad nightmare and then woke up and discovered it actually happened. I think we live in really strange and extraordinary times, not necessarily in a good way. The one heartening thing I take from all of this, is that very often creativity arise in times of political and social matters and one of the reasons I believe that pop music and rock music has become so complacent is because actually there´s been nothing really to rebel or rage against for a very long time and suddenly there is. I just hope the young kids will do it. I guess we´ll see.

I interviewed Melissa Cross (famous vocal coach who´s worked with the likes of Corey Taylor and Randy Blythe) last year and she said the same thing, that with Donald Trump being president “at least we´ll see some cool music come out of it”.

Let´s hope it´s gonna be true of the pope in the current age too. There´s no guarantee, but I look around I see… again, they´re kinda old guys now, but the new Depeche Mode album, the new Roger Waters album. These are obviously records that are very much inspired by the state of the planet, but again, there needs to be something that comes from the younger generation because no one really listens to us old guys. We need the Public Enemy of our age, we need the protest music of our age and I haven´t heard it yet.

From your first solo album up till this one, how would you say that you´ve developed as a solo musician?

That´s interesting. The one thing I´m really proud about of all my solo records, is that they´re all very different to each other and I like that, because those are the kind of artists that appeal to me. The ones that are constantly challenging the expectations of their fans and their audience. I think I´ve done that with my five records. Obviously they all have a very Steven Wilsonesque quality to them, but they all have a different approach and I´m very pleased about that. That certainly wasn´t accidental, that was very much a deliberate policy of mine. Over the last couple of records I´ve been through a cycle where I have relied more on other musicians in my band and I´ve delegated more on the performance side to people who are far superior to me technically. This record is more focused on the songs and the production and I ended up playing almost all of the guitar myself, almost all the bass myself and I´ve done a lot of keyboards myself. In some senses I see a slight return to my very first solo record on which I played all the guitars. It´s a very different record from that, but in some ways the approach in making it has gone back to how I started making solo records. The performances have been more about emotion and feel and less about technique. I think I like that. At this time in my life I think That´s what I want more than perhaps what I´ve had on the last couple of records.

The song “Refuge”, is that a reflection on things happening around the world now?

Yeah, the album is about a lot of the stuff going on in the world and obviously one of the things we had over here was the refugee camp in Calais. It was very, very depressing and heart breaking. One thing I find that I cannot do is that I cannot write songs that are politically aware in a sort of broad sense. What I mean by that is that if I´m gonna write a song about the refuge crisis, I write a song about particular character who happens to be a refugee, so my songs happen to be very much on a personal or impersonal, if you´d like, since it´s not me… they have to be from the perspective of a character. I think that in a way that comes back from my love of storytelling and my love of literature and reading stories, autobiographies… I love to tell stories. For me, it´s not a question of writing “Oh, the refugee camp in Calais, isn´t it terrible and you should listen up prime minister…” I can´t do that. I would feel so fake trying to do that. What I do, is that I write a song about a particular guy in a situation in a refugee camp, basically singing to his wife and children that he´s left behind. For me, that´s the way I find to be political, with a small P rather than a large P. It happens time and time again through the record. I write about terrorism, but I don´t write a song about terrorism on a global scale, I write a song about somebody who lives next door and is a terrorist and that´s the song “People who eat darkness” I find that to be the most effective way that I can write about the world I live in. To focus on these very small and intimate situations and individual characters in order to explore these very grand topics and “Refuge” is a very good example of that.

Another song “Detonation”, is over 9 minutes long. Talking about the younger generation, people´s attention span these days is quite limited and it doesn´t take long before they turn the channel or play another song. Everything, including music, has to be instant today. How do you feel about that? A 9 minute song really involves the listener.

What you talk about is absolutely true and it erodes the whole idea of storytelling. Allowing something to gradually unfold, allowing yourself to take on a journey whether it´s by music or a novel or a movie, allowing events or the narrative of the art to gradually unfold and again it´s one of the great shames of the current post internet, post iPhone, post computer games situation and it´s hard to get people to engage long enough to allow something to unfold, which I believe is the most gratifying experience of art. But they still allow themselves occasionally to sit down and watch a movie and there are computer games that unfold and try to engage with their emotions. I don´t think all is lost, but the patience to engage with things for a longer period of time is ever eroding. All I can say is that a song like “Detonation”, I didn´t do it for those people, I did that for me. Obviously I have a fan base that appreciates it and some people still like that.

I read an interesting quote which said that you are “the most successful British artist you´ve never heard of”.

Well, it certainly wasn´t me that said that. It´s a nice little sound bite isn´t it? I know what they´re getting at. I´ve said this for years, I´m the guy who can go to play two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, sell them out and nobody knows. That´s been a source of some frustration over the years, so I get where that quote is coming from. Here´s a guy that has a massive following but he´s completely invisible in the mainstream. That´s something I always hope will change and maybe this record will help to change that, but I´m not holding my breath. The media, once they decide who you are, you cannot change their perception of who they think you are.

What about Storm Corrosion? Will there be another album? Will you and Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) ever find the time to meet up and record?

We´ve already talked about it. We´d love to do another record and we love that record, we´re so proud of it. One of the reasons we´re so proud of it, is because it´s the complete opposite of what everyone expected it to be. Here´s the thing, I think we will definitely get together and we will try to write something, but we won´t put any pressure on ourselves and say it´s gonna be another Storm Corrosion album. We´ll see. If we think the material is strong and we wanna release it, we will and if we don´t, then we won´t. To answer your question, I´m pretty sure we will definitely get back together and try and it´s a good chance that what will come out will end up being released as a follow up record.

Last year you said about Porcupine Tree that “that band doesn´t exist anymore”. Any truth in that?

We haven´t made a record since 2009. I have to say that as more and more time goes by, the less and less the idea appeals to me. The whole idea of going back to a band situation, to me, is very unappealing and the more time goes on and the more solo records I make, the idea of going back to Porcupine Tree seems like a very backwards step, both personally and professionally. I wouldn´t rule it out one day, but I can honestly say that right now I´m as far away from Porcupine Tree as I´ve ever been. You know what, I think Porcupine Tree did kind of what we were supposed to do. We made ten albums in 15 years, we went through many different evolutions and we kind of did what we were supposed to do. I could see the writing on the wall and I knew that on the last record we began to repeat ourselves and it was going to continue down that route if I let it and I thought to myself “This is the time to stop. We´re at our peak so let´s stop now.” We´ll see, I kind of feel that´s a chapter that´s been written now. I think a lot of people are very attached to the Porcupine Tree brand and what they think we were and what we stood for and to me that doesn´t have the same meaning as it of does to the fans. I think I´m making the best records now that I´ve ever made and I´m certainly enjoying making them more than I ever did and that´s really the only thing I can consider.

I´m a huge fan of a lot of the stuff David Sylvian has done and I consider “Secrets of the beehive” (1987) to be one of the most beautiful records ever made. I would love to see you work with David Sylvian one day?

I agree with you. I love “Brilliant trees”, “Gone to earth” and “Secrets of the beehive”, those three albums are amazing and I would actually put them in the same category as those pop albums we talked about earlier. I´m a big fan and I´m even big fan of his recent and more experimental work. He´s an artist that is completely committed to exploring with no compromise and with no consideration for his fans at all, which I absolutely admire him for. I would love to do it. Obviously I´ve worked with Richard Barbieri who´s friends with David and David´s not the easiest person. He´s the classic tortured artist, but if ever the opportunity came up, I would definitely jump at it because I´m a big fan.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Lasse Hoile