Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A chat with Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) late 1994

A chat with Steven Wilson late 1994...

by Pete Clemons

With the impending visit of Steven Wilson to the Midlands I reminded myself of a chat I had with him back in 1994. At that time he led the then fledgling Porcupine Tree. It is totally mind blowing now to think back to when this piece was conducted and then to consider just how far he took Porcupine Tree. From struggling for an audience at venues like the Tic Toc Club and General Wolfe, to ending up at prestigious buildings like the Royal Albert Hall and gaining worldwide respect. And then of course there is Steven’s own solo project. This is becoming another amazing journey in its own right.

It then passed my mind that it kind of felt right to resurrect the results of that chat. As you will see I was not really a skilled interviewer. The questions are naïve. But that aside it was a fascinating set of answers that I really enjoyed reading back and reminding myself of.

To me, even then, Steven had a clear direction of where he wanted to go. He was incredibly articulate. I’m unsure he realised how successful and how far he would take Porcupine Tree. But any future plans mentioned here certainly came to fruition.

Many thanks to all involved in Coventry’s own long lamented Street Worm / Deliverance magazine and who published this article early in 1995. I would flood them anonymously with articles; live reviews etc. and they were always good enough to publish most of them at least. And thanks most of all to Steven Wilson who, given his very busy schedule nowadays, still finds the time to answer most emails.

How did you team up with Alan Duffy and why is Porcupine Tree on the Delerium label and not on Alan’s own Imaginary label?

Actually, all of Alan’s lyrics for the Porcupine Tree date from the period1983-85, long before I started recording Porcupine Tree music. We wrote the songs for an entirely different project that never came to much – I was very young – about 16 years old. Then in the late 80s when I started recording Porcupine Tree music, I had little confidence in my own lyrics so I went back to Alan’s and found they fitted very well. In one or two instances (Jupiter Island and Nine Cats spring to mind) I even used the original music that I had written for the words many years earlier.

When I started recording the cassettes I wasn’t really looking for a record deal at all. It was purely to satisfy my own musical whims. Porcupine Tree began entirely as a studio project without any CD/vinyl release in mind. I was not particularly interested in a record deal at that point and it was only after Delerium approached me and offered me the opportunity to record for them, that I finally began to see the possibilities of reaching a wider audience with CD releases. Although I briefly communicated with Alan to sort out the publishing rights for his lyrics, I still don’t know what he thinks of the Porcupine Tree or if he likes what I’ve done to his work. Having heard some of the material that he signed to Imaginary, I don’t think we would have fitted anyway.

Why do Porcupine Tree find it so hard to get gigs?

Ridiculous though it may seem, we have had to prove ourselves to promoters and agents, much more than any boring guitar indie band would have had to, simply because what we are doing is so different. We had to prove that we could attract good audiences and get good press playing the music that we do, which we have now done. It has been an up-hill struggle, but now we have an agent in the UK who is booking our first full blown UK tour for the spring.

Do you enjoy playing live and how did the recent gig go?

Funnily enough, although I have played live with many bands, Porcupine Tree are the first band that I really enjoy playing with in a live context. I think this is for a number of reasons. The material lends itself well to live performance, my fellow band members are incredibly gifted and pleasant people to work with and the audiences have been so appreciative. Also, we do a fair amount of improvisation in each show, which keeps it fresh regardless of how many times we have played the material.

Presumably the new album had major surgery before you were happy with it?

I’m not completely happy with it. Although I think production wise it is the best album yet. I think there are many areas for improvement. I wish I had used real drums all the way through the album and secondly, I wish I’d written a couple more songs to balance out the long instrumental sequences.

In answer to your question – the 35 minute title track was a lot of work and could have ended up being anything from 25-50 minutes in length, depending on how I edited it together. A piece as long and complex as that one had to be recorded in about 6 separate sections and then edited together for the album. The final edit you hear on the album was about the tenth attempt to cut things to the right length and in the right order and it’s still not perfect.

Do you prefer to record musically more consistent records as opposed to ‘On the Sunday of Life’ etc ?

I enjoy doing both. I love the idea of making a sprawling mess of an album and this is my favourite aspect of ‘On the Sunday of Life’ it covers a very wide range of moods and ideas. It is not always successful musically, or a constant listen, but it will always be one of my favourites. In making that album I discovered the direction I wanted to take, at least for a few years. If I was to make another album like ‘On the Sunday…..’ it would be because I was closing a musical chapter and searching for some new paths to take. I’m sure I will do this again at some point, though for now I am still happy with the current direction and sound.

What Porcupine Tree track has given you the greatest satisfaction?

‘Fadeaway’ – such a shame it doesn’t work live. I’m really satisfied with the ‘Moonloop’ E.P. too.

Do you have any more production plans?

I would really like to produce some other artists, but it would have to be something really special for me to divert time from my own projects. I enjoyed doing Dean Carter’s ‘Psychomusak’ album because it followed no rules at all – I think I’d find it pretty boring doing a ‘rock’ band.

What’s the next project for Steven Wilson?

I’m currently working on the next No-Man album ‘Wild Opera’. It should be finished by the end of March.

What plans for the future of Porcupine Tree?

In the immediate future, the new album ‘The Sky Moves Sideways’ is released on January 30th and we want to play as many concerts as possible to promote the album. It will also be the first of our albums to be given a release in the U.S.A., so it will be interesting to see how it is received there. There will probably be another single next Summer and we would like to release a live album sometime in the next two years. We also want to continue to develop the live show by using more lights and projections and creating a whole ‘environment’ for a live performance to take place in. This hopefully will extend to video and film. I’m also looking forward to working on the next L.P. (to be released in 1996) which I already have some rough ideas for. I want the next album to be the first in which the whole band are involved with from the beginning to end in both writing and performance.

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