How do you join a successful band
from: Great Britain
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We met Steven Wilson on January 20th, 2009 in Cologne's Luxor during a concert by Aviv Geffen. In a very comfortable tour bus, the, as always, very personable and above all talkative workaholic answered a few questions:
BBS: The year 2009 has only just begun. Can you briefly summarize your last year for us? For example, what were the highlights for you?
SW: I spent most of the last year recording my solo album, which was a lot of fun. If I'm doing a solo album, then this should definitely be something that I have a lot of fun with. It was also an opportunity to try some new things, work with new people, and travel around.
We also turned the project into a film project. All in all, it was a lot of fun. I had a year of no Porcupine Tree commitments. This gave me the opportunity to do something else. And I took that chance by doing this solo album. This gave me the opportunity to travel to countries I had never been to before and to work with people I had never worked with.
This time we also came up with something special in terms of packaging, which, however, also took a lot of work and time. But still, it's great that I had the chance to do this. The last year seems to have passed very quickly, but all in all it was a year from start to finish that I really enjoyed.
BBS: And how come it took you so long to finally release your first solo album?
SW: As you probably know, I've basically released a number of solo albums in the past. So solo albums in the sense that they have focused on a very special aspect of my musical personality. For example Bass Communion with the drone ambient touch or the early Porcupine Tree albums, which were also my solo albums. These albums also focused quite specifically on the psychedelic or progressive aspect.
But this time I wanted to make a kind of encyclopedia of my entire musical personality, that is, to combine all aspects from drone music to progressive / psychedelic to singer / songwriter orientation in one album, plus some new elements add that people hadn't heard from me like this in the past. Especially the noise / industrial / electronics focus. I wanted to combine all of that in one piece. For the first time I created a picture that combines all my musical characteristics, all aspects of my musical personality. And I haven't been able to say that about any of my other music projects.
BBS: So are you really proud of your new album?
SW: Oh yes, very proud. I think in many ways this album is exactly what I've always wanted to do because I've never really bothered to make a really generic album before.
Although I have always protested that people have thrown Porcupine Tree into a certain box and have emphasized again and again that Porcupine Tree was always more than just progressive rock, this time I still had the opportunity to go beyond the musical boundaries of Porcupine Tree and this time breaking all musical, generic classifications. And since this has always been one of my greatest musical ambitions, I think that this time for the first time I can say that this album really crosses all musical genre borders. With that I don't mean to say that the album is automatically good for that alone. Overall, I think the material on it is very good. Overall, it's a very strong musical statement. Overall, I'm very, very proud of it!
BBS: The new album is called “Insurgentes”. Can you explain to us where this name comes from?
SW: Insurgentes comes from the Spanish language. The longest street in the world is called "Avenida de Insurgentes" and runs through Mexico City. And Mexico City itself is one of the largest cities in the world. If you don't count India, it is actually the largest city in the world and has the longest street in the world.
I spent a lot of time in Mexico while working on the new album and fell in love with Mexico City as much as I did with Israel and Tel-Aviv. Somehow it happens every few years that I find a place in the world that I feel particularly connected to. And this time it was Mexico City. We wrote and recorded some pieces there and worked with some local musicians.
I say “we” because the entire time I've been touring the area with a filmmaker. Lasse Hoile accompanied me, who was filming during this time. And this street makes up a dominant part of Mexico City, you can see the word “Insurgentes” everywhere: at bus stops, train stations and streets. I just liked the word and also liked the idea that in some ways the word reflected the project itself. Because “Insurgentes” means “rebel”, “rebellion” or “uprising”.
I don't mean to say that I'm such a musical rebel as the Sex Pistols or Nirvana were, for example. But in my own way, I've done things in a rather unconventional way, like the course of my musical career. I've always done things that made my musical career difficult, like the type of music I chose or the way I chose to present myself, like the artwork.
All in all, I've felt a bit like a rebel over time, and I still do. Because as you know, the mainstream media still takes very little notice of me, Porcupine Tree and my other projects. I think that's because they just don't get it. Fortunately, there are a lot of fans who understand what I'm doing. So that's okay with me, but that made me a kind of rebel or “insurgent”. So the title of the album just seemed very appropriate to me as it referred to that kind of thing.
BBS: And why did you end up in Mexico of all places?
SW: As with all the other places I've discovered over the years, I came to Mexico by chance. Ultimately, I got to know Mexico because I performed there with Porcupine Tree. Just like back then with Israel. I also discovered that when we played a few concerts there with Porcupine Tree. And this time it was also the case with Mexico City.
Neither Mexico City nor Tel-Aviv would have ever been on my list of cities that I really wanted to visit. I am also always amazed at the places I feel most connected to. It was mostly the ones I least expected. But in the end, people always make the difference. When you meet people and develop a friendship, this is exactly what makes all the difference. We visited Mexico City for just one concert about a year and a half ago, but I was completely blown away by the people and the atmosphere.
I promised some people that I would come back and visit them. And then I did that too. They showed me some amazing places. If you look at the book version of the new album, you will find some of these places again, because many of the pictures are from Mexico. Incredible places! Overall, it almost felt like an undiscovered country! Places you would never read in a travel guide or see in a movie. And yet they were places that were very cinematic and very inspiring. And that's why I ended up in Mexico City.
BBS: When you write songs for Porcupine Tree there is always some kind of concept behind the songs. Is there some kind of lyrical concept on the solo album?
SW: No, not this time. This is what sets my solo album apart from my other projects, because I usually try to make the lyrics so that they can be read like the pages of a book. This means that the lyrics have a certain meaning so that if you separate them from the music, they can still be understood. But I didn't want to do that this time.
This time I wanted the lyrics to just be part of the music. And so this time I didn't try to make it too logical and meaningful. Therefore, a lot of the lyrics on the album are simply improvised, which means when I stood in front of the microphone for the first time to sing the songs, the melodies and lyrics, I didn't have any words at hand and just tried to subconsciously come out Of course, when you do it this way, you get a lot of junk, but some good things just came out. I don't know where they came from, but I just liked them. So next to work filtering out the garbage and concentrating on the parts that were really good, I didn't work on the things that came out of my subconscious and tried to give them a certain meaning.
And for this reason the texts are not shown in the booklet. I don't want people to read the lyrics without reference to the music. The texts are not written to be read as prose or poetry pieces. The lyrics are simply part of the musical texture. There are some interesting images in the lyrics, but people will interpret them in their own way. But I don't even know what they really mean myself.
BBS: You already mentioned the documentary and that Lasse Hoile accompanied you to Mexico.
SW: Right. Right at the beginning of the project I decided to film the entire process. I also decided that I didn't want to record the album at home in my studio, but rather to travel the world. I just wanted to have fun and enjoy the whole process. I wanted to travel, meet other people and other musicians, so I said to Lasse, "Hey, just come along, let's film the whole thing and see what comes out of it!"
So the documentary evolved into three things: First, it is obviously a documentary about the recording of the album. But just such a documentation would have been very boring, because everyone does that. So, secondly, we started talking to other musicians wherever we went. There were people I already knew, but also people I had never met before.
Among other things, I talked to them about what it is like to be a musician in the 20th century and what it means to make music in the era of iPods, MP3s and download culture. And how all of this affects their careers, how they make their music, etc. We also talked to producers, not just musicians, but also people who help make an album. For example, we asked successful producers who spend most of their time in a huge, well-equipped recording studio how they feel when the kids later only listen to their albums in poor quality on MP3 players. It's just interesting to talk to musicians and producers about this topic. And third, we planned and improvised some bizarre fiction stuff, because we're both extremely interested in European cinema and producers like David Lynch. So we added a few bizarre elements. All of that is then put together in the documentary and we think that the documentary has become a surreal road movie. So it's only about making the album in the broadest sense.
I hope that people who haven't known me before will also be interested. We made sure that it is also interesting for people who have never heard the name "Steven Wilson", because after all we are also discussing, for example, the iPod culture etc.
BBS: Is the documentation ready yet?
SW: No, Lasse is still filming new material. We've already put about 20 minutes of the documentation on the DVD that comes with the new album. This 20 minute extract is already ready and this extract gives you an idea of the direction in which the documentation will go. We're still filming, but I think the documentary will be ready soon. Lasse wants it to be a 90 minute documentary. I'm not sure people will have the stamina to watch the full 90 minutes of Steven Wilson footage. But well, he wants to make a real movie out of it and show it at film festivals this summer. But of course it will also be released on DVD for the fans.
BBS: While we're on the subject of film projects. You wrote a film script with Mike Bennion. Is there any news about this project?
SW: Unfortunately not. We'll never give up and we'll still show other people, but it's very difficult to create a film project from scratch. The difference between the documentary and the film script is that the Insurgentes documentary is about me, so we only need me and a camera to make it. But the Deadwing film project is a real cinema film project, so we need actors, a film crew, money and locations for it.
Of course, this means that we need one or more investors for this project. And of course it is particularly difficult in this time of recession to find investors who would like to finance a project of two people who have never made a film before. But we haven't given up hope yet and so I hope that one day we will still be able to take off.
BBS: We recently watched your interview with Klaus Schulze that was published on his Rheingold DVD.
SW: Oh, have you already seen it? I haven't seen it yet! And I probably never want to see it either!
BBS: Oh, it turned out great!
SW: Yeah, okay, it was a lot of fun.
BBS: How did the interview come about?
SW: As you probably know, I'm a big fan of Klaus. I think you can see that in the interview. And Michael, his manager, has known me for a long time. He worked for InsideOut and then at some point left InsideOut to manage Klaus. When they came over to England to mix the DVD at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, Michael just emailed me and asked if I would like to come over to meet Klaus and maybe there will be something for me the DVD.
I thought the idea was good, but I didn't want to do a normal interview with a series of questions, rather a kind of conversation that could be filmed. I got the impression that something like that came across as more natural and that maybe things would come to light that would otherwise not have come out. And that's exactly what we did. Actually only a 15 minute conversation was planned, but in the end it turned out to be almost an hour. I don't know if you've met him before, but Klaus is a very nice, funny guy.
BBS: Would you do that again with another musician?
SW: Yes, definitely. You know that I am a great music lover myself. Because my great passion besides making music is listening to music myself and discovering new music in the process. Like everyone else, I have my music heroes. And then having the opportunity to meet such people and to be able to face them not as a fan but as an equal musician is of course the greatest.
It's really great that I've achieved something like this in my career, that I can talk to people like Klaus, Robert Fripp and Alex Lifeson at the same musician level and that they respect me too. That’s just great!
BBS: Is there a special musician you would like to talk to in that form?
SW: Oh yes, there are quite a number of people that I adore very much. For example, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, I adore him not only for the music, but above all as a producer. It's just great! Like many others, I have copied a lot from him in the area of production. Well who else? Well, I'd love to meet Richard James from Aphex Twin someday. There are quite a few other people there, but I can't think of them at the moment. Unfortunately, many of the musicians I would have liked to meet are no longer with us, like Nick Drake, for example. But if I had to choose one person to meet and work with, it would definitely be Trent Raznor. Can you arrange this for me?
BBS: Uh ... we can try it.If we look at today, you are performing in Aviv Geffen's band. How did that come about?
SW: Aviv is one of my best friends and working with im is just fun. I'm not only here today because of him, but because it also gives me the opportunity to talk to some people about my solo album. So I can kill two birds with one stone.
I play guitar for Aviv and have a little fun doing it. And for me there is no pressure. It's also nice to “just” be a different guy from the band. It's just nice to be able to stand on stage without pressure and not have to be the front man. Simply being able to play Aviv's music and thereby helping him. He's like a brother to me, definitely one of my best friends, so I'm happy to be able to do that for him. And as I said, I can also promote my new solo album a little at the same time. The whole thing only works for about 10 days. And we're also going to play a few blackfield pieces tonight.
BBS: If you mention Blackfield, is there a new album coming out soon?
SW: Nothing is planned at the moment. That is not to say that there won't be another album, something will definitely come again. But at the moment there is nothing to do, because his solo album will be released around the same time as my album. So sometime in March. The next project I have to do is the new Porcuine Tree album. So realistically there won't be a new Blackfield album this year, but who knows, maybe next year.
BBS: You already mentioned the new Porcupine Tree album. How far are you with that?
SW: It's about 80% written and that means when the tour is over I'll spend the time finishing the last part. The recordings are then planned from March to May. The release date has already been set, Roadrunner want to launch it on September 24th. So we are still in the middle of it and it will be a very interesting time again. I'm really excited to see how it will develop. Because every album cycle so far has consisted of constant enlargement and so I'm curious to see how it will go on.
BBS: Can you tell us something about the direction of the music? Will it go in the harder direction again?
SW: No, I think this time we will move away from metal again, the sound will be a bit more classic again. It's a 55 minute flow of music. You can say that in a way about all of our albums, but I think on this album we will take the next step. The music flows continuously in a way that has never been done before.
There won't be a lyrical concept this time, but the music itself is based on a concept through the flow of music. With this flow we will reach the next level in terms of musical continuity. I think there will be some elements from my new solo album on the new Porcupine Tree album. More industrial, electronic elements, less metal, more songwriting elements, almost like a classic song cycle. But I do not know. Maybe I should sell Porcupine Tree to someone else!
BBS: No, don't!
SW: Well, it will definitely be a little different than before!
BBS: And besides Porcupine Tree, will there be other projects?
SW: Not really. Well, I would love to tour my solo album, but all in all my entire year will be focused on the new Porcupine Tree album, i.e. writing, recording and releasing the album. And after the release we will go on tour again. But there will be a small window of time after the album has been recorded, i.e. in the summer before the release. And in that time I would like to give a few concerts with my solo album. I hope that works, because first of all I have to put together a band. But all in all, it will definitely be another Porcupine Tree year.
Personnel related bands
Adam Holzman; Bass communion; Blackfield; I.E.M .; Marco Minnemann; The Mute Gods; no-man; Porcupine tree; Storm corrosion; The Sea Within
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