Steven Wilson

Hiding in Plain Sight

Mar 02, 2015 Web Exclusive
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The inspiration for Steven Wilson's new album sounds like the stuff of urban legend. The story goes like this: A young woman dies alone in her apartment and no one notices for more than two years. When her body is finally discovered, her television is still on. Near her decomposed formwhich has to be identified through dental recordsare Christmas presents that she'd wrapped and never got to deliver.

Even Ripley's Believe or Not! might be skeptical of such a story. But it's true.

A 2011 documentary, Dreams of a Life, details the tragic fate of 38-year-old Londoner Joyce Carol Vincent, who exiled herself prior to her silent death of undetermined causes. When Wilson saw the movie, its story barnacled onto his mind. Memories of it resurfaced when he began writing his fourth album. Consequently, Hand.Cannot.Erase. (K-Scope), chronicles the story of a fictitious woman who, like Vincent, cuts herself off from society.

"There was something very symbolic about the story of Joyce Carol Vincent," says Wilson in a phone interview. "This was a young woman living in the heart of the city who chose to erase herself, to disappear. If you really want to disappear, you wouldn't go to live in a small village in the country, you would go live in the heart of the city. You would go and live in the midst of millions of other people. If you do that, you will disappear."

Steven Wilson knows a thing or two about hiding in plain sight. He's almost never played on the radio despite the fact that his previous album, The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories), sold well over 100,000 copies worldwide. He's seldom mentioned in the press even though he plays for crowds of over 2,000 per night and can sell out London's Royal Albert Hall. And Wilson has yet to be regularly compared to musical polymaths such as Trent Reznor and Damon Albarn even though his wide-ranging side projects include No-Man (art rock), Bass Communion (ambient electronica), Blackfield (indie pop), Storm Corrosion (psychedelic folk), and Porcupine Tree (progressive rock).

No wonder Wilson can empathize with outsiders. As the leader of Porcupine Tree (which is currently on hiatus) and as a solo artist, he's often written about alienated teenagers and disaffected loners. Hand.Cannot.Erase. is very much in that tradition.

"My story began to spin off other things that I wanted to talk about: nostalgia for childhood, regret, and isolation and alienation," says Wilson. "When most people say 'concept album,' they think of fantasy. But for me, the quintessential concept albums are things like Tommy, Quadrophenia, The Wall, OK Computer. These albums are actually about very similar things. They are about a fear of the modern age, they are about alienation from technology and alienation from society. They are also albums about individuals becoming isolated from the rest of the world. I think there is a lineage that this album appears to be a part of."

Given the bleak taint of its source material, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Wilson's new album would be best listened to through a Hazmat suit. But the musician says he's more interested in the circumstances of his subject's life than the circumstances of her death. As such, the album isn't the downer you'd imagine.

What's striking about Hand.Cannot.Erase. is its vast spectrum of musical colors and the life-affirming vitality of its hummable melodies. Wilson's best album to date boasts 11 ear-grabbing songs that unite his disparate musical interests, from the progressive rock of "Three Years Older," to the folktronica of "Transcience," to the ambient electronics of the bookend pieces, "First Regret" and "Ascendant Here On." The title track showcases Wilson's power-pop sensibilities and should appeal to fans of Manic Street Preachers' Everything Must Go album.

Wilson's love of electronica surfaces in the Boards of Canada inspired "Perfect Life." Over a looping beat and electronic textures, voice actress Katharine Jenkins delivers a moving spoken narrative of how the character's blissful teenage years end in separation from her best friend. Wilson's voice only arrives more than halfway through the track, his voice spiraling and swirling like kite ribbons as he sings the gorgeous refrain, "We have got the perfect life."

The multi-tiered centerpiece, "Routine," hones in on the growing despair of Wilson's protagonist. The tourists in her bed offer her little real connection to other people and the rigors of city living have become increasingly joyless. (Read the character's online diaries at handcannoterase.com.) The song climaxes with a guest vocal by Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb that is at once heart-rending and also rousingly beautiful.

The Zeppelin-esque riff rocker "Home Invasion" segues into "Regret #9," an ethereal piece in which keyboardist Adam Holzman explores the dark side of the Moog and guitarist Guthrie Govan gracefully gears through an off-the-leash solo. It sounds like a cousin to Pink Floyd's "Obscured by Clouds."

"Ancestral," the album's dominant progressive-rock epic, builds toward a flare-gun chorus that disappears into the heavens, never to repeat again. The instrumental coda takes on the weight of increasingly heavier guitar riffsa vessel of black metal descending toward crush depth.

The closer "Happy Returns," features gleaming rhythm guitar by XTC's Dave Gregory and a wordless pop chorus. The song finds the girl of the story reaching out to reconnect with loved ones. But she doesn't get to finish writing her letter as drowsiness overtakes her.

Does her story end like that of Joyce Carol Vincent? In a wide-ranging conversation with Wilson, we asked him how his character's story ends, what he most fears in life, and what he makes of Porcupine Tree drummer's upcoming album of that band's songs reimagined as rearranged as big band jazz pieces.

Stephen Humpries (Under the Radar): Tell me why you gravitated toward a contemporary news headline story in Hand.Cannot.Erase.

Steven Wilson: I lived in the city for many years. I never knew my next-door neighbors. I never knew their names, what they did for a living; they didn't know what I did for living or my name. That's typical of what it means to live in the city these days. It is a 21st-century malaise in a way. Maybe it's paranoia, or everybody is too busy. But it also has lots to do with technology and the fact that we increasingly interact with each other through technology.

We have this thing now called social media, which is nothing of the kind. It is, of course, anti-social media, because it encourages people to disconnect from each other. It encourages people to hide behind almost fantasy versions of themselves. There is a version of themselves that they present on Facebook. This is not reality. This is not a real life.

Many friends of mine cannot fathom why I wouldn't want a Facebook account. And the reason is this: It seems like the most impersonal way of conducting relationships. I'd much rather write individual lettersemailsto friends or pick up the phone. On Facebook, everyone carefully curates what they present to friends so that you'd think they were living charmed, trouble-free lives. Or they boast a lot. You never get to know what their lives are really like because it's a public broadcast.

One of the problems with Facebook and social networking is that it encourages everyone to feel like the minutiae of their lives is worthy of publishing for other people to read. And of course, it isn't. I'm sure they have wonderful lives. But they're not particularly interesting for other people. We're not interested in what you had for breakfast, or that you went to the supermarket, or that you're at a party or at a bar with some friends. In a way, it is almost like an Andy Warhol "15 minutes of fame" thing. Everyone now has the opportunity to have the illusion of celebrity. You've published your life online for other people to see.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the human psyche, ego, the narcissism, is the need to be validated by having your life observed by other people. Of course, that is what reality TV shows tap into. The 21st century, unfortunately has facilitated it through social media and reality television. For me, it's not a particularly positive development.

At a glance, it would seem as if you have next to nothing in common with Joyce Carol Vincent. Yet her story that resonated with you on a personal levelin empathizing with her situation, did you see yourself in her in some way?

I do, in some ways, feel I have a lot in common with Joyce Carol Vincent. And, actually, I think most people do. Because this young woman was attractive and had the potential to have a lots of friends. She did have lots of friends at some points of her life. She had family. She chose, in a way to erase herself to become invisible. I think, if you speak to most people, they can at least understand and appreciate that impulse. The impulse that says to you, "I've been invited out to a party tonight, but I think I would be much happier to stay at home and just watch TV." It's that's kind of impulse to want your own space and your own privacy, but also the fear of stepping outside your front door.

There is a lot of fear, I think, in this character of mine. There is fear of stepping out of her front door. There is fear of looking at other people in the eye. There is fear of people she might meet in the street and people she might meet in the supermarket. I think, again, that fear is always strongest in the big city. There is a fear of not knowing who you are standing next to. There is a fear of not knowing you are living next door to. What happened in Paris a few weeks ago, with the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the people who lived next door to the people who perpetrated that crime had no idea that they were holding weapons and planning an atrocity.

What I'm saying is, I can certainly feel a lot closer to someone Joyce Carol Vincent than what might seem immediately apparent.

Do you feel the impulse to stay inside and not do the kinds of things you were just talking about?

Totally. Who doesn't sometimes feel that? Everyone does. It takes lots of energy for me to go out and tour. It takes a lot of energy for me to go out and do promo. It takes a lot of energy for me to go down to the supermarket. I don't mean literal energy; I mean mental energy. I don't feel like going onstage every night and doing the show. There are some nights where I think, "I really don't have the energy for this." Of course, I really don't have the luxury of being able to say that! But there are always those days and moments and evenings where you sometimes just want to be alone, so that you can withdraw and recoil from interaction with the modern world.

It is often tempting to just stay home and watch TV. These days, I try to read more books, because that's a less passive experience than watching television. But it takes more effort to read a book that it does to watch television.

Our natural inclination, as human beings, is to be passive. Television, the Internet, social networking, cell phones, computer games, all of these things make it easier to be largely passive about the way we interact with the world. I think you're right, you almost have to willfully fight against that impulse, to get what I think are the really important things out of life. Human interaction, reading, listening to music, and going to the cinema rather than just sitting at home and watching a DVD, all of those things, which for me are really worthwhile things, technology gradually makes it easier to not do.

Even to eat well, you have to make an effort. It's easy to eat shit, because you can eat junk food. It's easy, it's cheap, it's available. It's actually harder to eat the things that are good for you. I think there is an analogy there between food and life in general. You have to make a little effort to get the good things out of life.

This album features your best lyrics. At times in the past, like your Insurgentes album, you concentrated more on the music than the words. But an album like this one, and the Raven, seem to have upped your gamecan you describe your approach to writing lyrics?

That's really nice to hear from you. It's not something I'm conscious of. I think maybe I have a little bit more perspective, a little bit more experience. On this album it was a challenge to write from the perspective of a female characterit's not something I'd done before. Any writer, when they are writing a fictional character, they are still putting a lot of themselves into that fictional character. There is something about being able to write through a fictional character that actually makes you want to be more honest with yourself. Because you don't feel like you're exposing yourself to your listeners. You're exposing your character to your listeners, but of course, in a sense you're doing both. There's a lot of myself in this character.

I've come up with a slightly flippant analogy: the Replicants in Blade Runner. The Replicants are cyborgs, but they have memory implants from the people who created them. It's to make those cyborgs believable to other human beings. The same is true when you write a fictional character. You give the character your own memories and give the character an autobiography so that you believe that character. There's something about hiding behind the character that makes me more brutally honest about my life, perhaps. That's one theory I have.

The Hand.Cannot.Erase. album is a multimedia project, from an elaborate website and deluxe edition of the album that features an entire diary by your character. Tell me a little bit about the work and vision that's gone in to it. Did you write all the diary entries yourself?

Er, the character wrote the diary and the blog. Okay, the text is all mine, yeah.

So you really dug deep into this character, like a method actor.

I really did. A lot of it, you know, was really writing about myself. So if she was writing about having a weird, surreal dream, you probably guess that I've had that weird, surreal dream. If she's having some kind of nostalgic, childhood memory, you can probably assume it's something from my childhood. So a lot of it wasn't as much stretch as you might imagine.

I love these multimedia, cross-platform projects that encompass music, film, artwork, photography, and text. The Raven that Refused to Sing was definitely a step in that direction and this whole concept has been a real gift to me to take it even further in developing that side of things. Musically and visually contextually, it has everything going for it.

The most important quality in art is truthfulness. When the artist expresses something that's true to their experience, people can tell. And when the artist isn't being truthful you can discern that. That's why lots of concept albums don't resonate with me. When musicians write concept albums that are sci-fi operas, they're difficult to connect to, whereas a concept album like yours has an earthbound story and a real honesty. It's relevant to our human experience.

I think that's true, too. It occurred to me, while you were saying that, the most successful science fiction is ultimately about inner space, not outer space. When I think of the really great science fiction books or movies, whether it's 2001 or Blade Runner or Philip K. Dick's writing in general, ultimately they are about inner space. That's the mistake that bad sci-fi makes, or at least the sci-fi that doesn't appeal to me, like Star Wars. My favorite film of last year, Under the Skin, was on the surface sci-fi film. But, of course, it was nothing of the kind. It was all about humanity. But I think you're absolutely right. The "vanilla prog-rock," if you can call it that, or the Tolkien-esque stuff always misses the point for me.

You've been quite outspoken in your disdain for TV talent shows such as Pop Idol and X-Factor. Is it ironic, then, that you've roped in Ninet Tayeb, winner of Israel's Pop Idol, for the album?

I guess you could say that, yeah! But, listen, the thing about Ninetand, you wouldn't know this, because you don't live in Israelis that she went through a complete reinvention of her whole image. She started out as a pop artist on Pop Idol. But she turned her whole back on it and reinvented herself as an almost kind of PJ Harvey-type alternative figure. A very brave thing to do. She turned her back on the whole celebrity and reality TV thing. I think she is genuinely a great artist. I think sometimes these Pop Idol type shows can throw up a genuine talent. She is the exception that proves the rule.

A few years ago, you declared that you were bored with the sound of metal and you moved away from that sound on recent albums, but "Ancestral" features some very heavy metal riffing. Are you a little less bored with it now?

There is a little bit of metal riffing on "Home Invasion" as well. Metal has come back in a bit. You know what? Metal is a part of my musical vocabulary now. But I don't think it would ever come back to the forefront like it was on the last three or four Porcupine Tree albums. It became very central to the sound of PT. But, you're right, there are some quite heavy riffs in this record. I guess I go through phases, like anyone else, or falling in and out of love with things. There is lots of stuff that has come back on this record but certainly wasn't on the Raven record: the use of electronics, the metal riffs, and the almost pop sensibility that is on two or three tracks on this record.

I guess I always come back to the concept of the record being largely responsible for the style of the record and the musical palette. Because, clearly, a record set in the city in the 21st century is going to have to sound a little more electronic, contemporary, and a little more edgy. I couldn't have used the same musical palette that I used for Raven for a contemporary story. So, maybe the metal grew a little bit out of that. The electronic side certainly came out of the urban, modern-world aspect.

"Three Years Older" features a very Chris Squire-like bass, Rick Wakeman-like keyboards and the guitar has a Steve Howe-like twang to it. The song itself doesn't sound like a Yes composition, but I wondered whether your remix work on the Yes albums had influenced your approach to the instrumentation.

I think that would've been a more valid observation on The Raven that Refused to Sing album. I tell you what I think it is, I play the bass like a guitar player does. I played the bass on that track. Because I have a guitarist's mind and a guitarist's sensibility, I tend to think of playing the bass with more of a lead approach. I'm guessing, but Chris Squire started out as a lead guitarist too. I wonder if that's also true of other bass players that play that way, like John Entwistle, Peter Hook, and Geddy Lee. I think that's what you're hearing. It's not a conscious thing.

Are you playing a five-string bass on that track?

I am, yes. A Specter.

Joyce Carol Vincent's story didn't end well. But your story seems to end on a hopeful note on "Happy Returns" and "Ascendant Here On"the protagonist of your story is trying to reconnect with her loved ones. The music is bright rather than melancholy. Take me into your decision to end the album on that note rather than end on a downbeat, like Joyce Carol Vincent's story.

I think it would've been a real downer and depressing to base the story exactly on Joyce Carol Vincent. It had a tragic ending. In my story, [the ending] is definitely ambiguous. It's interestingwe talked a little bit about science fiction earlier onthere's actually a little frisson of sci-fi possibility in there. In her blog, she talks about visitors in the night and people talking to her about some other place so there's little hint of that. I like the fact that it's ambiguous.

I think you're right, it has got a hopeful ending. You can make up your own mind about where this character goes.

Are you afraid of dying alone?

No. It's the one thing I'm not afraid of, but I know it wouldn't happen. My music is my connection to the rest of the world. As long as I keep making music, there will always be people who make the feel a part of the world.

That brings me to something else. One of the ironies of the whole Joyce Carol Vincent storyand there are many ironies in her storyis that this is a woman who basically erased herself from life, but in death she's famous. She's had a movie made about her, she has her own Wikipedia page, she now has an album based on her. If you become a part of popular culture through movies and music, you become immortal. You're not alone.

What scares you as an artistwhat are you least comfortable writing about? Are there lyrical themes you tend to shy away from rather than explore and confront?

Ooh! I don't think soapart from the afore-mentioned Hobbit-y type things! Not really, no. I think part of the art of writing lyrics is being able to talk about your innermost fears and your innermost feelings. I don't think I'm afraid to write about anything, no matter how personal.

Was I thought you were going to ask me was, "What am I afraid of as an artist?" There is certainly always a fear for me that I've written my last song and my last album and there is nothing left to come. Right now, honestly, I have the feeling. Every time I finished a new record, and I'm proud of it, and I think it's the best thing I've donethis album is no exceptionthere comes a fear that I may never be able to do anything as good again.

Now, so far, most of the time I've managed to prove myself wrong. The next record, for me, if it's not better, has to at least be an evolution or a change in some positive way. It's kept things fresh for me. But I always worry about the next project, the next album. Is there going to be in a music left to come? Is there anything left to write about? Have I exhausted the well of inspiration? That's my greatest fear as an artist.

I think that is something that a lot of artists have in common. Not just songwriters, but authors as well. The fear of the blank page and having to start something fresh.

I think it is part and parcel of being someone who is creative. You should never take it for granted. As you know, my career has been very much a slow burn and a war of attrition in a way. I think it would've been worse, in a way, to have had what I call Citizen Kane syndrometo have created this incredible masterpiece at the beginning of my career and then having to measure up to that. There are many examples of that. Velvet Underground's first album. King Crimson's first album, to an extent, as it will always be a landmark album for that band. Citizen Kane will always be the landmark Orson Welles movie. I have to be grateful that hasn't happened to me. I mean, some of my early records are terrible. But I learned from my mistakes and I gradually got better. And here I am 23 years into my career and I think I just made my best record.

On your first two solo albums, you utilized a range of guest musicians to play different parts. But then it seemed as if you were looking to consolidate a band of your own that you could specifically write for, as you did on Raven and Hand.Cannot.Erase. But the live band often seems to be in flux, with musicians coming and going. Are you resigned to the Steven Wilson band being a revolving door of musicians or would you like to consolidate a fairly permanent lineup with musicians that you can specifically write music for?

I think I'm going to have to have a pool of musicians to rely on. The downside of being a solo artist is that you can't always expect to keep them, and that's indeed is what has happened to me. It happened in the middle of the Raven that Refused to Sing cycle when I lost Marco [Minnemann] and Chad [Wackerman] came in and replaced Marco. It's happening again with Marco and Guthrie [Govan] this time. I'm not successful enough to be able to pay a retainer for the musicians. Paul McCartney is able to pay a retainer to keep his musicians so that they are always available and will be able to drop everything at any time.

I have set a precedent with my band. The guys in the band are these incredible world-class musicians. So I have a pressure, in a way, to maintain that level and, so far, so good. I've been up to find guys who are absolutely world-class musicians.

Another thing that springs off your question, is whether I like that. In a way, I do like the fact that, if I wanted to, tomorrow I could suddenly decide that I wanted to make a record with a completely different set of musicians. My band is not going to be pissed off with me if I suddenly decide to make an album of electronic gamelan music or an album with an Icelandic choir and a string quartet. That's the freedom, the liberating aspect of being a solo artist. So I think you kind of take the rough and the smooth in that respect.

Tell me about your connection with Dave Kilminster, who's joining your band for the North American tour. I've seen him play with Roger Waters' band. He's a very different guitarist from Guthrie Govan. What qualities do you think he'll bring to the band?

I had met Dave a couple of times. When Guthrie knew that he wouldn't be able to do the whole album cycle, he said to me, "You should talk to Dave." Like you, I said to Guthrie, "But isn't Dave's thing just doing Dave Gilmour?" He said, "No not at all." He said, in fact Dave didn't know Pink FloydI mean, he knew Pink Floyd, but he didn't know the musicuntil he was hired to play it.

Guthrie recommended Dave as his replacement because he felt Dave was the closest to him stylistically. I think with Dave we haven't seen that side to him, because he's basically been playing at being Dave Gilmour for years. I love that approach too, you know. I'm always trying to get my guitar players to slow down and play less notes. He is a wonderfully versatile musician who has the chops and the feel. I think he's going to be a perfect fit for the band and there will be a great sense of continuity from Guthrie to Dave.

I don't know much about Craig Blundell, who will play drums on the North American tour, tell me about him.

Craig was recommended to me by a producer friend of mine. I'd never heard of Craig. Most people haven't heard of Craig and the reason is because he's almost exclusively been doing drum clinics. He works for Roland and for Premier. He's an amazing player. You should go on YouTube and watch some of his clinics and some of his demonstrations. This will be the first time he's really aligned himself with the band for a whole tour, so I think a lot of people are going to be very pleasantly surprised by Craig. I auditioned a few drummers and Craig was the one that has what I call "the Marco gene"-some kind of flair and joy in his playing. You see that when you see Marco playing. Craig has also got that.

At this point, it seems to me that your career is a little bit like that of Damon Albarn or Stingthey can occasionally reunite Blur or The Police, but everyone realizes that those are now peripheral projects for them and their main focus is their respective solo careers. Is that a fair parallel?

I think those are good parallels. It still frustrates me when people tell me they like my solo record and then in the very next breath they ask, "So, when are you putting Porcupine Tree back together?" But then I think of someone like Peter Gabriel, who's been a solo artist now for 40 years, and people are still asking him when are Genesis getting back together.

It's not a bad thing. It's a flattering thing, because that's how much this music means to these people. Even to my dying day, I will be asked, "When are you putting Porcupine Tree back together?"

It's a very romantic notion that people have about bands in particular. I think being in a band always has a romantic notion to it that's being a solo artist doesn't. I'm talking about in the eyes of the fans now. And so when you step out of a reasonably successful band, it doesn't matter how good your solo work is [because] people always have a nostalgic attachment to the band identity. I accept that, and I'm used to it now. But it is frustrating sometimes that I have to explain to them, four albums into my solo career, that if Porcupine Tree was to get back togetherand, by the way, I have never ruled that outit will be a side project. There should be no question in anyone's mind that this is now my main musical path, my solo work. But I think the Sting analogy is a good one. I guess he still gets asked when The Police are getting back together.

During the past five years working exclusively as a solo artist, you've grown musically. So, if you do reactivate Porcupine Tree at some point, what do you imagine you'll bring to Porcupine Tree in terms of fresh perspective and all you've learned in the interim?

It's a good question. I don't really have a good answer. I'm not consciously aware that my approach to writing and making records has changed, but objectively speaking, I can hear that there has been a change and evolution and development.

One thing I will say, is this: if Porcupine Tree did get back together, I would have to say to the guys, "Look, there's no point in me writing the material, because if I were to do that, I might as well do it for a solo record. Let's try writing together, or try writing in partnerships." I would not be interested in coming in with an album that I'd written, which I used to do.

So it would be more like the second disc of The Incident, which were all band compositions.

That's right, a bit more like that.

You have a sideline career of remixing classic albums and your most recent remixes include records by Yes, Roxy Music, and Tears for Fears. Have you met, or spoken to, some of those band members? Are the likes of Steve Howe, Phil Manzanera, and Roland Orzabal aware that you're an artist in your own right?

The truth is it varies from project to project. Some artists are very involved and there are some projects where their involvement is more a question of listening to my mixes and suggesting a few tweaks. To be honest, most of them are like that. I don't really like to remix projects with is no interaction with the artist at all.

In the case of Roxy music, which was Phil Manzanera, in the case of Tears for Fears it was Roland Orzabal, in the case of Yes it was Steve Howe. They all basically let me get on with it. I sent my mixes to them and then they might come back with a comment or two or no comments and say, "It sounds great." Roland was quite particular, which I really appreciated. There would be a bit of to and fro, and then we would get to the final draft.

Are they aware of me as a solo artist? I guess they must be. Phil certainly is, because his wife runs the PR company that we hired in the U.K. to do my publicity this time around. It's always flattering to me to find out that these guys do know who I am. Actually, I assumed that Roland and Curt Smith had no idea who I was. But it transpired that they knew exactly who I was and they were familiar with my work and my other remix work. I was very pleased to hear that. Steve Howe is the one who really cares about the legacy of Yes. What happened is with Steve that he came to my studio for the very first remix I did. He came to listen to it. I think he realized that I could be trusted. I haven't had a lot of interaction with him since. He hasn't come back to the studio. He's listened to the mixes and said, "Yeah, sounds fine."

I think that's the point, you know. Once someone like that trusts you, they know that you are going to honor the legacy and not piss all over it and change things and "improve things." Obviously that's not what I'm about at all. I'm very faithful to the spirit of the original and the mix of the original. I think once he understood that, he let me get on with it.

Who was on your wish list of albums and artists would still like to remix?

It's still the same as always been at the top of the list from day one, Stephen. You know who that is.

Pink Floyd?

No.

Kate Bush?

Kate Bush. She's been at the very top of my list from the very beginning. She's still the top of the list. Overtures have been made to her manager, so I think it's on her radar. But obviously she has other things she's doing right nowshe's mixing the DVD of her live show. But that's still my dream job, Kate's catalog. I just think it would sound incredible in surround, you know?

What did you think of Pink Floyd's The Endless River?

Listen, I don't think it was bad. It was very predictable and it was exactly what people expected. And perhaps it was what some people wanted. These days I find myself more and more going back to the really early days of Floyd, I love Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. I listened to Piper at the Gates of Dawn the other day, it's a fantastic record! Maybe the other stuff is just a bit overly familiar to me these days.

You couldn't come up with a better indication of how rock music has failed to reinvent itself than the amount of hysteria and press that that album got. It was the biggest selling album on Amazon in preorders. And that was for a 20-year-old album of instrumental outtakes! That tells me one thing: rock music has failed to reinvent itself in the 21st century.

I felt the same, last year, about the Kate Bush come back, although I thought her comeback was a lot more successful. Nothing has come along to take the place of those great conceptual artists. When Kate Bush and Pink Floyd come back the amount of interest for that stuff is phenomenal because they are almost filling a void.

What's caught your ear these days? What are you excited about?

The new Kreng album, The Summoner. What a great record! He's a great artist, the way he combines neo-classical music, electronic music, and he's got some doom metal on the new album as well. It's a weird mixture. It's almost like Max Richter meets Sunn O))) or something.

I really like the Gazelle Twin album. It's called Unflesh and it came out last year. She's kind of in the tradition of Björk, a female artist who works with electronics and uses her voice in a very processed way.

What do you make of Gavin Harrison's Big Band jazz versions of Porcupine Tree songs on his upcoming album, Cheating the Polygraph?

It's brilliant! I love it! It's amazing to hear music I've written presented that way. Listen, I don't know what the audience is for it, and I don't think he knows either. But as a piece of art it's phenomenal. What did you think of it?

I only received a download of it last night and so far all I've listened to is the first track, "What Happens Now?" It sounded great, but I have to admit I didn't recognize it.

Me neither! He sat me down and played me some of those tracks. I was almost the whole way through and he said, "Do you recognize it?" I said, "No...." And these, apparently, are songs that I wrote! So, obviously, they are very abstracted from the original source material, which is great. I was really impressed. It's a beautifully executed piece of work.

What do you still want to do in your career? What are your unfulfilled musical ambitions and goals of what you'd like to achieve?

I've heard, my whole career, how cinematic my music is and how wonderful my music would be in films. But for whatever reason, the opportunity has never arisen for me. I would love to be the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to a David Fincher. I would love to be the Danny Elfman to a Tim Burton. I would love to be the Hans Zimmer to a Christopher Nolan.

I keep hoping that there's some young director out there who's just about to make an extraordinary film and begin an extraordinary career, who is looking for some sort of collaborator on the sound design and music side. So, doing soundtracks for music is still my number one unfulfilled ambition. I keep my fingers crossed.

[Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.]

Steven Wilson North America tour dates (for more details visit www.stevenwilsonhq.com):

Thursday, May 21 Albany, NY: The Egg

Friday, May 22 Boston, MA: Berklee Performance Center

Saturday, May 23 Harrisburg, PA: The Whitaker

Tuesday, May 26 Washington, DC: 930 Club

Thursday, May 28 Philadelphia, PA: Keswick Theater

Friday, May 29 New York, NY: Best Buy Theater

Saturday, May 30 New York, NY: Best Buy Theater

Thursday, June 04 Chicago, IL: Park West

Friday, June 05 Chicago, IL: Park West

Saturday, June 06 Madison, WI: Barrymore Theater

Tuesday, June 09 Denver, CO: Boulder Theater

Friday, June 12 Anaheim, CA: The Grove

Saturday, June 13 Los Angeles, CA: The Wiltern

Sunday, June 14 San Francisco, CA: The Warfield

Tuesday, June 16 Portland, OR: Aladdin Theater

Wednesday, June 17 Seattle, WA: Neptune Theater

Friday, June 26 Toronto: The Danforth Music Hall Canada

Saturday, June 27 Montréal: Montréal Jazz Festival Canada

Sunday, June 28 Montréal: Montréal Jazz Festival Canada

Monday, June 29 Quebec City: Impérial

 



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Bina N
March 2nd 2015
11:02pm

Mr Humphries, this was a wonderful, engaging article/interview. The direction of your questions contributed to that as much as Mr Wilson’s answers. Thank you for publishing it.

There is something in this interview which confused me, however, which is no fault of yours, and will likely concern no-one else—so goes the world, and the individual. In what almost seems like the same breath, Mr Wilson criticizes social media—anti-social media, he calls it—for encouraging disconnect, fantasy lives, so on—you were there, you know what he says. Then he says this:

“One of the problems with Facebook and social networking is that it encourages everyone to feel like the minutiae of their lives is worthy of publishing for other people to read. And of course, it isn’t. I’m sure they have wonderful lives. But they’re not particularly interesting for other people.”

Uh, I’m sorry. I must have missed a few lectures of Relationships 101. Who else is supposed to care about the minutiae of our lives—for instance, our names or what we do for a living—except for the people we connect with day to day? I didn’t realize human connection was only for big, important, life-altering events—or concept albums. We can’t possibly be in the wrong for sharing the minutiae of our lives AND for posting it on social media—for honesty, and for trying to connect—especially when the presence of the minutiae indicates a lack of a fantasy life. Not a lot of minutiae in the life of a secret agent. Or let me put it another way:

One of the problems with [art] is that it encourages [artists] to feel like the minutiae of their lives is worthy of publishing for other people to [read, hear, see etc.]. Actually, this is exactly what we feel is worthy of publishing: the little details, the everyday worries, all of the mundanities of mortal life that remind us we’re fragile, insignificant beings in an unquantifiable world, but that we’re in it together, food shopping and all.

Otherwise we might as well compose sci-fi operas.

(My apologies if this is impolite. I do really enjoy Mr Wilson’s solo work. It just seemed a strange thing, so I’m using social media to give an honest response.)

Chris Muller
March 3rd 2015
6:08am

This was a great interview!  Very thoughtful questions (including a few that I wanted to ask) that avoided the typical cliche questions asked in other press.  Thank you for publishing!

Danny
March 3rd 2015
11:01am

Very thoughtful post, Bina.

To me, it seems he wishes that people would stop hiding behind virtual identities and develop human contact with each other rather than public broadcasting.  The “minutiae” of our lives is essential in establishing relationships and connections with the people IN our lives, not the people who exist on the internet.  Publicly broadcasting what you ate for breakfast on a forum that allows anyone to view it without knowing who you are doesn’t equate to human connection and relationship building, it seems vain and unnecessary.

Kenny
March 3rd 2015
12:40pm

If you love this album, be sure to check out my thoughts on the album here: http://bit.ly/1ADmEwH

Bina N
March 3rd 2015
5:56pm

We’re a species of oversharers, Danny, there is no doubt, and the false promise of anonymity in the abstract expanse of the web beckons to some of our worst qualities. However, I think we forget that the people we meet in passing on the internet have as much potential to become our friends and loved ones as the people we meet in passing in the “real world”—coworkers, postmen, baristas—people. The thread may be a shared moment, a common interest. All methods of communication are tools from our own forges, not hindrances beyond our control, and we hide as much as we want to hide, in person or online. I don’t believe social media or “virtual reality” is the obstacle to human connection; it is ourselves, our delicate sensibilities, and our paralyzing fears—what if we shed our lovingly cultivated identities, and exposed our true selves, and there were no takers? Sometimes this is too morbid a notion* for my vulnerable self…and I post pictures of my breakfast instead :)

*absolutely a “self-loathing narcissist” notion…

Andrew
March 4th 2015
10:50am

I hear what you’re saying, Bina, but I find myself gravitating more to Steven’s take on the subject of minutiae and social media.  I think its important to look at all of the examples Steven cited (posting breakfast pics, going to the supermarket, the party with friends) as well as his further point relating to the validation of having your life observed.  Your experience may be different than mine but I find the extreme narcissism put on display through social media to be approaching epidemic proportions.  There is something more than simply connecting with family and loved ones driving this when you see people (loads of people) NOT interacting with those in their three-dimensional space in favor of documenting the experience and disappearing into social media.  Go to any restaurant or theater (or just about any public place) and just watch how many people are tuning out the world in front of them while focusing on posting within social media. 

While I’m certainly not arguing that social media should be eliminated, I think a strong case can be made for it fostering isolation. 

And to answer your specific question, “who else is supposed to care about the minutia of our lives”, I would answer: the people who already know about it, the people who live it with you.  The rest of the world?  Not so much. 

All that said, I agree with your take about artists tending to feel their lives are worthy of publishing and I feel the same about the minutia of their lives as I do about yours.  :) 

Oh, setting aside the discussion on social media, I think Hands. Cannot. Erase is the best record I’ve heard in years.  I loved every single moment of it and that is a rare thing for me.  Looking forward to diving into the blog Steven created while listening to the album again tonight.

Ben
March 5th 2015
9:43am

This by far the best review and interview I have read (out of many!) for Hand Cannot Erase, fantastic work.

Sum1
March 13th 2015
2:10am

The Album is amazing… It’s the only record these days I can listen to, and it really makes me feel good. thanks dear Steven Wilson.
And the Interview was amazing too.. wish you all the best.

McFly
October 17th 2016
6:09pm

I realise this isn’t a very constructive comment, but I find interviews with Steven Wilson far more interesting than his music.