Interview: Steven Wilson

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Photo Credit Susana Moyaho

No Man’ and ‘Porcupine Tree’ Mastermind Steven Wilson has had a big 2015. From releasing his fourth solo album, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” To performing at the Royal Albert Hall and being crowned the King of prog rock. I got the opportunity to quiz the legend himself.

As well as being a successful musician, you are also known for your skills as a producer. Does this passion for production influence the way you approach making music?

Well when I initially fell in love with music, I also fell in love with the idea of being a kind of Auteur. I wasn’t interested in being a musician; I wasn’t necessarily interested in being a songwriter. What I was interested in was creating these sorts of sonic experiences and musical journeys. You know I was very much interested in the idea of the album, as a kind of musical ‘long form’. So I wasn’t interested in you know, making pop songs and selling singles; I was interested in telling stories, across what was then sort of the end of the ‘great era’ of vinyl. So without realising it, I guess I fell in love with the idea of being a producer. We’re talking about when I was 10 here you know, I didn’t know what a producer was or what a producer did. I’ve just always loved the idea of being able to take the listener on a musical experience.

You’ve delved into many different genres in your career, are there any in particular that you find yourself referring back to and listening to more than others?

I don’t listen to any of my records; you know what I don’t know any artists that do. It’s something that’s very hard to go back and listen to. It’s like if I asked you to go and look at a picture of yourself from five years ago, all you would see is the terrible haircut and the terrible clothes or whatever it is that embarrassed you about the photo. It’s the same I think with people who make things. You kind of home-in on the things you would have done differently. Now that’s not to say I’m not proud of some the things I’ve done, obviously some records I’m more proud of than others. Yet it tends to be the more recent ones and I suppose that’s because they reflect better who I am at the moment, what I believe and what interests me.

The concept for your latest album Hand. Cannot. Erase. Is a popular young woman who dies, yet is not missed for three years. What message, if any, is this concept designed to send?

Well I think it tells a lot about life in the modern world, particularly in cities in the 21st Century which can be extremely lonely places. I think one of the things it tells is that although we are now, on the surface, more connected through social networks, through the internet etc. Actually a lot of this stuff is ‘Anti-Social’ networking. It creates the illusion of being connected to other human beings but it is an illusion. I think the case of this woman is relevant in that she’s got friends, she’s social, all of that stuff. But actually people are all sort of caught up in their own lives these days, it’s just constantly moving from one thing to the next; whether it’s checking our email or texting our friends. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re getting lost in that kind of chaos. She for me becomes kind of hyperbolic of that modern technological age that we all live in.

Do you think concept albums are the best medium for artists to convey a message or tell a story?

The funny thing about the world of music, pop and rock and so on, is that when you try to do something in the long form, across a record, it’s seen as something quite experimental and some would say rather pretentious. And yet if you look at the world of literature or the world of cinema, using the long form to tell us a story is the norm. Most directors are interested in making feature-length films, most authors are interested in writing full-length novels. So for me it seems very natural that I would tell stories through concept records or narrative oriented records. It’s strange that it is seen as something more esoteric to do in the world of music. It’s never felt that way to me but that’s probably down to the music I grew up listening to. My father had albums like ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on all the time for example. So I’ve always seen music as a way to tell a story, and a way that’s no less effective than a feature film or a novel. A lot of people see concept albums as quite strange though and relate them to a different era of music. But I disagree.

You mention concept albums being related to a different era of music, some would say the same of Vinyl. Yet Tesco recently announced that they would soon be stocking Vinyl records again for the first time in years. How do you feel about the resurgence of Vinyl?

It’s fascinating because to me, it tells me something about music and about the way young people in particular are connecting to vinyl. It’s really interesting because a few years ago I made a film about mp3 culture and how it was destroying the way people connect and engage with music. The reason vinyl is having a resurgence is not because older people like me are going out and buying records, its young kids buying records. It’s interesting because young people don’t have the same nostalgia people my age have, so they must be finding something in vinyl and I think they’ve found something which helps them engage with the whole experience of music. That’s really encouraging to me because that tells me that music has not been lost. There is something deeper and more soulful about music especially when you can hold the record, read the lyrics and look at the artwork.

Steven Wilson has an upcoming European tour in 2016, tickets and dates are available at www.stevenwilsonhq.com