Steven Wilson 2012 Community Q&A – Steven Answers Your Questions!
Steven Wilson has responded to many of your recently submitted questions! Thanks to Steven for providing us with some truly great answers, and to all who participated and submitted a question – all of us here at StarsDie.com really appreciate it. Steven’s answers to your questions (in italics) are below!
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A lot of people may not know that your studio is mostly software-based.
In addition to Logic I use a lot of Universal Audio software which emulates vintage compressors, EQ, delays, reverb, tape machines – UA are really setting new standards for digital audio processing, some musicians and engineers now have a hard time telling the difference between the original units (which are expensive and hard to maintain) and the emulations. Digital may finally be coming of age.
Hello, Steven. Thank you for taking the time to read my question.
It’s very hard to describe this music as it is so different from most things around right now (at least as far as I know). I said it was the “opposite of metal” because I think a lot of people might have assumed from the two people involved that this would be some kind of progressive / metal thing, but in fact it’s quite a minimal album with a lot of space and beauty, orchestral and organic, hardly any drums and no distorted guitars – “twisted beautiful” is the best way I can describe it.
Am I correct in assuming you took piano lessons as a child, and, if so, what age did you begin? Were you trained early on to read music, or did you learn by ear, or both? Lastly, what is the extent to which you have been influenced by classical composition ? I hear in much of your music a clarity of theme and development, especially in the gorgeous GFD. However, I was surprised at the GFD concert I attended that you did not begin with the first track Grace For Drowning, which, in my opinion, sets up the leitmotif for the entire work. Thank you.
I did take both piano and guitar lessons when I was young, forced on me by my parents – but I wasn’t inspired by music at all at that age, I was more interested in football. It was only later when I discovered music for myself that I started to learn enough to be able to start writing and recording, but I never went back and had academic music training after that. I can just about write and read music very slowly, and hardly know the names of most chords I play on the guitar – but luckily most of this kind of academic knowledge is not relevant to my creative process.
My question would be something to the effect of “In some past interview prior to GFD you stated that you had in more or less words transitioned out of the metal phase with your music. Im assuming it would be safe to say that this transition was into the music featured in GFD? If this is the case what should we as fans look forward to in your future works? Will this step forward or progression in your musical nature show in future PT albums and the likes. Or will it stay nested in your solo career?” I would also be curious about his stance on this whole SOPA ordeal given his take on Ipods and the digital era in some ways. But thats not near as important as the music. But Mr.Wilson does need to return to North Carolina with any of his acts. Were simply lacking in worth while music here. Just saying.
I can’t imagine wanting to go back to metal again now – it seems to me to have become a very overused musical vocabularly, so overused in fact, that most heavy music just doesn’t have any impact anymore – at least for me anyway. I say this with the caveat that there may well be a great young band about to prove me totally wrong! Which would be great. (-: As to how my own music will develop, it will be as much as a surprise to me as it will to you. Right now the material I’m writing for the next solo record (specifically with the band I toured with in mind) is picking up more on the seventies progressive aspects of Grace For Drowning – I always said I’d never make retro music, but something is drawing me back to that era (largely the music I grew up on).
Dear Steven, I am fascinated by the creative use of sampling in your music, as it frequently strikes an emotional chord with me. The non-musical elements you choose add such a satisfying dimension to your songs. If I am not mistaken, I have noticed less frequent use of samples in your two solo records when compared to your previous/other works. I would like to know when, why and by what are you inspired to use samples when you put together a piece of music. Thank you!
I can’t think of any sampling I have used on the solo records, and the last sample on a PT record was probably about the time of Lightbulb Sun. Sometimes I base Bass Communion albums on samples of orchestral music or old 78rpm records, but mutated way beyond anything recognisable in most cases.
Very much so – cinema is more of an influence on me than music these days. Books sometimes also, but less so as I seem to get very little time to read these days. But Index on GFD is an example of a song inspired by a book, in that case The Collector by John Fowles. And Fear of a Blank Planet wouldn’t have existed without the Bret Easton Ellis book Lunar Park. Similarly some of the songs on Grace for Drowning were inspired by films. Myself and Lasse are both big fans of European cinema – some of our reference points for the album were Last Year at Marienbad, Belle De Jour, and the 60′s BBC version of the ghost story Whistle and I’ll Come To You.
Your work as a solo artist, frontman for Porcupine Tree, and a collaborator on other projects spans so many diverse forms and so many years, that it can be quite a daunting task for a person new to your music to know where to begin or how to explore it. What sort of advice would you give someone who has just come upon you to help them get a handle on your work? Is there any particular pathway through the catalogue you might suggest following?
Like a lot of musicians I guess I’m always most proud of my most recent work, so I would say listen to Grace For Drowning. Perhaps not surprisingly both solo records, are among my favourites. But I guess to get a complete picture someone would need to listen to at least one album by each of the other bands / solo projects too, in which case I would point them to Porcupine Tree “Fear of a Blank Planet” (and also “In Absentia”), Bass Communion “Ghosts on Magnetic Tape”, No-Man “Schoolyard Ghosts”, the first Blackfield album, and the forthcoming Storm Corrosion album. Even then it would probably be an incomplete picture without taking into account collaborations as producer and mixer.
You’ve mentioned that Grace for Drowning is a reflection of your love for jazz music, and in particular, it’s influence on progressive rock bands of the late 60′s to the early 70′s. There’s a long history in jazz music of composers creating pieces and forming ensembles based around the talents of specific musicians, catering the their individual personalities and what they can bring out of each other. I’m thinking of composers such as Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington. At any point during the writing process for Grace For Drowning did you think about the music in the terms of who would be playing it and how? If so, did that at all affect the direction the music or how you wrote it? What about the newly formed ‘Steven Wilson Band’? Is the new solo material you’re working on in that vein?
What you are describing is more the thought process for the next record, because now I have a band that I can write for. But on Grace I was pretty much writing only for myself, and only afterwards did I consider which musicians would be good to play it, although of course the musicians that did play on it all brought something special to the music. The most important thing for me as regards the jazz influence was getting away from the more rigid structures of PT music and allowing improvisation and spirituality back into the sound.
As someone who recently discovered and became a fan of your Bass Communion project after listening to Cenotaph, are there any plans of reissuing some of your earlier BC albums? I think in a German magazine recently you said Ghosts on Magnetic Tape and Pacific Codex were the BC albums you’re most proud of. I’m aware that Ghosts on Magnetic Tape has been reissued recently, but Pacific Codex has been out of print for almost 4 years. Any plans for a Pacific Codex reissue or any other BC work? I’m totally against resorting to finding an mp3 download of of stuff like Pacific Codex and II/III.
Yes, all of the BC albums will come back into print at some point, it’s really just a question of when I get the time to put these things together. Curating the back catalogue, sizable as it is, could easily become a full time job for me if I let it, there always seems to be something that needs to be remastered, remixed or reissued. Eventually I hope to compile a CD box set of Bass Communion limited editions and vinyl only releases, which would also include a lot of the remixes I’ve done for others. There are also some 5.1 mixes that have never been issued.
Steven I would like to know how is your general method of operation, when you start a mix (not your own stuff). Do you have everything in mind before you start or do you start with an instrument e.g. the drums and then you think about the next step. Because in my opinion you have a very special technique of mixing – a kind of modern retro sound -> the sound follows the musical intention. How do reach that unique sound – is it a talent or do you have some principles (e.g. your drum sound is very inimitably)?
I always work from the drums up, and I like things to feel quite organic. I really love the sound of records made in the 70′s and I guess I do aspire to that sound, although I can only reach to that through what I know, which is recording on digital technology. I think it is possible to get an organic sound this way, especially now with the aforementioned Universal Audio software. First and foremost the most important thing with regard to mixing is to listen to as many good sounding records as possible, to try to understand why they sound so good – it’s probably a lot to do with a certain simplicity of approach, too many records have too many overdubs and too much processing – a good mix is all about making things sound good together, not in solo.
Mr Wilson, I’ve always wondered about the following: Students like me don’t have much money we can spend on music. What would You think if someone downloads your music illegally, because they like it, and from time to time when they have the money for it buy one of your albums or attend one of Your concerts? Or would you rather have it that they don’t (or rarely) listen to your music at all?
Well I truly believe that music is absolutely for sharing. I don’t think that any musician falls in love with the magic of creating music in order to make money, most of us do it from the heart. So if it was a choice between someone not hearing the music or stealing, I would say steal it every time! But don’t tell my manager or record company I said that (-;
SW – 2 quick questions 1. This is not a criticism & I appreciate pleasing everyone is nigh on impossible, what was the reasoning behind the lack of UK solo dates on the ‘Grace’ tour? 2. And just out of sheer curiosity did you manage to catch Rush on their Time machine tour last year .. do you get the chance to take in many gigs?? Thanks!
As you can probably imagine the solo show – with all its world class musicians, screens, projectors, quadrophonic sound system…etc.. – is expensive to stage, and while I’m happy to lose money on presenting it, I have to draw a line somewhere. The kind of offers we got for shows in the UK outside of London would have lost me far too much money. I missed Rush on the recent tour, I think I was always away or on tour when they came to the UK.
What do you think about Aviv Geffen putting his new music under Blackfield’s name if it’s not a full partnership anymore between him and you like the old days? I don’t see the point. Anyway I guess you don’t want to lose his friendship in a stupid dispute with the name or something, and it’s obvious that you’re not interested right now in the Blackfield project as you’re totally focused in your solo career. Thanks.
Aleix Serralabos Triadu
I think someone else might have asked this already, but I’d like to know in detail what led to the decision of “handing over” Blackfield to Aviv. And what will Steven’s involvement be if there is going to be a new tour.
Aviv is continuing Blackfield with my absolute blessing and at my suggestion. I didn’t want him to be holding up his own muse for me, and the truth is that I simply don’t have time to do all the things I’ve been doing for the last few years anymore, at least not on the continual basis that something like Blackfield deserves. The new material Aviv has written is great as always, and I’m still contributing some vocals and guitars, and mixing the album – but I’m just not in a position to give the time to write and tour for the band anymore.
Please ask Steven if there are any plans to re-release the “Porcupine Tree: Arriving Somewhere” DVD on Blu-ray and, if not, whether he might consider doing so. Also, I’d be curious to know whether he and Mikael plan to release “Storm Corrosion” in high res on either DVD-Audio or Blu-ray Audio. Thank you
Storm Corrosion is coming out on Blu-Ray. The whole album was recorded at 96K so it sounds really good in high res. Arriving Somewhere was not filmed in high resolution, so it was felt that nothing would be gained by issuing it on Blu-Ray.
Why doesn’t it seem to exist any interviews or official live-releases from the Delerium-era Porcupine Tree? I love everything you’ve done, but I still wish something like this existed or that you played more often old songs live these days. They seem a bit in the shade sometimes. Anyway, thanks for the music. You’re my biggest influence and inspiration.
Not many people were interested in interviewing me in those days, so there really isn’t that much out there. Perhaps it’s difficult for younger fans to understand just how much of a vacuum myself and PT found ourselves in for the first 10 years – I might still be very much considered a cult artist, but compared to how it was in the 90s I’m almost mainstream now!
About the live albums, in fact the only fully available official live album by PT (or any of my projects) is Coma Divine, which is from the Delerium era. Every other live album released has been a limited edition or on another format (DVD, Blu-Ray). So Coma Divine remains the only permanently available live CD across my whole catalogue. Having said that I have almost every show we played in the early days recorded, and one day when I get some time I would love to compile a comprehensive live box set. We played some music from this era at the Radio City Music Hall and Royal Albert Hall shows in 2010, but we are always much more focussed on new music and moving forward, so it’s not of huge interest to delve too much into the back catalogue.
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