So after Steven Wilson‘s riveting performance at Bacardi Nh7 Weekender, Shillong, we got the chance to interview the legend and ask him a few questions. Unsurprisingly, he was straightforward, witty, and really enlightening to talk to. As we’ve highlighted before, Wilson is a brave booking for Weekender to take on and he’s up next at their Pune edition which is on from the 2nd to 4th of December. After touching upon the pleasantries we got right down to it. Read up on the insights we got out of him in the interview below!
Nishant: I’ll start off with your experience in Shillong. So how was it?
Steven: Yes it was amazing. You know, it was crazy. And it was quite stressful also because it was the first time and we had played together only for a few months. Also we had some technical problems during the day and as some of the equipments were rented locally, they were very unfamiliar with the context towards the play. It did get a little frustrating but apart from all that, we had an amazing time. It was an incredible experience and the reaction from the audience was very overwhelming and very powerful. So I came back, you know, very happy with the way it had went and also very kind of moved, and I’m really looking forward to coming back and doing it again. But I think this time will be a little bit different as we have been on the road for the last 4-5weeks. So we’re much more confident about the way we are playing now and I think hopefully it will be a very different kind of a show and hopefully much better.
Nishant: I think you were here in India in 2009 the last time, right?
Steven: I’ve never been to India with my solo project, but yes, I did come here once before with the band.
Nishant: So apart from the music, did you check anything else out here in India? When you were in Shillong or did you visit any other place?
Steven: Unfortunately, we didn’t have time. You know it is one of those problems with being on tour. I’ve had this problem not just with India but with many places in the world. You know with going to all these amazing places and not really having the time to be the tourist but in a way that’s fine because I understand that I’m coming to work. It’s my job and I’m planning to work and I can’t expect it to treat it like a vacation but I think on the same time, just being somewhere and meeting local people, and seeing the different kind of landscapes, seeing the cities, absorbing you know that side of things does give you quite an experience. Just to be in Shillong, for example, and to experience it was pretty extraordinary. But to think to answer your question, no we didn’t really have time to be a tourist as such. But I hope one day to come back to India and just enjoy the country.
Nishant: After this tour ends, I was just checking out your website. Do you have any shows after Pune?
Steven: No, the Indian shows, actually the two shows next month will be our last shows of all on the Hands.Cannot.Erase album cycle tour. So, in fact a week after I get back from India, I’ll go back to my studio and start recording the new album. So there is definitely going to be some time off the road after this show.
Nishant: Now that you are talking about the new album, what can we expect from the upcoming album? We know about Hands.Cannot.Erase, we’ve heard 4½ as well. Now what can we expect next?
Steven: Well all I’m going to say is, it will be something different again. I don’t like to repeat myself; I don’t like to go backwards. And so I like to move forwards and it will be something different again. You know, of course it will still sound like me and it will sound like one of my records. But I’ve written a lot of new music, and it’s a definite step into something else. I think it’s hard to be someone who write music, or write movies, or write novels, or whatever you do, creatively. It’s hard to be a writer, to be somewhat creative and not reflect the world that you live in. Right now we live in a world where we are going through a very strange time, you know, in human history and not necessarily a good time. So I mean I’m in America right now. You can imagine what it’s like to be in America right now after what happened last week. So I think being a writer I’m certainly reflecting to the world I live in. So there are a lot of songs that I’m not so positive about but it simply going to have some joy on it as well as darkness is going to have some joy on it too and some life as well. But I don’t think too much more about it, except it will be something different again.
Nishant: So you will probably draw inspirations from the current world events and then you’re going to follow it up with up.
Steven: Pretty much. I think it’s hard not to. It’s hard at sake to be writing anything in this world that’s hard to ignore, what’s going on.
Nishant: Regarding the current events, I’ll come to music. In your track list, you have this track called the “Sound of Muzak “. A song which I believe talks about the current conditions of the music industry. And it doesn’t talk about it in a good way. So do you think there is a way out? Even for me personally, I’m on the same page as whatever the song is trying to convey. And is there a way out?
Steven: Interesting. Well I wrote that song in 2001 or 2002 and it’s almost been 15 years ago. And things have not got any better, that’s for sure. And the same is true; I think music becomes increasingly something which is experienced by most people in the very passive way. The problem is of course that there is more music in the world than ever before and one could argue that that there is too much music. There are too many bands and there are too many people making music. And all are competing for the same listeners. And part of the problem with that is that the listeners are at the same time is finding less and less time in their lives to actually engage with music on a deeper level. We are all kind of you know living in a world now where we are completely overwhelmed by the stresses of life, the pace of life, the technology that we have, our phones, our laptops. All of these things distract us in a way. Things they are to me seem still very special fundamental to life, of which music would be one of those things. And the beauty and the power of music when you can engage with it on a very deep level, I mean like good music. Obviously there is a lot of good music which to me seems very functional and doesn’t have that kind of depth to it. But there is a lot of great music out there. I think you have to search a lot harder for it. And I think you have to work a bit harder to engage with it at a deep emotional level. And you have to make the time to do that. Now most people don’t do that. Most people don’t have information to do that. And so to them, a Coldplay album or whatever, just something they can put on in the background while they are in the gym, while in the bath, or replying to their emails, is enough for them. And that’s fine if that’s what they want music to be. It’s could be just background; pleasant background noise. That’s not why I make music. That’s not the music that I personally you know, kind of cherish and so of course it’s not the kind of music that I make. So in a way I feel like I’m always fighting against that. And trying to, I don’t want to use the word ‘educated’ because that sounds really you know kind of pretentious and patronizing but I’m trying to make people aware I guess, that there is music including my own out there which can really touch you, in a very deep and emotional way if you choose to give it a time to engage with it. Now you are asking me, how I think things are going. I think there is a small but growing demographic of people who really begin to and care more about music. And we see it primarily in the amount of people that are now buying vinyl, which is definitely on the rise. And also the amount of people that are caring about things like high resolution audio and blu-ray surround sound. You know just high resolution on the general. I work very hard to make my album sound as good as I can. So I like people to hear them in the best possible circumstances. And it’s nice to see there is a kind of growth in that market. So you know there are small positives but like everything we are kind of fighting against the trends in the 21st century.
Nishant: There is a glimmer of hope left you can say.
Steven: I hope so. I think the main thing is to see that there are a lot of young people now coming to my shows, lots of them are buying vinyl, and buying CDs, and buying high resolution formats. And that’s encouraging when you see it in the younger generations that are getting interested in the beauty of sound and the beauty of music.
Nishant: Basically the music these days have started coming with a shelf life. And it’s kind of getting thin and things that you said that there are a lot of music than we can take in, coming in the market. So I believe the shelf life of music is decreasing year by year. I mean you don’t see any bands like Pink Floyd anymore, like how they have been there since the 60’s-70’s and they are still very much in the scene.
Steven: I think the differences with those kinds of band, bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, and The Beatles. Those kinds of bands were making music at a time when it was possible to be extremely successful whilst making essentially experimental music. And I don’t think that’s really possible anymore. I mean with a very few exceptions, you might look at the band like Radiohead for example. But even Radiohead have been going now for almost 30years now. So it’s difficult to look around, say a band from the last 10 years that have been able to make experimental pop music or experimental rock music and still find the voice in the mainstream. And that what it is all about really. You know to be able to survive as an artist. You have to find a way to find an audience, and to reach out to them. And it’s much harder now then it was in the 70’s, to make that kind of music. I can tell you now that if Pink Floyd came out today, they would be an underground band, and they would be struggling to sell 5000 records. They would be a cult band. It’s the same way for many of these great artist we think of now. If they emerged today, in 2016, they would struggle behind an audience. It’s the music the mainstream music scene. You know I’m a good example. Because I think my music has a timeless quality to it. I like to think my music would still be listened to in 15 years, in 100 years time in the same way those bands would. But since I have emerged in a different era, I have struggled and I have fought and I have really worked very hard to find an audience. And that audience is still what most people would consider to be a cult audience. And that’s frustrating. That of course is very frustrating. But it’s not something that we can dwell on too much and we just have to deal with the situation we are given and that’s the way it is.
Nishant: and probably that’s the beauty of it, the music that comes around has the element of effort in it. So coming to it, what is Steven Wilson’s creative process? How does he start with his song writing, how does he end it? How does it start from the scratch to being an end product, you know, how does it happen?
Steven: you know it’s very hard to articulate that in words. I’m kind of an intuitive person. I don’t know really is the answer. I mean apart from the set of basic work ethic of saying ok I’m going to go to my studio today and I’m going to try writing some music. Apart from that I don’t know where the music comes from and I don’t know why sometimes it doesn’t come and sometimes it does come. I have days where, I have weeks, I have months, where I try to write music and nothing comes. And all I just write is complete garbage. Or I write stuff that sounds like stuff I’ve already written before which is something I don’t like to do. I like to know I’m always moving forward so I have given it a time when I can’t find any inspiration at all and I don’t really understand what it is that makes the difference. I think for me, part of being creative is about being curious about the world. Curious about what’s going on in the news, curious about what’s going on in your life, curious about other music, about movies, about literature, about other artistic media. I think remaining very curious and very open about things is imp to me. And I think the other thing is that’s always very important to me is I don’t like the idea of writing generic music. I’m always looking for music that would be beyond that kind of generic classification. So I’m not interested in writing pop music or metal music or progressive rock or jazz or ambient music. What I’m interested in is mixing them all up together and finding something unique, you know which is uniquely mine, to my musical personality and my musical voice. So I think that’s the important part of the process, but that took a long time. It took 10 years or so of writing music and some of it not very good to find my own musical personality.
Nishant: Any bands out there you think who’s putting the same effort, undergoing through the same kind of thing you went through, and they have their own unique sound right now? Any bands or musicians you recommend listening to your fans.
Steven: Well I think that you know there are some really special artists out there that are coming out like how you mentioned Pink Floyd in the 70’s. I think there have been some. I think of a band called Sigur Ros for example, but again they have been around for 20years now but I think they have created their own universe, their own musical universe. They have created something very unique, very special which you can engage with, on a very deep emotional level. And I think that, they are certainly one of the most important bands for me in the last 25 years and then you know I’ve mentioned them already, Radiohead also I think are really special. But if you’re talking about bands, maybe all these bands are much more successful than me. If you’re talking about bands that are kind of up and coming or maybe come out in the last 10 years or so, I struggle, I honestly struggle to give you names. I’m sure there are some bands out there but I think all these music that I hear these days, but I’m little bit more cynical now because I’ve been doing this for so long and its harder to find things that the older you get and the more music you’ve heard is harder to find things that give you that same buzz, and that same sense of wonder. I struggle I mean it’s finally because somebody asked me a couple of days ago, in an interview, if you had your own label, would that be something you would really love to do like set up your own label. And I thought to myself, if I had my own label, I don’t know who I would sign. Honestly there’s nothing I can look around and say I would really like to sign that band or artist. That’s not to say, don’t get me wrong and that’s not to say they aren’t any good bands out there but it’s hard to find good bands that you feel are doing something really fresh, and really different. And it comes back to my earlier saying, where there is this already too much music in the world. And the world really doesn’t need any more heavy metal bands, it doesn’t need any more hip hop artists, it doesn’t need any more progressive metal bands, it doesn’t need any more country artists. It doesn’t need any of these things you know, because there is already too many out there. So I think it’s hard to find bands or artists that you really feel like they are doing something between those kinds of areas, something really different. So I’m sorry to not have an answer to your question, it’s really tough.
Nishant: Exactly. Okay, so I’ll digress a little. I’ll come onto the album art. Let’s take the album art for Hands.Cannot.Erase for example. How does the album art come by? Are you involved in the process or do you just give it to someone and he just comes to you and shows you the options? How does it happen?
Steven: I’m very involved. I mean I’m very involved because obviously you know you can probably tell from the music that there is a strong, as well as the music, there is a strong visual kind of a static going on there too. And almost as I soon as I have written, the songs, even sometimes while I’m writing the songs, I already have a kind of idea in my mind of how it will look, initially. The artwork, or the video, or imagine it like a movie or something. So to me, it is very important to be able to get some of those ideas, images out into reality. But I don’t have any talent for that stuff so I’m very lucky to have been able to work with people like Lasse Hoile who did the photography for Hands.Cannot.Erase, or Hajo Mueller who is the artist, who did the artwork for The Raven That Refused To Sing. To be able to work with these people, So to be able to answer your question, I will sit down with Lasse or Hajo or Jess or whoever is watching the video, I will first explain to them what the songs mean, and what the lyrics mean, and perhaps at that point I will also give them some examples of paintings or photographs or scenes in movies or maybe somebody else’s video or something that I think has relevance or give us suggestions of where I want to go with the artwork. Now with Hands.Cannot.Erase, it all came from the story of the young woman and from a blog I had written, like a diary. So in that sense, there were already a lot of ideas there that people like Lasse could take and expand on, you know, in a photographic set of world. So there were descriptions of this young woman’s daily life, and there were descriptions of her thoughts, and her actions, and so I think a lot of that was a good starting point for Lasse to then go away. And we found a model that would be the character and they spend a lot of time then taking photographs, reading the blogs, and trying to expand on the blog in visual terms. And then of course we also went back in creating the philosophy kind of history of this character. Sometimes we would look into birth certificates, and school reports, and letters, and postcards. And it was a lot of work, it was a lot of work but it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to have a character like that. So I also spend a lot of time talking with the designer called Glover and co created things like the birth certificate and school reports. And we talked about every single detail, and we talked about every single aspect on it. And because I’m a little bit of a control freak, I think that’s always going to be the way it works with me. I have to be able to influence or control to an extent, every aspect.
Nishant: I’ll come onto your older projects for some time because there a question you must have been asked a lot of times. As there is a huge fan following over here in India for Porcupine Tree, can we see, like not a re-union because I’ve read certain interview of yours where you have already addressed it but can we see Porcupine Tree coming back just for a live show or something?
Steven: I think it’s really unlikely. I would like to move forwards and not backwards. And to be honest, my solo career is simply a continuation anyway of the music that I was writing for that band. And I just continue to write music and the advantage for me now is I can work with other musicians and different musicians. And I know people have this very romantic idea of bands you know, about being in a band, porcupine tree as a band, very romantic idea, these four guys working together. But it really wasn’t. I wrote all my songs and music. I produced the records. Let’s not say the band you know, the guys in the band didn’t have very strong musical personalities or they didn’t influence the music, they obviously did but I feel now that I like the idea that I can write music and work with any musician and from any musical forces and change the musicians as I need to and as I want to. And that’s much more interesting to me. Than just writing songs for the same four people to play with all the time, it’s just not very interesting to me. So honestly I think it’s very unlikely, I’m not the kind of person who likes to look back, or go back in any way. By the way, I would say that, I still do play some of those songs in my live shows. Like in Shillong, I played some of those songs. So it’s not like I’m going to stop playing my songs just because the original versions were recorded by a different group of musicians. So I think there will always be a live presentation of those songs that I wrote going back to the beginning of Porcupine Tree. I play songs even before you know it was a band. Because we started out as a solo project, we were playing Radioactive Toy on our last tour which was a solo track. I mean there was no band when I recorded that but it is still Porcupine Tree. So I feel like I can still re play any of those songs that I wrote over the last 20-25 years. But whether that particular lineup will come back to play them, I really don’t find that very interesting idea sorry.
Nishant: Okay there is this one song that I really want to know about it, which is “Feel so low”. Like how did it come and how did it end up being into a song, like what was the background of it?
Steven: Feel so Low. Yeah it’s a beautiful song. I really like it. And that’s an example of a song on the album which is just a solo track. It’s just me on that track, and the string quartet. That album, The Lightbulb Sun, was very much like a break up album. It was about the end of a love affair and that song is about, well it’s pretty explicit in the lyrics isn’t it, it’s about a particular night when you feel that, You know you are just lost, and you are asking yourself, how am I going to get through this, how am I going to get through to the other side. And that’s a characteristic of breaking up with someone, is there that moment, that low point when you just can’t imagine ever being in love again, you can’t imagine ever feeling that you are going to get over this person. And the logical side of the brain says to yourself of course you will get over this, of course you will wake up one day, and this won’t matter anymore but at very moment it’s very hard to disconnect from the past and your strong feelings. And I think that’s what I said u earlier, I think everyone understands that feeling don’t they. Everyone has been through that feeling, the breakup and feeling like I’m never going to get over this, I’m never going be able to love anyone every again and that song is about that low point, in life, the very lowest point. When it’s like 2 o’ clock in the night and you just can’t sleep and you can’t imagine being able to move on even though the rational side of your brain says that you will. So it’s a very beautiful song, I’ve played it with Blackfield on several tours; I don’t think I have ever played it with porcupine tree but I have played it with Blackfield a few times. It’s the sort of songs I would like to play actually with my band. So it’s one of my favourites yeah.
Nishant: One last question. How is Steven Wilson in real life? Is he melancholic always?
Steven: No, I used to think but no I’m not. My music is melancholic. And I’m not. And one of the reasons I’m not is because of the music. And I think that one of the things you have as an artist, you know it can be anybody, a writer, a filmmaker, a song writer, if you have this ability, to channel the darker side of your thoughts into your art and into your creativity, so that you can be a joyous person. And I think people are always slightly surprised at me when they meet me, to find I’m actually very happy and quite a joyous person. And I think the reason for that is that I have exercised a lot of the darker side of my thoughts into the music. And that in a way, is a gift that you have as a song writer, the ability to be able to channel that side of your work, your personality into your work. In a way that sounds like a really mean thing to do, you know, to put all your negative stuff into your work and then give to the audience, sounds really mean. But I think as a listener to music, and I like sad music, I listen to a lot of sad music. I think there is something very beautiful about sharing melancholy, sharing loneliness, sharing lost regrets. All of those things that are on the sadder side about personality. I think there is something very beautiful about sharing that with people, like you were just saying about “Feel So Low”, and I think it makes you feel better if you are trying for something, you can listen to a song about it and makes you understand that you are not alone in feeling those things. And we have to share human experiences. So no, I’m not a sad person at all. Of course I’m sometimes, everybody is. But I think generally speaking, I’m very happy and I love my job. I’m very happy to be able to do what I do, to tour the world, to make music professionally, to have an audience, to have a fan base to which the music obviously means something and it’s special. Those things all make me very happy.
Nishant: Anything else or anything different for the fans in Pune?
Steven: Umm I’m not quite sure of the play in Pune yet, I don’t know how long the show is going to be. My set normally is 3 hours long, but in Shillong, I think we had to cut it down to less than half of that, which is difficult you know, to be same in way. I need to find out how long the show is going to be in Pune and hopefully we can play for a bit longer.
Nishant: Steven it was really nice talking to you. It has been a pleasure.
Steven: You too Sir and hope to see you in Pune.
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