Steven Wilson, you know, that guy that was in a little band called Porcupine Tree? Well, now only does he make great music but he is also very well-spoken and gracious about his career and his work. We recently spoke with Wilson on his advocation of high resolution, surround sound audio and how he is slowly coming to terms with the current streaming platforms. But for the love of merciful god, do not mention the word ‘Prog’ to the man, because he might just talk your ear off.
So, let’s get straight into the songwriting of your new music. How does the music writing differ to when you were a part of Porcupine Tree to now being a solo artist, and do you find it easier or harder?
Well, to be honest, it doesn’t really differ. Porcupine Tree, essentially, when it came to the writing process it was just me. The only difference now is perhaps not having to consider a particular group of musicians. So if I wanted to write music a string quartet I can, if I wanted to write music for I don’t know, a choir I can. I’m not always thinking oh I must write for a four piece rock band, so that’s kind of a bit liberating in that respect. Porcupine Tree as you may know started as a project anyway, the first three albums were solo albums. So it started out with that solo mentality and it became a band later on. But it kind of carried on being, creatively speaking, very much in my control. I wrote almost all of the music we wrote. To answer your question it doesn’t really change, except I perhaps have a wider musical pallet now in terms of the musicians and musical forces I can draw on when I write.
Awesome! So after your music is written, recorded, and mixed what is your optimal format for the release; CD, Vinyl? Maybe even tape?
I think the answer to that question is none of the above. The answer to that question is Blu-ray, in hi resolution and preferably in surround sound. I don’t know if you know but, I’m very much a good advocate of music in surround and mixing for not just stereo but also five speakers, not just two. That market is growing, it’s growing slowly, it’s a small market but it is growing. I think in a way it’s connected up with the so called “audiophile” market; people who love to listen to music in very high quality, much higher than CD. Blu-ray has become the kind of audio format for those kinds of people because you can put very high-quality audio onto a Blu-ray, more than twice the quality of CD. The last couple of records I’ve done, I’ve don’t vinyl, I’ve done CD and I’ve done a Blu-ray edition. The Blu-ray editions are doing increasingly well. The last album I released sold something like 15,000 copies on Blu-ray, which is amazing for what is still very much a niche format. But it’s definitely going to keep growing that side thing.
I’m glad to hear that that version did so well. Now, it’s well known that you aren’t the biggest fan of streaming, and you have even taken to destroying iPods and such. What is your main reason for standing against this market? Has your opinion changed over the years?
Well firstly, I’ve seen that streaming is gradually embracing high resolution. The problems with iPods were that most iPods were full of junk, they were full of MP3’s, very low-resolution audio. Now what has been interesting to me and what I’ve noticed over the last couple of years is the increasing amount streaming services are catering for lossless audio. So you have services Deezer and Tidal that offer full resolution audio and even Spotify offer it. You have to pay more for it but they offer much higher resolution audio. I think this is only going to increase and so for me, it’s almost like the technology has come of age. Finally, we have streaming that is not just Mp3’s. Now I’m never going to be the greatest fan of streaming because I am still very much a believer in the idea of the album as a kind of musical journey. This idea that you can sit down listen to an album from beginning to end and it does take you on some kind of musical journey. Streaming services don’t really encourage that, streaming services are more about this kind of playlist mentality. The simple fact is that if you’re not on streaming these days, you are invisible, to a vast majority of music listeners and music lovers. I think ultimately every argument I have against streaming is rendered irrelevant by the simple fact I want to share my music, with as many people as possible.
Very well said, Steven. I’m curious, does the title of“the king of prog rock” ever inflate your ego or does it not even phase you?
No, it kind of has to opposite effect, to be honest. Firstly I hate the word ‘prog’. Listen, I have no problem with the idea of progressive rock, I think progressive music that means something, progressive means something. Prog is a totally meaningless word, it’s not even a word, it’s a made up word, it means nothing. What is prog? It’s just a silly contraction of the word progressive. So I don’t like the word prog if you’re going to talk about the music to me, its progressive music, or its art rock or its conceptual rock music. Secondly, I don’t really like being classified in one relatively narrow genre. Now I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or disingenuous about that, of course, it is lovely and flattering that anybody would consider me to be some kind of musical icon in whatever context. Personally, I have a slight ambivalence about it and I resist it slightly because I don’t necessarily like the idea that I’m a particular kind of music or I make a particular generic form of music. It’s kind of the thing that makes me want to do the opposite, you know what I mean? If someone tells me I play progressive rock, I have this kind of wilful streak in me that will make me go out make a record that was anything but progressive rock, just to show people I can do other things too. I’m not saying I am going to do that. To answer your question I’m saying I’m very ambivalent about it, I find it flattering, but also slightly limiting and absurd at the same time.
Well, over the years you’ve collaborated with some of the biggest musicians around in their particular genre. Would you have a favourite person or band that you have collaborated with over the years?
Well, I think in terms of musicians of my own generation…you know a band called Opeth?
Oh, I sure do!
Okay good, because not everyone does, it’s not like they’re a mainstream band or anything. Obviously the main guy in that band Mikael Åkerfeldt. He is someone I have a lot in common with and friends now for more than 15 years. When I was still in Porcupine Tree, we occupied very similar roles within our respected bands, so I think we kind bonded there but also musically we’ve always had a very strong bond. We made a record a few years ago together [under the name Storm Corrosion] which was a kind of record that no one expected us to make. We made this very beautiful, orchestrated, very dark, very experimental, almost chamber record. We had a lot of fun doing it and when I work with Mikael, he really feels like a kind of musical soul mate. So I think I would probably say, Mikael, I have enjoyed or I felt this closest bond with as a collaborator.
Steven Wilson will be touring Australia this October. Find tickets here.