Fresh off Porcupine Tree’s first Coachella appearance, Steven Wilson discusses The Incident, the upcoming Anesthetize DVD, the long-awaited Wilson-Åkerfeldt-Portnoy project and the Deadwing movie that may or may not happen.
Porcupine Tree is one of those bands that sounds larger than life, but is nearly off everyone’s radar. They aren’t mainstream, but their popularity isn’t anything to scoff at either. With their latest conceptual effort, 2009’s double LP The Incident, Porcupine Tree stands tall at their finest hour.
“We are all about this idea of the album as a musical continuum, a musical journey. It’s a kind of 70’s thing – conceptual records, records that take the listener on a journey. That is a very subtle thing and it is a very carefully balanced thing when you have a flow in a sequence of music that kind of works in the way that [it] moves, develops and evolves in exactly the way you want,” Wilson shares.
“If you imagine the first disc is like the novel then the second disc is like a bunch of short stories that relate to the novel, but don’t fit in,” Wilson continues. “The whole concept of what is an album now is changing anyway because of download culture, so we figured, ‘Why not–this time–package an EP and album together?’”
The result is one of Porcupine Tree’s most heralded albums by fans and critics alike. Their popularity has grown with each album release. Although Porcupine Tree has meandered through the boundaries of genres throughout their entire career, they find themselves in a more stabilized niche of progressive rock and metal. Their recent material stands in contrast to their earlier days when they were criticized for being Pink Floyd impersonators.
“This is one case where it was a deliberate homage to the music that first turned me on to wanting to make music, myself. ‘Time Flies’ is really a song about my childhood and about certain landmark events and incidents in my childhood that did change the path of my life – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse,” Wilson says.
“In this case, one of the landmark events was hearing my father listening to this record [Pink Floyd’s Animals]. For the time in my life, I felt strongly about music. I think, for once in my life, the Floyd comparison doesn’t annoy me.” Wilson says with a laugh.
In May, fans will finally see the famed October 2008 performance at Tilburg, The Netherlands when Porcupine Tree toured in support of Fear of a Blank Planet.
“What happened ultimately was that The Incident music came along and it was somewhat surprising to me because I didn’t expect to write so much music so quickly,” Wilson explains of the two-year Anesthetize DVD postponement.
While on the subject of long-awaited releases, Wilson also touched upon the Deadwing script that was written to complement the 2005 album of the same name. Wilson intended for the album to be the soundtrack to a movie he envisioned at the time. Five years later, the script is still in development hell.
“We show it whenever we can to whoever will read it. The problem with getting a film project off the ground is the stakes are so high. Getting an album off the ground is easy. You can get an album off the ground with $5,000. To get a movie off the ground, to do it properly, you’re talking $100,000 plus – so to get someone to get us that kind of money is tough. It’s a dark film. It’s not an easy sell,” Wilson says.
“In the meantime, I’ve carried on with my interest in film. I made a film last year about the making of my first solo record, Insurgentes, which became a lot more than just a documentary; it became a film about the state of the industry and what it means to be a musician in the download culture era. [That will] be playing at a lot of festivals this summer which is very gratifying.” Wilson doesn’t seem to rest. If he’s not touring with Porcupine Tree, he’s off working on solo material, producing other bands or doing one of his side projects like Blackfield, Bass Communion and No-Man. Recently, Wilson has collaborated with Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater.
“I started writing with Mikael [Åkerfeldt] last month, finally. It’s still in the very early days. We wrote about 15 minutes of music last month in my studio near London and we’re very excited about it. I think people are going to be very surprised by the direction. If they’re expecting some kind of death-metal-progressive rock, they’re going to be surprised [because] it’s not like that,” Wilson continues.
“If you put the two of us together, the last thing we’re going to do is something similar to what people already know from our most high profile project. It’s very arty, very ambitious; it’s going to be epic. We’re still writing. [It’s going to be] very dark, very twisted, very experimental. It’s still rock music, but we’re trying to do something really, really special and really different with this.”
With all the freedom each member has to pursue projects, it’s incredible the only lineup change was in 2002 when Chris Maitland was replaced by Gavin Harrison. To Wilson, it isn’t so surprising. He prefers it that way.
“It’s unhealthy, in a way, to only play with the same group the whole time. I’ll go off and work with a death metal band or a jazz band. Richard [Barbieri] will go off and do an electronic album. Colin [Edwin] will go off and do an album of world music and African music. In a way, we bring all that enthusiasm and all those ideas back to the band and we find a way to re-integrate those ideas back into the fabric of the band’s sound. It’s what’s kept the band moving and evolving forward musically and stopped us from getting bored and jaded about what we do,” Wilson points out.
“It helps the band to continue to rise in popularity. Every time we make an album, it seems like there’s more interest and more of a buzz around the band. There’s nothing better to keep a band happy and keep a band together than feeling like you’re all moving in the same direction and moving forward.”