Porcupine Tree

Designer Magazine first met Steven Wilson (aka Porcupine Tree) around the release of the Lightbulb Sun album in 2001. It was a testing time as he saw Radiohead borrow heavily from his decade long career and wind up with an international hit under the name "Kid A". Since then Wilson has done what he does best and that's carry on in his own melancholic, but genius way, recording albums with Aviv Geffen for the Blackfield project as well as Porcupine Tree's "In Absentia" album. "Deadwing" could be seen by many as a classic album from Wilson and Designer Magazine's Editor Alex McCann caught up with the man himself to talk about the film script behind the album, collaborating with Aviv and downloading.

Q: Last time we chatted it was to Aviv Geffen about the Blackfield project, so I guess that's the best place to take off from. I remember you send us an email as you disagreed with one of the points we made in the interview - that Blackfield sounded like a traditional Porcupine Tree album, rather than the previous Porcupine Tree release "In Absentia". Similar this album sounds like a traditional Porcupine Tree album. Was that what you were trying to achieve?
A: Questions like what are you trying to achieve are very hard for me to answer because it's not a conscious process. It's an intuitive one. I mean I don't sit down and say what kind of record should I make? Should we make one with three parts heavy metal? It really a very intuitive thing. It sounds like a very pretentious thing to say, but music really does just flow out in a very intuitive automatic way. If you say that the record sounds very traditional Porcupine Tree then I can understand why you would say that because it has a lot of elements people associate with the band. For me I hope there's also something fresh about the record and every record has something a bit different to every other record. This record for me is possibly a little more cinematic in that there are longer pieces, there's more of a sense of cinema in that the album was based on a film script. It's got that epic journey quality and certainly more than Blackfield.

I can't remember exactly what my email was to you was, but I can imagine my point probably would be that Porcupine Tree would never be so focused on the art of a 3 minute pop song, which I believe. Blackfield is all about the art of a great tradition pop song of verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Porcupine Tree has never been about that, although we have fraternized a little bit with the art of pop music. Porcupine Tree has always been more about horizontally complex long pieces and the album is an overall piece rather than lots of little pieces. Blackfield is about the discipline of writing great pop songs, Porcupine Tree in many respects has moved away from that on the new record. It's almost like having Blackfield has liberated me from trying to write pop tunes.

Q: A few years ago when we were chatting, it was about everything you'd done years previously, Radiohead were doing in the present, but at the time you were moving towards almost what Blackfield did in terms of shorter pop songs. Now you've gone back on yourself again
A: It's probably true. Nothing if unpredictable. I can't predict where it's going to go to go and that's why I like doing it still. It's funny because this album seems to be, through no sense of planning I may add, much more part of the current zeitgeist than perhaps "In Absentia" was, in the sense that you've got bands like The Mars Volta who make very progressive music and Muse similarly so. I suppose the heavy rock side has aligned us more with those kinds of bands than a few years ago when just Radiohead and Coldplay were more of the reference points. Now of course it's Mars Volta with the heavy aggressive sound and we had no idea those bands were going to come out.

Q: How do you get into the mindset of each scenario where Blackfield was 3 minute pop songs as you said and Porcupine Tree is very different
A: Because I like so many different kinds of music. The other thing of course with Blackfield is that I am collaborating. Aviv is not a big fan of heavy music and he is not a big fan of long pieces so immediately the meeting point had to be somewhere where we were both focused on short melancholic songs. If someone's saying lets do more of that then Iím happy to do that, it's just another part of my personality. And it means I can put more of the other stuff into Porcupine Tree.  I guess the division between the two projects is a little more clear-cut now.

Q: You said before that "Dead Wing" was based on a film script. Would you like to elaborate on that a bit more?
A: I wrote a film script with a film director friend of mine a couple of years ago called "Dead Wing". We did this basically because he was a filmmaker who'd never made a feature film before...he'd done pop promos, shorts films, commercials. I said to him one day why have you never tried to get a feature and it was like the scripts are never good enough. So I suggested, "We both love movies, why don't we just sit down and try and do it" thinking of course it was going to be easy. It was very very hard and we spent about 2 years doing it. Of course it's very hard to get a movie off the ground in terms of production.

I thought well when I was looking for subject matter for the new album I thought why not combine the two. If the album is successful it might help us to get the movie off the ground and it was an interesting subject matter anyway. It's basically a very surreal ghost story. Very European, because we're both fans of European cinema and American directors that work in a very European way like Kubrick David Lynch. Very uncommercial and melancholic, in some ways it was the equivalent of Porcupine Tree in a film way.

Q: How did you approach the script, coming from a field you know well such as music to something brand new?
A: I've never been someone to shy away from delving into new areas. I've always gone in with this blind confidence and enthusiasm. It was a lot harder than I expected, but it was the same way as I went into music cos I was never trained as a musician. I think if you love something enough, if you really love and are inspired by the medium, you really explore it and learn from it, then I think there's no reason you can't start to develop your own particular ideas or style, or in this case film. I'm the first to admit we've probably sat there and ripped off a lot of our favourite movies, but you always hope that because your personality's strong enough it will always come across as fresh or unique. It's like for example when Tarrantino rips off an old film, there's something always very Tarrantino although everything he basically does is a pastiche. I'd like to think that my personality that anything I do with Porcupine Tree or any field will have enough of me in it that it will transcend it's influence.

Q: When you were writing the script did you imagine a certain song with each scene?
A: If anything I was thinking more of sound design rather than music. I was thinking of the sounds and textures and weird atmospheres. The music for the Porcupine Tree album is not the soundtrack album to the film. That would be a very different thing. It's more an album inspired by the themes.

Q: It's interesting what you said before about your personality comes through with everything that you do, because a lot of people don't know about you as a person
A: Yes, but art should be a reflection of the person that makes it. So if people do know the music then they do know a lot about me. Then again, some people who meet are quite surprised and they say "I imagined you'd be a quite a miserable and depressed person cos your music is so melancholic". It's true because the music is a side of me that because it's in the music it's not inside me. It's a cathartic thing so I can be happy. Of course it's never as clear-cut as that.

Q: There are lights and shades in the music though; it isn't all dark melancholy is it?
A: Yeah. I've always said that the music that inspires me the most is sad beautiful music. Music that is melancholic, but at the same time very beautiful and uplifting, because it makes people feel that they are not alone. The stuff that has always inspired me has been dark but transcends all that. Happy music doesn't do anything for me. Party music doesn't do anything for me.

Q: What have you been listening to recently?
A: I really love the LCD Soundsystem record - it's got everything from Krautrock to techno to the Fall to Brian Eno. That's the record that's really blown me away this year. Other than that there's the Mars Volta album, which is brave, if unlistenable in some places. The Secret Machines is a great record as well.

The thing is I have no interest at all in what NME, Mojo or Q tells me is fashionable. It's not entirely true to say Iím not affected by that. I am affected by that. It puts me off it. If NME tells me that f**king Bloc Party is the best band in Britain it immediately tells me one thing - they're probably very dull, very inspired by a certain type of music that Iíve heard before and that kids won't remember those bands but I do.

It's unfortunate that that's the case because I grew up reading Melody Maker, Sounds and NME and I used to look at those magazines as a bible to music. Now to me it has the opposite effect. If a band is on the front cover of NME I know they're probably very dull. I'm afraid to say the Libertines are so dull to me and so uninteresting musically. It's just tired generic indie rock. I want to hear music that is really pushing the boundaries. That's why I love the LCD Soundsystem and The Mars Volta - there's something about it that is completely off the map and the likes of NME will never fully embrace it for that reasons, that's what makes it interesting to me.

M.I.A is one of those people who has been embraced as much by the NME as The Wire, the Wire is a very arty magazine and I buy that because it's one of the few magazine's I can find interesting things in there.

Q: How is this album working in terms of press coverage?
A: I think the world is becoming less concerned with being fashionable and cutting edge. It's funny because we've been getting more press with this album than we've been getting for a long time in the UK. The last album literally got nothing, I think it was classic rock and that was it. This time we've actually got in the sun and that was bizarre. They loved it and it was like do you understand what you're listening to and what type of band we are. In the UK to be featured in the Sun Newspaper is so surreal, but of course there is no publication that gets read than more people.

The band genesis really coincided with the genesis of the Internet so the two of them have grown together and we had fan sites before we had our own official site. People would discover the band and want to share it with other people because they couldn't read about the band or hear the band on the radio. There was one point where we had 30 fan sites, which relative to the amount of record sales is a lot more than other bands sites. File sharing has been useful for us and I know a lot of bands are against it, which I can see why; ultimately it's been good for us though.

Q: Porcupine Tree are the sort of band though that a 10 track album, 5 tracks on side / 5 tracks the other and you'd play an album from beginning to end. How does downloading affect you in that respect?
A: Our albums are complete products so you're right, I hate the fact that music has become a software jukebox and people can just download a track they've heard on radio, which they don't get to hear in the original context or the scope of the record or the scope of the band.

You still hope that people download 3 or 4 tracks and they will buy the album. Then they'll get a tangible sense of the packaging, the sequencing, the whole look of the band. That's the era I love, the 70s. Gatefold sleeves, 2 sides to a record and sleeve notes on the record. I still hope people will buy the record.

Q: Although you have got the pop sensibilities people do just stand and witness a Porcupine Tree live show. They don't get engaged with the music at all.
A: It's funny because we played Cambridge last night and there was so little movement. Sometimes I find that difficult. I know that they're enjoying it and they're all standing there enraptured, but it's very hard to play sometimes to an audience of statues. And they go crazy at the end. I'm kind of a little bit envious of bands like Opeth, who Iím friends with, who get that interaction and it does inspire you to be a little more animated on stage. At my shows people just want to listen, they don't want to miss anything.

Q: And just ending where we started the interview with collaborations. Has Blackfield opened your mind to working with other people?
A: The thing about collaborating is I love to do it. The two best things are doing what I do is A) travelling and seeing the world in the capacity of being a musician because by doing it that way you meet a lot more local people as opposed to going on vacation B) Collaborating with people particularly with people from other countries.

We've about halfway through the next Blackfield album, so hopefully that will be out early next year. The problem I have is time because as the band Porcupine Tree becomes more and more successful I have less time to produce and collaborate with other people. One day I will put Porcupine Tree in the background and concentrate on work as a producer. I'd love to collaborate with someone like M.I.A - interesting cultural differences and totally different style of music. For me it's a passion to work with different people and people from different musical genre's

"Deadwing" is out now
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The Bootlegs

Following Steven Wilsons announcement he'd like to work with M.I.A, Designer Magazine sent out a request for bootleggers to mash-up the classic prog rock of Porcupine Tree with M.I.A's electro ragga vocals. Here's the first results (and look out for more to be added to the list as the results come ine

Aggro1 - MIA (Galang) Vs Porcupine Tree (3) - Click Right Mouse and Save Target Here For The Direct Link
* Designer Magazine say's "A sublime trippy drugged up mantra which perfect for a shroomed up night of madness"