Monday, April 9th, 2012 at Dallas House of Blues
Photos & Interview: Daniel Work / Staff Photographer
Steven Wilson, with the help of a few stellar musicians (lineup includes; Nick Beggs, Marco Minnemann, Adam Holzman, Theo Travis, and Niko Tsonev), performed material from his solo works, including his latest album “Grace For Drowning” at the Dallas House of Blues Monday night. I had the very fortunate opportunity to ask Steven a few questions…
(Skip to the very of the page for the audio version of the interview)
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Being one of only four U.S. dates you’re playing on this second leg of the “Grace For Drowning” tour… why is Dallas one of the lucky ones?
SW: People ask me these kind of questions quite a lot; why are you playing here, why aren’t you playing here… the truth is that there’s no one easy answer to that question, there’s so many factors… obviously there’s routine; were going down to Mexico now so it kind of makes sense to stop off somewhere on the way, it’s down to local promoters… I mean some people have no idea who I am and they won’t book me you know. We get asked a lot of questions like “why have you never come to our city”, “why do you ignore us” it’s, you know, they say they feel like they’re insulted. The simple reason is there may not have been a promoter that’s wanted to have me play there. And there’s obviously the financial aspect, this is not a movable feast… we have to have a certain degree of money to make this work. And any one, or all three of those factors can be the reason why we play a certain place rather than another place, or we don’t play any place at all. The simple answer to your question is probably something to do with the fact that on the way down to Mexico we had a good offer from the promoter that would cover our costs.
As a member of the SWST (Steven Wilson Street Team), I think we do make a bit of a difference in getting the word out there; how do you feel about the team continuing to grow & promote more and more each year…
SW: Oh, more than a bit, yeah.
…and do you find it as effective having a “street-team” to promote your work and art, as opposed to the “old-school” way of marketing mostly through ad-campaigns and record labels?
SW: I think these days the conventional ways of advertising just don’t work, at least they don’t work for me, they don’t work for the kind of music that I play because the simple reason is the kind of people that listen to the music I play don’t look in those places. You know, the people that like, whatever you wanna call it, art-rock, progressive-rock, the more sophisticated end of rock music… they don’t watch MTV, they don’t read Rolling Stone, they don’t read Spin, you know they don’t go to Pitch-Fork Media or, maybe some of them do… but most of those guys look for their music through word-of-mouth, through personal recommendation, through friends who say “hey you know what, you like this band you gotta check out Steve Wilson”, or “you like King Crimson, you gotta check out Porcupine Tree”… THAT’S how it works. That’s actually how it’s almost always worked for me since the beginning. So for me, the Internet and the street team have been absolutely key in kind of, I mean for example one of the great things the street team did which was make sure there were good amount of reviews on Amazon and stuff like that, and Play.com… those things are invaluable really. So, the answer to your question is I would love to continue to kind of cultivate that. As long people out there want to support me, that’s fantastic.
I’ve found that trying to promote the new album/tour to local radio stations is very difficult because of the musical format… how do you feel about the general lack of radio-play, do you feel that it’s hindered you at all?
SW: Well there’s no doubt that it’s hindered me… I don’t know about so much now but until comparatively recently it was still the predominant way that you could reach a mainstream audience. They never gave me much support, so consequently my music has never reached a mainstream audience, it’s been more a gradual word-of-mouth process. In a way… I like that, cause it means that the fans are not fickle. You know, you think of all the fans who listen to Hootie and the Blowfish in the 90’s, and none of them are listening to Hootie and the Blowfish now cause that’s what you can do with mainstream media support, you can have a massive, massive hit and suddenly you disappear, I don’t think… I HOPE that will never happen in my music cause I think the people who appreciate what I do, are people that really are true… they’re “through thick-and-thin” kinda fans. So in a way I’m not too disappointed that it’s taken me… that I’ve had to do it the hard way cause I think that the foundations of the fan-base are much more solid, but of course I’d be lying if I said you know, I’d love to have seen “Lazarus” for example to a big radio hit, or “Blackfield” be a big radio hit because to me they seem very accessible and if only people had got to hear them would have probably loved them in tens, hundreds of thousands. That’s been frustrating.
You’ve mentioned that you’re working on yet another solo album featuring the musicians you currently have touring with you… can you tell us what direction it will take, and how involved the current band is in the writing process?
SW: That’s a difficult question to answer because, they’re not involved in the writing, but they are involved in my thought process, of the writing. What I mean by that is that I’m SW: writing specifically, knowing now what these guys can do. They can do music that’s much more technically accomplished than I ever could do, and to be fair, that Porcupine Tree or Blackfield could do… that’s not to say those bands aren’t great, but these guys have the chops to be able to do things I could imagine but I could never play before, so actually now I’m writing music that I couldn’t actually play myself, which is the first time I’ve kinda done that… well you’ll hear one of the pieces tonight, it’s a very long piece. All the pieces I’ve written so far are quite long, their quite involved, their quite old-school in a way, old-school progressive… hopefully with still a contemporary edge, but they are definitely more involved, more intense, more complex, still melodically you know, strong and edgy. I’ve never been interested in making music that was complicated or technical for the sake of it, but I do like great musicianship and I like things that are kind of challenging musically. So, it’s a bit early to say but I definitely say it’s a continuation of perhaps the more… old-school progressive tendencies of the last album
So, an evolution of “Grace for Drowning”?
SW: Yea, kind of… definitely, kind of like taking “Grace for Drowning” and adding more flesh on the bones. These musicians for example I feel, play the stuff on Grace for Drowning in a much more in-your-face kind of vibrant way than the studio versions. So I’m now looking to actually harness that kind of edge and that kind of power, right from the beginning in terms of the writing and the recording.
You and Mikael Akerfeldt have recently collaborated on a new project (yet to be released) called “Storm Corrosion”; you’ve mentioned that it sounds nothing like one would expect, given both of your musical backgrounds. Opeth have received quite negative feedback from some of the hardcore Death Metal fans re: Heritage… are you concerned about the reception of the new album, and how do you feel about fans who can’t accept a change in musical direction?
SW: Well here’s the thing with that, I think one of the things I’ve got use to in my career is that the expectation for an established artist is always there… everyone comes to a new record with their own agenda, now Porcupine Tree for example, to take my best known band, is a band that have re-invented themselves probably two or three times over the course of fifteen, twenty years… each time we did that of course we lost fans, we gained new fans, and I think that’s part of the deal. One thing I REALLY don’t like is when people tell me they don’t like the new record and there’s some implication that it’s my fault, and that I’ve done something wrong. The truth of the matter is that the band, or the project or whatever it is, has simply moved in a direction that doesn’t personally appeal to them, but of course we’re all, in our own way… cause it’s human nature (to be) quite self-righteous in our opinions, so… you used the example of “Heritage” the death-metal fans will say “Mikael Akerfeldt has sold out”, “the new album sucks”, “he can’t write music anymore”, blah, blah… the bottom line is simple, they’ve gone in a direction that doesn’t appeal to them. The music is just as creative, just as inventive, just as innovative, just as powerful and spiritual as it ever was… but it doesn’t appeal to them cause they just want more of the same. And I think that is valid, from their point of view but of course the whole way we choose to express these things as human beings is usually to be, you know… suggest somehow the artist has failed, or the artist has let you down. And I think “Storm Corrosion” is an example of an album that will probably disappoint people who are expecting some kind of progressive metal super-group, but I would NEVER for one second accept that the record is anything less than a strong, creative, spiritually honest piece of work.
You had mentioned in a previous interview (end of last year) that PT would get together and start working on new material early this year. Obviously those plans have been put on hold… at this point in your musical endeavors, where does PT fall into priority?
SW: That’s a good question, I don’t really know how to answer it.. I mean Porcupine Tree started as a solo project of mine, became a band, became a very democratic unit, where everyone contributed very equally to the sound. We did ten albums in the space of twenty years, we worked our asses off, we toured a lot, and I think that at the end of “The Incident” album cycle, I felt that I needed to do some other things for awhile. And I think they did too, to be fair. So the question come down to how long is it gonna be before we get back together again, because we will… there’s no doubt that we’ll get back together again. The problem is that people, journalist like yourself and fans too, are always asking “when, when, when”… I don’t really know, it’s one of those things that when it feels right… we’ll do it. I don’t wanna do it for the sake of it, so yes, I was kind of saying last year we’d probably get back together early this year… to be honest, by the time I got to that point for me creatively it would’ve been the worst thing to have broken off from all the creative momentum I had with “Grace for Drowning” and the tour, and I knew that I wanted to stay with this… the response to the album was so good, the band I put together just blew my mind. I had ideas for songs straight away that I knew this band would be the band to play, not (Porcupine) Tree, so you can’t really put a date on something like that, you know it’s like saying to a teenager “when are you gonna get married and have kids?”, you know, when you meet the right girl! There’s no question that the band is breaking up or anything like that, and we’re still always talking between ourselves about when we might do it, but realistically it’s not gonna happen… yet, but it WILL happen.
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