Having just reached the age of 50, Steven Wilson is one of progressive rock’s most celebrated artists, though he constantly strives to defy the categorization of progressive rock and would prefer to be known as an artist of good music, without being tied to any specific genre. Best known for the band Porcupine Tree which he began over two decades ago, Wilson has also been a primary founder of bands like Blackfield, No-Man, Storm Corrosion, Bass Communion and more. But it is his solo career under his own name, with five studio albums and counting, that Steven Wilson is currently devoted to.
In addition to the constant recording and touring of his own music, Wilson created a name for himself in the 5.1 Surround Mix world, issuing a slew of remixed albums from the likes of King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull and more recently XTC, Tears for Fears and several others.
In this audio interview, Sonic Perspectives correspondent Scott Medina focuses on questions that aren’t asked in many other interviews, offering deeper insight into this constantly evolving artist. Questions include how to decide when to be an activist as well as a musical artist, navigating the drive to be an artist true only to himself versus wanting to draw a bigger audience, being moved at a soul level, what kind of festivals he would (and wouldn’t) be drawn to as a performer, and much, much more. Enjoy their conversation in the video below, or subscribe to our Podcast in several platforms to download and listen. You can also read a transcribed version of the interview at the end.
Welcome, Steven. So just to start off, how’s the tour been going so far?
It’s been going amazing! The show for me is a big step up in terms of ambition, in terms of the visual stuff and the repertoire we’re playing and the new record is very different. But it’s been going, yeah, better than I ever could’ve hoped for, really. Which is all you can possibly hope for in this day and age, that when you try to do something a bit different that it’s well received. And it seems to be that way, yeah.
It seems that each tour gets a bigger production. I’m wondering, do you find that your audience responds to your live shows differently as your career progresses?
Ah, that’s a good question, do they respond differently? The main thing is that the audience changes and part of the deal about being someone who is constantly looking to evolve and do different things with each record is that I have to expect that my audience will also change. And over the years I’ve come to expect that and I like that. So, inevitably “To the Bone” is a very different kind of record and I’m seeing a lot more young people and I’m seeing a lot more women, which is great. I think perhaps some of the old metal crowd perhaps have drifted away over the past couple of records because I don’t have a strong metal element anymore. Some of the more traditional progressive rock fans again have drifted away a bit on this record. But what’s really nice is that there’s that constant sense of renewal, so you perhaps lose some of your older fans but you gain new ones all the time. And I really embrace that because I think in a way that’s what being an artist is about, it’s about confronting expectations and not simply catering to my existing fanbase. So, I think that as the show changes, as the music changes, certainly the audience changes and of course they respond differently to the material for that very reason.
Do you find that it’s a different impact whether it’s a seated show or standing?
Yeah, I don’t like playing seated shows. In fact, one of the things I’ve been saying to my audience – the last couple of shows I did were seated – and I said, look, I promise you this is the last time I going to do seated. Because I think what once perhaps made sense to do a couple of albums ago – I made a record that was much more cerebral and a lot more mellow and the songs were much longer – I think it kind of made sense then to play seated theaters. But for this new show it makes no sense at all, and I think the energy is completely wrong when it’s a seated audience. Although there is a lot of visual stuff going on, it also is a rock ’n roll show, if I can use that tried and tested expression. It’s got a lot of stuff that people can move to and can dance to. So, it feels very wrong when you’re playing what seems to me like a bunch of stuffed dummies and I think they’re frustrated, too. And in fact, one of the things I noticed is when I said to the crowd, I promise you, next time we come back we’re going to be standing, there was a big cheer. So they don’t like it either, you know.
Well, I figured it would be really hard for a performer because you want your audience to be rocking out with you and it’s challenging if they are just sitting there. I can understand if it’s, you know, a really long song like The Raven
It depends on the artist. I mean, I can see why, you know, Eric Clapton probably is quite happy to play to seated audiences. ACDC probably not, you know, and I’m not suggesting I’m either of those things, I’m perhaps somewhere in the middle, you know. There is real rocking stuff and there’s pop stuff and there’s a dance piece, but there’s also, as you say, there are these very kind of a mellow balance as well, so I understand it’s not the easiest show to figure out what’s the right context for it. But I really feel with this tour that the shows that have had the best energy and the best response have no question, been the standing ones, I believe that.
Well, I’m glad we’ve got that for tonight’s show in Denver
Yeah, we have, absolutely
So you released “To the Bone” last August, but you didn’t start touring until January. Why was there a pause before beginning the tour?
That was my management’s idea. I actually have new management on this album, a new label and new management and I’ve changed a lot of things, not just the musical approach. And they said to me something that I’ve never thought about before: that it’s better to put the album out, let people absorb it first and get into it and you know, it was a different record so that made sense. And then wait for two or three or four months afterwards and I’d never thought about that. I always thought, oh yeah, you have to be on tour the week the album comes out. But they said no, wait, do other promotion, go and do record store signings, go do TV, go do radio, which is what I did. And it seems to have really, really helped. And I think one of the things I’ve noticed is that when the album first came out, I think a lot of the older fans were confused by it. But by the time I actually went on the road, they’d all kind of got into it.
They came around
Yes, they came around, so that that kind of made sense that sometimes when you hear a new record – and I think this is a good thing – when you hear a new record by an artist that you kind of follow and you don’t necessarily get it the first time you hear it. You’re like, oh, this is different. I’m not sure if I like this or not, but you kind of give it time. You put your faith in the artist because they haven’t let you down before and then you get into it. And I’ve found that with a lot of artists that I like that sometimes it takes me a few weeks for a new record to click. So in a way it kind of made sense that we didn’t go out on tour until four months after the album came out. And I think by that time a lot of people that perhaps had been slightly unsure had come around, as you say.
Nice. So at this stage of your career, do you have a preference for touring, or being creative in the studio? Or are you happy being able to do both?
I think what I like about my career – I’m very lucky with my career – is that there is this sense of cycles. So for example, I’m not in the studio for all the time. I’m not on tour all the time. What happens is that I go into my studio and I start writing new material. That’s a very solitary activity. When I’ve written that new material, I take it to the band or I take it to a producer and I’m working with a small group of people. And then the album comes out and I go and do promotions so I’m meeting people like you today. People I don’t necessarily know and I haven’t met before. And then finally the last part of the process, you go out on tour and you’re kind of playing to one, two, or 3,000 strangers every night and it’s a very kind of communal experience. And then you go right back to the beginning of the process from playing to 3,000 people to being just me on my own in the studio again. And I liked that sense of change and I don’t think I would want to do any one of those activities all the time, but I love the fact that I get to do all of them in this kind of seasonal cycle.
Much has been made about your new album embracing more pop sensibilities. How is this different now with this album than what you were aiming for with Blackfield or the Stupid Dream album, for example?
It’s not. It’s not, really. And there’s the crux of the matter. I think there were a few people – and they are a minority – that had decided based on the previous couple of records I made that I was someone who’s just going to make this very kind of cerebral conceptual rock and that’s what I did. And I can only assume those people were not familiar with my back catalog because I’ve always had pop music and pop sensibility. There’s been pop songs on Porcupine Tree albums, there’s been whole records full of pop songs with Blackfield, and going back to my early days with No-Man and experimenting with dance and DJ culture. So it’s always been there and for whatever reason I felt this time I wanted to definitely focus more on that side of my musical DNA. And a small minority who decided I was only supposed to be making this very serious conceptual rock music got terribly upset by that, and I took that as a positive thing, again for the reasons we mentioned earlier. But I think, as you kind of highlighted there, I think anyone who is familiar with my back catalog will know that that’s always been there. Perhaps it’s more prevalent than it’s been for a while on this record. But even then, I’m not sure. Stupid Dream was full of pop songs, and Blackfield is full of pop songs… But actually this record has still got some pretty serious conceptual rock on it, too. It does have a couple of songs that really stand out and I think people sometimes tend to hear something like Permanating and they’ll judge the whole record based on that one song. Of course, you know, it’s not, it’s not a pop record. It has, as you kind of pointed out in your question, it has more of a pop sensibility, but it’s still far from what we might consider a pop record.
But this is the first time under the Steven Wilson banner that you’re really doing this. The same hasn’t really been true in any of the other four albums.
My first album Insurgentes had some quite shorter songs like Harmony Korine and Significant Other were more compact, but they were tapping into more of my post punk influences, you know, growing up with the Cocteau Twins and The Cure, that was still very much in the dark melancholic side. I think what this record has which hasn’t been on show, certainly in my solo career, is that it has a sense of joy. So when there is pop, there is also a sense of joy about that. So it’s more, shall we say, more Abba than it is Joy Division, you know?
In “The Same Asylum as Before”, the song starts with you singing in falsetto. Is that a stretch for you to go there?
It was but I liked it, I like stretching myself. There’s a lot of falsetto on this record. In fact, one of the things I say to my audience sometimes is that I talk about how in 2016, we lost Bowie and Prince who for me were the greatest musical innovators of the seventies and the eighties. I’m talking in terms of people that were in the very pop mainstream. You can’t imagine anyone else more influential in the seventies in the mainstream than Bowie. And similarly more influential in the eighties than Prince in terms of pop culture figures. Only the Beatles in the sixties would be comparable. And I think one of the things I’ve found, having been a kid that grew up with Prince as my idol – and Prince was the guy I had posters of on my wall – is that what happens when someone like that passes away is that you tend to go back and reevaluate and re-listen to a lot of their music. And I found myself doing that and of course Prince was very good at falsetto singing. Whole songs like Kiss and the whole Dirty Mind album is just sung in falsetto, you know. And I found myself kind of absorbing it all and thinking, well, okay, this is a, a sexy, funky black guy from Minneapolis, but why can’t a middle aged white man from Hemel Hempstead have a go at singing falsetto? You know, I’m never going to be Marvin Gaye or Prince. But it was something that gave me a different direction. It gave me a sense of freshness. It gave me a challenge and something that maybe made me feel like at least I’m trying something different and I’ll let the audience decide whether I succeeded or not.
How are you feeling about your vocal delivery in general at this point in your career?
I think I’m a better singer than I’ve ever been. That’s not to say I’m saying that I’m a great singer. I never will be. I’m not gifted in the singing department, but I think one thing I really feel strongly about is that in this particular era of music, I get so tired of hearing the kind of singers that have that kind of consumer professionalism, doing all the R ‘n B gymnastics and what I call over-singing. I like people who under-sing, who aren’t necessarily great singers but have a strong personality. You know, I think people like Robert Wyatt or Roger Waters who really can’t sing very well, but it has such a distinct personality that you buy into it. And I think of people like Robert Smith from The Cure or Ian Curtis from Joy Division and they’re not great singers, you know, but I’d rather listen to them any day of the week than one of these pop idol, consummate professionals. I can’t stand that over-singing. And if anything I fit into that kind of category of someone that’s not a great singer, but I think I have something of my own and I kind of embrace that and I think I’m singing better than I ever have. Partly because I’m being forced to sing more because the songs are more vocally oriented this time.
So as you know, there’s a strong nostalgic element in music, where fans pine for a return to days gone by and that fuels the constant questions about a Porcupine Tree reunion and things like that. I’m curious if you personally have experienced that longing for one of your favorite bands from the past to reunite and tour again, whether or not they’re recording new material now?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit excited when ABBA came back last week.
That was my next question!
But to be honest, I think history tells us that these things hardly ever deliver. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin getting back together for one show or whatever it is, or the Velvet Underground getting back for a reunion now. There’s always a kind of sense of disappointment. And if you think about it, that makes sense because there’s a difference between being young men or even middle aged men that are spending every day together, writing, touring, being together…you’re at your peak. And then you go off and you have families and you break up the band. It’s unlikely that just getting back together 20, 30 years later, the magic is still gonna be there. It never is. In my experience, it never is. With Porcupine Tree, it was a very intense period of time making records with that band and I felt like the last record we made was beginning to repeat ourselves and I felt like, okay, this is time. We’ve kind of done what we were supposed to do. I wasn’t very interested in metal by that point and I think a lot of Porcupine Tree fans had come from the metal side and I was becoming less interested in that and I felt like there’s a time to quit while you’re ahead. You know, I’m not a particularly nostalgic person when it comes to music. I’m always looking for new music. Of course, I love my old Led Zeppelin records and I love my old Pink Floyd records and you know, all that stuff, but I can’t say I listen to them very much now…
But it was interesting that, you know, even the Celebration Day thing that Zeppelin did was triumphant, back in 2007, as a reunion
Steven: It was, as a one-off I think it was great, but I’m glad they didn’t follow it up. And if they’d made a new studio record, you can almost guarantee it would have been disappointing. I mean, that legacy…the Zeppelin legacy is one of the most perfect legacies in the history of pop music and rock music. And I’m glad that they didn’t kind of spoil it. There’s no way the magic could have still been there. You know, maybe for a one-off show like that. And I feel that way with a lot of bands, that bands do have a “sell by date”. There isn’t a band on the planet that have been consistently creative. There are periods where they’re on fire when they’re at a peak and those periods can last from anything from one album to 10 albums. You think of Bowie through the seventies, he almost didn’t put a foot wrong, but then after that it was very patchy. Same with Prince. He was on fire in the eighties. But honestly, I can’t say anything from the nineties onward ever really matched up to that. So those guys are solo artist. They’re not a band. But I think they illustrate my point that everyone has a period when they’re kind of at their peak. Bands especially so, because they have an inherent limitation in that if you have three, four, five guys in the band, you have to all agree what kind of music you’re going to play. And by necessity that becomes a narrow channel. Robert Fripp in King Crimson is a good example of an exception to that rule. The way he avoided that was that he always changed everyone else in the band except for him and that’s one way to keep going forward: You stay the same but you change everyone else. Because inevitably when you have the same lineup for any length of time, there is going to be a point at which you’ve kind of created your musical vocabulary. There’s nothing left to say.
Well, what would you say about Rush?
Um…that’s a very good question because there’s always an exception that proves the rule, isn’t there?
Yeah. I just thought, oh, there’s one trio who stayed together and still made pretty interesting music up to their last album
There’s always an exception that proves the rule and I think they are the exception that proves the rule. I think they were still creative right up to the end. I mean honestly I can’t say I loved the music as much as those classic albums, but I still admire them and I still respect them and I think they were still moving forward. Yeah. But even a band like Rush, I think most fans would say they have a golden run of records…a golden period of records.
I’m interested how you internally navigate what seems to be two driving forces in your creativity. There’s the artistic commitment to be true to yourself as opposed to creating music to please others, and that seems to be very strong in you. And then there’s also this drive to make as much of an impact on as wide an audience as possible, you know, like almost creating a sense of immortality through a record that’s been heard by as many people as possible. So are those two forces at odds within you?
Yeah, they are. Well, you know, what you’ve just outlined there is the great paradox of the whole pop music industry. That in order to create something really special, I think you have to do it in a very selfish way. And all of those artists we’ve talked about so far, I believe they were making music primarily to please themselves. However, it is a business. If you want to do it all the time, you have to be able to be financially secure, so you have to somehow capture an audience. And that is almost the complete antithesis of the idea of creativity. But I think the way you do it is you make sure that when you’re creating the music, you do it in a vacuum. You don’t take anybody else into consideration…not your management, not your record company, and certainly not your fan base. If you do… that way lies disaster and you would start trying to cater to them. But once you’ve made your record, I think there are games that you can play – if you’re prepared to play them – in order to reach an audience. And they are to do with promotion and finding the right songs that might go on the radio, or making videos. And I’ve always been very happy to play those games and in fact I quite enjoy the promotion. So I always feel that as long as I’ve made the record in this very kind of selfish way that I’m happy to play as many games as I need to play in order to reach as many people as possible. And I think that is pretty much the history there of the creative scene of the whole music industry. You have these incredibly creative visionary guys who are also very aware of what it takes to reach an audience. And then you have few examples of people that were kind of incapable of playing those games, whether it’s Brian Wilson or Kurt Cobain or Syd Barrett, these people who found that side of things actually very difficult and they actually just wanted to be in the studio making music So those are the casualties of that. But then there are also people like the Bowies and the Princes that were very good at marketing themselves. But I don’t believe that in any way impacted on the purity of the music that they made.
Nice, thanks. How do you decide when to speak from more of an activist point of view around something that’s personal to you, like animal cruelty or vegetarianism, versus keeping your personal life private?
Yeah, I know. This is a really hard thing for me because I have very strong views. I think I’ve been pretty good about keeping them to myself. Listen, I would love to preach to my audience every night about vegetarianism, asking why do you feel it’s okay to kill and eat other creatures that have just as much right to inhabit this planet as we do. You know, I would love to talk about that. I’ll talk about it in interviews, so I’ll talk about it with you now, but I don’t preach from the stage. I’m not sure that’s the right context to do it. I’m not sure if… I have this ambivalence about the whole idea of people…that just because I have an audience that likes my music, does that give me the right to tell them how they should live their life and what they should think about the world? But of course in a way it is incumbent on people that have an influence through an appointed position to, to use that, you know, so I guess I do it in my own way. I do it through the lyrics…I kind of hold up a mirror and I say, “This is what I see. Do you recognize yourself in the mirror? Do you recognize yourself in these songs?” But to actually to actually get involved in activism and sort of preaching…I’m still on the fence about that. I mean, I look at artists like Morrissey who won’t even play a festival where they’re serving hot dogs. And I admire that! I really admire that. But at the same time, I know he upsets a lot of people who want to like his music, but they feel like he’s being, um, you know, very, very preachy to them and so it’s a very tough, tough line to find, I think.
So, do you do the posts on your own Facebook wall and social media and stuff like that?
I run my own Instagram, but I have a team that runs my Facebook and Twitter and stuff, but I write a lot of the texts.
Although you’re not a fan of organized religion, are there aspects of being in the world that move you at a soul level, that you might call a spiritual experience or understanding?
Of course. I think we can all understand that, whether it’s through music or film or just family. The human species is capable of incredible empathy with other human beings and with animals. You know, that kind of communal experience you get even just playing a show. For me that can feel very, very uplifting and very spiritual. A lot of my problem with organized religion is how a lot of people who believe in that stuff attribute all of the good stuff in the world to a power outside of us, and then attribute all of the bad stuff to us. You know, it’s like if we’re doing something bad, it’s because we’re sinners. If we’re doing something good, it’s because God has willed it. And I find that whole notion reprehensible. I think the human species is capable of incredible acts of soulfulness, beauty, empathy and incredible acts of stupidity and ignorance as well. And that’s for us to reconcile within ourselves. But yeah, I think the gift of life is an extraordinary thing. I really do. And part of the beauty of it is knowing that there isn’t anything else afterwards…or believing that there is anything else afterwards. That makes the gift of life even more extraordinary. And I think you live your life with much more passion if you acknowledge to yourself that this is like an anomaly, this is like a freak…this 70 or 80 or 90 years or whatever that I have to do something incredible with my life. What an amazing gift that is. And to acknowledge that to myself I think is part of what drives me to do what I do.
And it seems like there’s a lot of positivity in you despite the perception that maybe a lot of fans have of you. Do you think that coming down the road might be more songs in that sort of Permanating kind of vein?
Well there’s a song on the new record called Song of Unborn, which actually is a very melancholic track, but it’s also incredibly positive. The message is exactly what we’re talking about. The message to an unborn child basically saying, look, you’re looking out at the world and you’re seeing it’s a wreck. It’s the human race has taken a wrong turn and there’s all this crap going on in the world of politics, military and people starving and the refugees and the terrorist attacks and all this stuff.. But the message is quite simply that your life is your own to do something extraordinary with, so make a difference! Do something profound with your life! And I think that is a really positive message to give to people. And I think those sentiments are creeping in a little bit more to my music, perhaps because I’m getting older and I feel like there’s so much negative stuff just in the world anyway. You know, that melancholy is still in the music too. Of course it is. But I think there’s definitely a little bit more of a positive outlook now.
Getting back to some of the touring aspects…there’s several progressive rock festivals happening in the States, Rosfest in Gettysburg being one of them which is going on this weekend, actually. Would that be something that you’d ever be interested in being a part of – a progressive rock festival in the US? I know you’ve done a little bit of that in Europe
Not really to be honest. I find the whole notion of playing a generic festival a little bit strange because why wouldn’t I just do my own show? My fans would just come to that? You used the word “progressive”, which is not a word I use to describe my music. I think my music goes beyond…I HOPE it goes beyond the idea of a generic classification. I understand a lot of people identify me as a “progressive rock artist”, but most of those people will come and see my shows anyway. I think one of the things about doing a festival is kind of in the hope that you’ll reach a NEW audience, so I would much rather go and play Coachella or Bonaroo or something like that where I might be appearing in the afternoon to an audience that largely don’t know me. That’s the reason to go and play a festival for me. And also I think there’s something more beautiful about festivals that have this kind of more eclectic vibe. You know, I love these festivals where you’re going to see War on Drugs and then Kanye West and then Roger Waters and you get this whole mixture, like Glastonbury in the UK being the great example of that, and Coachella being a good example. I like these audiences where you get more of a mixture of musical genres, musical stuff, because I believe that’s the future. I think genre is going to become less and less relevant because kids now discover music through Spotify and those kinds of streaming services where actually the genre is meaningless. It’s meaningless. They make playlist of songs they like, they don’t care to ask “Is it progressive rock? Is it metal? Is it pop? Is it a hit?” They don’t care. It’s just “I like this song, I’m putting it in my playlist”. And I think increasingly those kind of genres, those kind of ideas of generic classification, will become less and less relevant and I think that’s probably a good thing.
I’m just curious because I know that some of the members of your band past and present, and bands that you’ve worked with like Steve Hackett or Marillion or Yes, they’ll go on a cruise for a week – in this case, a progressive rock cruise – and they actually enjoy it beyond just being the headliners playing their music…
Listen, I’m sure it’s a lot of fun. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to go one of those things. But from a purely artistic perspective, to me that smacks of a nostalgia kind of thing. You know, “Let’s get all the people that already love us on a boat and have a big love-in.” Great, great fun. [laughs]But, uh, I’m not ready to go down that road yet…maybe in 10 or 15 years I’ll feel differently, but you know, I still feel like I’m hoping to reach more people. And that kind of idea of a big cozy love-in with people that already love you, to me that’s not something I would feel like I would be particularly comfortable doing. I’m sure I’d enjoy it. Who wouldn’t, you know? Who wouldn’t enjoy being surrounded by people that already love your music? But I think I like to be a bit challenged and put myself in situations where perhaps I feel like I’ve got a win people over. You know, even at my shows there are people that have brought their friends along that maybe don’t know me or people that brought their partners along that maybe don’t know me, or their kids that don’t know me. So even when it’s my show, I feel like there’s people out there to be converted. Yeah. But if you go on one of these festival things, whether it’s in a boat or whatever, it’s kind of like you’re preaching to the converted, which is fun, but…
It’s a whole different agenda
Yeah, a different agenda. It’s like having a party with people that you like and you know…and yeah…maybe one day.
I’ll ask you the question again in 10 years
Yeah, I mean, when you talk about bands like Yes, I think Yes, clearly are on the nostalgia circuit now. I mean, they’re not…
Well, they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and in fact there’s two bands doing that…
So, yeah. And I think Steve Hackett also is kind of… I mean, I think he goes out with the Genesis Revisited show, doesn’t he?
He does about half and half. I just talked to him last week and he’s splitting his setlist about half and half of the solo stuff
But to me that seems like those guys have acknowledged, “Okay, I’ve done my creative side of stuff…I’ve been creative, I’ve reached my peak and I’ve done it all. Now I’m just going to enjoy playing the music I wrote 20, 30, 40 years ago to people that love it.”
In a lot of cases, that’s true. With Steve Hackett though I’ve been very impressed with his last couple of albums…
Steve still makes great music. No, for sure. Yeah, that’s true.
In the world of your remixing: has there ever been a time where you love the album but you just don’t think that there’s anything you could contribute to a remix? Like when you get a Sowing the Seeds of Love kind of album up in the queue, do you look at it and say…
Absolutely. That’s a good case in point, but I think the point there is that I was asked to do a surround mix and no one had ever done a surround mix before. But doing a new stereo mix for that record is pointless, pointless! There’s no way I can ever match up to that original stereo mix and so I didn’t. I did a surround mix and I didn’t even deliver a new stereo mix. Because I’d be on a hiding to nothing, quite rightfully so. The fans would listen to my mix and give me a good kicking. But there the difference is that no one had ever done a surround mix before. So I can do something different with it. There are certainly cases where, for example, I did Rush’s “Farewell to Kings” last year as well and I didn’t deliver a stereo mix because it’s pointless. The stereo mix is perfect as it is. So I only delivered a surround mix. And there are certainly examples where I’ll say to the management or the record company, “Look, I can’t match the original stereo mix. I’m not even going to give you a new stereo mix. I’ll just give you the surround mix.” But there are other times when I feel I can give another perspective on an album with a new stereo mix or perhaps create higher degree of clarity. And so I think it’s definitely a question I ask myself when I do a mix. It’s, “should I even think about delivering a new stereo mix or is the original mix impossible to create any new perspective or improve at all?”
So you have any interest in remixing Olias of Sunhillow (Jon Anderson) if you were asked?
To be honest, right now I’ve stopped doing remixes anyway. I just don’t have time. I’m carrying on with the XTC project because they are my favorite band pretty much, one of my top five, but I just don’t have time anymore. I mean one of the great things about being successful with the “To the Bone” album is that I have less and less time to do other things, which is a nice problem to have, as the saying goes. The more successful I’m being with my solo career, the less and less time I’m having four for this extra curricular activity. Of course there are artists that I would make an exception for. If the Bowie’s and the Prince’s and the Kate Bush’s came knocking at my door, I would find the time somehow. But generally speaking, I’m not going out of my way to find that kind of work anymore, because it does take time to do it properly.
And speaking of those extracurriculars, what’s your status with Blackfield right now?
Blackfield is pretty much Aviv’s [Geffen] these days, but I help him as much as I can. And I love working with Aviv. So he writes almost all the material, he gets the ball rolling and I usually come in and help him with production and playing guitars and singing. And it’s great fun for me because it’s something I can do in a very kind of hands-off way. I’m one of those guys that usually everything I get involved in, I have to be the boss and I have to be controlling. And it’s nice with Blackfield that I can just show up. I say, “Okay Aviv, what songs have you written? Here’s the songs. Oh, great!” I can just be someone that’s kind of facilitating and help him to realize those records. So I enjoy that as being someone that’s kind of hands off, or very much a contributor role, rather than being a controlling influence.
Why do you think the press for the last album was calling it more that you were returning to a full partnership?
Well, because it was true, I mean actually it’s all relative. On the previous album I had virtually nothing to do with that album. And this album I certainly got a lot more involved again. I wrote one song for it, and I hadn’t written anything for the previous record. I co-wrote a couple of others with him. I was involved in most of the production of it and sang a lot of the songs, so I definitely was more involved. But it’s all relative because it was still very much his project. And I’m not touring. Yeah. So that’s, that’s the other side. But certainly I think the press release was right to say that was very much a return to the way we worked on the first couple of records.
Anything else that I’ve missed that you’d like your audience to know about?
Oh Gosh, well we will have a live DVD coming out. I mean, I did three shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London at the end of March and we filmed one of those shows for a concert release. So, that’s going to be the next major release, probably towards the end of the year.
Fantastic. And would there ever be a time that you think you’d be playing with Gavin Harrison again? Like on your solo albums, would you ever invite him in?
Well, actually Gavin did play on two songs on “To the Bone”, but I didn’t use his performances. Uh, not because he’s not great, it’s just, it’s always a stylistic thing. Gavin has a very strong style, and every drummer has their own personality. So there’s your answer: I worked with Gavin quite recently on “To the Bone” and he didn’t end up on the record, but he could have done. Yeah, we’re still friends and, and if it was the right material, I would certainly work with Gavin. Gavin is a very meticulous drummer. This album didn’t suit his style so well. It was a looser pop sensibility, again. I used a drummer who ironically is working with Gavin now in King Crimson, a guy called Jeremy Stacey, who in many ways is the complete antithesis of Gavin. He’s completely intuitive…kind of sloppy, but in a good way. Very beautiful feel. Whereas Gavin is always that meticulous, technical approach to drumming, which isn’t always right for what I do, but he’s an extraordinary musician, no doubt. But it has to be the right kind of material. But I would certainly would still think it’s more than likely that I would work with him again.
Steven, thanks so much for your time. It’s really been fantastic talking with you
My pleasure, you too. Thank you.