From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)
Porcupine Tree - "Stupid Dream" (Snapper Music 1999, SMACD-813)
For Stupid Dream, Porcupine Tree evolves further as a "band" rather than a Steven Wilson solo project, and continues the song-oriented direction that began with Signify. The band is, once again, principal porcupine Steven Wilson on guitar, piano, samples, and vocals, Richard Barbieri on synthesizers, Hammond organ, and mellotron, Colin Edwin on bass, and Chris Maitland on drums and percussion, plus orchestra, and guest Theo Travis on sax and flute.
I've been following internet discussions and the opinions vary widely from dismissing Stupid Dream as being too commercial or "just not Sky Moves Sideways", to being the best thing the band has done. I can't stress enough to the Sky Move Sideways fans that the music on Stupid Dream is just as cosmic as anything on Sky. The difference is that whereas the listener could sit back and tag along on the extended track journey that was Sky Moves Sideways, Stupid Dream is far more structured and the cosmic psychedelic moments have specific places within the songs. And this is what makes Stupid Dream perhaps the most challenging Porcupine Tree release to date. On the one hand the songs are so catchy that you can just groove along with them, but you've got to listen closely if you really want to benefit from all that's happening on these songs in terms of instrumental passages and sounds.
The first track, "Even Less", opens with a warming up string section followed by a bluesy dobro sounding guitar intro, and then BANG... the band launches into a blistering attack that shows what a great all around rock band Porcupine Tree is. I had this song pegged from the first listen as a perfect show opener and indeed this was the song that opened the show when we saw the band perform in Cleveland (June 5th where the interview was conducted).
Porcupine Tree music isn't complex and Wilson is concerned that listeners realize this. There is, however, a concern with "sound". Indeed Wilson may not be a technical guitar player but he can play gorgeously melodic guitar and listening to several albums reveals a distinct identity. A trademark of the songs on Stupid Dream is alternating between lighter moments and full blown rock. One of the albums singles, "Piano Lessons" is an example, as is "Tinto Brass", for my money the big monster track on the album. A pounding groove is set by Colin Edwin's bass and Chris Maitland's drums along with a guitar melody that trades off licks with Travis' flute, which is everywhere at once. This is an intense, blistering rocker when it gets cranked up. The guitar is about the most thundering I've heard from Wilson. There's even a pulsating dance beat portion. This song was absolutely crushing in concert.
But Stupid Dream is also accessibly cosmic with many mind expanding moments. "Slave Called Shiver" and "This Is No Rehearsal" are rockers with great blistering psych guitar. The mind blowing psych is all here. "Stranger By The Minute" and "A Smart Kid" both feature gorgeous floating psychedelia and vocal harmonies that reflect Wilson's interest in Beach Boy Brian Wilson's work (see interview). The other standout tracks for me are "Pure Narcotic" with it's great harmonies and stringed sections, piano, and bells, and "Don't Hate Me" in which we are treated to Theo Travis' dreamy flute and rockin' sax.
In concert, Porcupine Tree lived up to all my expectations. Not only did the new songs come off great, but the set included tunes from Signify, The Sky Moves Sideways, and Up The Downstairs... and of course there was "Radioactive Toy". Prior to the show Keith and myself were able to spend an hour chatting with Steven Wilson about Stupid Dream, the bands' evolution, and other various other topics.
Jerry (JK): Signify was something of a transitional album being the first full-blown band album and you've moved into more song-oriented territory. Stupid Dream moves even further into song and lyrical territory. Was this part of a desire on your part to communicate with words just as much as music?
Steve (SW): It's a number of things. It's never as simple as that. The music has always changed. Every album Porcupine Tree has made has been very distinct from those that preceded it. The reasons for that, firstly, is a desire not to repeat myself as a songwriter. Secondly, as a fan of music I'm always listening to different things. And whatever I'm listening to at any particular time tends to inform my work. And in the two and a half years between Stupid Dream and Signify a lot has changed in my listening taste and what I consider to be the kind of material I want to work on. Also, the third element would be increased confidence in myself as a singer and a lyricist, which is something that's come with time. Because I've never really considered myself to be a singer. Its something that was kind of thrust on me by default because... it was a solo project. So I was the guitar player, the bass player, and I had to be all these things. And one of the other things I had to be was a singer and a lyricist. And although that was not something that came naturally to me I think as time's gone on I got better and better at it. So there's three different reasons there. The second reason is probably the most significant in the sense that what I was listening to at the time when I was writing this album was a lot more vocally oriented. I would say the major influence on that would be my interest in Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I was listening a lot to stuff like Pet Sounds and all that kind of harmony singing. Also stuff like Todd Rundgren, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, anything with really good ensemble singing. I was particularly into that stuff when I was writing this album. And I kind of got interested in the idea of the pop song as a kind of experimental symphony if you like. I know that sounds pretentious, but that's kind of what I always thought Brian Wilson was doing on stuff like Pet Sounds, what the Beatles were doing on albums like Revolver and Sgt Pepper. Y'know, creating these extraordinary kind of experimental pop symphonies almost. I think it's a great myth that the most experimental music has come from the progressive field, and the most experimental music tends to be quite extended pieces. I think the opposite is true. I think the extraordinary pieces of pop music still are things like "Tomorrow Never Knows" on Revolver which is two and a half minutes long, "God Only Knows" on Pet Sounds which is two and a half minutes long... they for me represent the pinnacle of popular music. And so there was a kind of shift in my thinking away from long abstract instrumentally oriented pieces to pieces that would hopefully have a much more timeless quality to them. And would have a good song.
JK: You've really expanded the instrumentation as well. You've got the sax and flute on "Don't Hate Me", and the spacey jazzy flute on "Tinto Brass". Is this something you've always wanted to explore?
SW: Again, there's two different answers to this question. The first answer has to do with budgets and financial considerations. This is the first time where we've had a real budget to do an album. Signify was recorded for a total of 2000 Pounds, which is a pretty pathetic budget. We had a lot more money for this, we spent about 15,000 Pounds on this album, which is still pretty small when you compare it to the budgets that some bands have. We can do a lot more with money than we used to be able to and one of the things we could do was we could bring in outside musicians, we hired the orchestra. It's something I've always wanted to do but never been able to afford to do. That's the first answer. The second answer is again to do with this increased interest in people like Brian Wilson. And Brian Wilson was always using 18, 19, 20 musicians in some of his sessions to create this symphonic sound. That will continue. There's lots of other instrumentation I'm keen to explore on the next album.
Keith (KH): It seems that Stupid Dream is a bit of a new direction being a bit dreamier and more richly textured. Some people also say it's a bit more commercial sounding. Do you feel that the band is heading in a particular direction, or do you think for the next album it might be completely off into a new territory?
SW: It's very difficult for me to say because when I'm working on an album, I'm not necessarily conscious that there has been a great change in direction. For me it's just wherever my head's at that particular day. And it's only really after the album's completed and people hear it and they say, "well you've really changed direction", and I'll say "have we?". I guess we have, and I'm glad we have, but I don't particularly feel in a way that this is any more of a change in direction than say Signify was from Sky Moves Sideways. For me, the change in direction from the instrumentally oriented material to the song material came with Sky to Signify, not with Signify to Stupid Dream. I can see the roots of some of the material on Stupid Dream certainly in Signify. Pieces like "Every Home Is Wired" and "Waiting Phase One" is obviously a move to more song-oriented material on that album. So I see Stupid Dream as a continuation of that. The next album is already about two-thirds written, and there's still a lot of song stuff on there. There's even more use of layered harmonies and layered vocals. But there are also some longer pieces this time as well. I've written about three pieces which are about ten minutes long. I don't know which pieces are going to end up on the album. Obviously you're aware that the continuity is very important on all the Porcupine Tree albums. The sequencing, the continuity, and the way the tracks link together is always very important as well, and in some ways it's a mistake to think of a Porcupine Tree album as lots of separate tracks because for me the way they all fit together is very important. I'm never a great fan of... people come up to me and they say "I bought this album the other day, but I've reprogrammed it so I listen to the tracks in a different order cause I think it sounds better." I wouldn't like the idea that people would do that with a Porcupine Tree album because I put a lot of thought into the continuity and the way the album flows is very important. So, in answer to your question, it will be different again. The song-based direction will still be quite prevalent I would think. But I think on the next piece it probably will be even more experimental in terms of the instrumentation and probably some longer pieces this time again.
KH: You chose to record at Dave Anderson's Foel Studios in the back country of Wales. What did you think you could accomplish there that you couldn't at home in NoMansLand?
SW: Well first, I can't record drums at my place because it's too small. Secondly, again for the reason that it is too small, it's impossible for us to all to set up as a group at my studio and sort of work on the arrangements and the songs as a group. And for the first time we wanted to actually do that. Signify was slightly odd in the way it was recorded in the sense that although it is a band album, because we were never able to actually all be in the same room at the same time, because of physical limitations, with the exception of one track, "Intermediate Jesus", which was done outside, I tended to demo the tracks to a fairly high level and they would just replace the parts that I'd played on synthesizers with the real thing. So there wasn't a great deal of input from the other guys. But what I wanted this time was to make sure that there was the opportunity for the other guys to really contribute ideas to the arrangements and to the overall feel and sound of the album, which they did. To do that we had to go somewhere where we could all literally set up in a room and thrash out the tracks. So we went to Foel Studios... partly also because it's very remote. I think when you're a band, and you're working on material the idea of remote locations is quite appealing because the distractions are reduced to an absolute minimum.
KH: You've had Theo Travis come in who had worked with Gong just recently to play sax and flute specifically on "Don't Hate Me" and "Tinto Brass". Accordingly, the jam part on "Don't Hate Me" even has a Gong like feel to it right down to what seems like you playing glissando guitar. Was that an intentional move and what other artists have you found that you honor, if that's the intent.
SW: It wasn't intentional. Theo obviously has only just played with Gong. He didn't even know Gong until fairly recently. So the fact that Theo is on it is chronologically misleading. Secondly, I've used glissando guitar many times before. I think what tended to give it even more of a Gong feel is the bassline which kind of... y'know... so things like that... it does rather sound like Gong... and then the sax and the flute went on at the end as well... all of those things were never intended when the glissando guitar was originally played. In answer to your question, I don't specifically set out to pastiche, or honor, or... however you want to put it... plagiarize... give tribute to anything in particular. It's like I said at the beginning of the interview, I have a massive massive massive musical taste. I like so many different types of things and they all go into the melting pot if you like that produces the music of Porcupine Tree. And yes, some things do tend to kind of poke through occasionally rather more overtly than other times. JK: Was forming a band as simple as needing a vehicle to perform live or did you want things to go that way in terms of a more cooperative effort as well?
I think I probably did. Obviously the practical concern of being able to play the music live was the instigating factor. But I think subconsciously I also felt that I'd taken the solo years as far as I'd wanted to because I never really enjoyed working with drum machines. That's the first thing. In some styles of music they have their own kind of sound and they're very important. In the kind of music I was making they were a substitute and there's no getting around that. They were a substitute for real drums. On The Sky Moves Sideways I had a couple of tracks where I did actually bring Chris and Colin in for the first time. "Stars Die" and "Moonloop". And they were a turning point for me because I realized that those two tracks for me were the best from the whole sessions. And I realized from that point on I never wanted to go back to having to use drum machines. But also, I think I've always kind of been in love with the idea of, y'know, the rock band'. Because bands have a kind of glamour, and appeal, and a romance about them the solo projects just don't have. Y'know, the way the bands can kind of just go out on the road together and spend time together and the personalities just kind of gel... or they don't. And there's friction, and there are good times and there are bad times, but somehow this creates a real kind of special romance about the music, and I think we're just beginning to get that now with Stupid Dream. I think there's a real kind of band sound, all the personalities come through in the music and we all really have a lot of respect for each other as musicians. And I've always wanted that. And the only reason Porcupine Tree started as a solo project was there was nobody else I knew that wanted to make that kind of music. And so it was kind of like a project that I had to start as a solo project. But I guess that I always hoped that one day it would become a band.
JK: In terms of Porcupine Tree, IEM, No Man... how have these different projects been vehicles for expressing all your musical interests?
SW: I don't even think in those terms. The way I work is I just... I make music. And I make music without thinking necessarily to begin with whether it's Porcupine Tree, Bass Communion, IEM. I mean sometimes I know I'm writing for Porcupine Tree. But very often I get tracks which don't necessarily fit into a project. And then what happens is they go into my kind of archive and then later on I'll do something else which seems to go with that other track. And suddenly, before I know it I've got a project. And it's not necessarily something that's been premeditated. I mean, that's certainly the way it happened with IEM, it's certainly the way it happened with Bass Communion. It's a need, musically, to express certain things I want to express. And so, in answer to your question, it's very important for me to have all these different avenues because... I've always found it kind of surprising that there aren't a lot of other musicians like me who have all these projects. I've never quite understood why that should be because for me it seems almost unhealthy to be using all your creativity on one project with the same people all the time in the same style all the time. Although Porcupine Tree does grow, and it does develop, and it does change, there are lots of other styles of music that I love to explore, I love to experiment with. I don't understand why it's not the norm for musicians in bands to have side projects where they do completely different things.
JK: Is it just a way for you where something is a little different so maybe it fits into No Man, or formed IEM (Incredible Expanding Mindfuck) because the existing bands don't necessarily fit what you were working on at the time?
SW: Yeah. IEM was something I started... I was very into Krautrock at the time like Can, and Neu, and Faust, and Amon Düül, and Ash Ra Tempel, and all that stuff, and I just started doing tracks in that vein because I loved it and I wanted to do it. And before I knew it I had an album. So there it goes. There's another project. Bang. Same with Bass Communion. I was doing a lot of ambient stuff, and textural stuff, and some very very long pieces. The first thing I did for Bass Communion was this 25 minute piece using loops Robert Fripp had given me of his soundscapes. There's no way I could have put out a Porcupine Tree album, y'know, it would have been half the album. So it just naturally became another project. And there'll be more I can assure you.
KH: So money aside, which one is the most fun for you to work with musically speaking? I assume all of them...
SW: You've answered your own question. It's not fun for me to do the same thing for too long. It gets frustrating. For example, now Porcupine Tree have been on the road since the end of March and I haven't been able to work on any other music other than what we play every night. And I'm looking forward to giving Porcupine Tree a rest for a couple of months and working on some other stuff. It would be very unhealthy for us now I think just having come off the road to go back into the studio as a group. We need a break from each other. It's not like we all hate each other or anything. We get on fine. But, I just think it would be healthy now for people to go off and do some other things for a few weeks. And then we come back and there's a freshness and there's a newness about it. And that's the way it works. They're all fun if they're happening at the right time. I think a lot of the reasons bands break up is because of that very reason. Musical differences, personal frustrations, and the fact they're all cooped up together for twelve months of the year. Every year.
KH: How do you operate in the studio? Do you sometimes get impatient or irritable when you're on the clock?
SW: Well we're never on the clock you see. Well, actually that's not true we were on the clock when we went to Foel Studios, but we booked a long session and we took it very relaxed. Because most of the work is done at NoMans... I mean Foel Studios was like a month. The rest of the ten months of work was done at NoMansLand. And there is no clock. Originally we told the record company we'd have it out and finished by June. We didn't finish it until November. Because there was no rush. Because I'm a perfectionist, and the other guys are perfectionists. It's not gonna be delivered to the record company until we're happy with it. We can afford to do that because we record at our own pace on our own budget in our own studio. And I can't imagine doing it any other way. The great advantage is if I want to spend two weeks working on a track and then after two weeks of having worked on it to turn around to the other guys and say I don't think this track's working let's throw it out... you can do that when you're in your own studio.
JK: You produced the previous Fish album. Any other production work you've done or other projects like that?
SW: I've done a couple of small projects but they've all been at my own studio so the same thing applies. The Fish thing was slightly different. It was his studio so again there wasn't the pressure there would have been if it had been at a commercial facility. But, having said that, he was pressured all the time to get the damn thing finished. So that album was kind of not finished quite to my satisfaction. But I'm very happy with the album.
KH: One thing I've noticed about your music, and which I really like, your compositions are seemingly pared down to only the really essential elements. In other words, you resist over composing the music and boring the audience with pointless complexity. Do you find yourself sometimes cutting out lyrics and passages that you've written or do you start with the less is more approach right from the get go?
SW: No. Well, sometimes. Both to be honest. Sometimes I want to keep the arrangements very sparse. In the case of "Even Less", it's a classic case in point. That track originally was seventeen minutes long and was recorded as a seventeen minute long track, and it had everything on it. Just ridiculous amounts of overdubs on that track. This is another thing about being able to get things right in the studio by taking the time. It's almost a case of finding the right way to put the jigsaw puzzle together. Which elements are essential, which elements are superfluous. And that was something that happened in the mixing. A lot of stuff was left out in the mixing. The thing about Porcupine Tree music is... you've hit on something there... Porcupine Tree music is very very simple. There's nothing complex about it at all. The complexity is in the production. The complexity is in the way the albums are constructed. All of the work goes into creating the texture and the sound, and making it sound right. There's nothing complicated about the music at all. And that's really why I have to take issue when people describe us as progressive rock. I don't think we are a progressive rock band. I think we're just a rock band. I think what leads people to give it that kind of progressive tag is the way the songs are produced. That epic quality you referred to. "Even Less" is just a very simple pop song really.
JK: Are you satisfied with the way things have been going on this tour, audience responses and such.
SW: Yeah, definitely. It's been quite stressful. I'm just kind of getting used to how things work over here. We've had a lot of problems with equipment. A lot of technical problems. Y'know, we learn by mistakes. Next time we'll know what to expect more in terms of that. But the shows themselves and the audiences have been fantastic. We've had extraordinally good turnouts. Only a couple of quiet nights. It's a mixture of people that have just discovered us on Stupid Dream, but also obviously had a lot of fans who have been waiting for us to come and play for years and years and years, and they're shouting out tracks from the first two or three albums, which is nice too. And also the fact we've come over here has galvanized a lot of media attention. Loads of radio play. "Piano Lessons" has been playlisted on lots of channels. So the whole process of our coming over here has been useful not just in terms of playing, but in terms of us being here. Radio and media seem to take us more seriously. Which is how we were told it would work. If you want to get airplay in America you've got to come over here, and talk to these people. And that's the way it's worked and it's been fantastic. We're already looking at coming back in the Fall to do a longer tour. Maybe that might be too optimistic, but certainly if not late this year, early next year.
JK: When you came to America had you been touring continually...
SW: Yeah, we started in late March in Europe. We did a bit of Italy, Greece, we did shows in the UK, Poland, Holland, Belgium, then here, and we're going to France, just for one show actually after we finish here. So it's really been a case of touring as much as we can to support the record.
JK: Have you gotten a feel for any level of airplay you've been getting over here on the radio?
SW: It's very difficult to me for assess because I don't really understand how the American media... [everyone laughs]. But I've certainly done a lot of radio interviews here and we've been playlisted on some very big stations. I don't know whether it's a drop in the ocean or whether it's actually going to amount to anything or not. Certainly we've noticed in the U.S. the record is everywhere.
KH: You've gone through three U.S. labels in the last couple of years. Do you think this deal with Snapper is the answer to long term stability?
SW: Where we were at the time we signed with Snapper they were absolutely the right label. And I hope they will continue to be the right label. It's difficult to say. Compared to the Sony's and the Warner Bros of this world they're still a small company. But they are much much bigger than the company we were with. And they're the right company for us to be with at this time to take us to the next level. And I hope that they will grow with us. Certainly with Delerium we reached a point where we were too successful for the label. Because the problem was that we needed, with this album Stupid Dream, a lot of money spent up front. We needed to make a video, we needed to release three singles from the album. All the bullshit, and all the games you have to play... I mean I don't like the fact that you have to do all that but the reality is you do have to do that if you want to get to people. And there's no way Delerium could possibly have bankrolled that so we had to move.
KH: So what does it take now to survive as a professional musician in the 90's?
SW: Well we all have to do different things. We don't really make much money from Porcupine Tree. All of the money we make we put back in. For example, Chris and Colin, the rhythm section, both teach their respective instruments. I do a lot of music for TV in the UK. I do music for adverts and stuff which pays very well and means I can do what the hell I like the rest of the year. Richard Barbieri, the keyboard player, has other projects, and he has his own label with his colleagues in his other project. So I think you kind of have to diversify what you do and occasionally you have to do stuff for money so that you can do the stuff you believe in without having to water it down. It would have been so easy for Porcupine Tree to have... actually some people have accused us of doing it anyway... to have sold out, and gone for whatever the kind of fashion was. It probably would have been very easy for us to try and dumb our music down a bit. But because we make our living from doing other things we can afford to be really bloody minded when it comes to doing the Porcupine Tree stuff. We keep it very pure. And the only consideration is what we want to do artistically. Which is a luxury, I know. But it's a luxury bought by virtue of doing... occasionally... things that we would probably rather not be doing, but they don't take up much time and they mean that we're financially secure. So it's not an issue.
JK: I didn't know you were doing television work. Have you done any film work at all?
SW: I haven't done films, no. I've done songs for TV shows. I've done a lot of adverts and stuff. And before you ask I'm not about to tell you which ones. [everyone laughs]
JK: Just out of curiosity is that a pay the bills thing or are there certain challenges and rewards in that as well?
SW: Some of them are good. The majority are horrible. But occasionally I've done some really nice... in fact, the guy that's just directed the video for "Piano Lessons" was a guy that I did a lot of ads for. He makes a lot of commercials in England. And the stuff I was doing with him would always be really really good fun. And I always thought they were great films and great ads. So he was someone I kind of wanted. I knew that I wanted him to do the video. So there are certain directors and people I've met which have been very useful... even moving over into the part of my life that has more integrity. I've brought some of these people with me. Cause these guys have integrity too. A lot of these guys are in the same position as us. They'd love to be making features, y'know. But again, they do adverts so they can pay the bills and then work on their screenplay the rest of the year.
JK: It sounds like there's a networking benefit for you there as well.
SW: There is. I mean in every field you kind of meet people who really at the end of the day... they may be really well paid people, but what they really would love to do is something they would do for next to nothing if they had the opportunity. So we've had some great people work with us that usually wouldn't work for anywhere near the money that they're getting paid by us, but they do it because they're into the music.
KH: The cover art to Stupid Dream is a picture of a CD manufacturing plant. Is that any representation of the commercial nature of music...
SW: Well kind of. One of the themes that runs through the album is all to do with what I've been talking about and the fact that you... to be able to pursue a pure artistic vision... to be able to do that without having to compromise yourself at all is very hard. And it's very easy to become very cynical working in the music business because there's a lot of people that control a lot of the music industry that are complete idiots, and have no interest in music and no idea about music at all. And you come up against these kind of people all the time. And I found that when I was writing the music for this album a lot of the songs were about me and my relationship with the music industry and how I felt about where I was going in the music business and all that. Things like "Stop Swimming"... maybe it's time to stop swimming... and this kind of whole impulse to just give up and go with the flow can be very strong sometimes. I mean I've never given into it. I never will. But sometimes it can make you very depressed. Y'know, you're doing this very amazing... I think really important work, and it's still selling comparatively tiny amounts compared to what I could do in an afternoon if I wanted to. And there's also this whole thing about how when you're writing music... when you're being artistic... there's this kind of purity to what you do. So you try to avoid any considerations to do with being commercial, oh is this the kind of thing the record company can release as a single. I don't care. I don't even want to think about that. But the moment you finish the album you suddenly have to go from being an artist to a businessman. And it's a really tough transition to make. They're two opposite extremes. This whole kind of idea that you're supposed to be this artist but you have to do all this other bullshit stuff. Like sitting down with the record company to discuss how we're gonna market this album. And at that point your record becomes a product. And I just had this image of these CD's just coming off this conveyor belt. And obviously it's at complete odds with the music. But I wanted to have this kind of contradictory feel to the color.
KH: It's also kind of blue and ice cold looking...
SW: It's very icy. It's a very kind of ironic comment on Porcupine Tree because Porcupine Tree obviously are a band that for our fans, and for us, we're a band that have incredible integrity and they know that we would never sell out... although a very small minority think we have sold out. The bottom line is, the people that get into Porcupine Tree know that we're exactly not the kind of band that ever consider our music in terms of product and shifting units. So I thought it would kind of be fun to put an image on the album which is a comment on that. What could be a more stupid dream than wanting to make music and sell it. Having said that, I kind of enjoy all the bullshit that goes along with making records, but I would never want to mix the two. I've been in situations, not with Porcupine Tree but with No Man, where record companies have said can you write something we can get played on the radio'? And I said no, we can't. We just write what we write. KH: Having seen the band play live twice now the one thing that has stuck out as being different between the textural material on the album and going to see the band live is your drummer Chris Maitland really cranks up the energy. I was wondering if there was going to be an attempt to bring that out on the studio albums? SW: Obviously when you go to see the band live people do their own thing. Chris is a very very very busy drummer. He's like Keith Moon. He doesn't like to settle into grooves. I find it really exciting to play with him on stage but I don't particularly like that style in the studio. I prefer a more controlled... which he can do too. He can do anything. But live... he just goes mad. I'm certainly not a technically proficient musician at all. I'm a very sloppy guitar player. For Richard Barbieri it's all about the sound. It's not about the technique at all. I kind of prefer that. Colin, the same. It's very kind of solid. What he plays is very simple but very effective. Chris is like the opposite. It's as technical and as complex as it can be. Which for me is more kind of progressive. But it's great fun to play with him live. I think he's one of the best drummers in the world. But when I get him in the studio, because I'm producer I tend to... KH: You reign him in a bit. SW: Yeah. A little bit. JK: Even though you have moved into being a full band is Porcupine Tree still ultimately a vehicle for Steven Wilson's vision? SW: To a degree. But... ok, I write the songs. And I'm still the director of the overall sound if you like and the ideology of Porcupine Tree. But to use that kind of film analogy, a director obviously has lots of other very important people which are very responsible for the film as well. The performances of the actors, the cinemaphotographer, all of those things are equally important and can have just as much of an impact on the look and the feel of the film as well. Porcupine Tree's kind of that way as well. I can tell you that Stupid Dream if it was a solo record would not sound anything like it does. All of the parts that those guys play are their own parts. I write the songs, I play them the chords, I write the melody and I write the words. But the drum parts, the keyboard sounds are all Richard Barbieri... so there's a very very strong band. But I believe, and I know the guys agree with me on this, I don't think it's possible for a band to not have a leader. I don't think it's possible for a band to be a true collective. Even if there was I don't think it would last very long. Because if you don't have someone who basically is in control I think very soon it becomes watered down and there's too much give and take. If you've got a group where everybody is given their own space I think you tend to get something that's very compromised. With me, because it's my vision, and I know at the end of the day the kind of record I want to make, I've got this sound in my head and I want to get it out... there's no compromise. If somebody does something that doesn't fit into that I'll say, no I don't like that. They might like it. Chris might play a drum part and he thinks it's great. I'll say, no I don't want that Chris. Because ultimately he will find something else that's just as much him, but that also fits into... do you see what I mean? They can all do things which would sound great on their own projects, but maybe not quite right for the way I hear the Porcupine Tree. And we've got to the stage now where they're almost aware of that even before I have to say it. They know what will fit and what won't.
[And we went on to enjoy a great performance by the band. Thanks to Steven for spending time with us and thanks to Veronique for helping to arrange our chat. I've kept my eyes open and both Stupid Dream and Signify seem readily available in U.S. records stores.
The best place to start on the web for Porcupine Tree information is the Linton Samuel Dawson web site. It has loads of info and links to other sites.
You can also visit Steven Wilson's own web site.