October 30, 2018 Interview – Steven Wilson Talks Performing Live, To The Bone, + More
Steven Wilson irrefutably has been one of the more prolific and diverse artists of the past three plus decades. A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, Wilson has done it all, yet still uncovers new uncharted seas of creativity in his mind. Take for example his latest solo album, To The Bone. Critically acclaimed, the 2017 album saw Wilson explore a more Pop sensible side, all without sacrificing musicality. In the process, taking dark subject matter, Wilson magically made it into something colorful and inviting.
Taking To The Bone on the road for most of the past year plus, a pinnacle of the touring cycle came at London’s Royal Albert Hall. A three night residence at the historic venue, on the third night, the concert was documented for a new DVD/Blu-Ray/live album, Home Invasion, due out on Friday, November 2nd.
An exciting experience for Wilson, his band, and of course the audience involved, he recently took the time to chat about life on the road with To The Bone, the cyber world we lose ourselves in, returning to North America, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Last we spoke, you were on the verge of releasing the now highly acclaimed album To The Bone. Embarking on heavy touring in support of the record, what has the last year been like for you?
Steven Wilson – Well, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, it’s been amazing! One of the things about the To The Bone show is I wanted it to be the most spectacular show I’ve ever put on. I really wanted to raise the bar. The material lends itself so well to doing something quite ambitious visually and musically. The material on the album, as you know, is a little bit more accessible, more direct, and a little bit more melodic than my previous conceptual Rock albums.
It creates a real sense of balance in the show and enables me to put on a show that has a hell of a lot more joy about it. Also, because of the lyrical themes involved, it enabled me to put something on that is really quite cinematic. We have films, animations, and a very much immersing quality to the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure walking on stage every night to be a part of that, to be a center of that in some respects, and be the master of ceremony in this spectacular show.
That’s been one of the reasons we are still going on and we are coming back to North America to do another round. Everyone is having so much fun, the demand seems to be there, and the album has been very well-received. I find myself 25 years or so into my career still evolving, expanding my audience, and still reaching new people. In this day and age, that is something you have to be pretty satisfied with, I would say.
CrypticRock.com – Most certainly! As mentioned, you did some extensive touring for To The Bone in the months to follow its release. Having done your share of touring through the years solo, with Porcupine Tree and Blackfield, at this point, would you say you have life on the road down to a science?
Steven Wilson – Yea, life on the road has a lot to do, obviously, with the people you are with. I am very lucky to have an amazing team of people right now. I’m very lucky with my current band, it’s my favorite band of all the bands I’ve had. The dynamic between the musicians on and off stage are very good. It’s great to be going out to play shows where people really feel like everyone is on my side. I’m not just talking about the audience, but also the people in my crew and band – everyone wants the evening to be special. You can really feel that in the air.
I guess I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I’ve been doing it so long that people have a respect for me in a way that I’m still here and still, in a way, trying to push even harder and higher. I really feel that kind of respect from the audience.
Yes, touring has definitely gotten easier over the years in terms of, I know what I want and I have an extraordinary team with me these days. One of the things about touring is, there is a lot of dead time traditionally. Over the years, I’ve found ways to make use of that time. I have a laptop and a little recording setup with me on the road these days. I get a lot of work done, even in between these days. That was always a frustration for someone like me who’s a bit of a workaholic – not being able to make constructive use of that time between the shows. Now I’m able to do that with technology and it’s amazing.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful to hear you are still so passionate about the music. As a musician, you have always challenged yourself and try new things without worrying about external reaction. You had said you do your best not to pay attention to reactions online and such. Is that a challenge considering how embedded the internet world is in our lives?
Steven Wilson – It’s not hard. Well, I say it’s not hard, but once you’ve managed to resist the temptation, which is the hard part, it’s not hard to avoid reading opinions about yourself online. I could go on the internet right now, Google my name, and find a lot of people talking about my music, saying shit about it, saying good stuff about it. The point is, it doesn’t really do any good to read that stuff, because everyone has a different perspective, different opinion, and everyone wants something different from music.
Twenty-five years into my career I have fans that all have a different idea of what their favorite Steven Wilson might be, of what they want me to do, what they want me to be. I think the most important thing you can do as an artist is to ignore all of it and just try and please yourself. It’s that selfishness that I think makes someone an artist.
Is it hard to avoid that stuff? Not really. I’ve gotten over that irresistible sort of attraction of going online to puff up your ego, or the opposite, by reading people talking about you. I’ve gotten over that. I don’t read anything anyone writes on Facebook, I don’t even read anything people write even on my social media. If people want to comment, that’s fine, it’s there for other people to read, it’s not for me to read. I have just been existing in this little bubble or vacuum. Obviously, I’m aware whether something is going well or not, because I can see it in the faces of the audience when I go out and play a show. I can see it in the ticket sales, those things are obviously very important to me from a professional perspective. But I see nothing that worries me, let’s just say that.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good outlook. When talking about To The Bone, we spoke in length about truth and perspective. Even more than a year ago, it seems when it comes to truth or perspective, there is even more divide and blatant hatred floating around among people from all things, to religion to politics and more. As an artist, does this negativity and divisive atmosphere affect you creatively?
Steven Wilson – It doesn’t only effect me creatively, it affects me personally. There is a whole generation of people that are very irate, very opinionated, and very irate about what they believe – if you don’t believe what they believe, that’s an issue for them. That kind of hatred for diversity and difference of opinion is a real problem that is deeply engraved in the human race. We talked about the internet, it is somehow tied to the internet.
Listen, I think the internet is an incredible invention, arguably the most significant invention of the last hundred years, along with the television. It is possibly even more significant than the television. It’s a wonderful thing, but there is no doubt that it’s created a generation of extremely irate and extremely opinionated people. All of them can go on the internet, express that opinion, and see it reflected back at them in a number of different ways. This is a problem.
I think the problem ultimately is the human race is very slow to evolve and to catch up with the technology we’ve developed. For example, we developed weapons of nuclear destruction, but we are still not really mature enough to be able to deal with having them. We’ve developed the internet, but we are not really mature enough to be able to understand what it’s doing to us, what it’s doing to our personalities, what it’s doing to the personalities of our kids, how it’s changing the human species. I don’t think we’re really mature, or evolved enough, to be able to deal with that. That manifests itself in all these different and quite ugly ways.
Just the most trivial examples are the ones we talked about. People going online and expressing their opinions about Pop music. I don’t remember people doing that when I was a kid. Maybe there wasn’t the forum, clearly there wasn’t for people to do that. It’s ugly, but obviously it’s here to stay. It will be very interesting to see how the human race evolves and deals with this in the longer term.
CrypticRock.com – Those are extremely thought-provoking and valid points raised. We know you finished some lengthy touring and, topping all that off, you had a three night residence at the historic London’s Royal Albert Hall. Set for release as a Blu-ray and DVD/CD set on Friday, November 2nd, what was it like documenting the experience?
Steven Wilson – Royal Albert Hall is a legendary venue. I’m pretty sure it’s legendary all over the world, but it’s certainly legendary in the UK and Europe. I think many people consider it to be the ultimate concert space. It’s not the biggest concert space, but it is one the most legendary and magical stages you can perform on. Anyone growing up in England, as I did, that legendary vibe is there from very early in life.
I’ve played there 6 or 7 times now, but the idea that I would ever be able to play 3 consecutive sold out nights at this extraordinary venue, it’s the stuff of dreams quite honestly. It’s the stuff I could have only dreamed of as a kid growing up. In many respects, it’s a dream fulfilled. It was a logical venue to have filmed a concert film at. A 3 night residence in a way lifted the pressure away from filming the concert. One of the problems you have sometimes with filming a show is as soon as you know the cameras are there, you become a lot more self-conscious, you become less relaxed, and you do not play as well.
One of the advantages of a 3 night run was, once we got to the third night, which was the night we filmed, the band and myself were pretty relaxed about playing there. We got used to the dynamic between us and the audience, we got used to the sound and the feeling of being on stage. I think that really fed in a very positive way to filming on the third night, which was comparatively quite relaxed. I didn’t feel that sense of self-consciousness, I felt very comfortable. I hope that comes across in the film.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Also, since you were laying in bed with the material of To The Bone on tour with the band for a while, that most likely helped with your comfort level with the music, right?
Steven Wilson – Yea, I think by the time we got to the Royal Albert Hall it was a pretty well-oiled machine. I don’t mean to suggest the show is now a sort of mechanical thing, but there are many different parts to the show. There are visuals, quadraphonic sound, there is the various choreography, holograms, and obviously the material itself in the way the show is structured and the way the songs flow one to the other. By the time we got to Royal Albert Hall, all of those things had been pretty well road tested and embedded in.
I think you’re right, by the time we got to the Albert Hall, the show was pretty much taking care of itself and we were able to just enjoy it. We were able to interact with the audience and have fun. Ironically, although we talked about the subject material as being in many respects quite negative, the show itself is a lot of fun.
The To The Bone material, because it’s a little bit more accessible, melodic, and more immediate, I think it’s created a real balance in the show. It’s not so much as conceptually intellectual material that was on the previous show. That’s still there, but it’s balanced out with this more immediate and accessible material. It’s created more a sense of joy about the whole show. It’s a long show, it’s almost 3 hours, so you have to keep the audience engaged for that amount of time.
CrypticRock.com – That is a lengthy show, it will be exciting to see the release of this live Blu-ray/DVD! As you mentioned, you will actually be returning to North America in November. You will be visiting venues you have not been to in a while or never been to.
Steven Wilson – Usually the second round during an album cycle, the idea is you pick up some of the cities you didn’t hit the first time around. Texas and Florida will be visited for the first time on this album cycle. It’s really a question of taking the To The Bone show, as we discussed which is running very nicely, and bringing it to people who have not yet had the opportunity of seeing it yet.
CrypticRock.com – Wonderful! It goes right on through December, right before Christmas. There are a lot of good shows coming up.
Steven Wilson – Yea, it’s going to be fun, and then we’ll be home just in time for Christmas.
CrypticRock.com – Well, people need to get out and check out the show while they have a chance. Last question. You had mentioned you were both a fan of Sci-Fi and Horror films. Last we spoke, you offered some really great titles. That said, have you seen anything new in these genres you enjoyed recently?
Steven Wilson – There is one film that blew me away. It’s kind of Sci-Fi, more Supernatural. I only discovered it recently, it’s called Personal Shopper (2016). It’s with Kristen Stewart and she plays a woman who is a personal shopper for a really kind of diva-esque fashion model. They hire people who go around and do their shopping for them – choose clothes and jewelry. She is that person, but she’s also got some supernatural thing going on. I don’t want to say anything more than that.
I think it’s a masterpiece, one of the most surreal Science Fiction/Supernatural films I’ve seen in a long time. Very understated, quite slow, but I absolutely love it. That is my recommendation for a new work that I’ve seen recently.