MW / Home / Articles / INTERVIEWS - STEVEN WILSON (NOVEMBER 24, 2020)




With his new album "The Future Bites", Steven Wilson returned to confirm the electro-pop turn in his music with Music Waves.
DARIALYS - 08.01.2021 -
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What style of music will not have played Steven Wilson? We remember his space rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, progressive metal, post-punk, drone with Bass Communion, folk with Storm Corrosion, pop with Blackfield and recently during his solo career, and I certainly forget some... The pop turning point taken with the release of his penultimate album "To The Bone" has caused a lot of ink to flow, marking a first break with the progressive legacy left by the excellent "Hand. Cannot. Erase". With the release of this new record, "The Future Bites", whose release was postponed for almost a year because of the health crisis, the British musician drives the nail in through essentially electro-pop sounds, relegating the guitar to the background. A change of sound that Steven Wilson will explains here. In passing, he gives us his view of the world of the 21st century, a world where social networks are legion, but he also returns to the evolution of the music industry in full mutation.

"To The Bone" seems to have been a step forward for you in terms of recognition, it gave you the opportunity to play two wonderful concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, are you completely satisfied with this album and what it brought you ?

Steven Wilson : It's very hard to say, actually. Every time I release a new album, it's a reaction against the previous one. It doesn't mean that I'm not proud of every previous album, but when I wrote "To The Bone", I was at a different stage of my life. The identity of this new album, "The Future Bites", is a better reflection of who I am now musically than "To The Bone". Afterwards, was I satisfied with the success of this album, yes! Very much so! It opened new doors for me and brought me a lot of new fans. So in retrospect, I'm very happy about it. It has allowed me to take a step forward in my career.


Nevertheless, the album "To The Bone" seems to have been the one that most divided your fans from the beginning. Were you aware of it and how do you explain it ?

Steven : Well... Because it wasn't progressive rock, it's as simple as that ! There are a few fans who think I'm a generic artist and that I do progressive rock, and I understand why, because the two previous albums were a tribute to the more conceptual rock of the 70's. When "To The Bone" came out, there was more of an 80's vibe, an electro aspect a little bit more present, so some people were disappointed that I didn't release a new progressive rock album. I'm trying to fight against the idea that I'm an artist who only plays one style of music. But it's difficult in the 21st century, because even more than in previous decades, people are not immersed in music as much as they used to be. Their approach is very superficial. They get an idea of a song after listening to it once, or even after 30 seconds. My albums, on the contrary, demand to be listened to fully. You have to dive into the album, from beginning to end. "The Future Bites" creates a lot of controversy because people still expected me to come back with a progressive rock album in this genre. And finally, it's a very contemporary album with very little guitars and an important electronic dimension. It's pretty straightforward.

After the release of "To The Bone", did you already have an idea of the orientation of "The Future Bites"? Did the compositions come from the writing sessions of "To The Bone" ? Because 'Follower', for example, reminds me a little bit of 'Detonation'.

Steven : I would say there is a kind of continuity between the two albums. 'Detonation' is the last song I wrote for "To The Bone". And I think when I started writing for "The Future Bites", I had just finished writing 'Detonation' a few months ago. So there's always some kind of continuity, especially on the electronic side. I like to build bridges between albums, but when an album comes out, I always ask myself the question: "what can I do differently now? ». "What will give this album a reason to exist in my catalog? The story is not to do the same thing over and over again. Of course, I can't deviate from my own musical personality, there are certain things that characterize me: a particular sound, clichés that come back, certain chords, certain subjects in the lyrics... There are always things that come back from album to album, and I think that's a good thing.

And I think you found your sound! You can be proud of it.

Steven : I've learned to be proud of it over the years. For a long time, I didn't have too much confidence in myself, especially as a singer. But over time I learned to be proud of my sound and my approach which became quite recognizable.


With each album, you approach a new musical style, there are bridges, gateways, as you say, but aren't you afraid that this principle will eventually be exhausted?

Steven: Absolutely, it's a real concern! When I start writing a new album, I always tell myself that I don't have anything new to bring. I've had the chance over the course of my career to prove the opposite, to find new things to do. For "The Future Bites", I still had the feeling that I couldn't do anything else afterwards. I'm still afraid of that, but in a way, that fear gives me energy to look for new exploration. Today I'm 53 years old and I've been in this business for 28 years. I have surprised myself to be able to write an album like "The Future Bites", which is so fresh and new to me.

Listening to the album, it's the first time it seems that there is less difference with the previous album. Is it the style that gives this feeling for you ? 

Steven: It's interesting, okay! Actually that's not really how I think about things. "To The Bone" was a really guitar based album. Most of the songs were written on the guitar, which is the main instrument on the record. On "The Future Bites", apart from a song or two, there's not a lot of guitar. The sensibility is rather electronic. So for me, the difference between these two albums seems to be more important than the one you describe, it's interesting.

Yes, because both albums are very accessible, I would say. Before that, your music required a certain effort to be totally immersed in it.

Steven : Yes that's true. This album is more direct and more accessible. There are no solos either, or they are more in the background. The guitar has a sound design approach.


This is interesting indeed. "The Futures Bites" imposes itself again as a very conceptual album that goes once again further than music with a dedicated website revolving around mercantilism and over-consumption. Only, the pandemic came to thwart the release of the album. To what extent has the pandemic challenged this concept (apart from the postponement from June 2020 to next January)?

Steven: It was peculiar because the album was originally scheduled to be released in March and released in June. Already, at the base, there is in this album this idea of a future that becomes frightening. Humans are evolving, social networks were changing. And then of course the pandemic came. Somehow the concept of the album became even more relevant. The album was written at a time when Brexit, social networks, the Donald Trump administration... all these things combined in my head. I had the feeling that people were becoming more aggressive, more opinionated about everything, more obsessed with their own image. The Internet and social networks were the cause of that. Everyone has a platform to be a celebrity in their own universe! You post an idea, and you see comments, likes, reactions coming in. It's something very new for mankind! Twenty-five years ago, if you had an opinion, you kept it to yourself, or shared it with your wife. Today, we have the opportunity to share it with the whole world. But unfortunately, I think this creates an aggressive climate, with much more hatred, less tolerance. Donald Trump is using social networks to his advantage to reclaim the population that no longer believes in anything. It's an unfortunate period in our history. I hope things will become a little more positive in a year or two.

I hope so too! I have the impression that you've changed your mind about Facebook and social networks in general? It's difficult for an artist because even if you don't like these tools, they are inevitable to communicate with your audience.

Steven: Yes, absolutely. I'm very aware that I might be accused of being hypocritical because I use the social networks I mention on the album with a critical eye. What I would say is that social networks and consumption are wonderful things that can give us immense opportunities to be curious about the world we live in. I love to consume! I buy a lot of albums, it's one of the joys of my life! Criticism doesn't come directly from consumption. What I criticize is rather the way some people have chosen to use it. All the conspiracy theories, hatred, homophobia, racism, prejudice, all of that comes from social networks that give people the opportunity to express themselves. It's not the fault of the technology, it's the fault of the people who use it that way. This whole notion of self-obsession has been amplified by social networks for me.

When we look at your discography (I'll put aside "Insurgents"), it seems that you go back in time in the way you approach your projects (from the jazz rock of "Grace For Drowning," to the progressive rock of "The Raven That Refused To Sing," to the more urban rock of "Hand. Cannot. Erase" to the 80's pop of "To The Bone"), today's trip hop and electro with a little funky touches ('Eminent Sleaze') from the 90's. Do you proceed chronologically ? You paid tribute to older music, and now it was time for you to do something more contemporary?

Steven: Exactly, that's exactly it! I took a look at my previous albums. "To The Bone" was a tribute to experimental pop from the 80s. I realized that "The Raven That Refused To Sing" was my tribute to the conceptual rock of the 70s. "Insurgents" was my tribute to the shoegaze and post-punk of the 80s. This time, I wanted to make an album that could only be done in 2019 or 2020, that couldn't have existed before. And that was very important to me. You said that "To The Bone" and "The Future Bites" were quite similar but for me there's a fundamental difference in that "The Future Bites" embodies the music of now, while "To The Bone" embodies the music of the past, which is a big difference philosophically. But absolutely, this album is in the spirit of the times!


When you started your solo career, did you plan it like this? Did you know that you would go from the music of the past to the music of today? Or was it unconscious on your part?

Steven : I think some choices were conscious. When I released "Insurgents", Porcupine Tree still existed. It was a conscious idea to play music that was very different from what people thought of me as a musician in a progressive metal band. I grew up in the 80's with bands like The Cure, Joy Division and Cocteau Twins. I wanted to emphasize this aspect of my personality. It was something deliberate. When I did "The Raven That Refused To Sing", it was also a conscious homage to the progressive rock of the 70s. But some of the other choices were less conscious. Anyway, I can't hide my musical DNA. I can't hide my musical personality. Today the single '12 Things I Forgot' was released. There are a lot of vocal harmonies on this track. Some people say: "It sounds like the choruses of 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' ". I thought, "Wow, really? That was the last thing on my mind when I was doing that!". But at the same time, a band like Pink Floyd and an album like "The Dark Side Of The Moon" are very much in my DNA. Sometimes I refer to them without even realizing it. So sometimes it's conscious and sometimes it's not !


For me, your approach is similar to David Bowie's. You are the David Bowie of the 2000s! He has constantly changed his style almost every album. Could "The Future Bites" be your "Let's Dance", the one that will take you to a new level of recognition ?

Steven: Well, I don't know, but first of all, I'm very honored by your comparison because he is a great reference, that of someone who is constantly changing, constantly reinventing himself. But I would say that it's much harder to be that kind of musician in 2020 than it was in the 70s or 80s. People's attention is much more restricted, and there's access to a lot more music now than there was back then. There are thousands of songs coming out every day, maybe even hundreds of albums. The problem with all this music is that it's very difficult for someone like me to have the impact that David Bowie was able to have back then, when there wasn't as much music as there is now. I would love to think that an album like "The Future Bites" could open up my world to people who don't know me. It would allow them to enter through a more accessible door, even if I don't have David Bowie's charisma and qualities! (Laugh). And I think that's exactly what happened with "To The Bone"! A lot of people discovered me with a song like 'Permanating' or 'Pariah', which were very accessible gateways to my music. So I hope that "The Future Bites" will continue in this sense!

Anyway, your music seems brighter and more positive than usual. During our last interview (in 2018), we asked you what could stop you, between love or death. You answered love probably, and added that it could change your music. You recently got married. Do you think it has changed your approach to music?

Steven : It's very hard to measure the impact it has had on my music. I continue to write music no matter what. In any case, it's my profession. It's the only thing I can do. I will continue to write music, but at the same time, my life all around is changing. Will this have had an impact on my music? I guess it will, but I can't really say how it will materialize. You tell me that the album seems brighter to you. I think that's true, but at the same time, the concept of the record is still pretty dark, so I think there's still a lot of anger in me. There are a lot of songs about loss, regret, melancholy, lost love... It's always the same subjects that preoccupy me, but is the music more joyful, paradoxically I think it is! Maybe because my life has changed, yes!


The lyrics on this album are sometimes cynical, especially on 'Personnal Shopper' where the narrator orders that you have to buy this or that for the UK and especially the deluxe editions, vinyl... What message would you like to convey and would you understand that it is badly perceived as this message seems to criticize the music industry when you yourself are an actor of this industry ?

Steven : I'm in a very strange position because as you say, I depend on the music industry since it's my profession. But on the other hand, I've seen the music industry change completely in my 28 years of career. It has nothing to do with what it was when I started. The way people consume music is very different. The way they listen to it and discover it has changed. Part of me thinks that's good, because music has to change, evolve and challenge the listener. But I can't help but regret that some magical things have disappeared: the art of listening to an album from beginning to end, of listening to it like a movie because it will make you travel. I think it's a pity, because the culture of streaming has made this model obsolete. Today, we focus on the song, rather than on the album and the artist. The name of the artist doesn't even matter anymore. What matters is the song. I think it's sad because that's not what made me fall in love with music. I like the fact that music evolves, but I'm getting older, and sometimes I find that some beautiful things have disappeared. But maybe that's a constant in history! As we've gone on, the human race has gained some things and lost others. It's the same for music I guess!

Women have a very big place in this album with a lot of backing vocals ('Self', '12 Things I Forgot', 'Eminent Sleaze'...). Sometimes, we even tend towards gospel music. Generally speaking, they are becoming more and more important in your solo career (with Ninet Tayeb for example during the two previous albums). What do they bring to your music ?

Steven : That's a very good question! I don't know if I have a very convincing answer because it's not a question I had anticipated. But you're right! The presence of women in the last albums is more and more important. "Hand. Cannot. Erase" was even written from the point of view of a female character, and on this album, you're right, female vocals are very present. I don't know actually! There's a song on this album which is written from a woman's point of view, on the title 'Man Of The People'. At the beginning, it was supposed to be a duet with a female singer but I didn't take this idea into account. But it's interesting, I'll think about it ! It's a very good question but I don't have an answer, actually! (Laughs).

Sorry! (Laughs).

Steven: Oh no, I'm very happy! I love it when people ask me challenging questions!

Maybe I have an explanation. Maybe it's a feminine aspect of you that expresses itself in this album?

Steven: I don't know, maybe ! I've always found it much easier to have female friends than male friends. Maybe it has something to do with that!

Personal Shopper' with its 9 minutes is the track that seemed to be the least compatible with a single, yet it's the first one you chose. Is there a will behind it ? Maybe to combine pop and therefore the new direction with your more "historical" and protagonist audience?

Steven : Well, no I don't think so. Because it's a long song, but the "vocabulary" of this song is very far from the world of progressive rock. I think more that, when you're an artist and you release an album in a world where there's so much music out there, it's hard sometimes to make an impression on people's minds. So the challenge is to release a song that will make people talk. 'Personal Shopper' really made a big splash. Some people hated it, some people loved it, some people liked the idea behind it. The goal is to get people talking about it. That's all I can hope for, especially today. Even if not everyone likes it, it shows interest. As a single, it was a song that people couldn't ignore. I knew they would notice it, listen to it, and have an opinion about it. It was my idea.

'12 Things I Forgot' is a song that's a little bit apart on the album with a different mood. Why did you put such a different song on this album ?

Steven: Yes I guess, but it's a very expressive song. Its musical vocabulary is a little bit more classical. The answer is that I like albums where all the songs are different, where all the songs look different. 'Personal shopper' is different from '12 Things I Forgot' which is different from 'King Ghost', which is different from 'Follower', which is different from 'Count Of Unease'. However, they are a whole, all together. That's the kind of albums I like. A bit like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (from the Beatles) : there's 'When I'm Sixty-Four', but there's also 'With A Little Help From My Friends' and 'A Day In The Life'. These albums where the songs are very diverse and surprising, they are my favorite ones. 

At the end of your albums, you almost always put a very melancholic title. Here it's 'Count Of Unease'. Why such a choice?

Steven: I know, I can't help it! (Laughs). I've always been attached to the idea of finishing an album with a beautiful spiritual ballad. It's a good way to end an album for me. Maybe it's because I've watched too many sad movies! Or maybe it's because of tradition. In any case it's a way to sublimate the end of an album. But you're right, I've done it a lot. I think I've done it on each of my solo albums. It leaves a sad and melancholic side to the listener.

Thanks Steven !

Steven: Thanks, see you soon !

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(5) COMMENT(S)  
C’est un travail d’équipe comme toujours
Bravo aussi Calgepo alors!
Pour être tout à fait honnête avec vous, l'interview a été menée par Calgepo, je n'ai fait qu'assurer la retranscription ! Mais merci pour lui !
Bravo pour cette interview. Quand un intervieweur pertinent rencontre un artiste intelligent ça donne un contenu passionnant. Je regrette de ne pas avoir eu d'éléments de réponse sur l'hypothèse "féminine" que j'avais commencé à esquisser dans ma chronique de "To The Bone", mais bien joué Darialys pour avoir posé cette question.
Super interview ! Des question intelligentes (:-) - bravo Darialys) et des réponses qui le sont tout autant, éclairant d'une autre lumière ce nouvel album que je vais réécouter de ce pas d'une autre oreille (pas sûr que cela me fasse changer d'avis, quoique)
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