Posted on by Oran

Regarded as one of the most revered contemporary prog artists of our generation, Steven Wilson opens up to Overdrive about exploring a new direction on album number six, ‘The Future Bites’.

The press release for  Steven Wilson’s new album reads; ‘The Future Bites’ explores ways that the human brain has evolved in the internet era.’

What unfolds throughout the albums’ nine tracks is indeed a somewhat ethnographic and self-reflecting journey into the habits of modern-day consumerism and popular culture with each scene playing out against the backdrop of captivating progressive electronic pop…and it’s glorious!

Speaking from his home in front of an impressive floor to ceiling record collection, Steven is in high spirits and ready to divulge all the details on his new album…

OD – Let’s talk about the new album first. ‘ The Future Bites’. With regards to the use of more electronics and a more confident pop-influence on the writing side of things, do you feel that ‘To the Bone’ was a precursor for this album?

STEVEN – I suppose so. It definitely steps away from the ‘Rock‘ side of things and concentrates and explores a more electronic journey. As you so rightfully pointed out, ‘To The Bone‘ was leaning more in this direction with some tracks.

One of the things that is really different for me on this album, compared to not just, ‘To the Bone‘, but to all of my previous albums, is that it doesn’t have the same sense of homage or sense of nostalgia to the past; then perhaps my previous album have.

OD – Do you find that you have fallen into a trap of writing based on a sense of nostalgia with previous albums?

STEVEN – I suppose I have done on occasion. It’s one of the things that I don’t like about myself sometimes. I almost feel sometimes that I have too much knowledge and passion for the history of music and that can sometimes manifest in a kind of way that makes the music sound like it’s referencing the past too much.

That’s one thing that I really like about ‘The Future Bites‘ [or the way I see it], is that feels to me that this album can only exist in the ‘now‘. It feels like a very contemporary, fresh album that references modern pop music and I like that in a sense is very distinctly different from ‘To The Bone‘, which for me was a kind of homage to experimental pop of the ’80s. But yes, this album is very much a further step away from ‘Classic Rock‘ or guitar-oriented music.

OD – Of course, the album was due for an original release date of July 12th. Has the postponement of the album had any kind of impact on your own feelings about the overall body of work and did it inspire any last-minute changes?

STEVEN – That’s exactly what happened [laughing]! The whole process of making a record is writing, recording, mixing, mastering and by the time you’ve finished that whole process, we’re talking about 18-months, well it is for me personally.

So, I was living with about 25 tracks over this period of time and obviously by the time they are finished, it’s hard not to look at the body of work almost like a science project [laughing].

By this time, I’m not really hearing the songs anymore. It’s more like: “Is that hi-hat loud enough? Should I have increased the backing vocals just a little bit higher in that part of the mix?” So, I’m not really being objective about the music anymore and what this lockdown has given me [for the first time ever] was time to reflect on the music after 6-months and make some changes.

OD – Were there any significant changes made?

STEVEN – Yes, I actually totally changed the closing track on the album and replaced it by something that has a very different mood ‘Count of Unease‘. I wouldn’t’ have been able to do that, had it not been for the lockdown. It was a very luxury position to be in and I took advantage of it as best I could. Had it not been for the lockdown, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfil that task, which in hindsight, I’m very glad I did.

Usually, by the time the album is finished, it’s sent off for duplication and then the whole process of promo starts and there really isn’t any time to make such dramatic changes to the overall body of work, so for me, there definitely was a silver lining in all of this.

OD – I understand that you’ve recorded a further 6 bonus tracks, will these songs appear on the album when it’s released next month or do you have other plans for them?

STEVEN – So, the album is just 9 tracks. I was determined to keep it concise and direct. I think it comes in at about 42-mins in duration. I’m a great believer in the concept that most ‘classic albums‘ are all within that 35-40 min mark and also taking into consideration that peoples attention span is far shorter than it was ten or twenty years ago.

So, I was determined to keep the album under 45-mins and as you now know, I had 25 tracks as an overall body of work. There were six tracks that were in various stages of completion and I decided to work on them soon after the first lockdown back in March and those tracks will now appear on the deluxe box edition of the album; on a bonus disc.

We live in a world now where you can’t release an album without some kind of deluxe bonus edition, pressing etc. I figured that this would be a great addition for any collectors.

OD – The first single from the album, ‘Personal Shopper’ is testament to the overall theme of the album, which in my opinion references 21st-century consumer addiction twinned with a lack of basic human empathy. Would you agree that this message has become even more prominent than ever in light of the pandemic?

STEVEN – For the first time in my life I actually wrote something ‘topical‘ to our current climate without intention [laughing]. Yes, ironically ‘Personal Shopper‘ was written prior to any knowledge of Covid-19 and the effect it would have on the masses.

I think ‘Personal Shopper‘ came from a concern in the way e-commerce has become more and more adept in using our personal information against us to make us purchase shit we don’t need. What really worries me about that is that technology is very much in its infancy and is only going to get more prominent in all of our lives; as we progress through the years.

We all buy things that we don’t need and that fascinates me as it has become a lot more insidious in recent history. People tend to buy more for ownership than for the utility, which is really what the song is all about and the ‘limited edition box set’ reference in ‘Personal Shopper‘. I’m talking about the fact that it’s become more about the item itself; rather than the music.

People don’t seem to be bothered about the quality anymore. For example, it’s all about getting a recently discovered demo from some nostalgic artist that was recorded in their bathroom 40-odd years ago, regardless of sound quality. There are so many boxsets being released featuring so much questionable content that is directed at a certain target market with no thought for the actual quality of said content.

That doesn’t only apply to the world of music, but it’s everywhere, from fashion to cars, lifestyle and beyond. It’s a fascinating and equally scary state of affairs we’re currently living in.

OD – As mentioned earlier, this is the most electronic-based album that you’ve released. Can you see yourself moving more in that direction in the future? Is this where you feel more creatively satisfied when writing new material?

STEVEN – The simple answer to this question is; “Yes“. I’m very excited about exploring the electronic side of myself. We very much live in a world that is surrounded by electronic sounds and I think that if I’m going to be creating something that has some kind of relevance to contemporary pop-culture, then I would use electric sounds. If the guitar was the instrument that best reflected the ’70s and ’80s, then right now electronic sounds reflect this period in history.

We listen to electronic sounds all day, from our phones to doorbell chimes, computers, gaming etc, it’s all around us. That’s the world that we live in.

My kids [9 and 7-years old] barley have an idea [or interest] to what a guitar sounds like! We just don’t hear guitars in mainstream popular culture anymore. They are buried in the mix or hidden somewhere in the background.

I’m not sure that I actually mourn that, because I grew up during a time when the guitar was at the very centre of music and right now I feel that I’m witnessing an evolution within music culture. Sure, it will continue to evolve and change expectations just like Jazz did in the first half of the 20th century and then Rock in the second half of the 20th century.

It seems to me that the music that will best reflect and define the turn of trends and popular culture in the first half fo the 21st century, will be Urban and Electronic Music. I’m not about to make a modern Pop album anytime soon, but I like the idea of adopting my musical personality to a more contemporary musical pallet and that’s what I’ve done on ‘Future Bites‘.

I also really like to surprise people and I may decide to make another Rock album or something with a way heavier lean on guitars. Some of history’s most prolific artists, musicians, fashion designers, writers and movie directors had one thing in common, they were constantly evolving,  over and over again all the while avoiding repetition.

It’s much harder to do that these days because of social media. If you do anything that is remotely out of character, or new, or confrontational, or divisive, there is a wave of immediate negative feedback within minutes of publishing/posting something online, and it can prove to be very hard to block out this noise at times, ultimately harming the creativity from the artist.

OD – It’s no secret that you enjoy the inclusion of multi-media aesthetics for the live shows. Can you divulge anything for the scheduled Arena shows?

STEVEN – Not really [Laughing]. It’s partly that I haven’t really thought about it too much yet. [Laughing] What I will say is that the concept of the album will be reflected in the live show. There are a lot of really interesting possibilities for the live presentation, from the way we set up the merchandise, to the involvement of the audience in some capacity.

I’m really into the idea of adjusting the perception of what people think they are seeing, as opposed to what they are actually seeing, for example, the cover of the album which is in fact, a picture of a female model that was styled to look like me and then manipulated on the computer to look even more like me.

OD – Of course, Elton John guests on the album with his appearance on ‘Personal Shopper’. When you approached him initially, did you have any doubts that he would take you up on the offer or were you confident that he would go for it?

STEVEN – Well, I was kind of chancing my arm a bit, but I was also very confident because the concept was so perfect that it couldn’t possibly fail. I had the blind faith of the severely deluded [Laughing].

When I came up with the idea on the track, I still had no idea who I was going to get to do the monologue. Then I saw the ‘Rocketman‘ movie, at the end of the film is said something like: “Elton has since kicked all of his habits apart from shopping“. I just knew that he was the perfect person to do it. I just knew it was the right person. He is the most famous consumer on Earth. It just had to happen.

Usually, when I have crazy ideas like this, I have to come crashing back down to earth as they never work out but Elton loved the track and the concept behind it all. He saw how it was perfect for him. Also, from what I knew about him, I knew he is very passionate about supporting lesser-known artists and I thought the odds were in my favour and thankfully, they were.

OD – Since the album deals with consumer behaviour, what is the most ludicrous and completely unnecessary purchase you have made in the last decade?

STEVEN – Well, it’s definitely a record. I have to say it’s the John [Lennon, The Beatles] and Yoko’s ‘Wedding‘ deluxe box album [pic below]. It totally nonsense and a completely narcissistic album but I had to have it. It’s got photographs of their wedding cake, a press conference, a copy of their wedding cert and lots more self-indulgent things.

OD – Given the chance to dismantle the internet for good, would you welcome this, or do you feel that it’s become an irreversible dependency that would do more damage to society if it were not available?

STEVEN – That’s a very interesting question. There are lots of things that I love about the internet like getting my music out to people with the touch of a button. I remember the days of packing thousands of envelopes and sending them out to labels and magazines, radio stations etc in the hope that they would listen to my music. Now, I can do it like that in a second.

The problem is the way that humans have chosen to engage with the internet which has resulted in people becoming very narcissistic and self-obsessed and less curious about the world that we live in.

It’s all about how many likes their Instagram posts are harvested and to be honest, I’m guilty of that also and I hate that aspect when it comes to the internet.

OD – Finally, you have one chance to write and record with another artist [living or deceased] who would it be and why?

STEVEN – Ohh, I’ll have to say, PRINCE. I used to have his poster on my bedroom wall when I was growing up. To date, he is the most multi-talented pop star the world has ever produced. The range of talent he had from writing, performing, fashion and creative vision. It would be amazing to just see him at work and understand his approach to things.

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Steven Wilson continues his aural journey with his sixth studio album ‘The Future Bites‘, due for release on January 29th. Order via this link.

Oran O’Beirne

www.overdrive.ie 2021