INTERVIEW – ‘The idea of making a progressive metal album with Mikael Åkerfeldt was completely repulsive to us both!” – STEVEN WILSON

Posted on by Oran

On the eve of Steven Wilson’s highly anticipated fifth studio album, ‘To the Bone” being released, Overdrive managed to grab some precious time with the musical prodigy/producer to discuss his new album, the possibility of working with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt and his upcoming UK/Ireland tour in March 2018.

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Formerly the founder and mainstay of outsider rock band Porcupine Tree, Steven released his first record under his own name – Insurgentes – in 2008. He has been resolutely independent throughout a three-decade career that’s made him the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of.

OD – Your fifth opus, “To The Bone” is due for release next week. Can we start off with some info about the record? The title track and also first track off the album sets the tone. In terms of writing was ‘To the Bone’ the first track that came together during the writing process?


STEVEN – I think it would be lovely to say it was easy as that, but things are never that logical when I’m putting an album together (laughs). About half way through the writing process, I realised that I was writing an album that to a lesser or greater degree were about the idea of truth as a flexible notion. In fact, it was about the idea that truth is nothing of the sort. In this day and age, what we call “truth” is in fact, deception. The real truth is kind of like this unobtainable ideal or an abstract concept, because of all of the characters on this album, be it politicians, refugees, religious fundamentalists or these people in dysfunctional relationships, all of them have created their own reality and their own truth.

That truth or perception is filtered through gender, religion, upbringing, geography etc. I realised that about halfway through the writing process, I was exploring this idea of the real truth and how unobtainable it really is and that’s when ‘To The Bone’ came to be and really set the marker for the foundation of the whole album.

That really was the song that anchored the album and brought everything together and helped me understand the concept of the music and the direction of the album.

OD – I can hear a great deal of influence embedded within the album from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett while your seamless bridging gaps between elements of pop and prog. Was this an intentional collaboration of genres or just a natural progression for you?

STEVEN – I don’t really sit down and preempt the styles of music that I’m going to be blending or working on. Everything that I do is a kind of consequence of my own musical DNA which is very diverse. For me, the archetypal pop group is The Beatles and then you have Peter Gabrial, Abba, Tears for Fears, Kate Bush to Prince, David Bowie, Elton John etc and all of these artists are embedded in my musical DNA from when I was a child.

I grew up in a house where my parents just loved good music and didn’t care about the labelling of whatever genre it was. I would hear Abba, Pink Floyd, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and then it could be Donna Summer or whatever was popular at the time. I was just a ten-year-old kid, who loved it all. I was surrounded by music of all kinds and to me, it was just music and not a particular genre. There was no concept of musical snobbery or boundaries in my family home and in a sense it was just all magic to me and it’s been a real constant in my career as I don’t really box myself in any particular genre of music and feel free to explore what I want to explore when it comes to writing.

OD – With many artists that have ventured into different genre landscapes, you have done so with ‘To The Bone’. I know you believe that it’s healthy for change as you have mentioned in previous interviews, however, do you feel that fans become too attached to a particular style and react unnecessarily when an artist changes course? And what is your personal experience of this as it’s not the first time you have altered your creativity (Stupid Dream/Insurgentes)?

STEVEN – The simple answer is that I really love when that happens because it tells me that I’m doing the right thing! When I look back at some of the worlds greatest artists and that includes beyond the world of music. Just look at David Bowie who is now regarded as one of the great innovators of popular music and throughout his career, he constantly changed and evolved not only his music but also his appearance. He challenged his audience and continued to push boundaries whilst doing so. That is a great artist!

There are many other examples of people doing the same thing who I believe in the short-term end up upsetting their fans and disappointing the commercial expectations of their record label, but it was more important for them to feel true to their own creative views. So when I hear people who just want me to make the same record over and over again complaining, it just makes me feel like I’m evolving and doing the right thing for me as well as my music.

I take great joy in being the fly in the ointment and upsetting the balance because that’s what artists are supposed to do!

OD – The writing sessions for ‘To The Bone’ will be released as a documentary, has it ever crossed your mind about bringing people behind the red curtain so to speak in case it loses any mystic especially in today’s hyper-communication age?

STEVEN – I really struggle with the whole idea of sharing everything that I do, but unfortunately, this is the world that we live in now and it’s expected by the fans and also by the record labels. When I was growing up, the only information that I had on any of the artists/bands that liked was every 12 or 24 months an album would emerge or an interview in some magazine or if I was lucky you would see an interview on TV and that was it!

We live in a very different world now and if any artist wants someone to buy a physical copy of their music instead of just streaming the digital files, you have to add value. I honestly would prefer to not have to do that and would like to keep the mystery of the music as almost a part of the entertainment factor, but that’s just not possible in today’s current music industry sales methods.

One of the reasons rock music has become so marginalised compared to even 10 years ago, is that that the genre itself relied so heavily on enigma and mystery and that is just something that is near impossible to maintain in the current rock/pop universe.

So, because rock depended on a sort of illusion or smoke and mirrors aspect, it has really suffered and has almost been pushed underground again in favour of the electronic pop music who seem to thrive on the prospect of exposing everything with the public.

Regarding the purpose of the documentary accompanying the album, there really is no other way around it as I had to add more value to the physical album if I wanted people to buy it rather than just stream it. Don’t get me wrong, I try to make the releases as interesting as possible and this behind the scenes documentary of ‘To the Bone’ is pretty artsy, as it’s all shot in black and white and has some amazing footage which I’m sure the fans will really enjoy.

I really would prefer if we could maintain the mystery of the music, but this is the world we live in now and people expect to see just about everything these days.

OD – I believe that a childhood idol of your Andy Partridge (XTC) was involved with some of the tracks on the album. How did this come across and was there any previous history of you guys working together in the past?

Steven-Wilson-1280 STEVEN – I’ve known Andy for a few years now as I’ve been working on remixing the XTC back catalogue into 5.1 surround sound. XTC are one of my all-time favourite groups and when I managed to get the gig of remixing, Andy and I became friends which has been great. I’m a massive admirer of his songwriting and when it came to making ‘To the Bone‘ he was just the perfect link to the lyrical aspect of the song. I really wanted the song to be a little bit more political and very much a part of what’s happening around us with the likes of Donald Trump etc. So, Andy came to mind and it was a perfect excuse to get him up off his arse and start working on something together (laughs).

Andy Partridge XTC

OD – While we’re on the subject of working with other artists, are there any plans for a follow-up to ‘Storm Corrosion’ project with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)?

STEVEN – We are definitely not finished working together. When ever we cross paths there is always the possibility of us doing something together, whether it’s me working helping with his record or him helping me with my record or doing something new together, I think that always going to happen.

What I really liked about Storm Corrosion is that no one knew what to expect with that album and to me, what we released was the complete antithesis of what people might have expected. We made this very twisted chamber orchestral album and I’m sure what most people were expecting was a progressive metal supergroup of sorts (laughs).

Steven Wilson : Opeth

To be honest, the idea of making a progressive metal album with Mikael was completely repulsive to us at the time and if anything inspired us to compose something that was the complete opposite of what was expected of us. We’re very proud of that album and should we do something again, I’m positive that we would write something similarly different again, just to keep people guessing.

Mikael is very similar to me with regards to having a voracious appetite for hearing wonderful strange and diverse music. To answer your question, I’m sure we will be doing another record, but as to when I can’t tell and as to what kind of record it will be will remain a mystery to even Mikael and I, at this point in time. You’ll just have to wait and see.

OD – You have hinted that you are planning to take the live show experience ‘up a notch’, on this forthcoming tour, can you shed some light on what we may expect or is it all very much under wraps?

STEVEN – Visually, this tour will be even more immersive and cinematic than anything I’ve done in the past. I’ve never brought my stage production to Ireland before, so this will be a new experience for those who attend the show in the Olympia this coming March.

OD – This year saw the 25th anniversary of ‘On The Sunday of Life’. When you think back to that album and how much you have achieved, do you feel a sense of accomplishment for surviving in the precarious structure of the music business or do these things not really bother you?

STEVEN – It hasn’t been easy at all. My career has been most credited by being stubborn and at times being persistent. Twenty-five years later, with a Grammy nomination, good sales and acclaimed reviews from critics and fans, I still really struggle to get any kind of attention from the mainstream media. Part of this is due to the perception of the kind of music that I play and the resistance from the mainstream. I’ve very proud of my career and the achievements that I’ve managed to collect along the way, but at the same time, I feel that about 90% of the audience out there who would enjoy my music, don’t even know my name.

Steven Wilson

With each album that I release, I feel that it’s getting a little bit better, but there is still some frustration there with the mainstream media be it radio, tv or print, as I know that if only more people could hear it, they would most likely enjoy it.

I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved over the last 25 years and to be honest I can be quite selfish about the way I make music. I don’t compromise or do it to please anyone really and that’s what I believe is very special about creating art/literature or music ultimately it’s a very selfish expression that other people can connect with and I really believe that you can hear that in the music or feel it when you encounter something that is made with integrity as opposed to being made with compromise. I take comfort in the fact that I make my music with integrity and can’t do it any other way.

I struggle for every record that I make and every ticket that I sell and in a roundabout way, maybe that’s the catalyst for who I am and helps carve out the sound and personality of each record that I make. Who knows? All I know is that I’m following my heart and staying true to what I believe in.

Steven Wilson will play a series of UK and Ireland dates at the start of 2018 as part of an extensive European tour that takes in thirty-five shows in sixteen different countries. He plays:

Sat 17th March Belfast Mandela Hall

Mon 19th March Dublin Olympia Theatre (tickets from

Wed 21st March Cardiff St David’s Hall

Thu 22nd March Birmingham Symphony Hall

Sat 24th March Glasgow Clyde Auditorium

Sun 25th March Gateshead Sage 1

Tue 27th March London Royal Albert Hall

Sat 31st March Manchester Bridgewater Hall

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Oran O’Beirne