Thursday, July 03, 2014

Steven Wilson

I know I'm late to the partly, but I'm just now learning about  acclaimed prog-rocker (though people debate his genre) Steve Wilson:


Elaborate on what spirituality means to you.
In this context, spirituality means something that comes directly from the heart or soul without any kind of intellectual process getting in the way. When you bring in a jazz musician or any soloist used to improvisation, ideally you say “I want you to say something here. Speak in the voice of your instrument and tell us a story.” By their nature, jazz musicians don’t intellectualize what they play beforehand, and for me, that’s what makes their contributions more spiritual. That’s what I love most about jazz. It’s almost like there’s no barrier in place between you and the voice of the instrument or performer. That’s something that’s been lacking for me in a lot of my work over the last 10 years. I didn’t really go there previously because it’s not something I’m good at. I’m not a great improviser. I’m more of an architect. I like to plan things out and structure them, and then put them together. With Grace for Drowning, I was moving into the next phase of my creativity, which is a balance between me as a producer, editor or architect, and being able to draw on musicians that are more spiritual in how they approach music.

I suppose as a catch-all, you could say “spiritual” just means “done for the right reasons.” What I mean by that is there is no attempt on this album to fit the music into a specific market or genre, or appeal to the existing base, managers or record companies. I’m not suggesting I’ve ever done that, because I’m pretty much incapable of doing that. [laughs] I think I have a willful streak in me in that whatever I do, I have to do it in a way that ultimately pleases me. So, being spiritual in that sense is a need to get in touch with my own soul to fulfill my own creative needs.

The music industry is full of people that are clearly not being fulfilled by their work. They do things for reasons that are perhaps different from when they started or when they first fell in love with the whole creative process. There are plenty of people doing it for the same reason as when they fell in love with music—I’m not suggesting I’m unique in that respect. But the industry all too often crushes people into thinking they have to make music to please other people. That situation is the antithesis of spiritual music. The bottom line is spirituality means something that touches you and can touch other people as well. It’s the idea that art is a kind of mirror. You create something in a very selfish way and then when you release it into the world, it becomes a mirror. If other people see themselves reflected back in what you’re doing, then there is a sense of touching people. Touching people means making people understand that they’re not alone in feeling the emotions they’re feeling. In that sense, spiritual music is about making people feel they are part of a collective consciousness. None of the things we feel in this world are unique to us, no matter how bad or good they may feel...

...Do you find yourself often confronting these sorts of fears yourself?
Who doesn’t? I believe the curse of the human race is the knowledge of death. It’s why many people are unhappy a lot of the time. We are aware of our own impending death. No-one has managed to prove to me satisfactorily that animals are also aware of death. I think human beings are unique in that we are aware of our own mortality and it casts an incredible shadow over our whole existence. If we’re not happy, we measure our unhappiness against the fact that we have a finite amount of time on Earth in order to be happy. I would say that’s why we invented the myth of religion and God—to try and come to terms with the fact that we are mortal. We invented this whole kind of mythology and fairy tales about the afterlife and God. It’s all designed to make ourselves feel better and provide comfort. Now, that’s not the only thing we’ve done in order to get comfort. Alcohol, drugs, and one could even argue culture itself, are all things done to distract form being reminded about our own mortality. The irony with art is that a lot of it does the opposite. It reminds us exactly of our own mortality. I love that. It’s what draws me to lots of music—the whole spirituality thing, and sense of mortality, and that sense of the tragedy that is the gift of life. The gift of life is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a tragic thing. Life is but a blip. It’s just a moment, really. You have 80 years or so, maybe less, maybe more, to try and make some kind of sense of this random gift of life—this strange, cruel blip in time that is your life, your ego and your consciousness. Many years ago, I wrote an album called Signify for Porcupine Tree. The whole idea was to look at the ways we try to create some significance for our own life. So, even in my 20s, I was obsessed with that—the idea of making some kind of mark.

Are you an atheist?
Yes. I guess I am in some ways your archetypal atheist. I think the whole myth of religion is absolutely absurd. I say this with the caveat that I understand it brings happiness to people who would otherwise be unhappy. There is comfort in it for people who would otherwise be tortured by their own existence and all that stuff. I appreciate those reasons and arguments, but at the end of the day, I’m afraid it’s just a silly fairy tale that mankind has dreamed up because of our fear of death. It’s as simple as that. It seems so obvious to me that’s why we created this myth. Religion, lest we forget, is a relatively new thing. You can go back as far as the Stone Age to see that man has always worshiped something, such as the sun. But the contemporary idea of religion has been around for less than 2,000 years. I’m speaking as someone that grew up with the idea that if you’re going to be religious, you’re gong to be Christian. Well, the Bible was written 200-300 years after the events it supposedly depicts. That’s certainly true for the New Testament and The Gospels. People were employed by politicians and leaders of the church to write it and that says it all to me. I’ve done a lot of reading and research about religion, because it’s something that fascinates me. What fascinates me is the compulsion or need for many to believe in this nonsense. A great deal of us seem to have this need to fall back on this crutch of faith and belief. People say to me “Well, it’s all a matter of faith. You don’t need proof.” Well, faith for me in that sense becomes a synonym for believing a lie and that’s no explanation at all.

..What’s your take on streaming services like Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody in terms of listener experience?
There’s nothing that can make them acceptable in my terms. For me, the whole romance of listening to music is tied into what I consider the art of listening. It’s a relationship with a physical piece—the album art, the record sleeve, putting the record on the turntable or putting the CD in the CD player. It’s about a very tactile relationship with the music and a physical manifestation of music. I realize I’m very old-fashioned and I can’t help it because of the generation I come from. Spotify and the rest of the streaming services will never appeal to me. Streaming is a very ugly, unromantic, unmagical, utilitarian way of listening to music. However, I’m also someone that makes music, and one of the things about making music is if you believe in your music, you want it to reach as many people as possible. For me, making music isn’t about making money. It’s not about being a star. But it’s a natural extension of the ego to want lots of people to hear it. That’s why when I was a kid, I’d give out demo tapes. Now, you put yourself on social media sites and try to get people to come and hear it.

I would rather people listen to my music on Spotify or steal it from download or blog sites than not hear it at all. But I would also rather have them buy the album and have a relationship with a physical piece. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. In most cases, particularly with the younger generation, people are not of that mindset. They don’t understand that physical product thing. They don’t get it because it’s not something they have any nostalgic attachment to. They’ve been born into a generation in which music is something you get for free or if you pay to download it, you get it from iTunes, or through subscription services like Spotify. So, now we have this kind of global jukebox going on and it’s very ugly to me. I’m 44 years old. I grew up at the tail end of the vinyl era and love collecting. I love physical products and the idea of music presented as art. So, those are my feelings about streaming. It’s ugly, but it’s here to stay. Unfortunately, it’s going to be one of the major ways to reach people with your music. So, in that sense I have to embrace it.


  1. I'll check him out. Been listening to Smile by B. Wilson. Thanks! SQ

  2. SQ:

    I almost bought Smile the other day. Why didn't I? (: i will now, thanks to you.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!