Podcast Episode 60 - A Steven Wilson Special
Steven Wilson, four-time Grammy nominee, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and one of the hardest working artists in music, has announced that he will embark on a UK & European tour in March & April 2015 to coincide with the release of his long-awaited fourth solo album ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’
The tour and album follow the critical and commercial success of his third solo album ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’ released in February 2013 and a run of sold-out shows including London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Steven Wilson said: “I’m happy to announce the first tour dates to promote my forthcoming album ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’, starting in the UK before hitting Europe. We are currently developing a show that I hope will raise the bar both musically and visually from my previous tours, with a set list based around the new album (of course), as well as casting the net further back into my songwriting past for a few surprises.”
Steven Wilson, has not only been busy recording his fourth solo album, but continues to be the leading light in, the saviour of catalogue reissues and the album format, with brand new stereo and 5.1 mixes of Tears For Fears’ classic album ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ as well as releases for XTC, King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, and the forthcoming Roxy Music reissues.
Full details of Steven’s fourth solo album ‘Hand, Cannot. Erase.’ will be revealed shortly.
Photograph by Lasse Hoile
Recording Hand. Cannot. Erase.
The Raven the Refused to Sing
PLAYING THE LONG GAME: STEVEN WILSON FLIES THE FLAG FOR THE ALBUM FORMAT
‘Would you watch a movie by starting with the end sequence and then seeing a bit in the middle? Would you begin a novel at Chapter Seven and then go to Chapter One?’
It’s a fair point. You wouldn’t. And yet in the age of the download, it’s precisely what most of us do with albums. We rarely listen to them in sequence – in fact we rarely listen to them in their *entirety*.
Which is why Steven Wilson once appeared on Sky News destroying a series of iPods in amusing and imaginative ways. He exploded one with a rifle. He set fire to another. He ran over a third with a steamroller. He wanted to point out – and did so magnificently – that once you break a narrative album into its component tracks and stick them in a database on ‘random play’, it runs a strong chance of making absolutely no sense at all. And that’s the kind of record he likes to make.
Spend an hour in his thought-provoking company and he lists a whole host of favourite acts that have something in common: their lyrics are conceptual and their sound huge and cinematic. He can date precisely the moment this love-affair with big, scenic albums began – Christmas Day in 1975, when he was eight. ‘My mother gave my Dad a copy of Dark Side Of The Moon and my Dad gave my Mum the album Love To Love You Baby. For about a year they were on heavy rotation and I adored them both. The Floyd record was a logical narrative journey and Donna Summer’s had a real arc to it too – and a 17-minute disco symphony which is still one of my favourite pieces of music. So I grew up associating albums with story-telling, whether musical or lyrical or both. I love Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who, The Wall by Pink Floyd and Radiohead’s OK Computer, all records about fear of the modern age, or fear of technology, or a sense of alienation from the human race. S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things is in the same tradition, a sequence about a
guy who goes to war and returns to a sense of isolation.’
He felt the same echoes in late-Seventies albums by The Cure, Wire and Joy Division when leading his early units No Man, and especially Porcupine Tree.
‘They all seemed so similar, very textural music, portentous and with a lot of emphasis on atmosphere and mostly about the tragedy of the human condition.’ He delights in telling you he once saw a photograph of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis wearing a Nektar t-shirt – ‘a relatively obscure British progressive rock band based in Germany!’
Steven’s noble, flag-waving fondness for the album format is evangelical. His releases come with generous layers of additions – booklets, sleevenotes, rich pictorial catalogues, occasionally bonus CDs. His third release, The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), was influenced by Edgar Allen Poe and MR James and packaged like a collection of Victorian ghost stories. It even included a collection of self-written supernatural tales, one about a girl playing hide-and-seek in a vast shuttered mansion who secrets herself beneath a piano in the attic only to fall asleep for a hundred years and reappear as a spectre in the 21st Century.
Ask him why he’s so drawn to this bleak and dread-filled sphere after an ‘idyllic childhood’ in Hemel Hempstead and he laughs out loud. ‘If everything in your life is wonderful, you’re fascinated by the other side I guess. The same reason I was listening to Throbbing Gristle when I was a teenager!’
His fourth and latest solo album Hand. Cannot. Erase. takes it all to the next level. In 2011 he saw a documentary called Dreams Of A Life and was ‘completely spellbound’. It tells the astonishing – and chillingly true – story of a 38 year-old girl called Joyce Vincent who died alone in a bedsit in Wood Green in 2003 and, through a perfect storm of tragic circumstances, remained undiscovered for over two years. Beside her were some presents she’d been wrapping for Christmas in the flickering light of a still-functioning television.
‘This planted the seed,’ he explains, ‘and the rest of the concept ballooned from there. The story seemed so symptomatic of the modern world, the idea that – even in this age of social media – you could be surrounded by millions of people on the other side of walls and yet be completely isolated. I used Joyce Vincent as a start point, a vessel to explore all these subjects, and invented a fictional character.’ The album comes with imaginary and immaculately executed childhood drawings, school reports, holiday polaroids and pages from a teenage diary.
Like his albums, Steven’s live shows also go the extra mile. Along with its quadrophonic sound, the spring tour to promote Hand. Cannot. Erase. will feature custom-made film projections and painstakingly assembled stop-frame footage in the grand hand-crafted tradition of the animator Oliver Postgate. The music is just as widescreen and expansive, once superbly described by The Guardian as ‘wildly evocative soundscapes, melodic crescendos and mellotron-drenched fever dreams’ and drawing fond comparisons with the epic textures of Sigur Rós.
The list of acts feeding into this detailed and cinematic sound is long, varied and fascinating – Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tears For Fears, Bjork, Squarepusher, and Boards Of Canada among them. His knowledge of music and grasp of its potential is extraordinary (he’s also a four-time Grammy Award-nominated remix producer specialising in 5.1 surround-sound who’s recently worked with Roxy Music, Yes, King Crimson, Tears for Fears and XTC). There’s a maverick spirit in a lot of British back-catalogues, he says, a sense of originality and
self-belief, and he admires Aphex Twin and Kate Bush in particular for still ploughing their own furrows.
‘And neither seem aware of their own standing. I love the sheer absurdity of Kate’s over-the-top ambition. She once recorded with Percy Thrower and had Rolf Harris playing didgeridoo – you just can’t *do* that kind of thing! Madonna kept ringing Aphex a while back to ask him to work with her – she’s very good at identifying the producer of the moment – and a mate said to him, “Why don’t you answer her messages?” And he said, “Madonna? But she’s *shit*, isn’t she?” It never bothered him that it might have been good for his career.
‘I’ve always liked the ones who didn’t toe the line – The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead – who didn’t care what people expected of them. They refused cater to the market. They created a whole new audience of their own.’
Author – Mark Ellen 2014
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