You`re currently in Europe on your To The Bone tour. How are the shows going so far?
The shows in Europe have been amazing. It`s been a very ambitious show and it`s taken a long time to put together. I`ve been working for the last few months with my film maker, animator, lighting director and band to get it just right so it`s like a relief to me to finally get out there to play. It`s having the kind of effect that I`d hoped. People seem to be blown away by the spectacle of it which is what I could only have hoped for.
In March, you have a run of 12 dates in the UK and Ireland. Are you looking forward to it?
There`s always something special playing in your home country in front of your home audience. A lot of my family and friends will come to the London shows which is great but puts a little bit of pressure on as you don`t want to mess it up in front of them. I`m looking forward to playing at all of the venues across the country, there`s some great places to play.
You have a lot of material to draw from, not just from your solo work but from Porcupine Tree and your other projects too. What sort of setlist will you be putting together for the tour?
I have a new record out, To The Bone, so I`ll be trying to play as much of that as I can and then I have to decide what from the back catalogue will fit in with the new songs. I`ll also look at the material I haven`t done in a very long time so I`ll be playing some songs that I haven`t played since the days of Porcupine Tree. I also have to acknowledge that a lot of my fans now, haven`t seen Porcupine Tree as they`ve come on board since they finished and they`ve gone back and discovered those albums so I`m thinking about them so I want to play some songs that they may not expect me to play. It`s quite a surprising set as about 75% of the material I`m playing on this tour, I`ve never played live before. I don`t want to be one of those bands that you go and see and they play 90% of the same set that they played on their previous tour. I wanted to throw out everything that we did on the Hand Cannot Erase tour and start from scratch. The majority of this show will be fresh and new and I think that`s important. What I really enjoy is seeing people`s reactions when I play certain songs. I think most people have avoided the temptation to check what I`m playing on setlist.com so I can see that look of surprise on their faces when I play songs they weren`t expecting.
Who do you have in your band for this tour?
I have the same band I had on the last tour except my guitarist, Dave Kilmister. He`s Roger Waters long term guitarist and unfortunately for me, Roger decided to go back out on tour when I did so I lost out. I`ve got Alex Hutchings on guitar now who`s been blowing people away. I`ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hire extraordinary musicians in my band. I`m very proud to be sharing a stage with him. I`m also joined by Nick Beggs on bass, Craig Blundell on drums and Adam Hozlman on keyboards. It`s a great band and I love working with them.
A lot of people will know Nick Beggs from his days in Kajagoogoo and may not realise what an accomplished bass player he is. What do you feel that he brings to your music?
Nick`s CV is extraordinary. He`s played with everyone from Cliff Richard to Steve Hackett from Genesis and Rick Wakeman to Englebert Humperdinck and Seal. He` s a very much in demand player. He has some serious chops. He`s a musician`s musician who just happens to have had some success at the very start of his career as a Pop artist.
On the 25th March we will see you at The Sage in Gateshead. You`ve played at the City Hall and the O2 Academy before. Is this your first visit to The Sage?
I think it might well be. I`ve seen people play at The Sage but have never played there myself. It`s a beautiful venue and I`m very much looking forward to perform there for the first time.
Your tour will also see you play three nights at the Royal Albert Hall. Playing one night is impressive but three nights is incredible. How did you feel when you found out you had three shows in that legendary venue?
There are other artists who have played there but they tend to be more mainstream. Eric Clapton and Dave Gilmore could go there and play 12 nights each but for someone like myself who is invisible from the mainstream compared to those guys, it`s incredible for me to be able to play at the Royal Albert Hall for three nights. It was very much the same with Porcupine Tree. We didn`t have very much widespread appeal but we could fill relatively large venues. We were the quintessential underground phenomena and I think that`s carried forward into my solo career as well.
The tour is in support of your latest album To The Bone. It`s been your most successful album to date hitting the UK album charts at Number 3. It must be good to see your name next to Ed Sheeran and Elvis Presley?
It`s not so much for me but the rest of the industry. Funnily enough I was Number 1 for the whole week and was only over taken by Ed Sheeran and Elvis on the last day. When the mid-week chart was published and I was at Number 1, I suddenly got invitations from BBC Breakfast Show, I got invitations for interviews in the national press and all of this main stream exposure came because people notice things like chart positions. Of course, it`s nice to say that I`ve had a Number 3 record but the biggest benefit for me was the knock-on effect it had on the rest of the media. They started to notice me in a way they never had before so it was essential to get a high chart position just to get noticed. It worked that way across Europe too. I`ve had a lot more interest from people who didn`t even know of my existence up until now.
Ninet Tayeb adds her gorgeous vocals to Pariah and another couple of songs to the album. You first worked with her on your Hand Cannot Erase album. Did you have her in mind when you were first writing those songs?
I did have her in mind for those songs when I was writing them. When I did Hand Cannot Erase I didn`t have a specific singer in mind. I wrote Routine and I knew I wanted a female singer so I went out and looked for the right singer and Ninet was the one that I ended up asking to do it. This time around I wanted to write specifically with the aim of doing a duet between us so wrote Blank Tapes and Pariah with that in mind. She has an amazing voice.
There seems to be quite a lot of your fans who have gone on to discover Ninet`s music as a result of her appearance on your record. That must be quite satisfying to give that exposure to a relatively new artist?
That`s the way I discovered music. I remember buying albums where Brian Eno would produce it or John Cale would be guesting and I`d wonder who they were. Then I`d follow the trail and buy something else they were involved in and I`d discover a whole world of music through connections like that. I suppose you can do that now in a way with Spotify and recommendations on Amazon. You walk into someone else`s universe and immerse yourself in that and see who else is playing on those records and you end up following this trail and discover all of this magical stuff. I started that way very young from first hearing my Dad playing Dark Side of The Moon and my Mum playing Donna Summer records and right from then I began to follow the trail to discover new artists and I still do that today. I`m sure a lot of people will have gone on to discover Ninet`s music after first hearing her on my record.
Do you have any plans to do a whole album together in the way that you did Blackfield with Aviv Geffen?
To be honest these days I find I have less time these days for things like that. There was a time 10 years ago where I had literally 5 or 6 projects on the go at once from Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, Bass Communion, IEM and Storm Corrosion. I had all sorts of stuff going on and a few years ago I made a conscious decision just to concentrate more on a single strand and that has really become my solo career. I am however, involved in a film project, a book project and I`m remixing several classic albums so I do have other things going on so I try to spread myself a little less than I was.
Permanating is arguably the song that`s raised the most eyebrows with its dance beat and Pop melody. Is it important for you however, to keep pushing the boundaries of your creativity?
I`ve never seen myself as playing a particular genre of music. People think I`m a Prog Rock guy but I`ve never said that and I certainly don`t see myself in that way. I have made a lot of music that comes from that tradition but at the same time I`ve made Pop records with Blackfield and Ambient music with Bass Communion, I`ve done Metal music with Opeth and done singer songwriter albums so I don`t really think it`s a shock that I`ve written an up-tempo Pop song on my solo album and if people are shocked by it I don`t think those people really understand me. I don`t see myself as a generic artist. I follow my nose and follow my passions and enthusiasm for music and continue to push boundaries and create the music that I love. I will be playing it on the tour and it has been one of the highlights of the show. People really seem to love it.
As always you have released a superb Deluxe edition in a 12-inch sized book with bonus tracks and some fantastic artwork. Is it important to you to create a piece of art that`s tangible rather than just something that`s a file on a computer?
I think the Rock audience still likes to have a physical product. The demand for owning a physical copy is still there. Maybe that`s why my chart position was so good. I think one reason this did so well was that my fans were going out and buying my record rather than downloading or streaming it like they seem to do for Pop artists. I think having artwork, lyrics, credits and such like are things that people really value. It`s hard work to come up with something like that but I think it`s worth it.
After your UK tour finishes. Where do you head next?
After these shows finish I’ve got a short time off then we head over to Canada and The States for a run of shows over there before a few shows in South America and then I`m back into Europe for some shows and festivals in the summer so I`ve got a busy few months ahead but I`m really looking forward to it.
Steven Wilson is on tour now in the UK. See http://stevenwilsonhq.com/ for details
Interview by Mick Burgess