It's been a remarkable year for Steven Wilson. The release of a top three album and biggest seller of his career in 'To The Bone', it was followed by a landmark tour and a three-night residency at the Royal Albert Hall. More recently, he was named U.K. Artist of the Year at the Progressive Music Awards in London, while 'To The Bone' picked up 'Album Of The Year'. Now about to release the RAH shows in a multiple of formats, we caught up with Steven to discuss what it means to be 'progressive', the tour, and how to top that remarkable residency. Nowhere now; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Steven, you recently won ‘Album of the Year’ at the Progressive Music Awards, how did that feel?
I was kind of surprised, because honestly, I didn’t think it was going to appeal that much to what I would call the hard core progressive audience. But I think it’s a testament to how open minded people are, genuinely, and I think if you make a record that is still ambitious, it still has a storytelling aspect to it, then there’s always something that will appeal to the progressive rock audience. I’m not even sure what ‘progressive rock’ is.
We’ve chatted previously about how your influences on this album were artists such as Abba, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel; you were trying to make a pop album, weren't you?
I was trying to make my album. I think if you’re someone that says; “I play progressive rock”, then ergo by the definition, you don’t. I’m not sure if that message got across, but I think if you’re someone like Kate Bush or Frank Zappa or Neil Young; these kind of artists have just completely created their own musical universe; that’s what I would like, in a way my legacy to be. So yes, I’ve made albums that appealed to the progressive fans, but also albums that appeal to just music lovers, and the genre almost becomes immaterial. And I think you have to earn that. I’m thirty albums into my career now, so I feel like I’m still having to convince people; “You know what, don’t expect what you expect from me”.
'To The Bone' was a top 3 album, so your music is clearly appealing to a demographic that is outside what you have traditionally been pigeonholed as.
Yes, because if I was only selling to people who liked progressive rock, for sure, I wouldn’t be selling the kind of quantities of records that I am. I would like to think that I could take that audience with me as well. Now, I understand there are always people who are disappointed if you haven’t done something which ticks all the boxes that they consider to be progressive rock, but I’ve come to accept over the years that part of the unwritten contract I have with my audience is to confront the expectations, and risk disappointing some of those people. But I think generally, ‘To The Bone’ has been, to my great surprise, very, very warmly accepted by that audience.
The live show in support of the album has been very well recieved; it’s quite a theatrical production, isn’t it?
Yeah, very much, it’s a ‘show’; it’s not five guys ambling on stage to play the latest album, it’s a show, and that’s always been something close to my heart, since I grew up loving cinema as much as I love music. I never thought of myself particularly as a front man. I never wanted to be a front man; I wanted to be someone who had a vision for a show, a presentation, an audio visual spectacular, and it’s tough to pull it off at this level. I don’t have the kind of budgets that Muse have, or that Roger Waters has, but I think with imagination these days and a few laptops, you can do amazing things.
There’s a definite theatricality in the music too, from the first chord strike of ‘Nowhere Now’, which opened the live shows.
I think it’s all about drama, isn’t it? Yeah, absolutely yeah, I want people to be like, you know, jaw open, stunned by what they’ve seen.
There’s a lot of ebb and flow with the live performance.
Well, it’s a three hour show, and if you’re going to hold someone’s attention for three hours, I think you have to think about pacing, dynamics - that flow - and again, the only real thing I can say that’s specific to the idea of progressive rock is that idea of storytelling; a journey of creating something that goes through different moods, different emotions, different subject matters, different styles of music, and I can’t think of any other music that’s quite like that, in that respect.
In contrast to your own performances, you performed this summer at Hellfest in France, where the show became something different again.
Well, we probably tailored it. We only had like an hour, and then you’ve got to tailor it to the crowd. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I mean, obviously I did my heaviest stuff, and I have to say, we really enjoyed it, and I think, hopefully made a few new fans that day.
Is that more of a challenge presenting it at a festival that has bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest playing?
The festival shows area al lot more of a challenge because when you do your own shows you’re primarily preaching to the converted; you’re playing to people who already know your music. When you do a festival, I think of the festivals as it’s like a battle: They don’t know you, they don’t know who the fuck you are, they don’t care because they’re waiting for Metallica, or they’re waiting for Tool, or whoever it is who’s coming on. That’s all they’re waiting for; they don’t care about all these other bands, so it’s like a battle, it’s like; “I’m going to fucking win you over, whether it’s the last thing I do”. And if at the end of the show I feel like forty of fifty percent of the audience are like; “Wow, I’m going to go and check this out”; job done.
Finally, you’re about to release the Royal Albert Hall shows on various formats; what were those shows like for you?
Yeah, it was amazing. I mean, the first time I did one Albert Hall show, the second time we did two, then three, and the next time they’re talking about the next time doing five. I mean, every time they say that I’m like; “Really? Are you sure that’s a good idea?!” But it was utterly magical, a magical experience.
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Steven Wilson's 'Home Invasion - In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall' is released on 2nd November 2018 via Eagle Rock / Universal. To order, visit Steven's official website.