I was born in ’67
The year of Sgt. Pepper
And are you experienced
… no, not me. That would be Steven Wilson. Those lyrics are extracted from the track Time Flies, from the album The Incident.
It’s a great song, and I was reminded of those opening lyrics when I saw that The Beatles were releasing the 50th Anniversary of Sergeant Peppers. Fifty Years since ‘The Summer Of Love’. That means Wilson is fifty years old this year. I’ve written about him before in many places – not least of which on this very blog. This link takes you to the various posts – well worth a click around and through if you have a Wilson interest.
Meanwhile, on a very different blog, we recently got into a discussion of great musicians, bands, performers etc that you might feel should be more publically acknowledged. For me – Wilson is right at the top of my list. One of my friends asked for a ‘where do I start to get into him’ … he asked because SW is – to say the least … prolific.
So, I am going to have a go here. First thing to remember is that SW constantly references two albums that as a kid he listened to and have essentially become part of his DNA.
Steven was first exposed to music at the age of eight, when he started hearing his father listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” and his mother to Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby,” two albums that were pivotal in the development of his musical direction.
… and it is clear and goes someway to explaining the diverse sounds that he releases. We all know Dark Side – but Donna Summer – how does she fit in? I think when you drill in a little further and recall that the album was produced by Giorgio Moroder – things fall into place. I think it was Moroder that caught Wilson’s ears. (Same with me). I would argue that without Moroder influence, then Nona Hendryx and Material would never have had the success they did with Busting Out. Click through if you have never heard it – and check out the guitar that kicks in around minute 3.
Anyway, back to the plot. I think SW is first and foremost a Sound Engineer – and of course it is widely acknowledged that Dark Side wouldn’t have been Dark Side without the sound engineer Alan Parsons (even Pink Floyd say that) and of course before Dark Side there was Abbey Road and Let It Be … and after Dark Side there was The Alan Parsons Project. (A leading example of an engineer coming out of the shadows and leading an eclectic bunch of musicians of the day as a Project – not a band.)
As for projects …. that is exactly what Wilson refers to his work as ….
Apart from his solo albums, his work as a sound engineer / mixer ( 4 grammy nominations and counting) and influence on bands like Anathema , Pineapple Thief, Opeth, Riverside, OSI … his influence is extensive.
You might find this an interesting read …. where we are reminded of remixes he has delivered for Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, XTC, Steve Hackett, Gentle Giant, Roxy Music, Tears For Fears … and in that article when you read Wilson talking about Remixing – and why that isn’t Remastering …. the passion, the clarity and the absolute knowledge he has off his domain is very clear.
(Remixing) involves working with the original session multitrack tapes, whether it be 8, 16, 24 or, in the case of “Seeds of Love”, 96 tracks! So I have every instrument and vocal overdub isolated, and I can rebuild the mix from the drums upwards, recreating as closely as I can the original equalisation, stereo placement, reverbs, other effects, and volume moves of each individual instrument or vocal. It’s time-consuming work that involves a lot of detective work, as often on the session tapes there will be subtle volume moves, multiple takes of the track, several attempts at lead vocals or solos, or perhaps even the final mix was created by editing together parts of different takes of the song. So I have to constantly refer back to the original mix. However, even with all that attention to detail, it will still sound different to the original stereo mix. For a start, I’m not using the same equipment and I’m working with modern digital tools so that things can sound more defined and clearer. But whether that’s good can be a subjective thing, because even if I feel an album might sound demonstrably better, a long-time fan could feel differently because it jars with what they know and love. For example, when I remixed Hawkwind it was a balancing act between trying to bring out the clarity and acknowledging that the “sonic soup” and the way the instruments all kind of blur into one wall of sound is absolutely fundamental to that group’s sound.
And so to his actual music. Aside from his solo work – these are the other 6 ‘projects’ he drives. I am not a fan of them all …
- Porcupine Tree – Wikipedia Discography
- No-Man – ‘art pop’
- Storm Corrosion – rock collaboration with Michael Akerfeldt
- Blackfield – powerpop / rock
- Bass Communion – ambient / drone / electronic
- IEM (Incredible Expanding Mindfuck) – ‘krautrock / experimental rock
So – some samples to get you going. With a one line introduction.
It was 2002 when I was first introduced to this band called Porcupine Tree. The introduction came from my very good friend, occasional work colleague and past contributor to the now defunct blog … Just Good Music – Bob Golladay. I can still hear the words today … well if you like Pink Floyd – you really need to check out Porcupine Tree. With ‘In Absentia’ – I was hooked. Trains is still played in live concerts today.
More melodic Porcupine Tree would be earlier to albums like Signify and Lightbulb Sun
Or how about Piano Lessons from Stupid Dream ….
Blackfield meanwhile now have 5 albums to their name – and I have to say – rarely a dud will be found in any of the tracks and there is not a bad album anywhere. How about this opening track from their fifth ….
And for me personally – this is the best track on the album … absolutely gorgeous. Maybe I am identifying with the ‘could have lived, maybe lost’ lyrical devices he uses – reminiscences of ‘Time Flies’ at the beginning of the post.
.. and this one – October – if you don’t think there is a musical in him that will be coming out at some time …. I think this track could just be dropped into any Broadway musical so easily.
And finally, his solo work.
His fifth solo was called 4 1/2 – because he didn’t really see it as his 5th – that will be coming out later this year …. but number 4 was a true masterpiece of a concept album. Hand. Cannot. Erase. No contributions here – start at the beginning – play to the end.
Not off this album – but a song that he believes is his best ever song (his opinion … The Raven That Refused To Sing.
I like it because it demonstrates another partnership – that with Lasse Hoile – artist, designer and photographer that is behind so much of the visual work you see on Wilson’s albums. This short art film supports the song beautifully.
I could go on and on – and really – for my taste – it is best to know where you the reader is starting from to know where I would recommend that you start with SW’s catalogue. That said – I did find a series of best of lists for him – here is one – not sure I agree with them all – and why no Blackfield is beyond me – but it is – a start.
That’s it for now – and I will extend as I get comments and interaction.