KG: First of
all I would like to congratulate you to a very fine record which
I rank as the best record so far this year in the field of
Thank you very much!
KG: I have
followed you, Porcupine Tree and a lot of all the other stuff
you have been involved in through the years and I must say that
this is the “proggiest” album you have ever made. There are so
many influences from the music from the late 60’s and 70’s. Have
you had this idea in mind for a long time or is it just recently
you got the idea to do something like this?
Well, about the proggy
influence I completely agree with you but personally I have
problems with the notation “Progressive Rock”. I really don’t
know what it means and what it stands for. If you were around at
that time during the 70’s, you would have noticed that none of
the bands being around then called themselves progressive rock
bands. They were simply bands coming out from the late 60’s and
they were largely musicians with a non-popular musical
background: They were jazz musicians, folk musicians, blues
musicians or classical musicians. They saw the possibilities to
combine more popular music like Beatles, Beach Boys or those
kind of bands with music from their own roots. And that is what
we now call Progressive Rock.
indeed a very wide field of music.
Yeah, there are indeed
only two things that are in common for what we call Progressive
Rock: 1. Dedication to the music and the album they worked with.
2. The ambition to create a new kind of musical journey or
musical hybrid. Apart from that there is nothing really that can
be called a typical progressive rock thing. Some people think
that progressive rock was about very high quality musicianship
but there are many examples where musicians very not very
qualified or very skilled but who created music that still is
considered as progressive rock.
KG: Yes I
think we both agree that the term denotes music from a wide
variety of styles and musical ambitions. So let’s leave this
subject and return to your new album.
Yes. I admit that
there is a lot of references on the new album to this era of the
late 60’s and early 70’s that many people call the golden age of
progressive rock music. In that sense it is my “proggiest” album
KG: I am
thinking very much of the King Crimson influences.
have been working very intensely with remixing of the early King
Crimson records lately. When I then came to work with “Grace for
drowning” all of that music was kind of buzzing around in my
head. I also grew up with that music and I love it. But I have
actually never entered into a project with so much of somebody
else’s music going around in my brain.
KG: When I
first came to listen to Porcupine Tree, I got the feeling that
bands such as Pink Floyd and maybe Van det Graaf Generator were
your main sources of inspiration. I never thought of King
Crimson. So did that kind of influences enter later in your
were three bands dominating when I grew up as a kid: Pink Floyd,
King Crimson and Tangerine Dream. They were my absolute favorite
bands. The Floyd influence in my music is probably explained by
the fact that their stuff was so much easier to pastiche or
emulate compared to the music of the other bands. The Floydy
atmospheres were easy to recreate since musicianship is quite
simple and structures are quite easy to understand. It’s all
about atmospheres, in a way. With King Crimson, it is not as
easy, musicianship is much more complex and actually the
vocabulary is quite complex, too. It was only, really, when I
started to work on their records, that I began to understand a
little bit more about the vocabulary they used. The use of jazz,
the use of atonality, and sometimes not particularly pretty
music – then I am talking about some of their later albums. For
me, this is the first time I have really explored the use of
jazz. Particularly, jazz in the way it was used by the first
generation of progressive rock bands. Because, it is very
interesting, if you go past 1980 and look at most of the music
made after that year but still called progressive, the jazz
element has almost been erased. For the bands of the 70’s, this
element was so important; for bands like King Crimson, Jethro
Tull and for musicians like Bill Bruford who actually described
himself as a jazz drummer.
absolutely agree. We also had a band like Camel which lots of
and Soft Machine - a band that was as much jazz as they were
rock. And Van der Graaf Generator working with jazz saxophonist
David Jackson (also working later with Peter Gabriel). So, I
guess that I really wanted to reclaim that part on my latest
KG: I am
really glad about that ‘cause I liked that feature in particular
and I hope to be able to hear more of that in the future.
I really like jazz but it is not until now that I felt ready and
comfortable enough to incorporate that element into my music. I
will continue with this. I must say that I am so proud of this
record and it is probably the best record I have made. It is
definitely something that is here to stay for me.
KG: OK, that
brings me back to your original influences. You are basically a
guitar player. Your style of playing is absolutely more
influenced by David Gilmour than by Robert Fripp. Despite this
you claim that you have as much of inspiration from King Crimson
as of Pink Floyd. Why is that?
That’s not entirely
true. In fact, it is again just a consequence that it is so much
easier to play the Floydy sounds of David Gilmour than it is to
play the complex stuff created by Robert Fripp. To be honest, I
think I am more inspired by Robert Fripp.
Actually, there is a portion at the end of the track “Raider II”
that reminds more of Fripp than of Gilmour!
Over the years, believe me (laugh), I have tried to pick up what
I can from Robert Fripp’s stuff but it is not easy. He is a very
unique player. I am not suggesting that David Gilmour is not a
unique player, because he is, but it is much more easy to
understand the way he plays, it’s much more standard blues
scales and very straight forward. But Robert Fripp does not play
anything straight forward! It is very hard to kind of
understand. I think what you say is true, the Gilmourish style
comes through more but actually my preference is for Robert’s
central question regarding influences is why you, born in1967
(as stated in the wonderful song “Time Flies”), ever became
influenced by progressive rock music? You obviously were too
young to be able to listen to it while it really occurred.
a lot of the kids growing up in the 80’s I had access to my
father’s record collection (Note: Steve has dedicated the new
album to his father who recently passed away). Even more
important was the record collection of one of my best friends’
big brother. He was several years older than me and he had all
these records of Hawkwind, Van der Graaf Generator, King
Crimson, etc. He had the album “666” of Aphrodite’s Child which
we were completely blown away with. So I kind of discovered that
music retrospectably by using his and my father’s collection. My
father had Pink Floyd “Dark side of the moon” and other classics
from that era. So I had access to that music and it felt kind of
magical to me. I was growing up in the 80’s and there was some
good music (I love Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, The Cure) but it
didn’t have that magic or romantic feeling that I found in the
earlier music. So, I completely got obsessed by that whole era
now go into some details of the new record. I absolutely adore
the first and third tracks of the album, mostly because of the
wonderful parts played on the piano. Since I got the promo link
with very short notice, I did not know any details, e.g. I did
not know which other musicians that contributed. For a moment I
thought it was you playing (Steven laughing) but now I know that
it is actually Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater who is playing.
How did you start working with Jordan?
back in 2000 (I think), Porcupine Tree toured together with
Dream Theater as opening act and it was then I got to know
Jordan. We got on really well. I am not really a fan of Dream
Theater, it is not my kind of music, but I was really impressed
by Jordan as a person and when I heard him playing the piano it
was so stunningly beautiful. So I have had him playing for me a
few times after that over the years.
Personally, I think the third track “Deform to form a star” is
the best track on the album. It is absolutely wonderful and one
of the most beautiful arrangements I have ever heard. I get some
feelings from the early Porcupine Tree years. Could you tell a
bit more about the song? What about the story you tell in the
actually relates a bit to what we already have talked about.
It’s about perfection and that human beings not really respond
to perfection as we would think. For something to be felt as
beautiful it has almost to be deformed or made imperfect. This
relates to the fact that there is some particular golden glow in
the old music from the 70’s even if not everything was musically
perfect. A lot of that music was far from being perfect. For
example, Jethro Tull or King Crimson played often out of tune,
not in the perfect timing and the production was sometimes far
from top quality. Despite this, it sounded absolutely wonderful.
It had a kind of organic quality or golden glow to it, because
it sounds like human beings. Today, we live in a world when you
can listen to music that is technically perfect. Perfectly in
tune, perfectly in time, perfectly performed (because of
computer software) but absolutely boring as hell to listen to!
There is nothing interesting in it. So it is the kind of idea
that you really need to sometimes deform something to become
more imperfect before you can really start appreciating it,
that’s the idea behind this song. If you think of it, the King
Crimson records are just full of this. Songs are out of tune,
it’s full of strange and sometimes really weird sounds are used.
But it is fantastic! So that is what I have kind of looked for
in the new record – searching for something more of this golden
glow of the sounds.
question on the sounds on the new record: From the first track
of the album I recognized that you use a lot of the classical
mellotron sounds. I really love that. But when I finally got the
real album in my hand I realized that a lot of what I originally
though was mellotron-created is indeed created with real
instruments and musicians in the studio. You use both string
arrangements and choirs on the record. And you gladly mix it all
with the mellotron sounds. I like this very much. Is that
intentional to use more and more of real arrangements rather
than sampled sounds?
love the mellotron sounds. But I also love real sounds. For
example, the drum sounds on this record are kind of bare and
raw. The whole philosophy of this album has been to use as much
as possible of the organic sounds. In a way the mellotron is
very organic, even if it is what is called the very first
sampling machine. It has a very organic, quirky kind of sound
quality. I would almost put it alongside instruments such as
Fender Rhodes, Hammon organ or Grand piano. It has that kind of
golden glow that I am looking for. Besides the classical strings
and choirs, I have also used lots of the mellotron woodwind
sounds on the record (saxophone, flute and clarinet). I have
even used some of the sounds that not so often are used, in my
case the vibraphone sounds.
the uniqueness of the mellotron sounds, I think that for example
the string sounds from the classical M400 model (very much used
by bands such as Genesis) is not really sounding as real
strings. There is something strange with the sound that makes
you hear that this cannot be real strings. And yet, it sounds so
beautiful. I guess it is this you mean by the uniqueness and the
organic feeling about the mellotron sound. Do you agree?
is exactly what I mean. Another example is the mellotron flutes
being now famous ever since they were first used on the Beatles
song “Strawberry fields forever”.
KG: Now a
question of another track of the album, “Belle de jour”. It is a
very different track dominated by some beautiful playing on
acoustic guitar. It reminds me very much of the sounds you
sometimes can hear from the Polish guitarist Mariusz Duda from
the band Riverside. On his solo project Lunatic Soul II
(actually also signed for KScope Music) there is a beautiful
song called “Gravestone Hill” and this resembles very much what
you can hear on this track “Belle de jour”. Do you have any
cooperation or contact with Mariusz Duda?
am afraid that I do not know who you are talking about. I do
know that Lunatic Soul is one of the KScope bands but I have no
particular cooperation with any of the musicians there.
Actually, I am not listening very much to music from today. I
prefer the music from the 70’s. I have the opinion that this
music can never be “bettered”! So in that sense I am
unfortunately kind of ignoring what is going on right now (which
maybe is not ideal).
obviously Mariusz is more inspired by your work and style of
playing than the other way around. Another musician from the 70s
but one that is still alive and kicking today is Steve Hackett
(one of my personal favorites). I noticed that he is playing the
guitar on your track “Reminder of the Black Dog”. But what I am
curious about is that you actually appear to have used a similar
rhythm section on the second track “Sectarian” that is used on
Steve’s album “Voyage of the Acolyte (from 1975) Are you
familiar with this?
yes, well done! You are absolutely right! It’s strange, you are
the first person so far that has spotted this! I even confronted
Steve (a very good friend of mine) with this passage of my track
and asked him whether he recognized something particular.
Luckily he didn’t but you are absolutely right, I was inspired
by absolutely this rhythm use by Steve on his debut album.
KG: A final
question on the new album: The last track “Like dust I have
cleared from my eye” is again a song that reminds me of the
beautiful songs from the early Porcupine Tree years. But what is
most striking is the very last portion of the song. An
instrumental part where the sounds just kind of floats away in
space. It’s absolutely beautiful and makes such a perfect end of
this record. What were your thoughts when creating this?
Yes there was a real intention with this ending. I very much
want to have a certain flow on an album and this means that it
really means a lot how the different parts on an album sound. I
really wanted that the album kind of just slowly should fade
away, creating pictures very much like a slowly setting sun. So,
yes, this was intentional. It is interesting to hear your
references to the early Porcupine Tree records. These were also
solo albums and now I am kind of coming back to the solo
KG: But I
hope there will still be more from Porcupine Tree?
Yes, we hope to come together again in the beginning of next
year to record a new album. But I am glad for this break to work
with my solo project since I thought that we were kind of
reaching some stagnation on the previous Porcupine Tree album.
So there was a need for a break.
ending this interview I am just curious to hear some more
details about your ongoing cooperation with Mikael Åkerfelt from
Opeth. I heard that there is even a special project started
between you and Mikael under the project name Storm Corrosion.
Could you tell a little bit more about this?
we are actually ready with an album now. I just finished the
mixing recently. It is pretty much a work just by the two of us
but there is lots of orchestral stuff and other arrangements. It
is a very beautiful, surreal and strange record! It will be
released sometime next spring. If you have heard Opeth’s
“Heritage” (a really beautiful album where I contributed with
the mixing) and my own “Grace for drowning” you will find this
new record as a natural extension.
you very much for this very interesting interview and good luck
with all your future projects!
It’s been a pleasure.