WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
If you’ve been following the prolific Steven Wilson throughout his career I hope you’ll find something interesting herein. If you’re unaware of anything that Wilson has done since Porcupine Tree, read on. If you have no idea who Steven Wilson is and are wondering what a Porcupine Tree is, hopefully this is a good starting point to discover his extraordinary music.
Wilson just released “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” (KScope) in March. It is his fourth solo album and only one of many musical projects that he has been working on. Wilson is known as a conceptualist; his art is less about individual songs and all about presenting an overall concept or conveying a story.
“Hand. Cannot. Erase.” is no exception. Yet this is a project that is very different for Wilson.
I had the opportunity to speak to him by telephone while he was on tour. He had just arrived in The Netherlands to perform with his band. The following are excerpts from our conversation, in which he talked about “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” and his live performances.
Brodkin: I want to ask you about the “Hand.Cannot.Erase.” project. I know that you found the story moving and you had an interest in the way the media portrayed it, but what went into your decision to actually write an album about it?
Wilson: Well… I don’t think it was a conscious thing. It’s one of those things where I saw the movie [“Dreams of a Life”]. I heard the story, it’s a very shocking, disturbing story, which to me said so much about living in the 21st century and living in the city in the age of the Internet.
I guess I kind of carried it around with me — it kind of haunted me in a way. It was something that stayed with me so that when I came to sit down in my studio and start to write new music and new material, I found that this character that was inspired by this young woman Joyce Carol Vincent kind of… I mean I don’t want to make it sound pretentious, but it was almost like this character started to write through me. I found myself writing in the first person but in the character of this young woman who had gone to live in the city and effectively disappeared and effectively erased herself from view.
And so it wasn’t a conscious decision; it was almost like the subject chose me, or at least it was something that I just couldn’t get out of my head. It was necessary, in a way, it was almost like a cathartic experience to write about it, to kind of work it through in my own mind.
It began as just one song and then it became more and more of a whole story of this young woman growing up and moving to the city. It began to bring in all these other subjects like social networking, like the Internet, like nostalgia for childhood, fear of the city, fear of what lays outside your front door when you live in the heart of the city. So almost by default it became this kind of conceptual piece of work or this kind of story in music, as it were.
Brodkin: How was the writing process for this different for you than with your previous work?
Wilson: The fact that this was a female character, and that is in itself quite a challenge for someone like myself to write in this sort of female persona. That immediately was a completely different perspective to any writing I’ve done in the past, where I’ve always been writing very much from an autobiographical point of view, or at least about perhaps a male character. And that led me down some fairly different musical paths. I have a female singer on the record. I have a female voice actress on the record. I have a boys choir on the record. Again, a quite feminine kind of sound in a way. So, I think the fact that the character was this female character, this sort of persona of a young woman gave me a challenge, (and) I kind of like to have a challenge with each record. It’s important to me to feel that each record is kind of an evolution and some kind of new challenge. And I guess that was it for me, the fact that I was writing from a female perspective for the first time ever in my career.
Brodkin: How do you translate the album concept of that kind of story into a live performance?
Wilson: It’s a very similar principle. With the album you’re looking to create some kind of musical journey, some kind of musical narrative, something satisfying that kind of tells a story. Not necessarily literally; you can be telling a story through the music, allowing the music to kind of unfold in a satisfying way, with all the right dynamics and sense of a journey that music can have.
I think it’s exactly the same for me when it comes to the live show. The live show is conceived as a multimedia project. We have a lot of film and visual work. We have a quadraphonic sound system. The way the set is structured — obviously a lot of it is based on the new record but there are other songs, of course, from my previous records. Those songs have been selected and sequenced such that they kind of compliment the new record.
So there are similar themes, there is a similar sense of narrative or a similar sense
hopefully of logic to the way that the show unfolds. For me it is very much analogous to going to see a movie or picking up a novel. The whole thing about the MP3 culture and streaming — I don’t like that. The reason I don’t like that is because I do try to tell stories with both my live shows and my albums, and you know no one would think about watching a movie by only watching a little bit in the middle or picking up a book and only reading chapter 7 and then chapter 12, and then putting it away. That’s not the way we read books and that’s not the way we watch movies.
So for me, with my music it’s completely analogous to how someone would approach or engage with a piece of cinema or a piece of literature. The live show is exactly the same principle for me. It’s all about creating that kind of audio-visual continuum so that somebody really feels like they’ve been told some kind of story by the end of the evening, or have been taken on some kind of journey.
IF YOU GO
What: Steven Wilson
When: Concert is set for 7:30 p.m., Thursday May 28.
Where: Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
Ages: All ages. Persons under 16 must be accompanied by a parent, guardian or approved chaperone.
Tickets: $29 — $49
Info.: Call (215) 572-7650 or check www.keswicktheatre.com. For more on Wilson, check stevenwilsonhq.com