Fear of a Blank Planet

After releasing the critically received In Absentia and Deadwing on Lava Records, Steven Wilson and the band decided it was time for yet another change.

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Porcupine Tree in 2006 (credit to Diane Nitschke)

On August 8th 2006, Roadrunner Records released the following press statement:

“PORCUPINE TREE JOIN ROADRUNNER FAMILY

Roadrunner Records is delighted to welcome epic rockers PORCUPINE TREE to our family.

Porcupine Tree is unquestionably one of the most difficult-to-categorise and innovative bands out there. The music is breathtaking, ranging from psychedelic trip-hop to progressive metal, and a compendium of other sounds in between.

Evolving from one man’s self-indulgent creative outlet back in 1992, Porcupine Tree has grown into a well respected major-label-signed four-piece who have released several albums. Their most recent, 2005’s Deadwing, served to further skyrocket the band’s renown and they are currently hard at work on a brand new record – set for release on Roadrunner (excluding North America and Japan) in early 2007.

‘Porcupine Tree are extremely happy about our new partnership with Roadrunner Records for our forthcoming album,” comments Steven Wilson. “Roadrunner has established itself as one of the world’s premier independent labels for rock music, and we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about working with them to expand our audience and elevate Porcupine Tree to the next level.’

Porcupine Tree’s next album will be issued by Atlantic Records in North America, and WHD in Japan.”

In July 2006, the band met in London to work on more material for the new record. Earlier in the year, Steven was recording the Blackfield II album in Tel Aviv and had written “Fear of a Blank Planet”, “Anesthetize”, “Always Recurring” (later reworked into “What Happens Now?”), elements of “Normal” (later reworked into “Sentimental”) and “Sleep Together”. At this time, Richard Barbieri had written most of the music for “My Ashes”. The band session in July yielded more progress on these songs and early versions of “Cheating the Polygraph” and “Nil Recurring”.

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Porcupine Tree in 2006

Steven Wilson and the band had already written the bulk of the material for Fear of a Blank Planet, their ninth studio album. The concept of the album was heavily influenced by Bret Easton Ellis’ novel Lunar ParkThe novel is told from the perspective of a father, who bears the name of the novel’s author himself, whereas the album is mostly from his son’s perspective, an eleven-year-old boy named Robby. 

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Lasse Hoile’s artwork for Fear of a Blank Planet

The lyrics deal with two typical neuro-behavioural developmental disorders affecting teenagers in the 21st century: bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder, and also with other common behaviour tendencies of youth like escapism through prescription drugs, social alienation caused by technology, and a feeling of vacuity—a product of information overload by the mass media. In an interview with Revolver magazine, Wilson described the main character of the story as “… this kind of terminally bored kid, anywhere between 10 and 15 years old, who spends all his daylight hours in his bedroom with the curtains closed, playing on his PlayStation, listening to his iPod, texting his friends on his cell phone, looking at hardcore pornography on the Internet, downloading music, films, news, violence…”

 

The album’s title is a direct reference to the 1990 Public Enemy album, Fear of a Black Planet; while Fear of a Black Planet was about race issues, Fear of a Blank Planet is about coming to terms with 21st century technology.

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Public Enemy’s 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet
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SW in 2006

SW: ” … Fear Of A Black Planet was a big album. When I was a teenager, Fear Of A Black Planet was an album you had to own. It was a very important seminal album of the 80s. It was a time when rap music, hiphop music, was a real creative force. Personally I think hip-hop music now is dead. It is so generic, so boring. But in the 80s you had bands like Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. Hip-hop was really special, refreshing, even for musicians like me, who listened mostly to rock music.

And that album was important, particularly because of it’s message. In the 80s, racism was a real issue with young people. You remember the Live Aid concert, the Nelson Mandela concert; in England there were a lot of Rock Against Racism shows going on and there was the Rodney King thing in Los Angeles in the early 90s. So racism was a real issue. And I think one of the reasons why I like the title so much is because to me it seems in the 21st century there is a whole different issue now for young people. It’s really this whole issue of information technology and how it is affecting them: Attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, prescription drugs, American IdolBig Brother, reality TV. The whole explosion in information technology, iPods, cell phones and how these things affect young people.

And unfortunately, what we are seeing right now is a lot of blankness, a lot of young people right now who don’t have the sense of passion or curiosity that my generation had, and that is very sad. I think there are a lot of kids who do, I’m not suggesting this is a complete, 100% issue, but it is a worry to me how all this technology and this information technology and all this information is creating this kind of wall of noise that is very hard to get through now with anything. Because young people, by the age of ten, they’ve seen everything. They’ve seen the most hardcore pornography you can imagine, they’ve been able to download any kind of music, see any kind of movie. They have access to everything. When I was a kid, when I wanted to discover new music, I had to save my pocket money and search the record stores. And I think it is in human nature that the things that come easily to us, we don’t really appreciate. And it’s the things we have to search for and work hard and invest our time and money and energy in, those are the things we appreciate.

So that is where the title really comes from. Yes, in some respects it is a little joke, a play of words on the Public Enemy album. But it does have, as their title has a very serious message, I think this album title also has a very serious message.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2006 (credit to Diane Nitschke)

Similar to their approach in the mid- to late-90s with songs such as “Even Less”, “Dark Matter” and “Russia On Ice”, Porcupine Tree tested their new material on the road.

On September 11th 2006, the band released the following statement:

“Porcupine Tree will embark on their only 2006 tour later this week. The format of the show this time around will be a little different, with half the show dedicated to material from the new live DVD Arriving Somewhere…, but the other half being brand new, as yet unrecorded material, something that will allow these works in progress to evolve as the tour goes on.

In view of the fact that we live in the age of file sharing and download culture, we are asking for consideration from all show attendees in *not* attempting to record the show in any way. While the band try to discourage taping of its shows, we do acknowledge that there are those fans who like to document and share PT live performances, and as such we have a fairly liberal policy with trading of recordings among the PT fan community, as long as no money is exchanged between parties. But in this case we hope that fans will understand our feeling that people should experience this new music for the first time in performance, and not in the form of unauthorised audience recordings. It’s one thing to hear a substandard live recording of a piece already familiar, but quite another to hear something new for the first time in such poor circumstances, so if you are unable to get along to a show this time, please be patient and wait for the album versions!

Now the ugly part…as there are bound to be some fans who even after reading this will feel compelled to record the show, we regret that there will be a greater effort made to stop illegal recording on this tour, and a zero tolerance policy as regards anyone found doing so. If anyone is discovered recording a show their recording media will be confiscated, and they will be escorted from the venue, missing the rest of the show with no refund forthcoming. We therefore ask anyone that had planned to tape these shows to reconsider in deference to the band’s feelings on this matter, and your own enjoyment of the show.

We really do appreciate your understanding and cooperation on this. This is quite an exciting experiment for us and we look forward to seeing you on the tour!

PT”

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Porcupine Tree in 2006 (credit to Diane Nitschke)

The band played a total of 20 concerts in September and October, with 50 minutes of each show dedicated to the new material. The following was the average setlist for each show:

Set 1:

  1. “Fear of a Blank Planet”
  2. “My Ashes”
  3. “Anesthetize”
  4. “Sentimental”
  5. “Cheating the Polygraph”
  6. “Sleep Together”

Set 2:

  1. “Open Car”
  2. “The Sound of Muzak”
  3. “Buying New Soul”
  4. “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”
  5. “.3”
  6. “Start of Something Beautiful”
  7. “Trains”

Encore:

  1. “Halo”
  2. “Blackest Eyes”

For more information on the 2006 concerts, be sure to visit the Setlists page.

PT: “Now it’s time for the band to enter the studio to start recording the now road-tested new material (as well as some other pieces we didn’t play this time). There should be regular updates as things progress. See you in the Spring!”

[October 16th 2006]

As seen in the above setlist, the track “Cheating the Polygraph” was intended to be on the album but was later cut as the band had felt it did not perform well with audiences and did not fit with the rest of the songs conceptually. After the tour, the band convened at Gavin’s Bourne Place studio to work on more material and record the album in October – December. These sessions resulted in finalized versions of “Fear of a Blank Planet”, “My Ashes”, “Anesthetize”, “Sentimental”, “Sleep Together”, “Nil Recurring”, “Cheating the Polygraph” and a new song “Way Out Of Here” (which would replace “Cheating the Polygraph” on the album).

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Steven Wilson in Tilburg, October 2008

SW: “There was one song that we felt was not cutting it so well as the other songs, and I think the fan’s reaction was similarly more muted for that one. So we dropped that. I mean to be fair we wouldn’t have dropped it just because the fans didn’t like it. We are pretty selfish people in that respect. If we sort of really felt strongly about it we would still have persisted with it. But we also felt that it was probably the weakest of the six new pieces that we played. So we dropped that and we wrote new material to replace the gap.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2006 (credit to Diane Nitschke)

“Tell us about your approach to the drum parts for the new Porcupine Tree album, Fear of a Blank Planet.”

Gavin: “I’m always looking for a good rhythmic design, a solution to the piece to try to make some unique parts or some unique grooves or fills that mean something to an individual piece. We had the chance to go out and play most of the material live before we got to record it, which is something bands used to do back in the Seventies. Usually, you record an album and then you go out and play it and at the end of the tour you’re like, ‘Oh man, I wish we could re-record the album. We’re playing so much better now.’

You know, things evolve, certain little nuances appear and you find better ways to play one section to another section or you get a better idea. So, we got to play twenty shows of the new album, ten around Europe and ten around the States, and that was incredibly useful. So when I went into the studio to record the drums for those pieces it was just a matter of getting down a good performance. I wasn’t looking for solutions and ideas – I had already worked out the plan.

We had also written some other pieces that were based on jams that we had had at my studio and there was a big difference recording those as opposed to the ones we had already played live. Those songs were very hard to make them sound as smooth and as evolved as the other pieces, so it was a very useful thing to go out play. An even then, they evolved since when we played them live and then recorded them. And even now – they’ve evolved since then. So I guess we got somewhere up the ladder, but you never get to the top of the ladder at the point you record it.

Maybe that’s the treat of what happens in a live DVD. You see the songs that we had recorded on the DVD we did in Chicago. We’re performing songs we did on In Absentia and Deadwing. From my point of view, the band are playing them better there than we did on the record because we had a chance to really play them in and little things happen, magical things that happen along the way.”

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SW in 2007

SW: “… we had a really great reaction to the new material. So we kind of went into the studio pretty confident that we had a good record. As long as we didn’t mess it up in the studio, we could make a good record that people would appreciate. We did, from doing the tour, we did kind of learn some stuff about the material ourselves and so consequently we dropped one song and replaced it with another one. We also were able to develop a lot of what you might call the subtleties of the music along the way, things like solos and drum parts and keyboard sounds and guitar sounds and things that normally you would have done in the studio, but we were able to actually develop those things along the way, along the tour and refine the material. So by the time we got to the studio it was actually a relatively quick recording process for us. It was three months and we’ve taken up to a year to make a record before in the past. So in all of that kind of month on the road playing the new material it was really well, time well spent. I think we all benefited usually from that.”

On April 16th 2007 Fear of a Blank Planet was released. The album was described by Roadrunner as “a 21st century cocktail of MTV, sex, prescription drugs, video games, the internet, terminal boredom, and subsequent escape”. It quickly became the most successful Porcupine Tree album up until that point, despite Steven Wilson’s comments that the band “made no attempt to make anything that could be played on the radio”.

SW: “We’ve always kind of done things that way. We’ve never really tried to pander too much to what we thought were external forces. This album was definitely a decision to make something that was much more conceptual and more about a continuous album orientated piece of music. I suppose in a way, that does indicate not just that the band are validated, but also that the band find themselves very much more in touch with what’s happening right now in the music industry. We find ourselves very much in the forefront of what is a return to a more album orientated music scene. As the major record labels are struggling to maintain their relevance and slowly begin to die out, we’re finding out now that it’s the bands that have been adopting the model of touring a lot and continuing to make quality records that are keeping the faith of their fan base. That’s the way bands used to do it in the ’70’s, in the years before MTV and all that kind of stuff. It’s only now that we’re really starting to see a return to that model. I guess we’re lucky in a sense because that’s what we’ve always been about, but it’s only now that we’re benefiting from a kind of shift in the musical climate.”

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Colin in 2008

“Over the recent years your music has become quite a bit heavier…”

Richard: “Yeah, everyone says that.”

Colin: “It’s probably a continuation from last one, I think.”

SW: “I’m not sure it’s that much heavier. Is it heavier than Deadwing?”

Gavin: “Well, it’s been getting heavier since In Absentia, but not that much…”

SW: “I think Fear of a Blank Planet gives the impression that it is heavy because it starts with a long heavy song, and then there is ‘Anesthetize’ which has this long heavy section. But I don’t know, you’d have to analyse it. ‘My Ashes’ is pretty mellow as is the last section of ‘Anesthetize’… I think all our albums have had a bit of sense of light and shade on it. And perhaps we do some heavier bits here and there, but I think in general…

People ask questions all the time ‘why do you do this, why do you do that?’ but it’s not self-conscious as such. It is more a question of just letting the music come and whatever comes naturally. The sound certainly got heavier a couple of albums ago, but that is partly because I emerge myself more in metal music and got back into riffs and stuff like that. And I think that has continued because Gavin obviously is a very powerful drummer and that side of things as well. But that’s always been kind of there, that sort of heavy thing has always been bubbling underneath.”

Richard: “Maybe so… I think it’s more kind of rock.”

Colin: “Heavy, as opposed to metal. Heavy!”

Richard: “Well… that’s the thing with guitarists you see.”

“You had nothing to do with it?”

Richard: “I just try and find the space within it.”

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Porcupine Tree in Tilburg, October 2008

Steven said that having Blackfield as a side project “liberated [him] from putting those more song-oriented tracks on Porcupine Tree albums, making Porcupine Tree’s music much more pure, more experimental rock music, and more about the longer album-oriented tracks.”

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Lasse Hoile’s artwork for the second Blackfield album (released on February 13th 2007)

“The new Porcupine Tree album, Fear of a Blank Planet, is a definitive concept album. How would you summarize the concept of the album?”

SW: “Well, basically it reflects my concerns for the current younger generation; a generation born into an era of accessible information, living vicariously through gadgets where they can download everything via the internet – music, movies, information, and pornography. Everything is available through the internet. About how all this affects the human quality of curiosity, and I believe that curiosity is one of humanity’s most important qualities. Without curiosity we will never find what’s
underneath the surface; the different meanings and interpretations and levels that there are to music as an example. How the overload of information affects their curiosity about the world outside their bedroom. My fear for this potentially blank generation. Or to use more a romantic expression, do the young people of today have the same sense of soul?”

“There is a lot of references to the way people consume their music these days, and basically the way people consume, in general, these days. What do you think is the future of it?”

SW: “Difficult to say. This is the worst time in history for the music industry. Everyone agrees on it, artists and labels – everyone involved.

I believe that ultimately what will happen is that recorded music will become something no one will pay for. People will expect to get it for free, even now a lot of people don’t think about buying music, just to download it. Recorded music will become an advertisement for the live show. I already see it in Porcupine Tree concerts, where the attendances keep on growing, and the record sales as well, but not in the same proportion.

People get to know the band from downloading on the internet for free but they pay for the shows. This has a positive side, because it means that bands who play real instruments, and can manage a good live show will survive, and the kind of manufactured artists like Britney Spears won’t. These are interesting times.
Also, music is much more available now days, it’s getting more and more into people’s life, especially that almost everyone has an iPod now.”

The songs on Fear of a Blank Planet have a connection not only conceptually but also musically; every track flows into the next, comprising a single fifty-minute piece of music. Wilson said the idea was to make an album that could be listened to in one sitting, in contrast to some bands tendency to make very long records that do not maintain the attention of the listener. He described Fear of a Blank Planet as a homage to ’70s records, whose moderate length helps the listener maintain focus.

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A still from Lasse Hoile’s video for the Fear of a Blank Planet title track

“On Deadwing, it was the lyrics flowing into each other to tell the story. This time it seems to be more the music.”

SW: “Lyrically, I have to say, this is one of the most cohesive sets of lyrics I’ve ever written, in the sense that they are all about the same thing. Deadwing, you could probably say the same, it’s true, but I think it’s even more so on this record. The lyrics are all drawn directly from the subject matter of the title, the fear of a blank planet.

I think it’s certainly true that this album is musically more of a continuum. The lyrics are also very much a narrative continuous piece as well, but certainly I think musically this album has gone up a level in terms of trying to link and create a continuous sequence of music. Deadwing was more about nine separate pieces that were linked lyrically. This is more like one piece of music.”

“Was it different writing with that in mind?”

SW: “It was different. Actually, it was a lot harder, because the whole thing about writing Porcupine Tree music is it’s always a question of finding a way to put all the particular pieces of the puzzle together to create the right kind of flow, the right dynamics. To take the listener on the right kind of journey, and when you’re working as we were this time, on basically a single, 50-minute piece of music, there are many ways to put those pieces together, but only one that sounds absolutely right.

I spent a long, long time trying to find that right flow and that right sequence for this record. Time will tell whether I actually managed to get the right sequence. I think I did.”

“Coming off of Deadwing, what was the comment you wanted to make with this record, lyrically and musically?”

SW: “Before I even had the idea for the album, I wanted to make an album that wasn’t compromised by what I see—certainly on Deadwing, the album is compromised by what I see as the more radio-friendly, shorter pieces.

That’s not to say they’re not good pieces and I’m not happy with them. I am, but this time around, I was very firm on the idea that this was going to be a very cohesive, very intense piece of music, without those lighter interludes. Very much thinking in terms of an album like Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, where you have this complete cycle of music. That was really the idea musically.

The lyrical idea came later on. I actually read a book by Bret Easton Ellis called Lunar Park, don’t know if you know it. It’s the guy who wrote American Psycho, and his last book is about the dysfunctional relationship between a father and a son, and the son, for me, was basically the model for the main character in Fear Of A Blank Planet.

It’s a 10-year-old boy who’s high on prescription drugs, spends most of his time in his bedroom on the internet playing Sony PlayStation, watching tv on his cell phone, using his iPod, hanging out at the mall: the kind of archetypal blank generation kid in a way. He became the model for me for most of the subject matter on the new record.”

“Why that story?”

SW: “Because it’s something that, for me, as a musician, as a songwriter, that was the subject that I felt most moved to write about. It’s the thing which concerns me more than anything else. How the 21st Century, the proliferation of reality tv, the proliferation of gadgets, the proliferation of the internet, of cell phones, of iPods, PlayStations, ‘American Idol,’ ‘Big Brother’—how do all of these things affect the kind of developing mind, the nascent mind?

What kind of kids are we creating with this kind of diet, this incredible white noise of information, gadgets and drugs and violence and pornography and news and all this stuff? I feel it too. I don’t think I’m immune from it. I think we’re all suffering from this incredible overload of information that we have now in the 21st Century.

I don’t read nearly as much as I used to when I was a kid, and when I do read, I find it very hard to concentrate on a book for anything more than two or three pages. And that never used to be the case for me when I was a teenager, but now I find there’s so much distraction in the modern world that my concentration span is that much shorter, my attention span is that much shorter.

But at least I have some context for that and I remember how it used to be. For kids growing up now, being born into this world, that’s all they will ever know. This is a real deep concern for me, and that’s why I wanted to explore that subject in the album.”

“Do you feel like it’s an expansion on the theme of a sound like ‘The Sound Of Muzak’ off of In Absentia?”

SW: “Yes, absolutely. ‘Sound Of Muzak’ was all about the overload of music, the proliferation of music, download culture and how all those things, genre and record company marketing tactics, MTV and all those things have gradually eroded away what’s so special about music and what was the soul of music. I suppose Fear Of A Blank Planet is an expansion of that idea in a way. It’s relating it more to all aspects of the world we live in and all aspects of life in the 21st Century rather than just specifically focusing on music.”

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Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho and Lunar Park

SW: “It was very much conceived in the way bands used to conceive records in the ’70s, where you’ve got two sides of vinyl, and you can lay down a piece of music which is around the 50-minute mark, which plays in a continuous way, and deals with the same subject matter, and tried to kind of immerse you in a world for that time. That’s always been the Porcupine Tree way, but we’ve definitely taken it to the next level.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2007

“Your latest album, Fear Of A Blank Planet, is a concept album dealing with the deprivation of youth in our modern society.”

SW: “That’s right, yes. You know as I was thinking about our world, this topic really hit me in the face. It is so depressing, the whole level of intellect of our youth. If you watch MTV for half an hour you get so depressed. It is all about getting famous. It is all hedonism. And of course it has to do with the fact that young people only communicate through/via their computer, their iPod, their mobile or their play stations. They are addicted to their machinery and even I must admit that I can hardly live/function without my laptop… Then there is their really weird attitude towards sex and drugs as they tend to use or rather abuse so-called medicines like upper and downers. The result is: they get fucked up and they tend to get violent. Just take a look at that shooting in Omaha recently, which was so typical! The guy who did the shootings said that he shot those people because he wanted to become famous!! So, you see, that is all that matters, becoming famous, how is not important. You can use American Idols, MTV or Big Brother as long as there is no need to develop and just become a little bit famous. That is something I find so depressing and it is getting worse. But I also see some groups rebelling against these kinds of programmes and ideas. Young people who visit our shows or gigs from bands like Tool, Opeth or The Mars Volta already realise that there is more to our sort of music than to MTV clips. But, you know these young kids they were born in the computer age, so it is rather difficult for them to just enjoy good rock music. It is difficult for them to understand that there is more to life than computers!”

Richard: “On previous albums I kinda talked about lyrics with Steven, and was a bit more involved. I would give my advice on some of the words, and suggest maybe say this, or say that. But on the last two albums it was very difficult to have any input on the lyrics, because basically Steven had this concept, this story. Steven actually took the lyrics of [Fear of a Blank Planet] from a novel, called Luna Park by Bret Easton Ellis, and he had such a strong vision on how he wanted to adapt it. And Deadwing, as you probably know, this was based on this film script. And you know, I read the script, so you can’t really change anything about the lyrics then, you can’t say you want to change the way the story goes, because it is in the script, you know? It’s basically like The Lamb Lies Down, where the band had made this album, and then Peter Gabriel came in and said ‘alright, well this is the story’.”

After the release of Fear of a Blank Planet, Porcupine Tree reconvened in July 2007 to record two songs that were written during the album sessions but never completed; “Normal” and “What Happens Now?”. Before the July 2007 sessions, Steven considered using material from their April performance of Fear of a Blank Planet material for the BBC at Maida Vale Studios to fill up the rest of the EP.

SW: “There are a couple of reasons as to why that happened. The first, and most important reason for me, is that Fear of a Blank Planet was very much a conceptual work, as I mentioned to you before. It’s a very lyric driven album. All the songs on Fear of a Blank Planet relate to the same concept and theme. The four songs on Nil Recurring are somewhat different. Bar ‘Normal’, which is essentially an alternate version of ‘Sentimental’ on Fear of a Blank Planet, the songs on Nil Recurring didn’t quite fit into that cycle of the album both lyrically and conceptually. So that’s the first reason. The second reason why they didn’t make it onto the album is I’m a great believer that albums shouldn’t be too long. One of the unfortunate malaises of the post CD age is that albums kind of grew to being too long. They went from being around forty minutes like back in the great vinyl era, which I think is the right length for an album, to suddenly getting this kind of gigantism disease. Some albums are like eighty minutes long, and crammed to capacity with music. I think that’s actually had a detrimental effect on the quality and consistency of some people’s work. Take a band like Tool for example. I think Tool is great, and I love Tool, but their albums are too long. The Mars Volta is the same. They’re another band I love, but their albums are too long. They’re all seventy five to eighty minutes long, and I just can not listen to one of those albums all the way through. I’m absolutely dazzled for around the first thirty minutes, but after that my ears start to get tired. And I do believe there is some kind of threshold that human beings have for concentrating on any one thing at any given time, particularly when it comes to music. I think the threshold is around forty-five minutes. I certainly find that with myself. Because I grew up at the tail end of the vinyl era around the ’80’s, I’m still very much in love with the idea of the album in vinyl format. I like the classic forty minutes split in two halves, or sides if you like. So with that thought in mind, I’ve tried to get the lengths of our albums down to what I think is to be a more manageable length. That was particularly the case with an album like Fear of a Blank Planet. The album is quite intense conceptually, lyrically and in the production sense, so there’s a lot going on there. I think it’s hard to sustain anyone’s attention over a longer period of time, so I decided to keep the album to a length that was manageable to the listener. Actually, thinking back and going back to the beginning of our conversation, I wonder if that’s another reason why Fear of a Blank Planet has been more successful than our other previous albums? I mean our previous albums were very much longer. Who knows? Either way, there was a deliberate policy this time to keep the album down to around fifty minutes. So those were the two reasons why Nil Recurring was made a separate EP. We had these songs, and we thought they were good songs. It wasn’t like they were left off because we didn’t think they were good. I mean, I think they’re as good as anything on Fear of a Blank Planet. They simply didn’t fit. So the obvious solution was to release them as a companion mini-album.”

Announced on April 14th 2007, Nil Recurring is an EP “containing 4 lengthy tracks written during the same sessions, completed over the Summer, and now presented as a cohesive self contained PT work in their own right”. The release “moves through the full PT spectrum of atmospheric ambience, melodic hooks, and crushing riffs.” The first edition of the mini album was released on September 17th 2007 on the band’s Transmission label and came as a digipak limited to 5000 copies. It was originally decided to sell 3000 copies through the band’s online store and sell the remaining 2000 at shows on the forthcoming tour, but the initial run of pre-orders through the online store were sold out in a period of 24 hours, so the band quickly put out more copies, with high quality downloads available for a small price. Peaceville Records, an independent British heavy metal label, released the album as a jewel case in 2008. They then further promoted the release by constructing a Nil Recurring minisite, and funded and released a video for an edited version of “Normal”. A Japanese edition of Nil Recurring was released through WHD in late October 2007 and includes the radio edit of “Fear of a Blank Planet” as a bonus track.

PT: “Please note that the material on the album is definitely NOT comprised of ‘rejects’ from the Fear of a Blank Planet album, in fact we consider it every bit as good, they just didn’t fit into what was a very concept driven record. Nil Recurring is a completely self-contained and carefully executed work so you can consider this the second (albeit slightly short) Porcupine Tree album release of the year!”

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Gavin in Tilburg, October 2008

[Fear of a Blank Planet and Nil Recurring] are quite different musically… I was wondering how [do] you manage to maintain two musical mind-sets over the period of a single session, and how do they affect each other? [For example,] do you find it hard to choose between two or more ways or mind-sets of doing or approaching one piece of music? Or do you find [that] things filter naturally and separate themselves out?

Gavin: “Personally, I didn’t have two mind sets and can’t really hear the difference from [Fear of a Blank Planet] and Nil Recurring. The songs were all recorded around the same time–it was only at the last minute that “Cheating The Polygraph” was replaced by “Way Out Of Here” and the track “Nil Recurring” almost made it onto the main album too. My approach to both sets of songs was the same. Maybe as a listener you can hear things that I can’t–after working on them for so long you start to lose your mind.”

Gavin Harrison considers Nil Recurring to be one of the best Porcupine Tree albums.

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Porcupine Tree in 2007

Porcupine Tree embarked on the “Tour of a Blank Planet” on April 18th 2007, just two days after the release of Fear of a Blank Planet. The tour started in Glasgow and ended in December in Finland (with an additional show in late January at the Hard Rock Cafe in France).

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Lasse Hoile’s cover photography for the live album Ilosaarirock

The band recorded their show at the Ilosaarirock Festival in Finland on July 14th 2007, and was considered by the band to be one of the best performances in the tour. The recording, titled Ilosaarirock, was sent out to members of Residents of a Blank Planet in March 2009. It is unavailable commercially. It includes the band’s complete performance remixed from the multitrack recording made by national Finnish radio.

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Lasse Hoile’s cover photography for the live album We Lost the Skyline

On October 4th 2007 Porcupine Tree arrived for an in-store performance and signing session at Park Avenue CDs in Orlando, Florida, with 200 fans also in attendance. Although it was originally planned that the full band would play, lack of space dictated that only Steven Wilson and John Wesley could perform. This led to the inclusion of many songs rarely (if ever) played by the band, making for a very special and intimate show. Fortunately this one-off performance was captured by a remote recording facility and the complete 8 song, 33 minute show. This recording, titled We Lost the Skyline (after the line in the first phase of “The Sky Moves Sideways”), was released on CD on February 18th 2008.

On January 25th 2008, “Lazarus” was made available to listen through the band’s Myspace. A few weeks prior to the release of the album, “Normal” was made available for PT fan-club members.

The CD was also made available to order through Park Avenue CDs (the venue where the recording took place). This version of the CD came with an exclusive poster commemorating the in-store event (limited to 300 copies). This version was released on February 26th 2008.

Tonefloat also released a limited and numbered edition of 1000 copies on marbled vinyl, and a regular edition on black vinyl.

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Carl Glover’s cover photography for the live album Atlanta

On October 29th 2007 Porcupine Tree recorded their performance at the Roxy Theatre in Atlanta, America. The show recording was originally intended for a prospective Porcupine Tree live album to document the Fear of a Blank Planet tour but this was later turned down as development on the Anesthetize concert film began. However, in 2010, it was decided that the material should be released as a downloadable item at a cheap cost on Burningshed, with the profits intended to help Mick Karn (of Richard Barbieri’s old band Japan) pay for his advanced-stage cancer treatment. Atlanta was released on June 17th 2010 as MP3 and later in August for the 24-bit FLAC version (with this version’s profits going to the Teenage Cancer Trust). Notably, Atlanta features the first (and only) official live recording of the track “A Smart Kid” from the 1999 album Stupid Dream. The purchase also came with printable artwork, set up for two CDs. Unfortunately, Mick passed away at the age of 52 on January 4th 2011.

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Mick Karn and Richard Barbieri (ca. 1980)

On June 5th 2008, Porcupine Tree announced a European tour for late 2008:

“PT will play 2 shows at 013, Tilburg, the Netherlands, on 15th and 16th October. The short run of European shows (sorry no US shows this time) during October is in order to shoot a DVD based on the Fear of a Blank Planet album cycle, and the main body of the filming will take place at Tilburg, where the band will play as much different material as possible during the course of the 2 nights. So please come along and help us to make the atmosphere very special and get yourself in the film! Tickets are on sale from the 7th June from www.013web.nl.”

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Lasse Hoile’s cover photography for the live album Anesthetize

As planned, the performances were filmed in high-definition. Titled Anesthetize, the finished product, shot and edited by Lasse Hoile and produced by Steven, was released on DVD on May 20th 2010. A deluxe edition of the album, packaged as a 2CD/DVD/Blu-Ray hardback cloth book, was released on June 1st 2010 in two variants; grey cover limited to 4,000 copies and a red cover limited to 5,000 copies. The standard Blu-Ray version of the film was released on June 15th 2010. On June 21st 2011, Tonefloat released the complete soundtrack to the film on vinyl, housed as a 4LP box-set, including the bonus track “Prodigal” (which was cut from the film), limited to 3,000 copies. In 2015, the album was re-released as a 2CD/DVD mediabook and reissued on Blu-Ray. The CD editions of the album feature “Prodigal” at the end of the first CD (after “Sleep Together”).

The tracklist features the entirety of Fear of a Blank Planet and selections from Signify, In Absentia, Deadwing and Nil Recurring. “Stars Die”, the full versions of “Strip the Soul” and “.3”, “Blackest Eyes”, “Trains” and “Open Car” were performed but not included on the album.

As of November 2017, Anesthetize is #2 on the “TOP DVD/Videos of All-Time” list on Prog Archives website, and was #1 in 2010.

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Porcupine Tree in Tilburg, October 2008

Tracklist

  1. “Fear of a Blank Planet” – 7:28
  2. “My Ashes” – 5:07
  3. “Anesthetize” – 17:42
  4. “Sentimental” – 5:26
  5. “Way Out of Here” – 7:37
  6. “Sleep Together” – 7:28

Total length: 50:48

Tracklist (Tonefloat 2LP)

Side One
  1. “Fear of a Blank Planet” – 7:28
  2. “My Ashes” – 5:07
  3. “Cheating the Polygraph” – 7:10
Side Two
  1. “Anesthetize” – 17:46
Side Three
  1. “Sentimental” – 5:26
  2. “Way Out of Here” – 7:37
  3. “Sleep Together” – 7:28
Side Four
  1. “Nil Recurring” – 6:08
  2. “Normal” – 7:09
  3. “What Happens Now?” – 8:23

Total length: 1:19:42

Singles

“Fear of a Blank Planet” – March 2007

CD (Atlantic):

  1. “Fear of a Blank Planet (Amended Edit)” – 4:18
  2. “Fear of a Blank Planet (Explicit Edit)” – 4:18
  3. “Fear of a Blank Planet (Album Version)” – 7:28

The Atlantic Records promo CD includes three different versions of the song, and is pressed to look like a 7″ vinyl.

CD (Roadrunner):

  1. “Fear of a Blank Planet (Clean Edit)” – 4:18
  2. “Fear of a Blank Planet (Dirty Edit)” – 4:18

The Roadrunner Records two-track promo came housed in a cardboard sleeve with unique artwork and contains two radio-edit versions of the song.

“Way Out of Here” – September 2007

CD:

  1. “Way Out of Here (Edit)” – 4:18
  2. “Way Out of Here (Album Version)” – 7:37

Production

  • Steven Wilson – production, arrangement [strings], remaster [2012 version]
  • Porcupine Tree – production, arrangement
  • John Wesley – production [guitars]
  • Mark Prator – recording engineer [guitars]
  • Dave Stewart – arrangement [strings]
  • Steve Price – recording engineer [strings]
  • Gavyn Wright – orchestra leader
  • Isobel Griffiths – contractor [string session]
  • Lasse Hoile – artwork, photography
  • Carl Glover – design

Label: Roadrunner Records (UK), Atlantic (US), WHD (Japan) and WEA (Canada)

Release: 16th April 2007 (UK), 24th April 2007 (US), 25th April 2007 (Japan) and 1st May 2007 (Canada)

Publishing: Published by Hands Off It’s Mine Publishing

Released on CD and limited edition 40-page 2-disc cardboard slipbox (with the 5.1 mix) on April 16th 2007. Both Roadrunner in Europe, and Atlantic in the USA pressed a limited number of these special editions. They differ slightly in that the US edition has 2 separate single card sleeves for the discs, while the Roadrunner edition has both discs housed in a single gatefold card sleeve. For members of the official Porcupine Tree fan community Residents of a Blank Planet, an instrumental version of the album was made available (although only as 192kbps MP3 files) periodically. The title track and “My Ashes” were made available on August 1st, “Anesthetize Part 1” (later known as “Anesthetize”) and “Anesthetize Part 2” (later known as “The Pill’s I’m Taking”) on August 8th, “Anesthetize Part 3” (later known as “Surfer”) and “Sentimental” on August 30th, and “Way Out of Here” and “Sleep Together” on September 18th. On September 25th (the same day Nil Recurring was released) a standalone DVD-A was also released, this time featuring the surround mix in higher quality as well as the Nil Recurring tracks.

After the release of Nil Recurring, a 2LP edition of Fear of a Blank Planet was made available on October 3rd 2007 through Tonefloat and featured the tracks from Nil Recurring in the tracklist (which can be seen above). Originally, this pressing was avilable in both standard black as well as a special edition (limited to 1000 copies) on black/blue marbled vinyl packaged in a numbered slipcase with a 12×12″ 16-page booklet. A misprint of the standard edition exists. Additionally, to coincide with the band’s performance at the Pinkpop festival in the Netherlands in May 2008, a pink edition of the standard 2LP (limited to 500 copies) was released in a select number of dutch retail stores and from Tonefloat themselves on May 1st 2008 (but was made available for purchase from the band’s online store for a very limited run from 14 June 2008 – the stock lasted less than five days). Interestingly, a pink version of the special edition also exists but was not numbered. This release was made available to prize winners of a Roadrunner quiz, to some festival attendees and to the band. Only about 12-15 copies were made. A repress of the original 2LP was done by Tonefloat in December 2015 (albeit with blank inner sleeves).

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The 2016 LP and 2017 CD releases of Fear of a Blank Planet (credit to my friend @javierjonesr on Instagram)

In 2012 the album was reissued as a 24-page digibook CD. This release claimed to have been remastered by SW but this is actually incorrect; the audio is identical to the original release. In September 2016, the album was released on gorgeous translucent blue vinyl by Kscope (this time without the Nil Recurring bonus tracks as it also received a standalone 2016 vinyl release) with the supposed remaster from 2012 (it was incorrectly listed as “new” remaster). As one can see, the dynamic range from the 2012 CD is very mediocre; definitely not up to the quality of something that SW would release in 2012 (take a look at the Grace For Drowning CD from 2011). The 2012 Fear of a Blank Planet is even worse than the 2005 Up The Downstair remaster, which was part of SW’s remaster campaign in the early 2000s (known for being loud and having limited DR). The audio in the 2012 CD seems to be identical to the original CD. My personal theory is that the album was remastered in 2012 but this master not applied to the CD that was reissued that year. However, this seems to have been corrected for the new 2016 LP and 2017 CD reissues.

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The 2016 2LP release of Nil Recurring (credit to my friend @javierjonesr on Instagram)

Fear Of A Blank Planet‘s surround mix was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2007 for the “Best Surround Sound” category.

SW: “It’s very hard with those kinds of nomination things, because everyone tends to sneer at those kinds of award things. And they are ridiculous. Basically what you have with this kind of awards is this group of people from within the industry who set themselves up as the arbiters of taste, and who get to decide what they consider to be the best album, song or mixes were from that particular year. Of course, it’s a ludicrous concept, because music is not a sport! [Laughs] You can’t say that just because you like one album better than another album, that it’s a better album. At least I don’t believe that. Music is very much in the ear of the beholder. Having said that, I suppose it is recognition for something that you can quantify. I mean best song is such a subjective thing. But at least best surround sound mixing is something that, technically speaking, you can judge on quality within the sonic qualities of a particular mix. I must be honest and say that when we found out that we had been nominated for a Grammy Award, I was really kind of thrilled in a way. Even my mum was impressed with that! [Laughs] My mum doesn’t know a lot about the music business, but that’s something that she can understand and relate to. So yes, it was quite thrilling, even though in my heart I knew that it was nothing more than just a bit of fun really. But at the end of the day, the important stuff is still the work we produce, and the fan base that continues to appreciate that.”

Although In Absentia and Deadwing were both mastered by Andy VanDette, Fear of a Blank Planet was not.

“But you didn’t do the next Porcupine Tree record.”

Andy: “Well, one of the guys in the band was very concerned about compression — he wanted to make sure the new record didn’t have too much compression on it. So the group felt that they needed to be there for the mastering, but they weren’t going to be able to come to the States, so that was that. But Steven let me submit, which was cool. So I listened to a lot of In Absentia because I still say it is the Porcupine Tree record by which all other Porcupine Tree records will be judged… and I made something that was just a little lower [in level].”

“And what happened?”

Andy: “And pretty quickly I got word back that it was way over-compressed. So then I did one that was hardly compressed at all, but I guess I went too far in the other direction… In the end they were right, they needed to be there at the mastering studio so they could find the exact balance they were looking for.”

All tracks recorded in October – December 2006 at No Man’s Land, Bourne Place (Gavin’s studio), The Artillery (Richard’s studio), Nightspace (Colin’s studio), New Rising and Mark Angelo unless noted otherwise. John Wesley’s parts recorded at Red Room Recorders during the same time. Additionally, Robert Fripp’s parts were recorded at DGM Studios while Alex Lifeson’s were likely recorded in his home. Some elements retained from demos recorded at all four members’ home studios and Tel Aviv in January – July 2006. All strings recorded at Angel Studio in October – December 2006. Fear of a Blank Planet was mixed (in stereo and surround) and mastered in early 2007 by SW at No Man’s Land. New remaster completed in 2012 [see above] by SW at No Man’s Land. All tracks written by SW unless noted otherwise.

Song Details: Album Tracks

01. “Fear of a Blank Planet” – 7:28

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

The album kicks off with the thunderous title track, a brutal blend of krautrock, spacey textures and metal–shades present from both old and new Porcupine Tree, in which Steven Wilson paints a picture of our society, the mindlessness of television and prescription drugs.

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A video still from Lasse Hoile’s video for “Fear of a Blank Planet”

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A video still from Lasse Hoile’s video for “Fear of a Blank Planet”

Lyrics:

Sunlight coming through the haze
No gaps in the blinds
To let it inside
The bed is unmade
Some music still plays

TV, yeah it’s always on
The flicker on the screen
A movie actress screams
I’m basking in the shit flowing out of it

I’m stoned in the mall again
Terminally bored
Shuffling round the stores
And shoplifting is getting so last year’s thing

X-Box is a god to me
A finger on the switch
My mother is a bitch
My father gave up ever trying to talk to me

Don’t try engaging me
The vaguest of shrugs
The prescription drugs
You’ll never find a person inside

My face is Mogadon
Curiosity has given up on me
I’m tuning out desires
The pills are on the rise

How can I be sure I’m here?
The pills that I’ve been taking confuse me
I need to know that someone sees that
There’s nothing left, I simply am not here

I’m through with pornography
The acting is lame
The action is tame
Explicitly dull
Arousal annulled

Your mouth should be boarded up
Talking all day with nothing to say
Your shallow proclamations
All misinformation

My friend says he wants to die
He’s in a band, they sound like Pearl Jam
Their clothes are all black
The music is crap

In school I don’t concentrate
And sex is kinda fun, but just another one
Of all the empty ways of using up the day

How can I be sure I’m here?
The pills that I’ve been taking confuse me
I need to know that someone sees that
There’s nothing left, I simply am not here

Bipolar disorder
Can’t deal with this boredom
Bipolar disorder
Can’t deal with this boredom

You don’t try to be liked
You don’t mind
You feel no sun
You steal a gun
To kill time

You’re somewhere, you’re nowhere
You don’t care
You catch the breeze
You still the leaves
So now where?

02. “My Ashes” – 5:07

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • John Wesley [guest] – backing vocals
  • London Session Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders in October – December 2006

Many of the lyrics for Fear of a Blank Planet are lifted directly from and inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ novel Luna Park, released in 2005, particularly “My Ashes”, which is a homage to the last chapter, in which the ashes of Bret’s father are scattered.

“My Ashes” is the first track to feature a string arrangement from Dave Stewart, who has worked with Steven Wilson consistently ever since this album.

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Wes and Richard in Tilburg, October 2008

Lyrics:

All the things that I needed
And wasted my chances
I have found myself wanting

When my mother and father
Gave me their problems
I accepted them all

Nothing ever expected
I was rejected
But I came back for more

And my ashes drift beneath the silver sky
Where a boy rides on a bike but never smiles
And my ashes fall over all the things we said
On a box of photographs under the bed

I will stay in my own world
Under the covers
I will feel safe inside

A kiss that will burn me
And cure me of dreaming
I was always returning

And my ashes find a way beyond the fog
And return to save the child that I forgot

And my ashes fade among the things unseen
And a dream plays in reverse on piano keys

And my ashes drop upon a park in Wales
Never-ending clouds of rain, and distant sails

03. “Anesthetize” – 17:42

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards, mellotron
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • John Wesley [guest] – backing vocals
  • Alex Lifeson [guest] – guitar solo

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders and Alex Lifeson’s parts recorded at his home in October – December 2006

The longest Porcupine Tree track since “The Sky Moves Sideways (Phase One)”, “Anesthetize” is a monster of a track (lovingly nicknamed “The Beast” on the 2006 tour) featuring three different distinct phases (titled “Anesthetize”, “The Pill’s I’m Taking” and “Surfer”).

“How did the track ‘Anesthetize’ come about?”

SW: “Originally, when I had the idea for the long-scale, continuous piece of music for the album, I was going to try to write everything as a development from a single idea. What I mean by that is I was going to come up with an original theme or an original musical idea and try to extrapolate the whole album out of that idea.

I thought at the time that was going to be the way to do it. As it was, I hit a brick wall at about 17 minutes [laughs], and that became the track ‘Anesthetize.’

I got to about the 17-minute mark, and it just seemed complete. I didn’t want to keep adding things to it. But that track was the first track written for the record, and that was the one where I did attempt that. That piece all grew from the one original theme, the one original harmonic chord progression, and everything in that track is extrapolated from that basic melody and that basic idea, but of course, by the end of the track, it’s morphed so much that it has no relation to that original idea. I like that concept. I like that idea.

It’s interesting to create and set parameters for yourself to write within, but it was a very painful process. It took me about a month just to write those 17 minutes of music.”

“Since it was first and the outcome from that writing experiment, is that what made you put it as the centerpiece of the album?”

SW: “Yeah. It’s in the middle of the record and it’s obviously the longest piece. It’s probably got the most ideas and the most complexity in it, and I think for a lot of people, it’ll probably represent the highlight of the record. It was kind of the highlight for me.”

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Porcupine Tree performing “The Pill’s I’m Taking” in 2010

“On the epic track ‘Anesthetize’, Alex Lifeson of Rush plays a solo, why him in particular?”

SW: “Well, I have always been a great fan of Rush as I grew up with their music. I heard that Alex was a big fan of Porcupine Tree so I contacted him and asked him if he wanted to play some guitar with us and he said: ‘of course, I would love that’. So I left a special section for his solo on ‘Anesthetize’ and it worked out great.”

“That magnus opus is hard to top, is it not?”

SW: “Topping a song is not really my goal. I think that the music of Porcupine Tree should evolve with every album we make. We must experiment and most of all surprise ourselves with new music. In fact ‘Anesthetize’ is not my favourite song on the new album, although I am very proud of that track. I use new things and new experiences in my life to shape and compose new tracks.”

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Gavin and Colin in Tilburg, October 2008

“Take us through Porcupine Tree’s writing process. Specifically, how do you write masterpieces such as ‘Anesthetize’?”

Gavin: “‘Anesthetize’ was a song that Steve generated pretty much on his own. He presented a skeleton demo to the band that had a lot of the parts in demo form and we all individually worked on them. We recorded demos first. I recorded the drums to ‘Anesthetize’ about six months before we went on tour and played it live, and then I recorded the drums for real after the live tour. So I did a kind of a demo of what I was going to do, but I knew it was only going to be a demo at the time. That gave me a chance to try a lot of things out – try and change sections, try and find ways that I want to play certain parts, and try to get it all in line before we were going to go and play them live.”

“Did you track the drum parts to these demos using your home studio?”

Gavin: “I did all the drums on the record at home. Everyone sort of did their own parts individually, but since we played most of the songs live it wasn’t really a problem because we all knew what we were going to do. As with the last two albums, I just recorded them on my own at home, which gives me the luxury to do ten or twenty takes, or if I just want to do one take, or if I want to spend four hours on one little bit I can do that without anyone being bored sitting there looking at their watch, or, huge amounts of money being spent in a massive studio.

You could be blowing $3,000 a day easily in a big studio, and you want to experiment on something that takes four hours, and then you decide you don’t like the result of it. That’s a lot of money that just whistled by. [laughs]”

“It certainly takes the pressure off.”

Gavin: “Yes, and when there’s a lot of people in the studio – sometimes record company guys come down and management guys come down, and you feel like you’ve got to perform. I really don’t want to be in a performance mode in the recording studio. Like on the DVD, it’s more of a performance. During recording, I want to play and then consider. I might want to take two and a half hours off and just scratch my chin and think about it.”

“I’m sure recording at home on your own time creates a more conducive atmosphere for being creative.”

Gavin: “It does, but the down side is that you don’t really get any feedback because you’re on your own. So, although there are a lot of positives to it, there are a couple of negatives to it. There is something about all four guys being in the studio together which is nice, which we did for In Absentia. Even though within In Absentia sessions we all played individually we didn’t track together, there’s an atmosphere with the four of you together and the sort of feedback that you get in which is quite nice, but, probably the upside of it outweighs the downside of it in terms of the relaxed luxury of going at any pace you want.

Some days you get up, play a couple of songs and think, ‘Uh, I don’t really feel like it today, I’m just going to go out and do some shopping, go for dinner and start again tomorrow.’ You know, people used to do that in the seventies and spend $3,000 a day and just waste the money [laughs], but it’s quite easy to have that luxury at home.”

Lyrics:

i. Anesthetize:

A good impression of myself
Not much to conceal
I’m saying nothing
But I’m saying nothing with feel

I simply am not here
No way I…
Shut up, be happy
Stop whining please

Because of who we are
We react in mock surprise
The curse of “there must be more”
So don’t breathe here,
Don’t leave your bags

I simply am not here
No way I…
Shut up, be happy
Stop whining please

ii. The Pills I’m Taking:

The dust in my soul
Makes me feel the weight in my legs
My head in the clouds
And I’m zoning out

I’m watching TV
But I find it hard to stay conscious
I’m totally bored
But I can’t switch off

Only apathy from the pills in me
It’s all in me, all in you
Electricity from the pills in me
It’s all in me, all in you
Only MTV, cod philosophy

We’re lost in the mall
Shuffling through the stores like zombies
What is the point?
What can money buy?

My hand’s on a gun
And I find the range, God tempt me
What did you say?
Think I’m passing out

Only apathy from the pills in me
It’s all in me, all in you
Electricity from the pills in me
It’s all in me, all in you
Only MTV, cod philosophy

iii. Surfer:

Water so warm that day
I counted out the waves
As they broke into shore
I smiled into the sun

The water so warm that day
I was counting out the waves
And I followed their short life
As they broke on the shoreline
I could see you
But I couldn’t hear you

You were holding your hat in the breeze
Turning away from me in this moment
You were stolen as black across the sun

Water so warm that day
I counted out the waves
As they broke into shore

04. “Sentimental” – 5:26

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • John Wesley [guest] – backing vocals

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders in October – December 2006

Colin_Edwin_(2007)

The song was chosen as NPR’s “Song of the Day” on June 4th 2007.

“For 20 years, the London band Porcupine Tree has been mixing the virtuoso musicianship and multi-part songwriting of progressive rock with modern electronic and guitar effects. That mixture wears well alongside the band’s bitter, mordantly witty lyrics: Even the title of ‘Sentimental’ takes a sly jab, given its bleak surroundings on Fear of a Blank Planet, Porcupine Tree’s saga of numbed-out teens of the future.

The song opens with spare, echoed piano chords, fleshed out by Gavin Harrison’s light, painterly jazz drumming. With a pure, reedy voice, singer Steven Wilson sings some harsh, straightforward words: ‘Never want to be old / and I don’t want dependents.’ As elegant, chiming guitars pile up behind them, Wilson and guest singer John Wesley slur the chorus in a way that makes the words sound like wind rattling through dead branches: ‘Stoned [in the mall] the kids play / and in this [way wish] away each day.’ There’s a blustery break in the middle where guitars and pianos rage and thunder, but that’s fleeting. As the swells subside, Wilson’s solo voice repeats the chorus, exiting in a smoky haze of phased guitars and a sweet, blue emotional funk.”

– Cecile Cloutier

An early version of the track’s chorus can be heard on “Normal” from Nil Recurring.

trains

Lyrics:

I never wanna be old
And I don’t want dependents
It’s no fun to be told
That you can’t blame your parents anymore

I’m finding it hard to hang from a star
I don’t wanna be…
Never wanna be old.

Sullen and bored the kids stay
And in this way wish away each day
Stoned in the mall the kids play
And in this way wish away each day

I don’t really know
If I care what is normal
And I’m not really sure
If the pills I’ve been taking are helping

I’m wasting my life
Hurting inside
I don’t really know
And I’m not really sure…

Sullen and bored the kids stay
And in this way wish away each day
Stoned in the mall the kids play
And in this way wish away each day

05. “Way Out of Here” – 7:37

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • John Wesley [guest] – backing vocals
  • Robert Fripp [guest] – soundscapes

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders and Robert Fripp’s parts recorded at DGM Studios in October – December 2006

6

 

 

Lyrics:

Out at the train tracks I dream of escape
But a song comes onto my iPod
And I realize it’s getting late

I can’t take the staring and the sympathy
And I don’t like the questions,
“How do you feel?”
“How’s it going in school?”
“Do you wanna talk about it?”

Way out
Way out of here
Fade out
Fade out, vanish

I’ll try to forget you
And I know that I will
In a thousand years
Or maybe a week

I’ll burn all your pictures
Cut out your face

The shutters are down and the curtains are closed
And I’ve covered my tracks
Disposed of the car

And I’ll try to forget even your name
And the way that you look when you’re sleeping
And dreaming of this

Way out
Way out of here
Fade out
Fade out, vanish

06. “Sleep Together” – 7:28

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • London Session Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

SW: “I wanted the track ‘Sleep Together’ to sound like Nine Inch Nails, with John Bonham on drums, and produced by Massive Attack!”

3
Porcupine Tree in Tilburg, October 2008

The epic conclusion to Fear of a Blank Planet, “Sleep Together” is one of Porcupine Tree’s most intense tracks. Featuring synthesizer manipulation that could only be produced by the one and only Richard Barbieri, “Sleep Together” culminates in what sounds like an explosion of sounds with an Arabic inspired orchestra arranged by Steven and Dave Stewart. While Wilson usually chooses to end his albums in a much more melancholic manner (ie. “Fadeaway”, “Glass Arm Shattering”, “Stop Swimming”, etc.), “Sleep Together” proves to be an extremely effective closer with its climactic end. As a result, it was also commonly played as the last song before the encore for live shows.

“So, earlier in this interview you said that Anesthetize is not your favourite Porcupine Tree track. Nor is Trains. Which song is your favourite then?”

SW: “My favourite Porcupine Tree songs are mostly the songs that the fans would not consider to be their faves. I really have a different taste there, haha … From the last record I would really have to say ‘Sleep Together’, and ‘Stop Swimming’ is also one of my favourites because that one really is very emotional and beautiful. But ‘Anesthetize’ would also be in my top 10, so …”

With it’s suicidal hints heard in lines like “Let’s leave forever” and “This means out”, Steven has mentioned that “Sleep Together” was inspired by a part in Lunar Park where all the teenagers begin disappearing. Although it seems that they have been abducted or killed, it is later revealed that they had just “escaped” themselves after they had become aware of the banality of their own existence. However, Steven has also said that in contrast to Elliot’s novel, “Sleep Together” could be interpreted as a happy ending as well, and that he left it deliberately ambiguous. The “escape” could be falling in love or physically moving away from a mentally inactive situation, meaning the “death” is merely of the banal former life of a character, in which he or she used sex and drugs to pass the time.

Lyrics:

This means out
This is your way out
Do or drown
Do or drown in torpor

Leave no trace
All my files erased
Burn my clothes
Burn my Prada trainers

Let’s sleep together right now
Relieve the pressure somehow
Switch off the future right now
Let’s leave forever

This is fate
This is your escape
Leave here now
Leave here like it’s over

Let’s sleep together right now
Relieve the pressure somehow
Switch off the future right now

Let’s leave forever

Song Details: Outtakes and Non-Album Tracks

“Nil Recurring” – 6:08

  • Steven Wilson – guitars, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums, tapped guitar
  • Robert Fripp [guest] – guitar solo

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Recording: Robert Fripp’s parts recorded at DGM Studios in October – December 2006

Release: Released on Nil Recurring

SW: “I had this instrumental, and I didn’t have a title, so I called it ‘Nil Recurring’. It’s always quite hard to name instrumentals, because obviously there’s no subject matter to relate it to. I just thought the idea was quite funny. I kind of like absurd titles. I kind of have a history of having these titles that make no sense, like Up The Downstair. I mean ‘Nil Recurring’ is another paradox like statement. You cannot have the number nil recurring. So it’s just a bit of fun really. And of course, it seemed to fit in with the lyrical concept of some of the other pieces that featured on Fear Of A Blank Planet. It was that idea of blankness, of not being there or negativity that helped gave that piece, and the EP its title.”

“You are credited for playing ‘tapped’ guitar [on] ‘Nil Recurring.’ What exactly is that?”

Gavin: “It’s literally me tapping my 7 string guitar in a similar way that people play the Chapman Stick. You can clearly hear me doing it in the first 32 seconds of that track. There’s two tapped guitar parts going on there – over the drums.”

Robert Fripp described his contribution to ‘Nil Recurring’ as a “strap on and rock out!” guitar solo.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

“Normal” – 7:07

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Recording: Recorded in October – December 2006 and July 2007 at No Man’s Land, Bourne Place (Gavin’s studio), The Artillery (Richard’s studio) and Nightspace (Colin’s studio)

Release: Released on Nil Recurring

“Normal” was cut from Fear of a Blank Planet but reworked and released in September 2007 on Nil Recurring. It features the same chorus as “Sentimental” from Fear of a Blank Planet. The lyrics of both songs contain a response to each other: while the last verse on “Normal” says “Wish I was old and a little sentimental”, the first verse on “Sentimental” speaks “I never want to be old, and I don’t want dependents”. According to Wilson’s statement in the live performance from We Lost the Skyline, the song was written in Tel-Aviv. As with the material on Fear of a Blank Planet, “Normal” deals with the issue of youth desensitization in the modern age.

Lyrics:

Here is my car, my phone and my TV
I’ve got it all but you can see through me

But am I here?
It’s kind of hard to tell
I do a good impression of myself
But what’s normal now anyhow?

Sullen and bored the kids stay
And in this way they wish away each day
Stoned in the mall the kids play
And in this way they wish away each day

Prescription drugs, they help me through the day
And that restraining order keeps me well at bay
But what’s normal now anyway?

Sullen and bored the kids stay
And in this way they wish away each day
Stoned in the mall the kids play
And in this way they wish away each day

Wish I was old and a little sentimental
(Wish I was old)

i. Wish I was old and a little sentimental
ii. You gotta see the waves, not the wine bottle in the waves now

“Cheating the Polygraph” – 7:06

  • Steven Wilson – guitars, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Gavin Harrison

Recording: Recorded in October – December 2006, with additional recording in July 2007 at No Man’s Land, Bourne Place (Gavin’s studio), The Artillery (Richard’s studio) and Nightspace (Colin’s studio)

Release: Released on Nil Recurring

“How much of ‘Cheating the Polygraph’ … [was] written by you? I know that you play guitar (in fact you play on ‘Nil Recurring’) as well as bass… so did you come up with some of those parts too, or just the drum grooves? If not, how much input did you have over the other guys’ parts?”

Gavin: “For those songs I had the rhythmic ideas worked out and some suggestions about the bass and guitar lines – but I don’t like to impose on the other guys so I tell them to take my rhythmic suggestions – but choose your own notes.”

Although cut from Fear of a Blank Planet after the band felt it did not fit in with the rest of the songs previewed in 2006, “Cheating the Polygraph” was slightly reworked in July 2007 and released on Nil Recurring.

Lyrics:

Lying through my teeth again
I’ve been bad again, black lies
Skirting round the truth again
To escape the look in your eyes

Cover up the facts again
With the money men, disguise
Losing my integrity
Well it’s lost to me, I don’t mind

Feel my soul going
Feel my soul colder

Blackening my soul again
With another lie, it’s my style
Burying my face again
God I’m so ashamed, this time

Feel my soul going
Feel my soul colder

“What Happens Now?” – 8:23

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums, percussion
  • Ben Coleman [guest] – electric violin

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Recording: Recorded in October – December 2006 and July 2007 at No Man’s Land, Bourne Place (Gavin’s studio), The Artillery (Richard’s studio) and Nightspace (Colin’s studio)

Release: Released on Nil Recurring

The “Anesthetize” riff reprise in the middle of the song features a pulse in 5/4 (the guitar) while the rest of the band play in 7/8, with Gavin Harrison playing an additional 3/16 polyrhythm override on the bell. Math!

Lyrics:

So I got all these things, but so what?
In the end you can’t take them with you
You think you can save my soul? Well OK…
Tell me, with all your conviction
What happens now?

Well I could be boarding an aircraft
With a bomb concealed in somebody’s briefcase
And my body will spread through the heavens, across the sky
And my ashes will fall through the cloudburst
What happens now?
What happens now?

“Always Recurring” – 4:06

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, piano, keyboards, mellotron, samples

Recording: Recorded in Tel Aviv or No Man’s Land in early 2006

Release: 

 

Lyrics:

Suddenly I don’t care
And I’m sure
In the end it’s gonna be peaceful
And I won’t be
Buried under a freeway 
Like a dog
Or hit by a train

There’s no way
I could ever jump from a window
With a smile
As the floors concertina
And dancing in the air 
As I speed towards the tarmac
Thinking, “what happens now?”

Don’t say anything at all
Stop your whining
No one wants to hear about you
No one reads the words now anyway
Make your music to entertain us
No, no navel-gazing please
Oh for god’s sake
No, we don’t wanna have to think

Always recurring down

And I won’t be
Boarding an airplane
With a bomb 
Concealed in somebody’s iPod
As my body
Spreads through the heavens
And my ashes
Fall through the cloudburst

Don’t say anything at all
Stop your whining
No one wants to hear about you
No one reads the words now anyway
Make your music to entertain us
No, no navel-gazing please
Oh for god’s sake
No, we don’t wanna have to think

([unclear], fall to the earth)

Always recurring down

ea7c6fd515e245b7b65e80b24917cf69
Porcupine Tree in 2008

Written and compiled by Quinn Downton