reword everything, add pics from the album pages and delerium booklet info
sw: Chris wants to solo all the time, Colin never. We call them “chalk and cheese”, but somehow the combination seems to work.
Yes, the whole reason I started PT as a solo project was because I could not find anyone else that wanted to make music without thinking of it as some kind of career move or in order to cater for what they though record companies and the audience wanted (which is not being a musician at all in my view, more an “entertainer”).
I know that many people have a romantic idea of songwriters jumping up in the middle of the night struck by inspiration, but in fact that rarely happens with me. I set aside time to write and when I do I drag whatever moods, thoughts or feelings I have in me at that moment into the process of creating something new.
Yes Alan was the guy who ran Imaginary Records in the 80’s. His lyrics were very psychedelic and LSD inspired. I decided to write my own lyrics which were more personal to me. We didn’t fall out or anything.
I seem to read a lot of biographies. I guess real life interests me more than fiction. But I do love Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, Raymond Carver, Hermann Hesse, Ian McCewan. Oh yeah ! And I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books as well. I love good children’s books.
colin – The band, as a live entity, started in 1993, Steven having previously made the first two albums all on his own – although myself and keyboard player Richard Barbieri both guested on the second album “Up the Downstair”. We were lucky enough that very early on, a few territories really got into the band, so we were doing some quite big shows in places like Italy and Poland, whilst still playing tiny clubs in the UK and elsewhere, but the level of interest was always slowly growing everywhere, and this gave us the confidence to keep going where I think a lot of bands would have given up.
Having seen the band play live twice now the one thing that has stuck out as being different between the textural material on the album and going to see the band live is your drummer Chris Maitland really cranks up the energy. I was wondering if there was going to be an attempt to bring that out on the studio albums? SW: Obviously when you go to see the band live people do their own thing. Chris is a very very very busy drummer. He’s like Keith Moon. He doesn’t like to settle into grooves. I find it really exciting to play with him on stage but I don’t particularly like that style in the studio. I prefer a more controlled… which he can do too. He can do anything. But live… he just goes mad. I’m certainly not a technically proficient musician at all. I’m a very sloppy guitar player. For Richard Barbieri it’s all about the sound. It’s not about the technique at all. I kind of prefer that. Colin, the same. It’s very kind of solid. What he plays is very simple but very effective. Chris is like the opposite. It’s as technical and as complex as it can be. Which for me is more kind of progressive. But it’s great fun to play with him live. I think he’s one of the best drummers in the world. But when I get him in the studio, because I’m producer I tend to… KH: You reign him in a bit. SW: Yeah. A little bit.
1987-1991: The Early Years
Porcupine Tree originated in 1987 as a collaborative hoax project by Steven Wilson and Malcolm Stocks. Partially inspired by the psychedelic experimental bands of the 1970s that had dominated the music scene during their youth, the two decided to form a fictional legendary rock band named “The Porcupine Tree”. The two fabricated a detailed back-story including information on alleged band members and album titles, as well as a “colorful” history which purportedly included events such as a meeting at a 1970s rock festival and several trips in and out of prison. As soon as he had put aside enough money to buy his own studio equipment, Wilson obliged this creation with several hours of music to provide “evidence” of its existence. Although Stocks provided a few passages of treated vocals and experimental guitar playing, his role in the project was mostly offering occasional ideas, with the bulk of the material being written, recorded, played and sung by Wilson.
At this point, Porcupine Tree was little more than a joke and a private amusement, as Wilson was concentrating on his other project, No-Man, an endeavor with UK based singer and songwriter Tim Bowness. However, by 1989 he began to consider some of the Porcupine Tree music as potentially marketable. Wilson created an 80-minute-long cassette titled Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm under the name of Porcupine Tree. Still showing the spirit of his joke, Wilson included an 8-page inlay which further revealed the hoaxed Porcupine Tree backstory, including references to fictitious band members such as Sir Tarquin Underspoon and Timothy Tadpole-Jones.
Wilson sent out copies of Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm to several people he felt would be interested in the recordings. Nick Saloman, the cult UK guitarist better known as The Bevis Frond, had suggested that he send one to Richard Allen, a writer for the UK counter-cultural magazine Encyclopaedia Psychedelica and co-editor of the UK psychedelic garage rock magazine Freakbeat. Allen reviewed the tape in both magazines. Whilst he disliked some of the material, he gave much of it a positive review. Several months later Allen invited Wilson to contribute a track to the double LP A Psychedelic Psauna that was being put together to launch the new Delerium label.
Allen would later become the band’s manager for 15 years, although his role in marketing the band’s image decreased after “The Sky Moves Sideways” album. In the meantime Wilson had continued to work on new material. In 1990, Wilson released a second full-length Porcupine Tree cassette called “The Nostalgia Factory”, which further expanded Porcupine Tree’s underground fan-base, although at this point the band was still carrying on the charade of being 1970s rock legends. By this point, Porcupine Tree was entirely a solo project, with Stocks having amicably moved on to other activities.
richard allen quote from sw
The newly formed Delerium label, formed by Freakbeat editors Richard Allen and Ivor Trueman, offered to reissue the cassettes “Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm” and “The Nostalgia Factory”. Two hundred copies of each cassette were sold through Freakbeat Magazine’s mail order, The Freak Emporium, and soon Porcupine Tree became known as a mysterious new act among the then UK underground psychedelic music scene.
1991-1992: On the Sunday of Life…
Shortly thereafter, Delerium invited Wilson to sign with as one of the label’s founder artists. The first release after this would be a double vinyl album and single CD compiling the best material from his two cassettes, was released in mid-1992 as “On the Sunday of Life…”, a title that was chosen from a long list of possible nonsense titles compiled by Richard Allen. The rest of the music from the initial tapes was released on the limited edition compilation album “Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape”.
In 1992, Delerium released “On the Sunday of Life…” as an edition of 1,000 copies, complete with a deluxe gatefold sleeve. The album sold very well, particularly in Italy, and it was briefly repressed on vinyl and has remained in print on CD ever since its release. The album featured future concert favourite and frequent encore song “Radioactive Toy”. By 2000, “On the Sunday of Life…” had accumulated sales of more than 20,000 copies. Although Steven Wilson still looks fondly on these releases, he finds it interesting how his fan-base still enjoy them, and describes the situation as “a bit like a painter having his nursery school blots exhibited”.
1992-1993: Up the Downstair
In May 1993 the second Porcupine Tree album, “Up the Downstair”, was released. The album was highly praised, with Melody Maker describing it as “a psychedelic masterpiece… one of the albums of the year.” The album was much more contemporary than its predecessor, fusing electronic music and rock. The album featured guest appearances from two future Porcupine Tree members, Richard Barbieri (keyboards), of 1970s-80s art rock band Japan, and Colin Edwin (bass).
Although Wilson intended to release “Up the Downstair” as a double album, the second half (“Voyage 34”) was instead released as a single in 1992. In 2002 Wilson described it as “an anti-single. It was a thirty minute single about drugs and it had no vocals in it. I thought that no one is going to play this. But it charted anyway.” In 2012 he said, “The whole point about “Voyage 34” was an exercise in genre. In that sense it stands apart from the rest of the catalog… back in the early 90s, there was an explosion in ambient music, a fusion of electronic music and techno music with the philosophy of people like Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. I thought there was an interesting opportunity to do something that would bring progressive rock and psychedelia into that mixture. I wouldn’t say “Voyage 34” was a technical exercise, that makes it sound like a science project, but it was a one-off experiment in a particular genre in which I knew I wouldn’t be staying for very long. I was given a tape of a guy having a bad trip in the 90s. It was an anti-LSD propaganda album and it was perfect to form a narrative around which I could form this long, hypnotic, trippy piece of music. And that was “Voyage 34”. Even at the time, I think that sort of music was already passing. Music that is too attached to a trend very soon starts to sound very dated. I was always interested in existing outside the bubble of whatever was hip, and that kind of music was very briefly hip. “Voyage 34″ sits inside that bubble. I’m still very proud of it. It was a unique piece of music, but of all the catalog, it’s one of the pieces which relates most closely to the era that it was created in.”
Additional material from the “Up the Downstair” sessions would later be released on the “Staircase Infinities” EP in 1994.
In a 2012 interview, Richard Allen commented on marketing Porcupine Tree: “I did all the press for [Delerium], particularly for Porcupine Tree. No other label was interested in this kind of music so it was a real uphill battle particularly for Porcupine Tree, a band that to start with was completely unknown, had no fan base, couldn’t perform live easily and played lengthy psychedelic guitar based progressive rock at a time when ambient trance and electronic, dance music were hip. We sold Porcupine Tree as an Ozric Tentacles type band which was a bit of a con as they were more progressive than psychedelic but it worked and they soon had a good fan base particularly in Italy.”
1993: Origin of the Band
By late 1993 Porcupine Tree’s profile had grown to the extent that Steven Wilson desired to expand into live performances and work in a band environment. As a result, Porcupine Tree became a live unit in December 1993 featuring Steven Wilson on lead vocals/guitar, Colin Edwin on bass, Chris Maitland on drums and Richard Barbieri (of UK new wave band Japan) on keyboards. All three new members of the group had worked with Steven on various projects over the preceding years and were excellent musicians sympathetic to the sound and direction of Porcupine Tree.
SW: “Richard and I both had this wide-ranging love of classic rock music from the 1970s… He loved Bowie and Roxy Music, whereas I came from the progressive end, but we also crossed over in a big way. I’d grown up living around the corner from Colin, who was a big fan of bands like Gong.”
Richard: “My job isn’t to do what most typical keyboard players in rock bands do, though of course that’s part of it… I’m more into abstract sounds and electronics. At the time, Porcupine Tree were playing trance-orientated stuff, almost in a contemporary club style. That fascinated me.”
SW: “He was someone I knew was into that kind of music and had never had the chance to work in a rock band… He’d always been in these rather exquisite art-pop projects. I knew that his background was more rock music.”
For his part, Barbieri responded to SW’s enthusiasm, work ethic and obvious talent. “He had a respect for my role and for what I’d done before and what I was contributing to the band… That was enough to keep me happy and interested in being in that band environment.”
SW: “I knew Richard and Colin liked the kind of music I liked. Chris not so much, but I knew that he was a great drummer, more than capable of playing the material and would perhaps grow to like it.”
Moved to take up the drums after seeing a big-band concert by The Syd Lawrence Orchestra, and coming from a musical background which had mixed heavy rock, theatre work, pure pop and even Elizabethan recorder music, Chris wasn’t an obvious candidate for the Porcupine Tree drum stool. Additionally, he was initially unimpressed by the music that Steven played him from the first two albums.
chris on sw phone book
Despite his misgivings, Chris opted to join and soon found matters improving: “On our first rehearsal I was nervous and when we were starting to play together I’d really done my homework and tried to get what was on the CDs. And Steve said, ‘That’s not what I got you in this band to do.’ He wanted me to do my own thing with it. And that’s been the best thing for me as a drummer in this band, in that I’ve been allowed to throw it all in and then sieve it later.”
more chris reharsal quote
colin on band
“Was forming a band as simple as needing a vehicle to perform live or did you want things to go that way in terms of a more cooperative effort as well?”
SW: “I think I probably did. Obviously the practical concern of being able to play the music live was the instigating factor. But I think subconsciously I also felt that I’d taken the solo years as far as I’d wanted to because I never really enjoyed working with drum machines. That’s the first thing. In some styles of music they have their own kind of sound and they’re very important. In the kind of music I was making they were a substitute and there’s no getting around that. They were a substitute for real drums. On The Sky Moves Sideways I had a couple of tracks where I did actually bring Chris and Colin in for the first time. “Stars Die” and “Moonloop”. And they were a turning point for me because I realized that those two tracks for me were the best from the whole sessions. And I realized from that point on I never wanted to go back to having to use drum machines. But also, I think I’ve always kind of been in love with the idea of, y’know, the rock band. Because bands have a kind of glamour, and appeal, and a romance about them the solo projects just don’t have. Y’know, the way the bands can kind of just go out on the road together and spend time together and the personalities just kind of gel… or they don’t. And there’s friction, and there are good times and there are bad times, but somehow this creates a real kind of special romance about the music, and I think we’re just beginning to get that now… I think there’s a real kind of band sound, all the personalities come through in the music and we all really have a lot of respect for each other as musicians. And I’ve always wanted that. And the only reason Porcupine Tree started as a solo project was there was nobody else I knew that wanted to make that kind of music. And so it was kind of like a project that I had to start as a solo project. But I guess that I always hoped that one day it would become a band.”
The new line up had an immediate chemistry as illustrated by the “Spiral Circus” live album which contained recordings from their first ever 3 performances. It was during their first gig at The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe that Wilson began to fully appreciated the group’s potential: “It was sold out, and to a lot more people than I was used to with No-Man,” he recalls. “Everybody knew the songs, and the reaction was rapturous. I started to think this could be a great band, maybe even with longevity.”
colin duffy quote
However, things thudded back down to earth again a few nights later when they played The Borderline in London. Once again the band played better than anybody hoped, but just 30 fans turned up at the 275-capacity venue. “So many people claim to have been at that gig,” Wilson laughs. “It’s like all those who say they saw the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club – there was no possible room for them all.”
More live shows in London helped keep the momentum going, along with some crucially important BBC radio sessions on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio I evening show, which brought Porcupine Tree to a surprised indie audience. “That was very, very important to the exposure of the band,” remembers Richard Allen. “Porcupine Tree” will always owe a great debt to Mark.”
SW: “That was the clincher… Wow, that’s big.”
Richard: “I’ve got quite a good intuition about people and about their talent. I kind of believed in what we were doing… It also helped having Chris there because, although he hadn’t had a high profile, he had worked quite a lot professionally before. So he was always obsessing about things–looking good, sounding good, and just the whole professional idea of putting on a show. And so the two of us were constantly fighting to try to get the production level raised, even when we were playing small pubs and clubs.”
1994-1995: The Sky Moves Sideways
Porcupine Tree’s next album would not emerge until early 1995, but was preceded by the “Moonloop” EP, the last two tracks of which were recorded during the album sessions and were the first to feature the new band. Released in 1995, the band’s third studio album, “The Sky Moves Sideways” became a success among progressive rock fans and Porcupine Tree were hailed as the Pink Floyd of the 1990s. Wilson would later lament this, stating, “I can’t help that. It’s true that during the period of The Sky Moves Sideways, I had done a little too much of it in the sense of satisfying, in a way, the fans of Pink Floyd who were listening to us because that group doesn’t make albums any more. Moreover, I regret it… Despite pressure from the record company, it made me understand that I didn’t want to take the easy option and cater for that market… I liked The Sky Moves Sideways at the time, but straight away I knew what we did next had to be more edgy and contemporary.” “Porcupine Tree have done so many things wrong in our career but we still persevered to carve out our own niche.”
“The Sky Moves Sideways” was an expansive soundscape of melody and ambient rock experimentation, but would prove to be a transitional work with half of it recorded before the formation of the band and half recorded after. Most of the album was taken up by the 35-minute title track, which at one point Steven had intended to be long enough to occupy the whole album. Together with the “Moonloop” EP, this album was the first Porcupine Tree music issued in America in the autumn of 1995, and attracted favorable press on both sides of the Atlantic. The band supported the album with numerous concerts throughout the year at major music venues in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and Greece.
The change in Porcupine Tree’s approach was nonetheless surprising, even to Steven himself. “I still look back on The Sky Moves Sideways and find it difficult to understand why I made it. It’s not that I think it’s bad, but if I look at the progression from On The Sunday of Life… to Voyage 34 to Up The Downstair, there’s a very distinctive if undefinable quality there – a mixture of songwriting, psychedelia, space-rock and progressive rock.”
“And suddenly I made this album that is firmly in the progressive rock camp – very easily definable, following a clearly Floydian blueprint, expressive guitar, slow pacing, the sustained organ chords… It went from sounding a bit rough’n’ready to sounding slick. That and the more labored, considered approach to the material, I guess, turned a lot of people off. But, at the same time, it attracted a lot of other people who liked progressive rock.”
Inevitably, the luxuriant curtains of synth and Steven’s ever-more-articulate bluesy guitar had also resulted in a growing number of reviewers writing the band off as no more than a junior Pink Floyd. It was an accusation that would take Porcupine Tree years of continuous effort to live down, and one which particularly bothered Steven: “I hate the idea that I’m living in the shadow of someone else.” Steven has since accepted that he has no else to blame except himself for this misstep.
Unsatisfied with the half band/half solo nature of “The Sky Moves Sideways”, Porcupine Tree promptly got down to the task of recording the first proper band record. Wilson admitted he was always “in love with the idea of the rock band” because “bands have a kind of glamour, and appeal, and a romance about them the solo projects just don’t have.” The band worked sporadically over the next year on developing a tighter and more ambitious rock sound.
In 1996, the band presented their most song-oriented album to date, “Signify”. More forwardly focused, its incisive blend of psychedelia, heavy rock and melancholy pop was further sharpened by Wilson’s imaginative production. Chris especially reveled in the opportunity to expand his vocal role in the band. “Doing the harmony on Waiting and being part of the block harmonies on Sever… I got just as much pride out of that as I did from the drum track.” Notably, “Signify” features one of two Porcupine Tree songs to not to be at least partly written by Wilson: “Light Mass Prayers” (the other being “Revenant” by Richard), an ambient vocal interlude written by Chris, but interestingly, featuring no drums at all!
SW: “I was suddenly not writing with machines in mind. I was writing with people in mind. The material became much more organic, more like rock and less synthesized. Early on there were a lot of elements of techno and trance. I had very textural and keyboard-oriented music. Suddenly going out and playing live the music I was writing, [it] became more song oriented… When you go and play live suddenly your music has a whole new dynamic and energy. That kind of translated back into the studio.”
PopMatters has described the album as “the end of an era, while simultaneously ushering in the dawn of a new age… It contains sprawling, vague instrumental tunes as well as more straightforward, cleverly written songs with a clear-cut song structure.” The album is still considered by the band as one of their most satisfying and cohesive albums.
Propelled by the single “Waiting”, “Signify” attracted airplay all throughout Europe. With the album picking up their first reviews in the mainstream, Porcupine Tree struck while the iron was hot by recording a live album, “Coma Divine”, in Rome the following year. Recorded over three nights in March to an audience that surpassed 5,000 people, “Coma Divine” was released as a farewell to Delerium Records, which felt it could no longer offer the kind of resources the band needed in order to continue to build its profile worldwide.
Regarding the operation of the band, Steven has said, “It is important for me to retain final say on certain things. I still do the writing, but beyond that point the band decide what tracks go on the album, the individual band members decide how they play and what they play on what track. In addition the band decide when they go on tour, where they want to play, how long they want to play, what goes on the album cover, etc… So it is a band – a band with a captain!”
1998-1999: Stupid Dream
Wilson, Barbieri, Edwin, and Maitland spent all of 1998 recording their fifth studio album, “Stupid Dream”, a release that reflected the band’s move towards a more song-oriented writing. Wilson acknowledged this time he was “much more interested in songwriting as an art form, as opposed to soundscape development” and commented he took influence from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Todd Rundgren, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and “anything with really good ensemble singing.” He also indicated that he was “interested in the idea of the pop song as a kind of experimental symphony.”
Sea change for Porcupine Tree was on the horizon, and a number of larger record companies were now eyeing them with interest. Suspicious to the motives of major labels that courted them, the band signed instead with leading independent Snapper, who gave them their own imprint, K-Scope (which Steven has since returned to for his latest solo albums). Sales continued to rise but as Steven points out, the band still hit brick walls, especially in getting their music on radio.
Although some critics accused Porcupine Tree of simplifying their sound, Wilson has disagreed, saying: “Some of the album’s more horizontal song structures were a lot more digestible, but the more vertical ones became more complex. The vocal harmonies made the arrangements a lot more complicated; they were just placed into a shorter, more direct format. We were accused of selling out – it wasn’t the first time – but all I was doing was responding to my own listening diet, and I’d become totally obsessed with Brian Wilson and The Byrds. For two years my goal was to perfect the ultimate two-and-a-half-minute pop symphony. I know that sounds pretentious, but that’s kind of what I always thought Brian Wilson was doing on stuff like Pet Sounds, what the Beatles were doing on albums like Revolver and Sgt Pepper… I think the extraordinary pieces of pop music still are things like “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Revolver which is two and a half minutes long, “God Only Knows” on Pet Sounds which is two and a half minutes long… they for me represent the pinnacle of popular music. And so there was a kind of shift in my thinking away from long abstract instrumentally oriented pieces to pieces that would hopefully have a much more timeless quality to them.”
The album was supported by a tour of the United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland, and the United States. The three singles taken from the album, “Piano Lessons”, “Stranger by the Minute” and “Pure Narcotic”, all achieved mainstream exposure in the US and in Europe and placed well in the UK independent charts and on radio station playlists. Although the album was a departure from their earlier sound, it brought the band new-found popularity and went on to become the band’s best-selling and most acclaimed release up to that time.
SW: “Porcupine Tree music is very very simple… The complexity is in the production. The complexity is in the way the albums are constructed. All of the work goes into creating the texture and the sound, and making it sound right. There’s nothing complicated about the music at all. And that’s really why I have to take issue when people describe us as progressive rock. I don’t think we are a progressive rock band. I think we’re just a rock band. I think what leads people to give it that kind of progressive tag is the way the songs are produced.”
2000-2001: Lightbulb Sun & Recordings
Realizing that a proportion of the band’s audience was still playing catch-up, the next album, 2001’s “Recordings”, was an outtakes collection that had no business being as good as it was. “We had such a wealth of quality material that doesn’t always make the records. At least two or three are usually left over, and they’re of a good quality. Which makes it doubly annoying when something like Four Chords That Made A Million gets released.” However, despite Wilson’s comments, “Lightbulb Sun” remains a fan favourite with popular songs such as “Shesmovedon”, “Hatesong” and “Russia On Ice”, all of which are regularly played in concert.
On the topic of his often high-quality b-sides, Wilson has reflected, “I think it’s very interesting to draw analogies with cinema. I’ve heard directors talking about movies they’ve made, and they say, ‘This scene we shot was my favorite scene in the movie, but when we came to edit the movie, it just didn’t fit, so we had to take it out.’ I think that’s the case sometimes with music tracks — you can be really proud of them, but sometimes they break the momentum of an album.”
2001-2002: In Absentia
Never liking to stay in the same place for too long, Wilson and company signed to Atlantic Records offshoot Lava, their first major label, in mid 2001. However, several months later the eight-year stay of drummer Chris Maitland ended when he departed the band after rumors of creative issues and tension with Steven. This would remain to be the only line-up change in the band’s history. More intriguingly, Maitland later re-emerged as a member of the guitarist’s highly regarded side-project Blackfield. In a 2005 interview Steven said “I’m gonna sidestep the subject of what happened with Chris, except to say that nowadays we’re great friends again, and what seemed important then doesn’t seem so vital now. Due to the Atlantic deal there was a lot of pressure on us at the time. We really had to stand up and be counted in terms of professionalism and commitment. The saddest thing of all was losing Chris just as the band was on the verge of some kind of breakthrough.”
In 2002, just weeks before they were meant to go to the studio to record the next album, the band quickly welcomed prolific session drummer and longtime acquaintance Gavin Harrison as Chris’ replacement. Recording sessions took place at Avatar Studios in New York and London, with veteran audio engineer Paul Northfield and string arranger Dave Gregory also playing major roles in the making of the record. The album was mixed in Los Angeles in May with Tim Palmer. The resulting album, “In Absentia”, was released by Lava Records in September 2002. In late 2002, the band welcomed guitarist and vocalist John Wesley as a guest live member, to aid in the backing vocals that Chris Maitland would sing, and contribute additional guitar.
The band also released a 5.1 surround sound version of “In Absentia”, mixed by Grammy Award winning producer Elliot Scheiner. The album saw the introduction of a harder edge to the sound (likely from Steven Wilson producing for Swedish death metal band Opeth in 2001), but still retained the more song-oriented structure of the last handful of albums.
“Of course, it was claimed that we’d sold out, which made us smile wryly because we knew the reality.. Andy Karp, who signed us, was a fan of ours for years and had wanted us since Lightbulb Sun. One of the first things we told the label was: ‘Look, you’re not even gonna have a say in what we do.’ And they agreed.” Sales of 120,000 for “In Absentia” show that the wisdom of the arrangement paid off.
In early 2004, the band embarked on the recording sessions for their next record, Deadwing, their second for Lava/Atlantic. The album takes its inspiration from a film script written by Wilson and filmmaker friend Mike Bennion. At this time Porcupine Tree’s emerging profile attracted the attention of several of Wilson’s key influences. King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew asked to participate in the “Deadwing” sessions and went on to infuse two tracks with his signature, controlled chaos approach. Rush drummer Neil Peart also sat up and took notice, name-checking the band in his books, as well as during media appearances. Neil Peart has since named Gavin Harrison one of the biggest influences on his drumming and often sits backstage to watch him play during Canadian shows.
The album sessions were completed in November 2004, and Deadwing was released in Europe and the US during the spring of 2005 as both a stereo and 5.1 surround sound album, preceded by the release of two singles, “Shallow” in the US and “Lazarus” in Europe. In 2005 Wilson admitted that he’d have laughed at anyone who, back in 1992, had suggested that more than a decade down the line Porcupine Tree would be releasing their second major-label album.
2006-2007: Fear of a Blank Planet
In August 2006 it was announced that the band had signed with Roadrunner Records UK. Their next album, “Fear of a Blank Planet” (2007), proved to be their most ambitious release yet, and saw the inclusion of contributions from Rush’s Alex Lifeson and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. The album proved to be even heavier and darker than past releases, but also saw the introduction of more spacey keyboards and textures, hearkening back to the “The Sky Moves Sideways” and “Signify” era, albeit in a much more contemporary setting.
SW: “I really didn’t know [Alex Lifeson] knew anything about Porcupine Tree until I read an interview with him in a British magazine. He mentioned really liking Porcupine Tree, and I fell off my chair when I read that because I grew up listening to Rush and I’ve always thought Alex was one of the most underrated guitarists in rock. So, I got in touch with him through the journalist, who had also done an interview with me around the same time, coincidentally. And we were right in the middle of writing at that time, so it was kind of an obvious thing to invite him to play on the record. It’s like it’s come full circle for me now, as the people I grew up listening to are now playing on Porcupine Tree records. So you can imagine the buzz, its incredible!”
On 5 November 2007, “Fear of a Blank Planet” won the “Album of the Year” award for the 2007 Classic Rock magazine awards. In December 2007, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Surround Sound Album”, this time mixed by Wilson, though “Love” by The Beatles won the award. The album was voted “Best Album of 2007” by readers of the Dutch Progressive Rock Page. A new EP titled “Nil Recurring” was released on 17 September 2007, featuring four unreleased tracks from the “Fear of a Blank Planet” sessions, including another contribution from Robert Fripp. The second leg of the tour started on 3 October 2007, now promoting new music from the EP. “Nil Recurring” entered the UK Top 30 Independent Label Albums at #8.
2009-2010: The Incident
After 2 years of touring, the band started recording their tenth studio album, “The Incident”, in February 2009. In June, details were revealed on the Porcupine Tree website: “The centre-piece is the title track, which takes up the whole of the first disc. The 55-minute work is described as a slightly surreal song cycle about beginnings and endings and the sense that ‘after this, things will never be the same again.’ The self-produced album is completed by four standalone compositions that developed out of band writing sessions last December – Flicker, Bonnie The Cat, Black Dahlia, and Remember Me Lover feature on a separate EP-length disc to stress their independence from the song cycle.” The album was the band’s biggest commercial success to date, reaching #23 in the UK album charts and also reaching the US Billboard Top 25.
After the 2010 tour for “The Incident”, which culminated in sold out shows in the Royal Albert Hall and Radio City Music Hall, Porcupine Tree entered into hiatus so each member could concentrate on their own projects. Although the intention was to write new material in 2012 or 2013, this changed as Wilson announced he would continue to focus on his solo career. Wilson has constantly reiterated that there is no intention of splitting up, and there will “definitely” be new material at some point in the future, although there is no plan “at the moment”.
Ignored completely by the mainstream, it took Porcupine Tree decades to reach where they are today, almost entirely by word-of-mouth.
Richard in 2017: “We went from playing gigs to two men and a dog in a pub to performing to thousands of people all over the world in some of the most amazing and iconic venues. There has to be a sense of pride of course and particularly with Porcupine Tree, because we really didn’t have any luck or ‘fast tracking’ along the way. For the most part, we were unfashionable and against the grain of the current musical trends at the time. The trajectory of the band was old school.
We built up an audience from word of mouth. We were an impressive live band from the beginning despite the limitations of playing horrible clubs. We played at the Bottom Line in New York City with half a PA working and no lights to speak of. But the main A&R guy from Lava/Atlantic Records was there and we still put on a great performance to more or less seal the deal.
We didn’t look the part but we even played the Download Festival and went down well, while others were bottled off stage. There was an element of understated coolness about the band and I think we were more sonically ambitious than most. Steven Wilson’s songwriting craft and lyrical content appealed to a lot of people outside of that whole prog-rock scene.”
Regarding songs on his albums sounding nothing alike, Wilson has said: “The important thing with Porcupine Tree is that all our songs have a unique sound world that they inhabit. I don’t like the idea of any song sounding like any other song. So most of the time it’s a case of finding the sound world first whether it be a texture or a drum rhythm that sets you off on a certain musical path, or particular musical atmosphere, or flavor.”
Bill Kopp of Musoscribe has praised Porcupine Tree for being more accessible than most progressive rock, saying “In many ways, Porcupine Tree can serve as a listener’s entree into a heretofore unexplored genre: if you’re a rock fan but not so into prog, it can ease you in gently. If you’re no metal fan, the band can show you the benefits of that genre without going all Metallica on you.”
The band’s live performances have also been praised, with Music Radar placing them 4th in their list of “The 30 greatest live acts in the world today” in 2010. Defying genres and labels, Porcupine Tree have been referred to as “the most important band you’ve never heard of”.
“The greatest strength of Porcupine Tree is that they seem to exist in a bubble, doing exactly what they want to do with no concern for the musical mainstream.”
Biography compiled from multiple sources and written by Quinn Downton