In Absentia

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Porcupine Tree in 2002

Never liking to stay in the same place for too long, Wilson and co. signed to Atlantic Records offshoot Lava, their first major label, in mid 2001. However, in February 2002 the eight-year stay of drummer Chris Maitland ended when he departed the band. This would remain to be the only line-up change in the band’s history. 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.”

Announcement of Chris’ departure on the band’s website in early 2002: 

“Porcupine Tree’s long-term drummer, Chris Maitland, ceased to be a member of the band in February for personal reasons. We would like to wish him well for the future, and thank him for his distinctive and powerful contribution to the band over the past eight years.

The band have been working on their new album with drummer Gavin Harrison. Some of you may already be familiar with Gavin from his session work and drum method books. He is a long-term friend and musical collaborator with the members of Porcupine Tree, and we welcome his contribution to the album.

Stay tuned to porcupinetree.com for updates and exclusive previews of the new album.”

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Chris Maitland in 2001

Richard: “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.”

Lava gave the band their biggest recording budget so far and dispatched them to New York to work with Rush / Ozzy Osbourne engineer Paul Northfield. The result was In Absentia, a broad-based album that displayed all the band’s usual lightness of touch, but also benefited from a tougher approach inspired by Wilson’s growing love for metal.

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SW in 2002

Announcement from August 2001: “Porcupine Tree are pleased to announce that they have signed a worldwide recording agreement with Lava / Atlantic Records. Recording of their seventh studio record and first for the new label will start early in the new year. The band would like to take the opportunity to thank all their fans all over the world for helping this to happen. The enthusiasm and magnitude of support for the band was a big factor in helping to secure the band major backing for it’s unique approach to making music.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2003

“A few years ago, you told me you had little interest in working with a major label. What changed your mind?”

SW: “Finding the right label. To put this in perspective, every time we demoed a new record, pretty much from Signify in [1996] and beyond, we would do the rounds of labels—majors and independents alike. There was always a flurry of interest, particularly around the time of Lightbulb Sun. The band had a proven underground following and sales and we were being recognized as a strong live act. So, there was interest, but there was always a sense that the labels didn’t get it or weren’t expecting much of the band. So, what we really felt was if there was ever a scenario in which the band signs to a major label, it would have to be a “grade one” record deal in which they were really putting their money where their mouth was and giving us the resources to make a record that was expected to sell, with ambitions to hit a million copies, otherwise, there didn’t seem to be any point.

There was no point in signing to a label where we were the small fish in the big pond. With Porcupine Tree, every label we’ve worked with has made us a priority act. We couldn’t envisage a situation in which we’d be a major priority for a major label until we met Andy Karp [Senior Vice President of A&R] at Lava Records. He not only got the band and wanted to sign us, but he was a fan, actively buying our records since the mid-‘90s. He totally got it and was prepared to really give us the finances and marketing resources that major labels are capable of giving. He was committed to backing the band over a longer period of time. That’s really important. We have a long-term deal with Lava. They’re not going to drop us because In Absentia didn’t sell a million records. In other words, they recognize that we’re an album band and not necessarily a singles band.

When you and I spoke last time, I arrived at the conclusion that there was no major label that was suitable for Porcupine Tree and I’m happy to have been proven wrong. I think the other thing is the climate changed between 2000 and 2002. There was a significant change in the way major labels think. I think the downloading thing made them reconsider the short-term philosophy they’d pursued for the previous 20 years. In other words, you sign a band, have one big hit album and single and move on. The success of bands like Radiohead and Tool having number one albums without releasing singles has definitely shifted the spotlight slightly in the direction of a band like Porcupine Tree. Lava wasn’t the only label that wanted to sign us. There was competition going on in the American major label scene which was extraordinary and surreal for me at the age of 34. To get that kind of interest was very strange.”

Desperate to find a drummer to record the parts for In Absentia, Richard Barbieri brought in his long-time acquaintance Gavin Harrison, a London-based session drummer, whom had played with him in the past.

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Gavin Harrison and Richard Barbieri

Gavin: “In 2002 Richard Barbieri called me and said Chris Maitland, the previous drummer, had left the band. They needed to go to New York to record In Absentia. He knew I was a session drummer and he said, ‘Can you come, it’s in about 3 weeks, it’s very last minute, but can you come and make the album as a session drummer?’, so I said ‘yeah, sure’.

I met Steve and Colin, I knew Richard from about 10 years before, and I listened to the new material.. I had a little chance at home to practice some of the songs and then we went to New York… I recorded the drums in about 4 or 5 days… and then I came home, it was all very easy. After I came home they invited me to join the band.. I thought it was a good time to see what that was that like, join a band and see how that works out. We went out on tour to support In Absentia and the rest is history, really.”

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SW and Chris in 2004

The real reason for Chris’ departure is still unknown beyond “personal reasons”. As stated on the old website updates and news segments, the entire band were ready and excited to tackle harder-edged and darker material, and the record deal happened in mid-2001, nearly a whole year before Chris left the band. If he truly wasn’t comfortable with the deal, he would have made it clear sooner. It’s fairly obvious that there was tension between him and Steven in the months leading up to In Absentia given that in 2005 SW said, “We’re great friends again, and what seemed important then doesn’t seem so vital now”, implying discomfort at one point. In addition, several years ago Chris told a fan he “didn’t exactly choose to leave”. Intriguingly, Chris would later emerge as a member of SW’s Blackfield project, and even played a handful of broadcasted shows in 2004.

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Gavin Harrison in November 2003

“Chris’ departure and Gavin’s arrival was the first line-up change in Porcupine Tree’s history. What kind of effect, if any, do you feel that the addition of Gavin has had on Porcupine Tree?”

SW: “I think it made us sound much more modern – Chris is a wonderful drummer, but perhaps more in the classic seventies rock mold, whereas Gavin’s style is more contemporary. Also, Gavin is such an exceptionally gifted and disciplined musician that I think it made me aspire to greater heights with my own playing, which has always been a little rudimentary.”

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Gavin making toast in 2003

SW: “In Absentia was all written before Gavin came on; even the drum parts were kind of programmed. But it’s one of those times sometimes in life when everything comes together. I’d written these songs and I was very much more interested at that time—having worked with Opeth—in the idea of combining a more kind of brutal or metal aspect back again into the fabric of the music. At the same time Gavin came along and Gavin was a very different drummer to our previous drummer, Chris Maitland. He was much more of a powerhouse and he was much more technical. He had more of a contemporary edge to his sound so it was just one of those really lucky things that he just came in and he played those songs and just blew everyone away and everything just kind of came together. And of course it was the first record we made for our new label and we got signed to a big American label for the first time [Lava Records]. Gavin was the final piece of that equation in a way—he just totally raised the bar in terms of not just the drumming but just the musicianship right throughout the band. Everyone was listening to Gavin and saying, ‘Fuck, wow. We really need to step up our game’.”

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Gavin Harrison in 2012

While I love In Absentia and Gavin’s contributions to the band, I think it would be incredibly interesting to hear Chris Maitland’s take on the material, especially given his bombastic style would’ve meshed well with the heavier material. It seems SW thought the same in this fan Q&A from January 2002:

“Will the more metal influenced style appear in Chris’s drumming? Cause I think Chris will fit perfectly to that with his energetic drumming, agree?”

SW: “I agree with you about Chris.”

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SW and Chris in 1999

In Absentia was the first album in the band’s career to move into a more heavy metal and progressive metal direction, contrary to past albums’ psychedelic and pop rock sounds.

“What do you consider the musical highlights of your time with [Porcupine Tree]?”

Richard: “In Absentia was really a big leap forward in many respects. Songwriting, production, orchestral arrangements, performances, and sound design all came together and though overall it was a more compact and guitar-led sound, I thought the material was really strong. There are actually far more gentle and subtle passages than most people understand.

Recording that album at Avatar Studios in New York City gave the proceedings a buzz and demonstrated what I already knew – that recording locations and environments really play a part in the recording process. From this point on, we would always allow for some group jams, writing sessions or studio time together on each album. It reset the path for us. We were getting supportive words and gestures from artists like Robert Fripp, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. Robert guested for us on a few tours and that was exciting to witness his soundscapes each night. Alex and Robert guested on the recordings that followed.”

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A photo taken by John Blackford of the In Absentia string session on April 18th at Air Lyndhurst

While not a formal concept album, many of the songs still have common themes related to serial killers, youthful innocence gone wrong, and criticisms of the modern world. The album’s title is also tied into this, with the phrase being Latin for “in absence” or “in one’s absence”, often in reference to a person’s rights when mentally unable to be represented in court in legal situations.

SW on the title: “It comes from… It’s related to some of the lyrics. It’s about people on the fringes, on the edges of humanity and society. I have an interest in serial killers, child molesters, and wife beaters… Not in what they did, but in the psychology of why. What caused them to become unhinged and twisted? Why are they unable to empathise? It’s sort of a metaphor – there’s something missing, a black hole, a cancer in their soul. It’s an absence in the soul.”

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Lasse Hoile’s striking artwork for In Absentia (featuring his own face)

In Absentia marked the first contribution from Danish artist Lasse Hoile, Steven Wilson’s long-term artistic collaborator, who has since created artwork for nearly all Porcupine Tree and solo work releases.

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One of the rare photos of Lasse Hoile

“You have been working with Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson for many years now. How did your collaboration start in the first place?”

Lasse: “I simply wrote SW after having seen Porcupine Tree playing to about 18 people at a little club in Denmark around 2000, I think it was. It was me and two friends driving down to see this amazing band only we knew. We thought the place would be packed but it was empty and we couldn’t understand it–I think we probably experienced one of the best shows ever–and I just said I had to do something, this can’t happen, these guys need to be seen and heard. I just offered my help to Steven and he replied and the rest is history, as they say. It’s been a long and hard trip, it still is. I quit my day job, which in hind sight might not also have been the best idea, but if you don’t step into unknown territory once in a while you never progress, I think… I don’t regret anything, although it hasn’t been easy with a few near-death experiences, but the adventures make up for it and the people you meet along the way and stories… It’s all worth it.”

The band recorded the album at Avatar Studio in New York (drawing from a pool of 30 songs written by SW) with additional recording at New Rising Studio in Colchester, Red Room Recorders in Florida and No Man’s Land (SW’s home studio).

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A recording room in Red Room Recorders, Tampa, Florida

In a January 2002 fan Q&A, Steven said the upcoming album (In Absentia) was his “favourite for sure. It’s the best material I’ve ever written and it’s much more vibey. Signify [was] my favourite album until now. Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun have some good tracks but also some very weak moments. Signify sustains the right atmosphere all the way I think.”

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In 2003

Although a handful of promo singles were given out weeks before the release of the album (ex/ “Blackest Eyes”, “The Sound of Muzak”), no formal singles were released, which was the case with previous albums Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun.

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Porcupine Tree performing on “MHz” in 2003

In its first year of sales, In Absentia had sold over 100,000 copies worldwide, more than three times as much as any of their prior albums.

SW: “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.”

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A promotional poster for the 2003 tour

Reception for the album was incredibly positive. It was Metal Storm’s #2 of the Top 20 albums of 2002 and #46 on the Top 200 albums of all time. Allmusic strongly praised the album, stating that overall, the album “…has the most immediate appeal of anything Wilson has released under this moniker up to this point. By keeping the songs at manageable lengths and avoiding the avant-garde electronica flourishes of the band’s early days, Porcupine Tree has grown into a fully realized pop group without cutting any of the elements that also make them an important force in the neo-prog movement.” PopMatters similarly praised it, calling it “…an impressive album that drips with [King] Crimson’s progressive rock influence. But what sets this album apart is that Steven Wilson, the band’s frontman who wrote the songs and produced the album, was clearly set upon constructing intelligent popular music.”

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Colin in 2003

In a 2009 interview, Wilson said he viewed the album as the crowning achievement of his career so far.

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Gavin in 2003 when all of the hotels in Stuttgart were “all booked up” (Richard: “There’s a great picture of Gavin in the car park with his face up against the barbed wire fence [laughs] in black and white… That kind of summed it up, the natural depression”)
To support In Absentia, Porcupine Tree toured with the band Yes. This is something Wilson would later regret doing, stating that the audiences of the two bands were too different and “the problem was that most of the people who came to see Yes had stopped caring about new music many years before and were really there just to hear their favourite Yes oldies.” The band would later do a second tour in support of the album with Opeth. In July 2003 (during the tour) the band released the Futile EP as a promotional release, which included songs recorded during the In Absentia recording sessions. It was later released in 2006 as a digital download.

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Richard in 2003

“I understand you didn’t have a great time on the 2002 tour opening for Yes. The rumor was someone from the Yes crew was messing with the band.”

SW: “There was the whole thing where after a few days on tour, we were told we couldn’t have as many lights as we previously had. It was the usual bullshit. There were some conspiracy theories going around. We walked onstage a couple of nights and equipment that had been working during soundcheck suddenly wasn’t working. I don’t believe Jon Anderson was creeping backstage and unplugging cables though. Maybe he was ordering a stage tech to do it. [laughs]”

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The Futile EP artwork created by Lasse Hoile

SW: “I definitely brought back some of what I learned from [Opeth]… We also toured with [them], and there was a great deal of cross-fertilisation between both bands.”

On 12 November 2002, Porcupine Tree recorded a live-in-studio session at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, DC. Titled XM, it was originally released a limited edition tour album in Summer 2003 but made available on the Porcupine Tree online store at a later date. The band’s second session for XM Satellite Radio, titled XMII, was recorded on 21 July 2003 and released in June 2005.

Richard in 2017: “It’s also worth mentioning the live radio sessions we did in the States. It wasn’t uncommon to squeeze these in during tours and usually this involved us traveling all night on the bus and turning up at the studio at 10am to do a live session for Sirius Radio or XFM. In a way, I think these sessions showed the band at its best because everything is so under the microscope in the studio. We released a couple of these sessions on our own imprint and they sound great to me.”

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Richard in 2003

After the release of In Absentia, Porcupine Tree welcomed John Wesley, who contributed additional guitars and vocals to the album, as a live guest to aid in backing vocals (previously sung by Chris Maitland) and the new heavier guitar-driven material.

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John Wesley in 2016

“Reflect on your time in Porcupine Tree and what that experience meant to you.”

Wes: “Steven needed someone to help interpret his vision. When I came into it, Steven said ‘We’ve signed to a major label and we’re about to mix In Absentia. On one of the songs, the guitar didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. Can you make it heavier-sounding?’ When I was playing with Fish, Steven would come see the band. I brought a heavier element to Fish’s sound that he didn’t have up until that point. I was rocking Les Pauls through Marshalls on stage. So, when Steven contacted me, he said ‘Can you bring some of that into ‘Blackest Eyes?’ I said ‘Okay’ and he sent me the Pro Tools tracks. I sent him eight tracks of Les Paul and Marshall, chugging that ‘Blackest Eyes’ riff. Then he asked me to do a bunch of background vocals. Then Steven said ‘This record’s got more guitar and vocals on it than ever before. I could really use someone to pick up what I can’t cover on guitar and vocals live.’

A lot of people have said ‘Why didn’t you ever become a real member of the band?’ I said ‘Well, I’m a live member. Steven doesn’t need any creative input from me. What he needs is someone to interpret his creativity and bring it to life.’ That was my role in the band. I’d never go to Steven and say ‘Hey dude, I think we need to do this here.’ It was more based on dialogue like ‘Is there a sound or something we can do to make this work better live?’

I grew in a major way as a musician during my 10 years with Porcupine Tree. Performing with players like those makes you want to play as well as you can. Gavin Harrison is one of the most consummate musicians you’ll ever meet in your life. He’s always seeking new ideas, as is Steven. The experience really helped me evolve and take things to the next level in terms of my own creativity and output.”

Tracklist

  1. “Blackest Eyes” – 4:23
  2. “Trains” – 5:56
  3. “Lips of Ashes” – 4:39
  4. “The Sound of Muzak” – 4:59
  5. “Gravity Eyelids” – 7:56
  6. “Wedding Nails” – 6:33
  7. “Prodigal” – 5:32
  8. “.3” – 5:25
  9. “The Creator Has a Mastertape” – 5:21
  10. “Heartattack in a Layby” – 4:15
  11. “Strip the Soul” – 7:21
  12. “Collapse the Light Into Earth” – 5:52

Total length: 68:14

Production

  • Steven Wilson – producer
  • Paul Northfield – recording engineer
  • Brian Montgomery – recording engineer [assistant]
  • Dave Gregory – arranger [strings]
  • Mark O’Donoughue – recording engineer [mix]
  • Tim Palmer – mix
  • Elliot Schneiner – 5.1 mix
  • Andy VanDette – master
  • Darcy Proper – 5.1 master
  • Andrew Karp – A&R Direction
  • Lasse Hoile – artwork
  • John Blackford – band photography

Label: Lava Records LLC / Atlantic (US), WHD Entertainment Inc. (Japan) and DTS Entertainment (DVD-A release)

Release: 24 September 2002 (US) and 13 January 2003 (UK)

Publishing: Published by Lava Songs and WB Music Corp.

Released on CD on 24th September 2002 in America and 13th January 2003 in Europe with three bonus tracks (“Drown With Me”, “Chloroform” and “Strip the Soul (Video Edit)”). Later released on 2LP (with an extra track, “Chloroform”, placed after “The Creator Has a Mastertape”) by Lava in 2003 (later re-released by Tonefloat in 2010). The DVD-A was released on 4th March 2004.

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The gorgeous 2010 clear marbled cyan 2LP version of In Absentia, limited to 1,500 copies

“A DVD-Audio version of In Absentia was just released. Describe the opportunity remixing the album in 5.1 provided and your take on the emerging high-resolution audio realm.”

SW: “I was less interested in the higher resolution–as it’s really only a minority of people than can actually hear the difference or have a system that is capable of revealing the difference–than I was in the opportunity to mix into surround. It’s a medium perfectly suited to Porcupine Tree’s music, which has many layers to the production that stereo really cannot do justice to. For example, being able to position the multi-part harmony vocals and some of Richard Barbieri’s electronic sounds and textures all around the listener means that the music really does open out in a three-dimensional way. Once you hear something in 5.1, it really does render the stereo mix rather flat and uninspiring, especially with a band like Porcupine Tree. I’m happy to say that the 5.1 mix of In Absentia does seem to be becoming a benchmark of sorts for surround DVD-Audio, as I hoped it would. We put a tremendous amount of time and effort into getting it right, whereas most surround mixes are done as an afterthought without even the artist being involved much of the time.”

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Band photography for In Absentia was taken by John Blackford, a friend of the band who also created the Signify artwork

In Absentia and Deadwing, the next Porcupine Tree album, have fallen victim to the “loudness war”, a term used to describe albums that have been mastered too loudly, resulting in a smaller dynamic range (meaning the difference between the highest and lowest volume is smaller). Both albums were mastered by Andy VanDette. Steven Wilson has since voiced his wishes to remix and remaster these albums and include all of the outtakes from the sessions but has been unable to due to contractual issues. In short, the material is in limbo and label hell and it is unclear when SW will regain control to do as he wishes.

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Colin and Richard in 2003

SW: “Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia turned 10 years old last year. It’s 11 years old this year. We’ll reissue that as a special edition with a Blu-ray disc featuring the video material we have. There were a lot of other tracks recorded during those sessions that didn’t make the album, like “Meantime,” “Drown with Me,” “Chloroform,” “Futile,” and “Orchidia.” We’re going to bring all of those together, perhaps along with some instrumental versions and demo versions. It’ll be an all-singing, all-dancing experience. [laughs]”

In his 2014 new year website update, SW said: “Unfortunately contractual issues have so far made a hoped for 10th anniversary edition remaster collecting all the music from Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia sessions not possible – hopefully that situation will change.”

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SW recording the April 18th string session at Air Lyndhurst

Here’s an excerpt from a 2010 interview with Andy VanDette about mastering In Absentia:

“How did you get the Porcupine Tree gig?”

“Luckily my friend Andy Karp–who became president of A&R over at Lava/Atlantic–whenever he could throw my name into the ring for mastering he would. A lot of artists have a mastering engineer that they’ve worked with before and that’s where they go. But Andy would get me shootout gigs for certain stuff–I got to do the Simple Plan demo that got them signed. I did a few records on Atlantic that never saw the light of day… and Porcupine Tree came along that way.

“What can you tell me about In Absentia?”

“The thing about In Absentia is that was a record made the way that records used to be made. You had a big major label debut where they recorded in big studios, they hired a quality engineer to record the basic tracks, and then a mix god, Tim Palmer, to mix it all to half inch tape. I heard the first few seconds of “Blackest Eyes” and I thought, ‘OK, this is going to be a good day! this is going to be a day where I figure out ‘a half dB of what’ instead of ‘where’s the kitchen sink?'”

“Was Steven here?”

“Yes, Steven was here for the record.”

“He’s a pretty hands-on guy?”

“Oh yeah, definitely.”

“Was there much collaboration or back-and-forth in the session or did you work alone?”

“I think pretty much they let me work. You know, Steven liked what he was hearing so… we seemed to like the same things, so sometimes you just click that way with clients. I don’t really remember too much back and forth, there was more of that on the next record, Deadwing.”

Liner notes:

“For making this album possible the band would like to offer very special thanks to Andy Leff, Richard Allen, Andy Karp, Jason Flom & Karen Lee. Also big thanks for their contributions to the making of the record to Paul Northfield, Dave Gregory, Tim Palmer, Mark O’Donoughue, Aviv & Wes.”

SW: “Love and appreciation to T and my family, Mike Bennion, Tim Bowness, my other family Aviv, Shani, Ronit and Rotem (x), Gosia, Anja and John, Mikeal and Peter from Opeth (and Olivier Badin for introducing me to them and the other Swedish metal gods Meshuggah). Love you all.”

RB: “Special thanks to Suzanne, Rosemary and my Dad for love and understanding. For friendship, support, kind words and encouragement, thanks go to Steve H, Andy G, Aziz I, Dave G, Steve J, Mick K, Debi Z, David T, Jakko J, Lyndon C, Luigi C A, Stefano P, Nichola L, Dhalbir S, Jingles, Stephanie S J, David W, The Bays and the Adom family. Thanks also to Tim Wallhead (who repairs and maintains my analogue gear) and Wine Country Productions, San Jose, CA (who often supply the parts).”

CE: “Clair, Martin Elliot (for help in starting the journey), the Balch Family, the Jones’s and Batleys, XYZ’s (Vince and Geoff), Alan W Watts, Pete the Fish at Wal, and Peter Gates at The Music Company.”

GH: “Thanks to Sonor Drums – Ian Croft, Zildjian Cymbals – Bob Wiczling & Tina Clark, Vic Firth Sticks – Jerome Marcus.”

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The outside of Avatar Studios

All tracks recorded at Avatar Studio, New York, New Rising (Colin’s studio), Colchester, and No Man’s Land in March – April 2002 unless noted otherwise. John Wesley’s parts recorded at Red Room Recorders, Tampa, Florida in March – April 2002. Some elements retained from demos recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001. All strings recorded at Air Lyndhurst, London in March – May 2002. Mixed at Larrabee North, Hollywood in May 2002 by Tim Palmer. Mastered at Masterdisk, New York in June 2002 by Andy VanDette. Second master completed at Masterdisk, New York in November 2002 by Andy VanDette for the 2LP release. Surround mix completed at Eyeball Studio by Elliot Scheiner in September – December 2003. Surround master completed at Sony Studios, New York by Darcy Proper in January 2004. All tracks written by SW unless noted otherwise.

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The mix board in Avatar Studios

Song Details: Album Tracks

01. “Blackest Eyes” – 4:23

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars,
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • John Wesley [guest] – additional guitars, backing vocals

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders in March – April 2002

Release: Originally released on various promotional samplers weeks before the album release

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Unused artwork created by Lasse Hoile

In Absentia opens with “Blackest Eyes” – a real declaration of intent: spine-tingling guitar jangles convey both the nerve-jarring sensations of tension and anxiety which pervade this record more than any prior Porcupine Tree album. Wilson makes superb use of the tightly controlled modern rock guitar sound, and conjures up imaginative pile-driver riffs throughout, often contrasted with pastoral or psychedelic sections far more inventively than similar efforts by other users of the old quiet-loud trick. This album opener is a stunner, with fuzzed and wah-wah guitar, energetic and focused drumming, and an ambient organ break.

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Wes in 2003

The intro guitar riff for the track was gifted to SW by his friend Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth and was rumoured to be taken from the Blackwater Park sessions.

Lyrically, “Blackest Eyes” can be seen as a snapshot inside the mind of a serial killer, whose deranged actions seem perfectly acceptable to himself, reinforcing SW’s idea of a serial killer’s “absence of the soul”. Fans have speculated that the song’s lyrics are inspired by the infamous American serial killer Ted Bundy.

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Porcupine Tree in 2003

“Blackest Eyes” was played a total of 363 times between 2002 and 2010, making it the most played Porcupine Tree song ever.

Lyrics:

A mother sings a lullaby to a child
Sometime in the future the boy goes wild
And all his nerves are feeling some kind of energy

A walk in the woods and I will try
Something under the trees that made you cry
It’s so erotic when your make up runs

I got wiring loose inside my head
I got books that I’ve never ever read
I got secrets in my garden shed
I got a scar where all my urges bled
I got people underneath my bed
I got a place where all my dreams are dead
Swim with me into your blackest eyes

A few minutes with me inside my van
Should be so beautiful if we can
I’m feeling something taking over me

02. “Trains” – 5:56

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards, banjo
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron, keyboards
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums, percussion

Release: Originally released on various promotional samplers weeks before the album release

SW: “Trains are another thing that crop up many times in my lyrics, songs and titles. For me the train is a metaphor for a nostalgic childhood, the reason being that when I was young I grew up near a train station. I would very often go to sleep hearing the sound of trains moving in and out of the station. So for me, every time I hear a train now it sets off a chain of memories of childhood. A sound of a train for me can link to many, many, many other things like smells, sights, sounds, memories both good and bad. So the train can becomes a metaphor for almost looking back to my childhood…”

[from 2009]

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SW in 2003

While some fans have argued if “Trains” is about a serial killer, SW has made it quite clear it is simply a surrealist song about love and nostalgia, with similar themes to songs like “Where We Would Be” and “Lightbulb Sun”. I always thought the “Scars in the country” line referred to how train tracks seem to cut across the landscape when viewed from above, making the landscape appear “scarred”.

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An image created by Lasse Hoile for In Absentia (used as the inner gatefold artwork for the vinyl release)

SW: “The 60 ton angel is a train! I don’t know how much they weigh, I think I just guessed. 60 tons sounded about right. I think it’s a train… it’s a long time since I wrote the song. The idea is that a train is this kind of angelic heavenly thing that’s come to earth. It’s a romantic notion of this train falling from the heavens… I think. It’s a long time. Sometimes I forget what I meant when I wrote things. But I’m pretty sure I was talking about a train.”

Lyrics:

Train set and match spied under the blind
Shiny and contoured the railway winds
And I’ve heard the sound from my cousin’s bed
The hiss of the train at the railway head

Always the summers are slipping away

A 60 ton angel falls to the earth
A pile of old metal, a radiant blur
Scars in the country, the summer and her

Always the summers are slipping away
Find me a way for making it stay

When I hear the engine pass
I’m kissing you wide
The hissing subsides
I’m in luck

When the evening reaches here
You’re tying me up
I’m dying of love
It’s OK

03. “Lips of Ashes” – 4:39

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards, hammered dulcimer, percussion, samples

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 1999 and 2000 – 2001 and Avatar Studio, New York in March – April 2002

Demo: “43555e99.01” from Bass Communion III and “Lips of Ashes (Demo)” from the various leaked In Absentia demo bootlegs

One of the most chilling tracks from In Absentia, “Lips of Ashes” is a solo Steven Wilson composition. The track was derived from the Bass Communion piece “43555e99.01” (from the third self-titled album).

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The artwork for Bass Communion III created by Carl Glover

In my opinion, the lyrics in “Lips of Ashes” discuss a psycho-pathological person who is a necrophiliac or at the very least maniacally drawn to dead bodies. He quite literally “drills down inside” the dead body, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for sadness, melancholy and the yearning to find a way into another person’s thoughts.

Other fan speculation include the theory that the track is about Harold Shipman, a doctor who killed hundreds of patients through overdoses of morphine or other injected drugs. Many victims were cremated, hence the “ashes”.

“Lips of Ashes” features the use of a hammered dulcimer.

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A hammered dulcimer

On the vinyl version of the album, the high pitched wordless vocal during the fade-out is absent in the mix.

Lyrics:

Paralysed
Lips of ashes
Synchronised
Blue vein crashes

Touching you inside

Idolised
Black eyes fading
You and I
Connection failing

I drill down inside

04. “The Sound of Muzak” – 4:59

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • Aviv Geffen [guest] – backing vocals
  • John Wesley [guest] – backing vocals

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders in March – April 2002

Release: Originally released on various promotional samplers weeks before the album release

“The Sound of Muzak” and “Prodigal” both feature backing vocals from John Wesley and Aviv Geffen. At this time, Steven Wilson would have just begun his collaboration with Israeli singer Aviv Geffen, meaning Aviv would have recorded his parts in No Man’s Land (considering Tel Aviv is not listed as a recording location on the album).

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Porcupine Tree in 2002

Like “Piano Lessons”, “Four Chords That Made a Million” and “Buying New Soul” before it, “The Sound of Muzak” shows Steven Wilson’s frustration with mainstream music and the music industry. To Wilson, mainstream music is devoid of soul, which relates “The Sound of Muzak” to the main theme of In Absentia.

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Wes in 2002

Lyrics:

Hear the sound of music
Drifting in the aisles
Elevator Prozac
Stretching on for miles

The music of the future
Will not entertain
It’s only meant to repress
And neutralise your brain

Soul gets squeezed out
Edges get blunt
Demographic
Gives what you want

One of the wonders of the world is going down
It’s going down I know
It’s one of the blunders of the world that no-one cares
No-one cares enough

Now the sound of music
Comes in silver pills
Engineered to suit you
Building cheaper thrills

The music of rebellion
Makes you wanna rage
But it’s made by millionaires
Who are nearly twice your age

Soul gets squeezed out
Edges get blunt
Demographic
Gives what you want

One of the wonders of the world is going down
It’s going down I know
It’s one of the blunders of the world that no-one cares
No-one cares enough

05. “Gravity Eyelids” – 7:56

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

Release: Similar to “Chloroform”, “Gravity Eyelids” was first released as a preview track from In Absentia on the band’s website in August 2002

One of the darkest songs Wilson has ever written, “Gravity Eyelids” is an alluring track led by Barbieri’s incredible-as-ever spacey synth work that feels more in line with the darker aspects of the Lightbulb Sun sessions; namely “Untitled” and “Russia on Ice”.

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The guys backstage in 2003

In August 2000, SW said “to some extent I feel that Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun were the two ambitious song records that Porcupine Tree were meant to make. I’m still very proud of them, especially [Lightbulb Sun], but the time has come for the band to move on again and the next album is already shaping up to be a record that will explore darker and stranger sonic territory.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2003

Around 4 minutes in Wilson introduces a blistering guitar riff that wouldn’t have been unfamiliar on an Opeth album.

“The last two albums have been, for a lack of a better term, kind of more commercial than your earlier stuff. I know that that has been upsetting some fans, I think it’s a good way to move forward, but what will be your next step? Where will you go from here?”

SW: “Back away from commercial, probably something much more dark. Well I should know, ’cause I’ve written the songs already. It’s much darker and it’s much more heavy. Move away from the more pop sensibilities of the last two albums. I guess the pop element has been replaced by more of a metal element. Still, recognisably Porcupine Tree, but just – you know – a further stage in the evolvement and the development of the band. I mean, we’ve never been interested in repeating ourselves. And every time the fans think they know how to categorise us, we take great divides and great pride in disappointing them… or not. Or surprising them, or however they look at it. Some people like it, some people don’t.”

[from 2001]

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Richard in 2002

Despite some of the most disturbing and blatantly sexual lyrics SW has ever written, he has said that “Gravity Eyelids” is just about “an evening at the Dead Sea” (“Let the salt flow, feel my coil unwind”).

Lyrics:

Open your eyes now
Hear me out before I lose my mind
I’ve been waiting for hours
Let the salt flow, feel my coil unwind

Give me a smile please
Count the calm and watch my breathing slow
Winding me up tease
Get inside my head and make it show

Gravity eyelids come down

Touching your oil skin
Slipping hands down past your waist to find
I’ve been waiting for hours
Let the salt flow, feel my coil unwind
Go to the edge swim
Brown the eyes that sleep has rendered blind

i. Gravity eyelids come down
ii. Come love so young with your gold arms so I wake her
iii. Here’s a will that will glow in the dark

06. “Wedding Nails” – 6:33

  • Steven Wilson – guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri

Demo: “Wedding Nails” and “Wedding Nails (Undertow Mix)” on the various In Absentia demo bootlegs

Co-written by Richard Barbieri, this King Crimson-esque rocker is a wailing instrumental complete with blistering guitar and Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial effects.

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Richard in 2002

On the 2002 In Absentia tour Steven Wilson said “Wedding Nails” was featured on DC Comics’ Birds of Prey TV show as the “soundtrack for a confrontation between Catwoman and Aquaman.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2002

Just before the final mastering stage for In Absentia, “Drown With Me” was replaced by “Wedding Nails”. Steven Wilson has since voiced his regret for this decision.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

07. “Prodigal” – 5:32

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
  • Richard Barberi – analogue synthesizers, mellotron, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • Aviv Geffen [guest] – backing vocals
  • John Wesley [guest] – backing vocals

Recording: Wes’ parts recorded at Red Room Recorders in March – April 2002

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Wes in 2003 (wearing that same shirt SW wore on the Stupid Dream tour!)

Prodigal” describes someone who feels out of place in the world and considers suicide. The track features particularly exceptional lyrics that seem to have this character arguing with himself between the verses and choruses.

For me, “Prodigal” contains some of Wilson’s most potent lyrics: “I spend my days with all my friends / They’re the ones on who my life depends / I’m gonna miss them when the series ends”. This line perfectly encapsulates the feeling of loneliness.

There were fan theories that this line was a reference to a serial killer believing his victims were his friends (and would pose them to watch TV), but I believe this is unnecessarily forcing the serial killer theme when the reality is just a song about melancholic confusion.

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Seriously, look at their shirts!

Lyrics:

I don’t know whose side I’m on
I don’t think that I belong round here
If I left the stage would that be wrong?

I tried to find myself a better way
I got religion but I went astray
They took my money and I lost my faith

Rain keeps crawling down the glass
The good times never seem to last
Close your eyes and let the thought pass

I tried the capsule and I tried the smoke
I tried to aid escape like normal folk
But I never seemed to get the joke

These are my old clothes
This is a new low
This is my blood flow
This is my headstone

I spend my days with all my friends
They’re the ones on who my life depends
I’m gonna miss them when the series ends

Rain keeps crawling down the glass
(Pull yourself together)
The good times never seem to last
(You know it’s not so bad)
Close your eyes and let the thought pass
(Close your eyes and let it pass)

08. “.3” – 5:25

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
  • Richard Barberi – analogue synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums
  • The Lyndhurst Orchestra [guest] – violin (16), viola (4), cello (4), double bass (2)

Demo: “Strip the Soul (Extended)” from the various leaked In Absentia demo bootlegs

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A photo taken by John Blackford of the In Absentia string session on April 18th at Air Lyndhurst

“.3” used to be part of “Strip the Soul” but SW decided to separate them. The overall feel of the tempo and the bass line are still very similar. More-so than any other song on In Absentia, “.3” seems to recall the space rock and moody atmospherics of the mid nineties period of Up The DownstairSky Moves Sideways and Signify. With the exception of a couple lines of lyrics repeated throughout the second half of the track, “.3” is mostly instrumental. The track climaxes in a wave of trippy guitar work and soaring strings.

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Porcupine Tree in 2003

The title could refer to World War 3 (.3 = 3/10, 3/10 = 3:10, 2 Peter 3:10).

2 Peter 3:10 (New International Version):

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

Lyrics:

Black the sky, weapons fly
Lay them waste for your race
(Welcome home)

Demo Lyrics:

[see “Strip the Soul”]

09. “The Creator Has a Mastertape” – 5:21

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

Demo: “The Creator Has a Mastertape” from the various leaked In Absentia demo bootlegs

“The Creator Has a Mastertape” seems to be the result of someone crossing the space-pop of “Men of Wood”, “Jupiter Island” and “The Nostalgia Factory” with industrial metal. As far away from progressive rock as the band can get, “Creator Has a Mastertape” features distorted spoken vocals and in-your-face guitar violence.

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An image created by Lasse Hoile for In Absentia

Lyrics:

He captured and collected things
And he put them in a shed
He raised a proper family
So he could tie them to a bed

The creator had a mastertape
But he left it in a cab
I stared into the void tonight
The best dream I ever had

He worked himself into the ground
And drove a spike into his head
A voice said “Are you happy now?
Your sordid home is running red”

The creator had a mastertape
But he left it in a cab
I stared into the void tonight
The best dream I ever had

Pills and chloroform
All the pages torn

10. “Heartattack in a Layby” – 4:15

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron, electric piano
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – cymbals

A song about regret, “Heartattack in a Layby” is a haunting track that serves as a perfect way to test your new sound system. With multiple vocal harmonies coming at you from all possible angles, “Heartattack in a Layby” showcases just how far SW has come in the production department since On The Sunday of Life… and Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape.

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SW in 2002

SW: “It’s one of my favorites of mine.. I think that for me, one of the things that’s always been the most heartbreaking about the human condition is the idea of regret. Regret for not having said what you should’ve said at the time or done what you should’ve done. Regret for not following your instincts and married the right person when you had the chance. All of that stuff. I think it’s terribly sad human quality, and “Heartattack In A Layby” is about regret. It’s all about a guy basically dying in a layby and thinking about the way he’s left home the day before, the night before, the week before, or whenever. That incredibly potent sense of regret for not resolving this argument or row or whatever it was. I just thought it was a really beautiful image. Actually, when I started writing the song, it was about a man who’d been shot and he was lying in a layby. But then I thought that what’s even more potent, in a way, is this idea that he’s having a heart attack and he doesn’t even realize that he’s dying. It was just that idea, really, and it’s definitely one of my favorite songs of them all, too.”

Lyrics:

I pull off the road
East of Baldock and Ashford
Feeling for my cell
In the light from the dashboard

Hissing from the road
The smell of rain in the air con
Maybe check the news
Or just put a tape on

Lighting up a smoke
I’ve got this feeling inside me
Don’t feel too good

If I close my eyes
And fell asleep in this layby
Would it all subside
The fever pushing the day by

Motor window wind
I could do with some fresh air
Can’t breathe too well

i. She waits for me
ii. Home waits for me

I guess I should go now
She’s waiting to make up
To tell me she’s sorry
And how much she missed me
I guess I’m just burnt out
I really should slow down
I’m perfectly fine but
I just need to lie down

We’ll grow old together…

11. “Strip the Soul” –  7:21

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards, samples
  • Richard Barberi – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Colin Edwin

Release: Originally released on various promotional samplers weeks before the album release

Demo: “Strip the Soul (Extended)” from the various leaked In Absentia demo bootlegs

Co-written by Colin Edwin, “Strip the Soul” is possibly the heaviest Porcupine Tree song ever made, lyrically and musically. It seems that the song may have been inspired by the English serial killer Fred West.

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Fred and Rosemary West in the mid-1980s

Fred West committed at least 12 murders between 1967 and 1987 in Gloucestershire, the majority with his second wife, Rosemary West. All of the victims were young women. At least eight of the murders involved the Wests’ sexual gratification and included rape, bondage, torture and mutilation; the victims’ dismembered bodies were typically buried in the cellar or garden of the Wests’ Cromwell Street home in Gloucester, which became known as “the House of Horrors”. In addition, Fred is known to have committed at least two murders on his own, while Rose is known to have murdered Fred’s stepdaughter, Charmaine. The pair were apprehended and charged in 1994. West asphyxiated himself while on remand at HM Prison Birmingham on 1 January 1995, at which time he and Rose were jointly charged with nine murders, and he with three additional murders. Rose was sentenced for life.

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An image created by Lasse Hoile for In Absentia

West had a large family whom he abused physically and sexually, while he and his wife lured many victims to their home to be murdered and often buried in the garden or bricked into the walls of the ever-changing house (“Brick it up now, brick it up now, but keep the bones”). Additionally, West was known for stripping his victims of their flesh to “release their soul” (“Strip the soul”). It should be noted that the music video for “Strip the Soul” has several grotesque and disturbing images that portray what seems to be a man dismembering a body. The video ends with a girl at a bus stop, where West was known to capture some of his victims.

There was a rumor that the phone call that can be heard near the end of the track (as well as something in the same vein in “Cut Ribbon”) was actually West’s voice.

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Colin in 2002

It is unclear why “Strip the Soul” is credited to Colin Edwin while “.3” is not considering the basslines are virtually the same and “.3” was originally inside the “Strip the Soul (Extended)” arrangement. On the 2008 Anesthetize tour, the band played a medley of “Strip the Soul” and “.3” to closer resemble the original demo version.

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Colin in 2003

In my opinion, it’s a shame the finished version had so much cut from it, the original demo was a behemoth track.

Lyrics:

This is my home, this is my own, we don’t like no strangers
Raise the kids good, beat the kids good and tie them up
Spread it wide, my wife, my life, push the camera deeper
I can use, I abuse, my muse, I made them all

This machine
Is there to please
Strip the soul
Fill the hole
A fire to feed
A belt to bleed
Strip the soul
Kill them all

They are not gone, they are not gone, they are only sleeping
In graves, in ways, in clay, underneath the floor
Building walls, overalls, getting bored, I got faulty wiring
Brick it up now, brick it up now, but keep the bones

(Do you really want a western home in the rubble?)

Demo Lyrics:

This is my home, this is my own, we don’t like no strangers
Raise the kids good, beat the kids good and tie them up
Spread it wide, my wife, my life, push the camera deeper
I can use, I abuse, my muse, I made them all

This machine
Is there to please
Strip the soul
Fill the hole
A fire to feed
A belt to bleed
Strip the soul
Kill them all

They are not gone, they are not gone, they are only sleeping
In graves, in ways, in clay, underneath the floor
Building walls, overalls, getting bored, I got faulty wiring
Brick it up now, brick it up now, but keep the bones

(Do you really want a western home in the rubble?)

This machine
Is there to please
Strip the soul
Fill the hole

Strip the soul
Fill the hole

Strip the soul

12. “Collapse the Light Into Earth” – 5:52

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, hammond organ
  • The Lyndhurst Orchestra [guest] – violin (16), viola (4), cello (4), double bass (2)

One of the most emotional tracks SW has ever written, “Collapse The Light Into Earth” is essentially a solo composition. Driven by piano, “Collapse The Light Into Earth” is about closure, and has more in common with the previous album, Lightbulb Sun (at least lyrically).

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A photo taken by John Blackford of the In Absentia string session on April 18th at Air Lyndhurst

SW: “Sad music makes me happy, and conversely, happy music makes me fucking miserable.”

Lyrics: 

I won’t shiver in the cold
I won’t let the shadows take their toll
I won’t cover my head in the dark
And I won’t forget you when we part

Collapse the light into earth

I won’t heal given time
I won’t try to change your mind
I won’t feel better in the cold light of day
But I wouldn’t stop you if you wanted to stay

Collapse the light into earth

Song Details: Outtakes and Non-Album Tracks

“Drown With Me” – 5:23

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

Release: Originally released on the European In Absentia CD and later on the In Absentia DVD-A and Futile EP

Demo: “Drown With Me” on the various leaked In Absentia demo bootlegs

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Colin in 2003

Just before release, “Drown With Me” was replaced by “Wedding Nails” on the tracklist. Steven Wilson has since voiced his regret for cutting “Drown With Me” from the album. It was played regularly on the Fear of a Blank Planet and Anesthetize tours.

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Porcupine Tree in 2002

It seems that the track’s lyrics are about a murder victim (Tyre tracks fresh on the ground / Where she will be found / Held under the water / Resting there in a stream”)

Lyrics:

So you have been of use
And you have been abused

You know you look pale today
Your lipstick has gone astray

You sold out and lost your looks
You gave away all your books

(You should drown with me)
Your coil has been wound up tight
Unwind it with me tonight

(You should drown with me)
Tyre tracks fresh on the ground
Where she will be found
Held under the water
Resting there in a stream
View from the cold water
Buried in green
Orange filter sky

You’re drowning in family there
When will you come up for air?

(You should drown with me)
Don’t feel you let ’em down
‘Cause they have already drowned

(You should drown with me)

“Chloroform” – 7:16

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards, piano
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Chris Maitland

Release: Originally released in August 2002 on the band’s website and later on the European In Absentia CD, Futile EP and 2LP and DVD-A versions of In Absentia

Demo: “Chloroform” and “Chloroform (Instrumental Rough Mix)” from the band’s website in September 2002 and the various leaked In Absentia demo bootlegs and “Chloroform” on the European In Absentia CD and 2006 digital Futile EP

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Chris Maitland, the former Porcupine Tree drummer

Co-written by former drummer Chris Maitland, “Chloroform” is one of the most unique songs the band have ever recorded. Featuring a hypnotic bass solo, tribal tom patterns, a powerful chorus and an explosive guitar solo, “Chloroform” is a kaleidoscope of sounds that sees the band returning to their psychedelic roots.

Chris: “The writing credit for Chloroform really is to do with the drum pattern. It inspired Steven to write the music and though it’s Gavin playing, it’s my melodic tom pattern and time change riff.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2002

Although the track was cut for length issues from the already overlong In Absentia, SW corrected this mistake this soon after, including “Chloroform” on the special European edition, DVD-A and vinyl versions of the album as well as the Futile EP. On the vinyl tracklist, it was placed between “The Creator Has a Mastertape” and “Heartattack In A Layby” – rather fittingly, considering the last lines of “Creator Has a Mastertape” are “Pills and chloroform / All the pages torn”.

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SW and Richard in 2003

For some reason, Steven Wilson mistakenly credited the mix engineer Mark O’Donoughue (who did the work-in-progress mix of the track, which was available as an old download track on the band website and on In Absentia demo bootlegs) on the 2006 digital Futile EP, when Tim Palmer (who mixed In Absentia) actually did the mix. I have both Futile and the In Absentia special edition, and both versions of the track are identical. It is possible O’Donoughue did actually mix it, but that would mean Tim Palmer didn’t do it, which doesn’t make sense considering Tim did the entire album (as far as we know).

Lyrics:

Little retrograde, wonder where you are
Another motorcade, under radar

A boy in borrowed clothes, knows he is a girl
Shards of light come down, stillness in the air

Big sleeper, you’re deeper, too deep for me yeah
Speak clearer, can’t hear you, I’m going under

On the mountain side, hold me in your gaze
But it’s over now, cos I got kids to raise

“Meantime” – 3:30

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – percussion

Release: Originally released on the Lava Records Pre-Cleared Songs For Film Vol. 1 promo CD in 2003 and later released as an online-only single on the Burning Shed Porcupine Tree web-store in 2010

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The outside of Burning Shed, located in Norwich, UK

Written and recorded during the In Absentia sessions, “Meantime” was deemed too cheerful to take its place on the otherwise dark album. The song was later pitched (unsuccessfully) to film production companies.

Lyrics:

A peaceful man opens fire
A harmless soul trips a wire
A careless child has expired

Maybe it’s just living gets me down
Three dimensions and realistic sound
Meanwhile your withered brain cells fall away
But life goes on

Quicksand under your chair
A poison spreads through fresh air

Maybe it’s just living gets me down
Three dimensions and realistic sound
Meantime your withered brain cells fall away
But life goes on

“Collapse” – 1:39

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, piano

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001

Release: Released on the digital version of the Futile EP in 2006

Originally meant to open In Absentia (and bookend it considering the longer “Collapse The Light Into Earth” is the closer), “Collapse” was removed from the tracklist. In 2006 it found a home on the digital version of the Futile EP.

Lyrics:

I won’t cry when you leave
When I have lost you, I won’t grieve
I won’t bleed when you bite
But I’ll still crawl back to you
Through the hate and the spite

Collapse the light into earth

“Orchidia” – 3:19

  • Steven Wilson – guitars, bass, samples
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in November 1999 – January 2000 and 2003 and Gavin Harrison’s home studio in 2003

Release: Released on the Futile EP

Demo: “Orchidia” from the Four Chords That Made a Million 7″ single

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SW signing some photos for a fan in 2003

Originally demoed during the Lightbulb Sun sessions, Steven revisited “Orchidia” shortly after the release of In Absentia. Additional guitars were overdubbed and Gavin Harrison replaced the programmed drums in 2003.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

“Futile” – 6:04

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
  • Rihard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Gavin Harrison

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land, The Artillery (Richard’s studio), Bourne Place (Gavin’s studio), New Rising (Colin’s studio) in 2003

Release: Released on the Futile EP

“Futile” was actually technically written during the writing sessions for Deadwing, but considering it was released alongside In Absentia era songs so early in the album cycle on the Futile EP, I have included it here. The track was also written as a performance piece for Gavin Harrison’s educational drum clinics. The lyric “collecting space” was later reused in the Deadwing sessions.

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Gavin in 2002
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Gavin staring at a ceiling in 2003

Gavin: “‘Futile’ was a piece that I wrote with Steve shortly after I joined the band. He introduced me to the music of Meshuggah, the Swedish death metal band. I loved it. I hadn’t been very much exposed to that kind of music, but I absolutely loved it. The rhythmic design that Meshuggah does is so beautiful. Whether or not you like that kind of music or style, it has a very impressive design from my point of view… So I said to Steve way back in 2002, ‘Listen, I do a lot of drum clinics; do you fancy writing a piece with me, inspired by that kind of rhythmic composition?’ We ended up writing it, and it was initially just going to be something I would play at drum clinics, in a kind of math-metal style. But then Steve really got into it and said, ‘Oh, I want to sing on this.’ He went home and wrote some melodies and lyrics. Then we showed it to the other two guys, Richard and Colin, and they loved it too. It wasn’t really a typical Porcupine Tree piece of its time.”

 

In 2013, SW said, “I don’t think [“Futile”]’s that great… One thing you have to understand, is that sometimes when you work on a record, you’re [too close to it]. [You see] later that some songs didn’t work out so right.”

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SW in 2002

“‘Futile’, one of the tracks from the forthcoming album’s sessions, recently appeared on a promo sampler specifically aimed at metal radio. Tell me why you took that approach so far ahead of the new album’s release.”

SW: “What happened is we started working on material for the next record and one of the songs that came out was a very heavy piece called ‘Futile’. It’s probably the heaviest thing we’ve ever done. At the same time, Lava wanted to target metal radio. One of the problems Lava has with Porcupine Tree has nothing to do with the quality of the music or appeal of the music. Rather, it’s the eclecticism of the music. How do you market a band that one minute is playing metal, the next minute is playing trip-hop and the next minute is playing progressive rock? One of the solutions we’ve come up with is to put together samplers that target different aspects of the band’s sound to different radio formats. In America, you have this ridiculous radio format thing in which only certain kinds of music will be played on certain types of radio stations.

So, Lava have put together a sampler that focuses on the band’s metal side for metal radio. I don’t have a problem with this because at the end of the day, if it makes someone go out and buy the record, hopefully they’ll sit down and listen and think maybe it’s not exactly what they’re expecting, but get the whole picture of it and still like it. In terms of ‘Futile’, Andy Karp heard it and said they’re putting together this metal radio sampler and that it would be a great track to include on it, especially since it’s exclusive and not commercially available. He thought it might get the radio stations even more behind it. So, we finished it way ahead of the next album’s other material, put it on and it seemed to do pretty well. It was the number two rock song in New York at one point. Whatever helps, you know?”

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Gavin in 2003

Lyrics:

You were the one that made her cry
You were the one that told her lies
You were the one whose brain moved in circles
Neither and adult or a child

Now it only moves you forward
And back to the blackness at the same time

Burnt out tracks, the world went black
Futile
Lost my head, the world went red
Futile
It’s not true, the world went blue
Futile

You were the one collecting space
You were the one just saving face
You were the one whose brain moved in circles
Neither and adult or a child

Now it only moves you forward
And back to the blackness at the same time

Burnt out tracks, the world went black
Futile
Lost my head, the world went red
Futile
It’s not true, the world went blue
Futile

“Cut Ribbon” – 6:59

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, mellotron, samples
  • Gavin Harrison – drums

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001 and 2010 – 2011 and Gavin Harrison’s home studio in 2008

Release: Released on Steven Wilson’s Soundcloud in 2012

Demo: “Wet Ribbon” / “Collapse the Light Into Earth (Extended)” on the various In Absentia demo bootlegs

SW: “Written in 2001 for a planned metal style collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt, this song has been revisited several times since, but I could never really make it fit the style of whatever I was doing at the time. In the meantime the album with Mike finally happened, but in a completely different style to the album we planned 10 years ago… So finally here is the orphan song Cut Ribbon – this is the latest version from the 2010 / 2011 Grace For Drowning sessions. Gavin Harrison on drums (recorded in 2008), all other instruments [by] SW.”

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SW in 2002

Although intended for the Åkerfeldt collaboration, it is fairly obvious that the track originated from the In Absentia sessions considering the lyrical themes with the reference to “Collapse The Light Into Earth” and the usage of the phrase “uncoil” / imagery of a coil being wound or unwound (used in “Drown With Me” and “Gravity Eyelids”).  This was confirmed when Mikael Åkerfeldt said in an interview, “You know, me and Steven have been talking for years, ever since we started working together, doing something like writing music together. He had this song that he wrote for the In Absentia album called “Cut Ribbon” which never made it on the album, it was the best song I ever heard. But the other guys thought it was too heavy, it was like kind of Opeth-sounding in a way, like Opeth and early Pink Floyd, you know…beautiful vocal harmonies, but the other guys thought it was too heavy so it didn’t make it on the album, so we said we’d record it.” In an additional interview Mikael described it as “massively fantastic”.

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SW at Mikael Åkerfeldt’s wedding in 2003

In the various In Absentia demo bootlegs (for example, Out Absentia), “Cut Ribbon” was often included twice but misnamed as “Wet Ribbon” and “Collapse the Light Into Earth (Extended)”. Both of these are incorrect. The song was always intended to be titled “Cut Ribbon”.

In an interview with Eclipse Magazine in February 2001, SW said:

“The ingredients are starting to blend in a way that I hope is uniquely Porcupine Tree whilst obviously having more inspiration from the metal scene. ‘Cut Ribbon’ was my first attempt to try and blend those elements in a way that was still indisputably Porcupine Tree.

“The double bass hits you unexpectedly. I can only imagine what it’s going to sound like sonically when the material is professionally produced.”

Hopefully, it will be huge. I can’t do the death metal vocals and I wouldn’t want to anyway. For me that would be taking too many of the clichés for comfort. What I’ve done is take elements from what I like from the metal scene and combine them with my own vocal style. It was hard search to come up with the right fusion, but I think I’ve found it.

“I know you’ve played it to the other members, right? It’s distinctly a different style of playing than, say, ‘Piano Lessons’.”

The last two records were the two records with the pop sensibility and I feel we’ve done that now and it’s time for something else. All four of us feel it is time for something else. There’s no reason why we couldn’t make a record in a few years time that had the same pop sensibilities as the last two, but for now, everyone is committed to a darker, edgier record.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2003

It seems that similar to the 1997 Demo cassette, SW compiled some demos for In Absentia in 2000 or 2001 to share with select people, labels or press (Demo was created to attract record labels). As a result, both were leaked and quickly became bootlegs (Demo most famously became Ambulance Chasers and The Stupid Dream Demos while these demos became included under the title Out Absentia).

Lyrics:

Cut ribbon from your hair
‘Round your neck
It’s only nature’s way
Cause and effect
(Touching)
Always select

Collapse the light into the earth
Uncoil, reset the universe

You are so very pure
My child, my star
(Touching)
Hands in your dress
Always select

Collapse the light into the earth
Uncoil, reset the universe

“Moment I Lost” – 3:12

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, mellotron

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001

Release: Released on the first Cover Version CD single in March 2003 (released on 7″ vinyl in June 2005 and later included on the Cover Version compilation in 2014

Although technically released on Cover Version, “Moment I Lost” would have first been recorded without the project in mind. Given the “coil unwinding” motif that shows up in “Gravity Eyelids”, “Cut Ribbon” and “Drown With Me”, I think it’s fair to presume “Moment I Lost” may have originated from the In Absentia sessions (and then shelved for another project once SW decided on the direction In Absentia would take).

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The artwork created by Hajo Mueller for the 2010 Cover Version VI box and 2014 Cover Version compilation

Please note that the other Cover Version tracks will not be included in the following albums despite some similarities (ex/ “The Unquiet Grave” features ambient music from Fear of a Blank Planet) because this is the only track that we can safely assume wasn’t actually meant for the project, at least not originally. Once the first single was release, I’m sure Steven expected to write more tracks in the same minimalist vein (which he did).

Lyrics:

Here is the moment
And the coil has been unwound
Here is the moment
Nothing wears me down

Here is the moment
There’s no need to pretend
To think about the future
When this moment ends

Here is the moment
Here is the moment
Here is the moment

Here is the moment
Life just flows right through me
Nothing really matters
The freedom is just to breath

Here is the moment
When day begins to fade
This will be the thing I treasure
From all the things I’m made

Here is the moment
Here is the moment
Here is the moment

“A Western Home” – 3:09

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass, piano, keyboards, mellotron, percussion, drum programming

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001 and 2007 – 2008 and Gavin Harrison’s home studio in 2008

Release: Released on the Insurgentes documentary DVD as a bonus track

Originally meant for In Absentia, “A Western Home” was shelved until Steven Wilson began working on his first solo album, Insurgentes. This reworked version features heavy overdubs. Although it could be him, Gavin Harrison is not credited for the track (but was for “Desperation”, also from the bonus tracks section of the DVD) so we can assume SW programmed the drums.

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SW in 2002

Lyrically, the track seems to relate to “Strip the Soul” / “.3” with references to English serial killer Fred West and phrases such as “a western home here amongst the rubble” (referring to West’s home, which had human skeletons built into the walls). Additionally, the phrase “kneel and disconnecting ’till you faint” was reused in “Kneel and Disconnect” from The Incident.

Lyrics:

With no eyes
The skin is made of leather
I know we
Can make it work together

I need to think
I need to see ’round corners
Here’s a guide
I have to win the war now

Locking up the holes and killing time

A western home
Here amongst the rubble
Is what you get
For all your fuss and trouble

Kneel and disconnecting ’till you faint

With no eyes I could see you
With no ears I could hear you

A change of sex
To make me feel much better
A shallow grave
He comes to mail a letter

Locking up the holes and killing time

A western home
Here amongst the rubble
Is what you get
For all your fuss and trouble

Kneel and disconnecting ’till you faint

With no hands I can touch you
With no mouth I can taste you

With no drug I can cure you
With no heart I can kill you

“Vapour Trail Lullaby” – 6:17 / 9:19 / 16:00

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass, piano, keyboards, percussion, drum programming, samples

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001

Release: Released in October 2006 on Steven Wilson’s MySpace account and later in October 2010 as a bonus CD included with preorders of the Insurgentes documentary DVD

Lyrically, “Vapour Trail Lullaby” has much in common with other In Absentia era songs. The phrases “tie me up” and “wound me deep” relate to the themes in Trains, and “How does it feel without your drugs?” could be a potential connection to “A Western Home” (“With no drug I can cure you / With no heart I can kill you”) or “The Creator Has a Mastertape” / “Chloroform” (“Pills and chloroform”).

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Carl Glover’s artwork for the Vapour Trail Lullaby CD

A different interpretation of the song, titled “Lullaby”, was included on the first Blackfield album in 2004 and the coda section was adapted into the short instrumental track “Twilight Coda” on Steven Wilson’s first solo album Insurgentes in 2008.

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SW in 2002

SW in 2006: “I found this on a CDR of demos from around 2000, and it’s an early version of the song that was later recorded for the first Blackfield album with a much more stripped down piano and string quartet arrangement. Here I was obviously going for something a bit more epic (the full version lasts about 16 minutes, but this is the first 6). After Rush called their album Vapour Trails I changed the title of the Blackfield version to just “Lullaby”.”

SW in 2010: “This song was written and demoed for PT prior to the band recording In Absentia, a prolific period of writing that resulted in perhaps the best pool of songs that the band has been able to draw from for a studio album to date. But as that album developed in a heavier direction, the song didn’t really fit in stylistically, so was dropped quite early on and never recorded by the band. Two years later it was included instead on the first Blackfield album under the title “Lullaby”. The Blackfield interpretation worked really well but took the song in a very different direction, stripping it down to just voice, piano and strings, so I took the opportunity to revisit the full arrangement of the song during sessions for my first solo album Insurgentes. This time the song went a lot further down the road (you can see me playing it in the film during the piano recording session at St. Bartholomew’s church in Brighton), but once again it didn’t fit in with my more experimental ideas for the album (in many respects it just sounded too much like PT) so I never finished it, although I did adapt the coda section into the short instrumental album track “Twilight Coda”.

Even though the new version was much more fully realised, I find still prefer the original demo version from 2001, so that is the one I have decided to include here. Still, it’s another part of the Insurgentes story, which saw around 30 songs, both old and new, and in many different styles, considered.”

Lyrics:

Do no harm
Twist my arm
Kiss the ground
Drag me down
Lie with grace
Smash my face
Stop the noise
Smash my toys

Share my cup
Tie me up
Have no doubt
Lock me out
Kiss my feet
Make me bleed
Close your eyes
Make me cry

How does it feel without your drugs?

Never part
Break my heart
Lift me up
Hate my guts
Hold my head
Wish me dead
Be at peace
Stay with me

How does it feel without your drugs?
How does it feel without your drug?

i. How does it feel without your drugs?
ii. [unclear] see us visiting her love inside
iii. Open up my head, find me

“Untitled Instrumental / Demo I” – 1:45

  • Steven Wilson – samples, [any ideas what else?]

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001

Release: Released on the various In Absentia demo bootlegs

It is unclear what this track was meant for, but it reminds me of a “Pagan” or “‘Light Mass Prayers'”-esque interlude track.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

“Imogen Slaughter” – 2:38

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, drum programming

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in 2000 – 2001

Release: Released on the various In Absentia demo bootlegs

One of the strangest songs in the PT discography, “Imogen Slaughter” was included on some promo demo CDs that got handed out by SW (which in turn, similar to the 1997 Demo cassette, led to leaks and the various In Absentia demo bootlegs such as Out Absentia or In Absentia: The Steven Wilson Demos).

“That track has this very Beach Boys vocal harmony to it with a sludgy guitar riff.”

SW: “This is it! This is where it really gets interesting for me. I love the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson is one of my great influences. I don’t want to lose that element of Porcupine Tree. So, you bring in the metal element and you’re fusing things that should never go together. And, yet, if you can find a way to make them gel and make them work, ultimately you create something original. That’s always been the case for me. I’ve searched a lot to find people that have the same kind of eclecticism and diversity to their influences and tastes; I’ve not found many people – I don’t think there are many people. I’m not being arrogant as it’s neither a good or band thing. It’s just the way I am. I listen to everything from the Carpenters to Andy Williams to Morbid Angel to Opeth, and everything in-between. For me, musically, when I sit down to write music, very naturally, organically all these influences and ingredients mix up together. If you describe that mix on paper you’d think it’s never going to work. I think it does work.”

Lyrics:

Someone to love
Someone to swallow
Someone to vote for
Someone to follow

Something to say
Something to do
Something to believe in
Something to prove

Something to say 
Something to say today
(Something to say)

Somewhere at home
Somewhere above

Blessingly close
For better or worse

Something to say 
Something to say today
(Something to say)

“2003 Intro Music” – 5:19

  • Steven Wilson – samples

Release: Released on the band’s website in December 2003

Centered around the tuning orchestra sample from “Even Less” and the breathing from “A Smart Kid”, this was used to open the 2003 shows. I have included it here to inform people of its existence as it’s actually kind of cool! By using the WayBackMachine, one can download it from the band’s old website.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

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Porcupine Tree in 2002

Written and compiled by Quinn Downton