The man behind No-Man and Porcupine Tree, English multi-instrumentalist and composer Steven Wilson was also responsible for several pseudonymous projects (mainly of the ambient mode) while he plotted his plan to reinstate the once powerful prog-rock. Born 3 November 1967, Steven was raised in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, where he discovered his affinity for music around the age of 8. According to Wilson, his life was changed one Christmas when his parents bought presents for each other in the form of LPs. His father and mother received Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby, respectively. It was Wilson’s affinity for these albums that helped craft his guitar and songwriting abilities. Other known influences are Camel, XTC, Alanis Morrisette, King Crimson, Karlheinz Stockhausen and ABBA.
Later in his teens, Wilson briefly became a fan of the new wave of British heavy metal, but as soon as he discovered 1970s music and progressive rock, his interest in metal diminished in favor of experimental music. In the 2000s he discovered bands in the likes of Gojira, Sunn O))), Neurosis and Meshuggah, which restored his faith in metal music. “For a long time I couldn’t find where all these creative musicians were going…”, said Wilson, “and I found them, they were working in extreme metal.” Shortly thereafter he went to produce three consecutive albums by Swedish progressive death metal band Opeth which had a considerable influence in his further songwriting.
There is also some noticeable influence from krautrock and electronic music since Wilson is fond of bands such as Can, Radiohead, Neu!, Tangerine Dream, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin and artists like Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler among others. Wilson has also mentioned on multiple occasions that he admires the work of American musician Trent Reznor, the sole official member of Nine Inch Nails.
As a child, Steven was forced to learn the guitar, although he did not enjoy it and his parents eventually stopped paying for lessons. However, at the age of 11 Wilson rescued a nylon string classical guitar from his attic and started to experiment with it; or in his own words, “scraping microphones across the strings, feeding the resulting sound into overloaded reel to reel tape recorders and producing a primitive form of multi-track recording by bouncing between two cassette machines”. At the age of twelve, his father, who was an electronic engineer, built him his first multi-track tape machine and a vocoder so he could begin experimenting with the possibilities of studio recording. This would lead to the creation of Porcupine Tree.
Steven Wilson may be the definitive definition of a cult rock star. Having recorded over around 100 studio releases, a career spanning four decades and been looked upon as one of the greatest producers of his generation, Wilson is able to sell out the Royal Albert Hall, either solo or with Porcupine Tree, and yet this unprepossessing singer and guitarist could nevertheless stroll down any British high street unrecognized.
Although remastering is often seen as a cheap way for a label to cash in on classic albums, Steven has clarified the difference between remastering and remixing (in the original definition of the word):
“Remixing, on the other hand, involves working with the original session multitrack tapes, whether it be 8, 16, 24 or, in the case of [Tears For Fears’] ‘Seeds of Love’, 96 tracks! So I have every instrument and vocal overdub isolated, and I can rebuild the mix from the drums upwards, recreating as closely as I can the original equalization, stereo placement, reverbs, other effects, and volume moves of each individual instrument or vocal. It’s time-consuming work that involves a lot of detective work, as often on the session tapes there will be subtle volume moves, multiple takes of the track, several attempts at lead vocals or solos, or perhaps even the final mix was created by editing together parts of different takes of the song. So I have to constantly refer back to the original mix. However, even with all that attention to detail, it will still sound different to the original stereo mix. For a start, I’m not using the same equipment and I’m working with modern digital tools so that things can sound more defined and clearer. But whether that’s good can be a subjective thing, because even if I feel an album might sound demonstrably better, a long-time fan could feel differently because it jarrs with what they know and love. For example, when I remixed Hawkwind it was a balancing act between trying to bring out the clarity and acknowledging that the ‘sonic soup’ and the way the instruments all kind of blur into one wall of sound is absolutely fundamental to that group’s sound.”
Though Wilson claims to enjoy production more than anything else, with the demands of his own projects, he has mostly restricted himself to just mixing for other artists in the last few years.
In 2015, Wilson received three awards at the London Progressive Music Awards for his services to the world of progressive rock music and was crowned “the king of prog rock”.
In 2017, Wilson released his highly anticipated solo album To The Bone, the follow-up to the classic Hand. Cannot. Erase. and the interim release 4½.