Stupid Dream

Stupid Dream is the fifth studio album by Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson said the album deals with his own personal “insecurities and feelings” and “the usual singer-songwriter stuff”, because he believed the most relatable and affecting lyrics were from a personal point of view.

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Steven Wilson in 1999, wearing a Stupid Dream shirt

SW: “When I was writing some of the songs of the album I was very much aware of this contradiction between being an artist, being a musician, trying to be creative and write songs and, then, at the point you finish an album, the music is finished, the creative side is finished, you then have to go out and sell and market and promote. And that’s like a completely different experience. It’s not a very creative process. It’s quite – in some ways – a cynical process going on having to sell your music. But you have to do it. I mean, if a modern musician is going to survive as a musician, you have to – in a sense – ‘prostitute yourself’ to try and sell your music and your art. And I was very much aware of that contradiction. If you think about that too much, it can drive you crazy, you know. It’s an absurd thing to be doing. That kind of led me thinking about when I was a teenager, when I was just starting out and I was interested in being a musician. And I think a lot of teenage kids have this dream of being pop stars, of being a professional musician. This ‘stupid dream’ of being famous and ‘life is a ball and everything is wonderful’. And, of course, actually the reality is that being a professional musician is a very hard work. It can be very heartbreaking, there’s a lot of disappointment, there’s a lot of hard work, there’s a lot of travelling.”

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Steven Wilson and Colin Edwin in 1999

The original album cover photography, taken by Robert Harding, is linked to the album’s concept as well. Steven said, “[it was] like sitting down with the record company to discuss how we’re gonna market this album. And at that point your record becomes a product. And I just had this image of these CDs just coming off this conveyor belt. And obviously it’s at complete odds with the music. But I wanted to have this kind of contradictory feel to the color. The bottom line is, the people that get into Porcupine Tree know that we’re exactly not the kind of band that ever consider our music in terms of product and shifting units. So I thought it would kind of be fun to put an image on the album which is a comment on that. What could be a more stupid dream than wanting to make music and sell it?”

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The original Stupid Dream artwork by Robert Harding

Steven Wilson explained the transitional period for the band at the time, stating “…the earlier years were characterized for me by this idea of the extended composition that was largely based on jamming or textures or drones or space rock or whatever you want to call it. I felt I could draw towards learning more about song craft and the construction of songs and actually creating hooks and choruses and using vocals in a more kind of solid way. So…when I came back later on to making the longer form of composition, it wasn’t in the same way that I’d been doing in the early years. They were much more structured and they had that kind of songwriter’s discipline that I guess I explored and learned on the earlier albums like Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun. So it was certainly an important step…”

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Colin in 1999

SW: “The longest gap between studio albums (2 and a half years) resulted in the biggest shift in the sound of Porcupine Tree. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say I was getting hate mail from some of the older fans after they heard this. I am reminded of a quote from Paul Stump’s book ‘The Music’s All That Matters’: ‘The last thing a progressive rock fan wants a band to do is progress’, although I’m not sure that Porcupine Tree should ever have been referred to as a ‘progressive’ band in the first place. I always expect with each album to lose some old fans and gain some new ones, as this is the price of not standing still, but it happened doubly so with this album. Eventually it would become our best selling and most popular album to date.

The main source of the shift in sound came from a natural move into the realms of songwriting and away from the more abstract instrumentally based material of previous albums. I was particularly under the spell of Brian Wilson, but also listening to artists like Jeff Buckley, Soundgarden and (the incredibly over rated but still rather good) Radiohead.

Also for the first time the album was recorded in one extended period (rather than sporadically as with previous albums) in a remote residential studio in Wales, where the band were able to experiment and collaborate on a cohesive sound for the album. Consequently the album contains our most vertically complex music, as opposed to horizontally complex (whereby the tracks comprise simple sections, but many of them strung together). Here the songs are relatively tightly structured but much more layered than anything we had attempted before.

When the group signed to our new label Snapper Music, people inevitably put two and two together and assumed that the new song orientated direction was the result of pressure from the company to be more commercial (whatever that means). But in fact the album was finished long before there was any record company lined up and this was simply another natural development in the sound of the group.

My favourite track on the album (and still perhaps my favourite PT track period) is ‘Stop Swimming’, which lyrically pointed towards the more personal follow up album ‘Lightbulb Sun’.”

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

“Have you gotten a feel for any level of airplay you’ve been getting over here on the radio?”

SW: “It’s very difficult to me for assess because I don’t really understand how the American media… [everyone laughs]. But I’ve certainly done a lot of radio interviews here and we’ve been playlisted on some very big stations. I don’t know whether it’s a drop in the ocean or whether it’s actually going to amount to anything or not. Certainly we’ve [been] noticed in the U.S. – the record is everywhere.”

“Do you think this deal with Snapper is the answer to long term stability?”

SW: “Where we were at the time we signed with Snapper they were absolutely the right label. And I hope they will continue to be the right label. It’s difficult to say. Compared to the Sony’s and the Warner Bros of this world they’re still a small company. But they are much much bigger than the company we were with. And they’re the right company for us to be with at this time to take us to the next level. And I hope that they will grow with us. Certainly with Delerium we reached a point where we were too successful for the label. Because the problem was that we needed, with this album Stupid Dream, a lot of money spent up front. We needed to make a video, we needed to release three singles from the album. All the bullshit, and all the games you have to play… I mean I don’t like the fact that you have to do all that but the reality is you do have to do that if you want to get to people. And there’s no way Delerium could possibly have bankrolled that so we had to move.”

“So what does it take now to survive as a professional musician in the 90’s?”

SW: “Well we all have to do different things. We don’t really make much money from Porcupine Tree. All of the money we make we put back in. For example, Chris and Colin, the rhythm section, both teach their respective instruments. I do a lot of music for TV in the UK. I do music for adverts and stuff which pays very well and means I can do what the hell I like the rest of the year. Richard Barbieri, the keyboard player, has other projects, and he has his own label with his colleagues in his other project. So I think you kind of have to diversify what you do and occasionally you have to do stuff for money so that you can do the stuff you believe in without having to water it down. It would have been so easy for Porcupine Tree to have… actually some people have accused us of doing it anyway… to have sold out, and gone for whatever the kind of fashion was. It probably would have been very easy for us to try and dumb our music down a bit. But because we make our living from doing other things we can afford to be really bloody minded when it comes to doing the Porcupine Tree stuff. We keep it very pure. And the only consideration is what we want to do artistically. Which is a luxury, I know. But it’s a luxury bought by virtue of doing… occasionally… things that we would probably rather not be doing, but they don’t take up much time and they mean that we’re financially secure. So it’s not an issue.”

“I didn’t know you were doing television work. Have you done any film work at all?”

SW: “I haven’t done films, no. I’ve done songs for TV shows. I’ve done a lot of adverts and stuff. And before you ask I’m not about to tell you which ones. [everyone laughs]”

“Just out of curiosity is that a pay the bills thing or are there certain challenges and rewards in that as well?”

SW: “Some of them are good. The majority are horrible. But occasionally I’ve done some really nice – in fact, the guy that’s just directed the video for ‘Piano Lessons’ was a guy that I did a lot of ads for. He makes a lot of commercials in England. And the stuff I was doing with him would always be really really good fun. And I always thought they were great films and great ads. So he was someone I kind of wanted. I knew that I wanted him to do the video. So there are certain directors and people I’ve met which have been very useful… even moving over into the part of my life that has more integrity. I’ve brought some of these people with me. Cause these guys have integrity too. A lot of these guys are in the same position as us. They’d love to be making features, y’know. But again, they do adverts so they can pay the bills and then work on their screenplay the rest of the year.”

“It sounds like there’s a networking benefit for you there as well.”

SW: “There is. I mean in every field you kind of meet people who really at the end of the day… they may be really well paid people, but what they really would love to do is something they would do for next to nothing if they had the opportunity. So we’ve had some great people work with us that usually wouldn’t work for anywhere near the money that they’re getting paid by us, but they do it because they’re into the music.”

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

Wilson has said that Stupid Dream marked a transition away from “abstract instrumentality” into more “natural songwriting” was also due to the influence of the music he had been listening to since the release of their last album, Signify in 1996. These artists included Jeff Buckley, Soundgarden, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

SW: “It’s a number of things… The music has always changed. Every album Porcupine Tree has made has been very distinct from those that preceded it. The reasons for that, firstly, is a desire not to repeat myself as a songwriter. Secondly, as a fan of music I’m always listening to different things. And whatever I’m listening to at any particular time tends to inform my work. And in the two and a half years between Stupid Dream and Signify a lot has changed in my listening taste and what I consider to be the kind of material I want to work on. Also, the third element would be increased confidence in myself as a singer and a lyricist, which is something that’s come with time. Because I’ve never really considered myself to be a singer. Its something that was kind of thrust on me by default because… it was a solo project. So I was the guitar player, the bass player, and I had to be all these things. And one of the other things I had to be was a singer and a lyricist. And although that was not something that came naturally to me I think as time’s gone on I got better and better at it. So there’s three different reasons there. The second reason is probably the most significant in the sense that what I was listening to at the time when I was writing this album was a lot more vocally oriented. I would say the major influence on that would be my interest in Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I was listening a lot to stuff like Pet Sounds and all that kind of harmony singing. Also stuff like Todd Rundgren, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, anything with really good ensemble singing. I was particularly into that stuff when I was writing this album. And I kind of got interested in the idea of the pop song as a kind of experimental symphony if you like. 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. Y’know, creating these extraordinary kind of experimental pop symphonies almost. I think it’s a great myth that the most experimental music has come from the progressive field, and the most experimental music tends to be quite extended pieces. I think the opposite is true. 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…

When I’m working on an album, I’m not necessarily conscious that there has been a great change in direction. For me it’s just wherever my head’s at that particular day. And it’s only really after the album’s completed and people hear it and they say, ‘Well you’ve really changed direction’, and I’ll say ‘Have we?’. I guess we have, and I’m glad we have, but I don’t particularly feel in a way that this is any more of a change in direction than say Signify was from The Sky Moves Sideways. For me, the change in direction from the instrumentally oriented material to the song material came with [The Sky Moves Sideways] to Signify, not with Signify to Stupid Dream. I can see the roots of some of the material on Stupid Dream certainly in Signify. Pieces like ‘Every Home Is Wired’ and ‘Waiting Phase One’ is obviously a move to more song-oriented material on that album. So I see Stupid Dream as a continuation of that. The next album is already about two-thirds written, and there’s still a lot of song stuff on there. There’s even more use of layered harmonies and layered vocals. But there are also some longer pieces this time as well. I’ve written about three pieces which are about ten minutes long. I don’t know which pieces are going to end up on the album. Obviously you’re aware that the continuity is very important on all the Porcupine Tree albums. The sequencing, the continuity, and the way the tracks link together is always very important as well, and in some ways it’s a mistake to think of a Porcupine Tree album as lots of separate tracks because for me the way they all fit together is very important. I’m never a great fan of… people come up to me and they say ‘I bought this album the other day, but I’ve reprogrammed it so I listen to the tracks in a different order cause I think it sounds better.’ I wouldn’t like the idea that people would do that with a Porcupine Tree album because I put a lot of thought into the continuity and the way the album flows is very important. So, in answer to your question, it will be different again. The song-based direction will still be quite prevalent I would think. But I think on the next piece it probably will be even more experimental in terms of the instrumentation and probably some longer pieces this time again.”

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

The album was recorded at Foel Studio, Wales and Steven’s home studio, No Man’s Land. He stated that it was the first time that the band sat down and recorded a whole album in one extended period, rather than sporadically, as with past albums. He contends that this helped the band “experiment and collaborate on a cohesive sound for the album” and that the album contained the “…most vertically complex music, as opposed to horizontally complex (whereby the tracks comprise simple sections, but many of them strung together). Here the songs are relatively tightly structured but much more layered than anything we had attempted before.” The band also had a much larger budget than in the past; the album production cost £15,000, compared to only £2,000 for their previous album Signify. This allowed them to afford an orchestra for the album. Strings were arranged by Chris Thorpe and Wilson, performed by the East of England Orchestra, and conducted by Nicholas Kok.

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Richard in 1999

“As a keyboard player, you tend to assume more a supporting role rather than a flashy soloist. How do you view your position as a player, especially with Porcupine Tree?”

Richard: “With Porcupine Tree I would say fifty per cent of my input is playing the structured parts that were there at the demo phase and re-producing this live to serve as a secure backing for the music. The other fifty per cent is my own original contribution to the recordings and to the live arrangements, which can take the form of atmospheric melodies, chord structures, solos and textural stuff. In the studio I’m more interested in the subtleties of sound and harmony and in live situations I go for more dynamics.”

“How much input (and what kind) do you have in the band?”

Richard: “The band members have input on most things like choice of tracks for albums, live sets, and we’ll all take part in arrangement ideas and bring our own musical personality to the project.”

“On Stupid Dream, you are credited simply with “analogue keyboards.” What instruments did you use?”

Richard: “I think the credit reads “Analog synthesizers, Hammond Organ, Mellotron and Piano”. The synths I used were a Prophet V and Roland System 700 Lab Series Modular synth.”

“Porcupine Tree on the whole does not shy away from such techniques as sampling. Does Steven Wilson handle all that sort of thing and leave you to the more traditional keyboard roles? Do you have an interest in that technology?”

Richard: “Steven tends to handle all the sampling and the digital manipulation and he is well versed in modern technology which is probably why he appreciates my input which is more primitive and analog based. I am interested in new technology but until I find my own particular way of working with it I will stick with own methods where accidents happily occur and nothing ever sounds the same twice.”

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Chris, Richard and Steven in 1999

SW: “I can’t record drums at my place because it’s too small. Secondly, again for the reason that it is too small, it’s impossible for us to all to set up as a group at my studio and sort of work on the arrangements and the songs as a group. And for the first time we wanted to actually do that. Signify was slightly odd in the way it was recorded in the sense that although it is a band album, because we were never able to actually all be in the same room at the same time, because of physical limitations, with the exception of one track, ‘Intermediate Jesus’, which was done outside, I tended to demo the tracks to a fairly high level and they would just replace the parts that I’d played on synthesizers with the real thing. So there wasn’t a great deal of input from the other guys. But what I wanted this time was to make sure that there was the opportunity for the other guys to really contribute ideas to the arrangements and to the overall feel and sound of the album, which they did. To do that we had to go somewhere where we could all literally set up in a room and thrash out the tracks. So we went to Foel Studios… partly also because it’s very remote. I think when you’re a band, and you’re working on material the idea of remote locations is quite appealing because the distractions are reduced to an absolute minimum.”

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Richard ca. 1999

“How do you operate in the studio? Do you sometimes get impatient or irritable when you’re on the clock?”

SW: “Well we’re never on the clock… Well, actually that’s not true, we were on the clock when we went to Foel Studios, but we booked a long session and we took it very relaxed. Because most of the work is done at No Man’s – I mean, Foel Studios was like a month. The rest of the ten months of work was done at No Man’s Land. And there is no clock. Originally, we told the record company we’d have it out and finished by June. We didn’t finish it until November. Because there was no rush. Because I’m a perfectionist, and the other guys are perfectionists, it’s not gonna be delivered to the record company until we’re happy with it. We can afford to do that because we record at our own pace on our own budget in our own studio. And I can’t imagine doing it any other way. The great advantage is if I want to spend two weeks working on a track and then after two weeks of having worked on it to turn around to the other guys and say I don’t think this track’s working let’s throw it out… you can do that when you’re in your own studio.”

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SW on the Stupid Dream tour

Richard: “A much more sophisticated sound and meticulous attention to detail defines my approach on this album. Steven came up with a strong selection of songs and a long process followed during which we attempted to condense as many ideas, flavours and colours into the arrangements as possible. Orchestra, flute and saxophone added further to the eclectic mix and I also feel that we started to focus more of what each other was contributing. Nearly all my work was completed within an intense 7 day session in Wales. Before the sessions we had decided that the keyboards used would be analogue only. Much of my work was spontaneous performance recorded onto hard disk, which allowed me to adopt an approach whereby multiple takes and parts could be recorded and edited and compiled later on – a much more creative way of working than always looking for the one ‘perfect’ take. But the other side to the recording was getting the pre-written parts worked out and played as well as possible, things like the mellotron and Hammond organ parts. The latter was a rather ropey specimen and the sound at the end of the album is the Hammond about to finally die!

My favourite tracks on the album are ‘Stop Swimming’ and ‘Tinto Brass’.”

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The artwork for Recordings (the artist is unknown but it is possible it was either a public domain image or taken by Carl Glover)

The album was finished in late 1998, and released in March 1999. The band’s next album, Lightbulb Sun, was recorded so closely after the Stupid Dream sessions that Wilson later reflected that they sound like “two parts of a double record”. Songs from these sessions that were ultimately left off both albums were later compiled onto the b-side album Recordings in 2001. Fans often consider these three albums as a self-contained trilogy.

Tracklist

  1. “Even Less” – 7:11
  2. “Piano Lessons” – 4:21
  3. “Stupid Dream” – 0:28
  4. “Pure Narcotic” – 5:02
  5. “Slave Called Shiver” – 4:40
  6. “Don’t Hate Me” – 8:30
  7. “This Is No Rehearsal” – 3:26
  8. “Baby Dream in Cellophane” – 3:15
  9. “Stranger By The Minute” – 4:30
  10. “A Smart Kid” – 5:22
  11. “Tinto Brass” – 6:17
  12. “Stop Swimming” – 6:53

Total length: 59:55

Early Tracklist I (1997)

  1. “Even Less” – 14:32
  2. “Piano Lessons” – 4:47
  3. “Baby Dream in Cellophane” – 3:11
  4. “I Fail” – 4:10
  5. “Slave Called Shiver” – 5:34
  6. “Don’t Hate Me” – 8:10
  7. “Disappear” – 6:19
  8. “Ambulance Chasers” – 6:58
  9. “Tin to Brass” – 9:58
  10. “Stop Swimming” – 6:52

Total length: 1:10:31

This is known from the 1997 cassette titled Demo (subtitled Demos For the Next Studio Album in 1998), which was created to lure labels prior to the full recording of Stupid Dream. Only 50 copies exist. It has been widely bootlegged as Ambulance Chasers or The Stupid Dream Demos. “Ambulance Chasing” and “Tinto Brass” listed as “Ambulance Chasers” and “Tin to Brass” respectively. For information regarding the “Disappear” demos please visit the Lightbulb Sun page.

Early Tracklist II (1998-1999)

  1. “Even Less (Part 1)” – 6:47
  2. “Stranger By The Minute” – 4:31
  3. “Slave Called Shiver” – 4:30
  4. “Don’t Hate Me” – 8:19
  5. “This Is No Rehearsal” – 3:53
  6. “Baby Dream in Cellophane” – 3:23
  7. “Even Less (Part 2)” – 7:40
  8. “Pure Narcotic” – 5:02
  9. “Ambulance Chasing” – 7:00
  10. “A Smart Kid” – 5:58
  11. “Stop Swimming” – 6:42

Total length: 63:42

This is known from the leaked work-in-progress mix of Stupid Dream. This can be heard here.

Singles

“Piano Lessons” – April 1999

CD:

  1. “Piano Lessons” – 4:28
  2. “Ambulance Chasing” – 6:35
  3. “Wake As Gun” – 3:30

7″ Vinyl (limited to 1000 copies):

  1. “Piano Lessons” – 4:22
  2. “Oceans Have No Memory” – 3:09

“Stranger By The Minute” – October 1999

CD:

  1. “Stranger by the Minute (Edit)” – 3:47
  2. “Even Less (Part 2)” – 7:26
  3. “Piano Lessons (Video)” – 3:30

7″ Vinyl (limited to 1000 copies):

  1. “Stranger by the Minute (Edit)” – 3:45
  2. “Hallogallo (Remix)” – 4:04

“Pure Narcotic” – November 1999

CD:

  1. “Pure Narcotic (Edit)” – 3:39
  2. “Tinto Brass (Live at Southampton)” – 6:44
  3. “Door To The River” – 4:25

7″ Single (limited to 1000 copies):

  1. “Pure Narcotic (Edit)” – 3:39
  2. “Nine Cats (Acoustic Version)” – 4:05

Production

  • Steven Wilson – production, recording engineer, arranger [strings], remix and remaster [2006 version]
  • Chris Thorpe – arranger [strings], recording engineer
  • Elliot Ness – recording engineer
  • Dominique Brethes – mix on “Baby Dream in Cellophane” [1999 version]
  • Nicholas Kok – conductor [strings]
  • Garth Swaby – arranger [strings]
  • Robert Harding – artwork [1999 version]
  • Lasse Hoile – artwork [2006 version]
  • Tim Kent – band photography
  • Gary Woods – additional photography [1999 version]
  • Carl Glover – sleeve design [2006 version]
  • Bill Smith – photo consultant

Label: Kscope/Snapper (UK and US)

Release: 8 March 1999 (UK) and 6 April 1999 (US)

Publishing: Published by Imagem Music Publishing Ltd.

Released on CD in March 1999. Later re-released in May 2006 due to the band’s rising popularity on major record label Lava Records with a new remix and remaster by SW and artwork by Lasse Hoile. Later that year, it was released as a 2LP on the Gates of Dawn label. It was later reissued by Kscope in 2013 (LP) and 2015 (CD). For the LP editions, the Kscope version is virtually identical to the Gates of Dawn version, but has large block letters on each center label.

From Lasse Hoile and Carl Glover’s “Index” book:

SW: “At the time I was brooding on how absurd it was to hope to find a balance between being true to myself as an artist, and to make a living from being a musician – a ‘stupid dream’ indeed. In 1999 compact discs were still the way that nearly everyone listened to music, so i wanted the cover to be a stream of CDs rolling off a sterile production line, and this would somehow symbolise the idea of art as commerce/product. But when Carl [Glover] started to look into it, he found that it was not the way that the factories made CDs at all! Meanwhile time was running out, so we had to fake the scene, and the cover image ended up looking kind of blurry and compromised. Fortunately when the album was remixed and reissued in 2006 I was able to invite Lasse to completely reimagine the cover, albeit using the same original concept. For me his beautifully clinical images on the reissued edition are definitive.”

“For helping us to make this album our gratitude goes out to: Chris Thorpe, Dave Anderson, Rob Crossland, Peter Woodroffe, Elliot Nesse, Richard Allen, and all at Snapper.”

“Special thanks to Lasse Hoile, Darcy Proper, and Andy Leff.”

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Established in 1974, Foel Studio is a beautiful residential recording studio nestled in the heart of the idyllic Welsh countryside

All tracks recorded at Foel Studio, Wales and No Man’s Land in January – November 1998 unless noted otherwise. Some elements retained from demos recorded at No Man’s Land in 1997 and 1998. All strings recorded at the Cedar Arts Centre, Derby in January – November 1998. Originally mixed at No Man’s Land in February 1999 by SW (except “Baby Dream in Cellophane”, which was mixed by Dominique Brethes at Wolf Studios, Brixton). New stereo and 5.1 versions mixed and mastered at No Man’s Land in September 2005 by SW. All tracks written by SW unless noted otherwise.

Song Details: Album Tracks

01. “Even Less” – 7:11

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, mellotron, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, piano
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion
  • Terumi [guest] – voices
  • East of England Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

Demo: “Even Less (Demo Version)” from the Four Chords That Made a Million Limited CD Single, “Even Less” from the 1997 Demo Cassette, and “Even Less (Part 1)” and “Even Less (Part 2)” from the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

Stupid Dream opens with a definite bang in “Even Less,” with some of the quartet’s biggest, blasting rock music yet, yet also with the gentler, acoustic side that makes Porcupine Tree so intimate and lovely.

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Colin in 1999

At the end of the track a woman can be heard repeating the pattern of numbers: “0096 2251 2110 8105”. Regarding these numbers, Wilson stated: “The counting in ‘Even Less’ is taken from a recording of a shortwave numbers station. It is understood that these stations are used by intelligence agencies to transmit coded messages to overseas operatives, although no government agency has ever acknowledged the existence of these stations or what their actual purpose might be. They are virtually impossible to decode without the key since the message and its key are generated at random.”

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Porcupine Tree performing in 1999

SW: “There’s a phenomena known as “number stations” since the last world war. If you’re tuning on short waves radio, you can find these stations. There are voices, sometimes male, sometimes female, reading numbers. And the numbers sound… random. But what they actually are, they’re used by intelligent services in different countries to transmit coded messages. So if you have the key to decode the numbers, they give you a message. Well, I don’t know the message. It’s just taken randomly from a number station. The whole concept of number stations is kind of fascinating. For all I know, this messages could be in order to assassinate, in another country, someone or kill a president … You don’t know what they say but the idea is something of deep meaning. It’s kind of spooky.”

From the PT website: “The counting is taken from a recording of a shortwave numbers station. It is understood that these stations are used by intelligence agencies to transmit coded messages to overseas operatives, although no government agency has ever acknowledged the existence of these stations or what their actual purpose might be.”

For those interested, you can find the original audio here, from the Conet Project.

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Photography from Lasse Hoile for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream

As it’s known amongst fans of the band, the track is one of the band’s strongest cuts on any Porcupine Tree album, and with good reason. “Even Less” opens Stupid Dream masterfully, finding the band firmly planting their flag as true progressors and innovators in rock music.

“Even Less” was played a total of 345 times by the band in 13 years, making it the second most played Porcupine Tree song, after “Blackest Eyes” from In Absentia.

The version of “Even Less” on Stupid Dream is an edited version of the original 14-minute track, which can be found on the Recordings compilation.

Lyrics:

A body is washed up on a Norfolk beach
He was a friend that I could not reach
He thought I was cold but I understand
But for the grace of God goes another man

And I may just waste away from doing nothing
But you’re a martyr for even less

A choirboy is buried on the moors
Where we used to go dreaming when we were bored
So some kids are best left to fend for themselves
And others were born to stack shelves

And I may just waste away from doing nothing
But you’re a martyr for even less

Demo Lyrics:

[see “Even Less (Full-Length Version)” at bottom of the page]

02. “Piano Lessons” – 4:21

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, hammond organ
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass, double bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Demo: “Piano Lessons” from the 1997 Demo Cassette

SW: “Piano Lessons” is the most psychedelic Porcupine Tree recording since the early days. The band will be shooting a suitably bizarre promotional film to accompany this warped pop song.”

“Piano Lessons” is the purest example of Porcupine Tree’s criticism of the music industry. Given Stupid Dream‘s release during the time of boy-band pop, the argument was and is especially relevant. The genius of “Piano Lessons”, however, is that it’s not just a particularly great critique. It’s also a particularly great song.

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Photography by Lasse Hoile for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream

The premise is simple enough: satirically critique pop music within the structure of a pop song. Though the most psychedelic of all of the album’s tracks, “Piano Lessons” is primarily driven by an absolutely infectious chord pattern, as well as a gorgeous vocal harmony in the chorus, something that SW has become well known for. The song’s hook is one of the best the band have ever conceived, despite more popular releases being heavier offerings such as Deadwing and Fear of a Blank Planet. Many might miss the song’s pointed criticism given how catchy it is, which only adds to the tongue-in-cheek irony of it.

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The 2006 CD/DVD-A digibook package of Stupid Dream

Wilson here uses the example of childhood piano lessons to demonstrate how over time music, as practiced by contemporary culture, strips artists of their creativity. He recalls those early years as involving “Cold ears and tiny hands / Destroying timeless tunes”, highlighting the theme of musical recycling depicted in the album’s sleeve art. This child is also presented with an ultimate catch-22: he’s told first “There’s too much out there / Too much already said / You better give up hoping / You’re better off in bed”, but then that “You don’t need much to speak of / no class, no wit, no soul / Forget your own agenda / get ready to be sold”. Whether the child chooses to join the music business or not, he won’t actually be doing anything. If he stays at home in his bed, he’s not making music. But if he does decide to succumb to the temptation of a lucrative record deal with a label, the music won’t be his own. He might as well not play at all.

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SW in 1999

The song’s psychedelic and hilarious music video, directed by Wilson’s friend Mike Bennion (who co-wrote the Deadwing script), adds to the already rich argument in the lyrical matter. The video depicts all four band members holding up obviously-labeled title cards for each part of the song (“Title”, “Chorus”, and “Verse” — the video itself even opens with “A Promotional Video”), while also containing several “subliminal” messages telling the viewer to purchase the album. “Credit me with some intelligence”, they sing in the chorus, “If not, just credit me”. Here, Wilson’s lyrics co-opt the language of finance, highlighting how fame itself has become a commodity that pop outfits strive to earn just as much as money. The last verse lyric of the song (“I remember piano lessons / Now everything seems clear / You waiting under streetlights / For dreams to disappear”) paints a dark picture of life in the music business, where music itself has become reduced to labor for corporate labels: no longer does the “class, wit, or soul” of music matter. When Wilson sings, “Even though I got it all now / My only stupid dream / Is you and me together / And how it should have been”, the album’s title takes on a resounding message. The reality of financial success for any artists who wish to perform music on their own terms is a stupid dream. Fortunately, with the increasing popularity of independent music and the proliferation of cheap technology, musicians in the second millennium have been able to subvert the major labels. In 1999, however, the picture was substantially bleaker.

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Richard Barbieri looking a tad tired after a gig in 1999

Yet as disheartening as the lyrics of “Piano Lessons” are, it’s easy to not take in the message the first few listens because of how addictive it is. While this does make the track’s message a bit of brilliant irony, something of a paradox arises. If this song is a memorable one, does that mean pop music can be saved at all? If the track’s criticism of pop music at the end of the nineties is correct, then doesn’t its own structure undermine its criticism? Some may find the band’s satire here to be effective, but others might believe it undercuts what meaning it has because of how good of a pop song it is. After all, if the hoi polloi are so receptive to banal pop music, won’t the criticism be missed by most who hear it?

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SW in 1999

It’s in this exact tension that Porcupine Tree’s brilliance shines. Often, groups under the progressive rock umbrella stick to the long, complicated song structures to the point that when they do write a short song, it sounds unusual or in many cases awful. In contrast, throughout its existence Porcupine Tree has deftly balanced the accessible with the ambitious. Stupid Dream has plenty of challenging, progressive material, but those songs need not come at the expense of friendlier fare. Wilson himself has spoken highly of quality pop music, noting that “extraordinary pieces of pop music still are things like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ on [the Beatles’] Revolver which is two and a half minutes long, ‘God Only Knows’ on [the Beach Boys’] Pet Sounds which is two and a half minutes long… they… represent the pinnacle of popular music”. As such, “Piano Lessons” isn’t critiquing pop music as a universal idea; it’s critiquing how the increasingly money-obsessed record industry has come to craft pop music. Even prog fans have to have a catchy song to listen to amidst the poly-rhythmic, tempo-bending tracks they so love.

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Colin in 1999

From the PT website: “Christine Keeler was a prostitute who was involved in a notorious scandal in Britain in the sixties that resulted in the downfall of a leading politician John Profumo. As the song ‘Piano Lessons’ is partly about the apparently random nature of celebrity, SW used Keeler as a symbol of someone who found their fifteen minutes of fame through means which involved very little of what one might call conventional ‘talent’!”

SW: “When I was writing some of the songs of the album I was very much aware of this contradiction between being an artist, being a musician, trying to be creative and write songs and, then, at the point you finish an album, the music is finished, the creative side is finished, you then have to go out and sell and market and promote. And that’s like a completely different experience. It’s not a very creative process. It’s quite – in some ways – a cynical process going on having to sell your music. But you have to do it. I mean, if a modern musician is going to survive as a musician, you have to – in a sense – ‘prostitute yourself’ to try and sell your music and your art. And I was very much aware of that contradiction. If you think about that too much, it can drive you crazy, you know. It’s an absurd thing to be doing. That kind of led me thinking about when I was a teenager, when I was just starting out and I was interested in being a musician. And I think a lot of teenage kids have this dream of being pop stars, of being a professional musician. This ‘stupid dream’ of being famous and ‘life is a ball and everything is wonderful’. And, of course, actually the reality is that being a professional musician is very hard work. It can be very heartbreaking, there’s a lot of disappointment, there’s a lot of hard work, there’s a lot of travelling.”

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

“Were other lyrics changed from their original form on that and the latest album? If so is it a question of getting the music down and filling in with incomplete lyrics to see how the song ‘sounds’?”

SW: “That’s exactly it. When inspiration strikes I use whatever words fit musically sometimes without too much consideration for content. Afterwards it is sometimes necessary to rewrite completely (for example the demo of ‘Piano Lessons’ used nonsense words)…”

Lyrics:

I remember piano lessons
The hours in freezing rooms
Cruel ears and tiny hands
Destroying timeless tunes

She said there’s too much out there
Too much already said
You’d better give up hoping
You’re better off in bed

You don’t need much to speak of
No class, no wit, no soul
Forget you own agenda
Get ready to be sold

I feel now like Christine Keeler
Sleepwalking in the rain
I didn’t mean to lose direction
I didn’t want that kind of fame

(Take your hands off my land)

Credit me with some intelligence
(if not just credit me)
I come in value packs of ten
(in five varieties)

And even though I got it all now
My only stupid dream
Is you and me together
And how it should have been

I remember piano lessons
Now everything seems clear
You waiting under streetlights
For dreams to disappear

Demo Lyrics:

Check out the chains of silence
Beaming like Albert Speer
Crackling like fires above me
Whenever you are here

Trombones in icy gardens
Look lost in vapour glow
Cycling beyond the tundra
Two swallows camped below

First like Christine Keeler
Lapsed in a drowning stone
Immersed in a spectral England
Set down on weathered crown

Scratching for piano lessons
Cramped tightly at a fire
Scatter the island glamour
For charge you need the wire

(Take your hands off my land)

Credit me with some intelligence
(if not just credit me)
I come in value packs of ten
(in five varieties)

(Here’s my life, here’s the time)

Check out the chains of silence
Beaming like Albert Speer
Crackling like fires above me
Whenever you are here

Trombones in icy gardens
Look lost in vapour glow
Cycling beyond the tundra
Two swallows camped below

03. “Stupid Dream” – 0:28

  • Steven Wilson – samples
  • Richard Barbieri – hammond organ

The title track from the album, “Stupid Dream” is a curious little instrumental that creates a nice segue between “Piano Lessons” and “Pure Narcotic”. Parts of “Stupid Dream” can be heard in the untitled instrumental that the band would open their 2003 shows with.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

04. “Pure Narcotic” – 5:02

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, mellotron, glockenspiel
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – cymbals, percussion

Demo: “Pure Narcotic” from the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

“Pure Narcotic” was the third and final single from Stupid Dream. 

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The 7″ Pure Narcotic single (credit to my friend @javierjonesr on Instagram)
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Chris Maitland and Steven Wilson performing “Pure Narcotic” in 1999, in San Francisco

The lyrics make a reference to Radiohead’s album The Bends with the line “You keep me hating / You keep me listening to The Bends.” Like the two songs following it, “Pure Narcotic” is about unreciprocated love.

Although Porcupine Tree has since become known for its dark atmospherics, “Pure Narcotic” remains one of the band’s most genial-sounding songs. Despite the pleading and begging in the apologetic chorus, the music sounds uncharacteristically cheery. The song’s juxtaposition of melancholy lyrics with a optimistic musical mood depicts the nascent stage of unrequited love, wherein the narrator simultaneously sees that the one he pines for doesn’t share his feelings and still holds on to hope for things to go somewhere. “You keep me alone in a room full of friends”, SW sings, “You keep me hating”. For all of the negative things he sees this unnamed love doing to him, it doesn’t sound like he’s giving up.

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

The chorus is particularly indicative of this tension: “I’m sorry that I’m not like you / I worry that I don’t act the way you want me to”. Steven Wilson’s vocals here are especially effective; he delivers it both as an insult and as an apology. He truly is sorry that he can’t live up to his love’s expectations; what person in love wouldn’t be? But at the same time he begins to, as many do in cases of unrequited love, sense some injustice. Why can’t she love him? Or why at least can’t she see his love for her as something worth exploring? The song’s title comes from the pre-chorus line “No narcotics in my brain / Can make this go away”. This seemingly simple case of unreciprocated adoration has already begun to push the narrator into dark territory as he has started taking drugs. The track features another of Wilson’s signature layered vocal melodies to end the song.

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Colin Edwin, Steven Wilson and Chris Maitland at an acoustic show in New York, 1999

The song has remained a fan favourite, and was often played as an acoustic number, making an appearance at the special Radio City Music Hall and Royal Albert Hall gigs as part of the acoustic set.

Lyrics:

You keep me waiting
You keep me alone in a room full of friends
You keep me hating
You keep me listening to The Bends

No amount of pointless days
Can make this go away

You have me on my knees
You have me listless and deranged
You have me in your pocket
You have me distant and estranged

No narcotics in my brain
Can make this go away

I’m sorry that, I’m sorry that I’m not like you
I worry that I don’t act the way you’d like me to

You find me wanting
You find me bloodless but inspired
You find me out
You find me hallucinating fire

No narcotics in my brain
Can make this go away

Have we ever been here before?
Running headlong at the floor
Leave me dreaming on a railway track
Wrap me up and send me back

05. “Slave Called Shiver” – 4:40

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, mellotron
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion

Demo: “Slave Called Shiver” from the 1997 Demo Cassette and the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

According to Wilson, “Slave Called Shiver” is about feelings of “unreturned love”. He said of them, “[‘Slave Called Shiver’]’s a very perverse love song, yeah. I mean, it’s an unrequited love song. It’s a love song with somebody who’s obsessed with someone else, but none of that affection is returned… It’s about someone who’s very much in love and obsessed with somebody else. That love is not returned and so there’s a slightly violent perverse undercurrent.”

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Photography by Lasse Hoile for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream

The line “I’ll have more followers than Jesus Christ” is a reference to John Lennon’s controversial remark made in March 1966, when he said “[The Beatles are] more popular than Jesus now…” In this context, Steven is using the phrase as a tongue-in-cheek prediction that one day Porcupine Tree will be as popular as The Beatles, showcasing his frustration with the music industry around the time of Stupid Dream.

The line in the demo “she’s also inspired” seems to reference the line “you find me bloodless but inspired” from “Pure Narcotic”.

Lyrics:

I need you more than you can know
And if I hurt myself it’s just for show
I found a better way to curb the pain
You put a trigger here inside my brain

Mother I need her
I’m falling apart
Mother I need her
And it’s only the start

I may be nothing now but I will rise
I’ll have more followers than Jesus Christ

Through all the smashing things and crashing cars
I love the ground you walk with all my heart

Demo Lyrics:

When I need to escape, I ask her to call
When I’m feeling low, she’ll walk through walls
She is descended from Three Blind Mice
She has more followers than Jesus Christ

Mother I need her
To visit my mind
Mother I need her
And it’s only the start

And though she’s cruel, she’s also inspired
She’ll build a bridge and take you higher

She needs attention, she’s easily bored
Her song is same, her voice is a chord
She asks questions, they’re pretty deep
And when you’re exhausted, she don’t let you sleep

06. “Don’t Hate Me” – 8:30

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, organ, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion
  • Theo Travis [guest] – saxophone, flute

Demo: “Don’t Hate Me” from the 1997 Demo Cassette and the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

SW: “[‘Slave Called Shiver’] relates very closely to ‘Don’t Hate Me’, which is a song again about someone who’s obsessed with someone from afar. ‘Don’t Hate Me’ is an even more extreme version, because here this person actually begins to follow and make phone calls and, you know, it becomes very unhealthy.”

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Colin Edwin and Chris Maitland in 1999

“You’ve had Theo Travis come in who had worked with Gong just recently to play sax and flute specifically on ‘Don’t Hate Me’ and ‘Tinto Brass’. Accordingly, the jam part on ‘Don’t Hate Me’ even has a Gong like feel to it right down to what seems like you playing glissando guitar. Was that an intentional move and what other artists have you found that you honor, if that’s the intent?”

SW: “It wasn’t intentional. Theo obviously has only just played with Gong. He didn’t even know Gong until fairly recently. So the fact that Theo is on it is chronologically misleading. Secondly, I’ve used glissando guitar many times before. I think what tended to give it even more of a Gong feel is the bassline which kind of… y’know… so things like that… it does rather sound like Gong… and then the sax and the flute went on at the end as well… all of those things were never intended when the glissando guitar was originally played. In answer to your question, I don’t specifically set out to pastiche, or honor, or… however you want to put it… plagiarize… give tribute to anything in particular. It’s like I said at the beginning of the interview, I have a massive massive massive musical taste. I like so many different types of things and they all go into the melting pot if you like that produces the music of Porcupine Tree. And yes, some things do tend to kind of poke through occasionally rather more overtly than other times.”

“Don’t Hate Me” features the use of saxophone, courtesy of Theo Travis. During live performances, the flute and saxophone solos are replaced by Barbieri’s keyboard and Wilson guitar solos respectively.

The song was re-recorded for Steven Wilson’s 2016 mini album .

Lyrics:

A light snow is falling on London
All sign of the living has gone
The train pulls into the stations
And no-one gets off and no-one gets on

Don’t hate me
I’m not special like you
I’m tired and I’m so alone
Don’t fight me
I know you’ll never care
Can I call you on the telephone, now and then?

One light burns in a window
It guides all the shadows below
Inside the ghost of a parting
And no-one is left, just the cigarette smoke

Don’t hate me
I’m not special like you
I’m tired and I’m so alone
Don’t fight me
I know you’ll never care
Can I call you, on the telephone?

07. “This Is No Rehearsal” – 3:26

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, mellotron
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Demo: “This Is No Rehearsal” from the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

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SW in 1999

Despite sounding almost cheery in relation to the tracks that come before it (especially the gloom of “Don’t Hate Me”), “This Is No Rehearsal” is the most lyrically dark of the material on Stupid Dream. Though the song’s three stanzas aren’t too specific, Wilson has stated that this song is about the tragic murder of James Bulger, a two-year-old boy, by two ten-year-olds. Putting the fairly upbeat music against the extreme darkness of the subject matter may seem like a depraved bit of black humor, but in reality the song isn’t meant to comment specifically on the Bulger case, nor is it a specific indictment of Bulger’s mother (Bulger was taken while at a shopping center with his mother). Instead, it can be seen as a criticism of the cruel nature of the modern world, wherein small trips to the shopping mall can end in a tragic and brutal murder.

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Chris in 1999

“This Is No Rehearsal” chronicles how even the most mundane parts of everyday life are now vulnerable to human nature’s darkest impulses through the voice of a helpless mother. “Still I remember how I dressed him this morning / And then he was gone”, she sings, “Stolen / My only one”.

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

But while the song’s infectious groove isn’t quite level with the dark lyrical material, it does mirror the ways in which tragic events are often handled. Here we have a snippet of a mother losing her son in a graphic murder by two young boys; yet, knowing the contemporary news media cycle, her story would be overshadowed the next day by some manufactured controversy. We’re just supposed to move on and keep a sunny disposition, lest we get caught up in the horrific events that ruin lives. This further explains why the lyrics here are so sparse; all we often hear from victims in cases like these are sound bites, fragments of much larger woes. Any of these lyrics could have easily been taken directly from a newspaper article about the Bulger case at the time.

Lyrics:

How many children did I bring into this world?
How many did I lose in the shopping arcade?

This is no rehearsal play it back
and throw things at the screen
This is no rehearsal – somebody
interpret this for me

And still I remember how I dressed him this morning
And then he was gone – stolen, my only one

08. “Baby Dream in Cellophane” – 3:15

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass, hammond organ
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers

Demo: “Baby Dream in Cellophane” from the 1997 Demo Cassette and the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

While “Baby Dream in Cellophane” displays Wilson’s love for Beach Boys-styled vocal harmonies like the rest of Stupid Dream, the song also hearkens back to the band’s psychedelic beginnings with its oddball and surreal lyrics and manipulated vocals. The song shines in the chorus, wherein the moody verses blossom into a shimmering cascade of strummed chords and layered vocals. Like “Heartattack in a Layby” and “Mellotron Scratch” after it, “Baby Dream in Cellophane” beautifully captures Wilson’s skill with multi-layered vocal arrangements; he has the capability to make his single voice sound like a choir.

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Lasse Hoile photography for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream
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Lasse Hoile photography for the 2006 Stupid Dream re-release

SW: “The baby in the song is basically singing the song: ‘I am in my pram’. And it’s quite a cynical song because he’s basically saying that the boy’s life is almost mapped out already as the child is born, it’s already predetermined by society and the baby’s kind of singing from the pram if you like, saying ‘well, actually no, I’m not going to go down this path that’s been laid out for me. I’m gonna break out’. It’s almost like a very surreal teen rebellion song. If you imagine Nirvana, if they wrote about rebellious teenagers, I write songs for rebellious babies.”

Rather cheekily, the lyric “My lips are sealed” in the second verse is not sung.

Interestingly, on the original release of Stupid Dream, “Baby Dream in Cellophane” was the only song Steven Wilson did not mix. Instead, it was mixed by Dominique Brethes.

Lyrics:

I am – in my pram
Look you – I’m so new
I am – sleeping there
Underneath the stairs

If you – wanted to
You’d find – inside my mind
Things so surreal
My lips are sealed

In the rain in cellophane
Pale dogs and demigods
They won’t bring me down
The cogs go round, they never stop

I’ve been – in limousines
I’ve seen – inside your dreams
It’s raining there
Try not to stare

09. “Stranger By The Minute” – 4:30

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion, backing vocals

Demo: “Stranger By The Minute” from the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

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The Stranger By The Minute CD single (credit to my friend @javierjonesr on Instagram)
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Steven Wilson and Chris Maitland in 1999

Another psychedelic cut on the album, “Stranger By The Minute” follows “Baby Dream in Cellophane”. Like the track before it, its lyrics are bizarre and whimsical, though unlike that song, it has a cheery mood to it, a mood present on no other track from Stupid Dream. One can count on one hand the amount of songs in Porcupine Tree’s discography that can be defined as even remotely “happy”, and this is one of them. “Stranger by the Minute” was chosen as the second single for Stupid Dream, and rightly so. This is one of the album’s most accessible tracks in terms of genre; save for the Dave Gilmour-esque slide guitar, this is a pretty straightforward bit of alternative rock. However, it’s never generic, as it bears many of the requisite Porcupine Tree stylistics, such as the harmonization between Wilson and drummer Chris Maitland in the chorus and its quirky lyrics. Interestingly, Wilson also plays the bass on the song, rather than Colin Edwin.

“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…”

“You reign him in a bit.”

SW: “Yeah. A little bit.”

Lyrics:

Ghosts in the park
Appear just after dark
Killers, children..
But no-one has a harp
They look like tourists
It makes me want to laugh

Under floorboards
It’s hard to fly a kite
Underwater
My cigarette won’t light
Standing in the shade
I’m getting frostbite

Strange as I seem
I’m getting stranger by the minute
Look in my dream
It’s getting stranger by the minute

When I’m drowning
You drag me up to you
Rings in the water
My only residue
But you’re just fiction
And I’m a twisted boy

10. “A Smart Kid” – 5:22

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, mellotron
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums
  • East of England Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

Demo: “A Smart Kid” from the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

The lyrics in “A Smart Kid” explore the feelings of isolation and hopelessness through SW’s use of imagery of a lone survivor (the “smart kid”) in a post-apocalyptic world.

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Richard in 1999
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Colin in 1999

The line “It’s not much / But it could be worse” shows that the protagonist has already experienced the pre-apocalyptic state that incited the radioactive destruction in the first place. Notice how the details attributed to the nuclear winter-ridden planet attempt to describe it in a positive light: “Everything’s free here / There’s no crowds”. “A Smart Kid” also ties into the album’s consumerist critique: the song can be looked at as a counterfactual, a hypothetical scenario in which our response to the increasingly commodified world is to destroy it entirely. The loneliness and yearning in Wilson’s vocal here provide a resounding answer to the question of destruction: the world may be a difficult place to live in, but if we seek the power to destroy we fare no better than the destructive forces that we live with now (namely hyper-capitalism and the money-greedy music industry, amongst others). The echoey quality of the piano and guitar riffs, as well as Wilson’s vocal, reveal the extent of how alone the world is.

This loneliness does not last the entirety of the song; a moment of hope arrives halfway through. In the third verse, a spaceship arrives on the desolate planet. Finally, this lone survivor has some interaction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long; “There was a war, but I must have won”, he sings, not even taking a modicum of pride in his position as the last person-standing. His ambivalence is the similar one the piano instructor gave the pupil in “Piano Lessons” eight songs earlier in the album: there’s no need to be optimistic or dream. The world is what it is, and because of that it is beyond our control; it’s just a “Stupid Dream”. One must succumb to the forces or lose it all. This “Smart Kid” faces the same dilemma.

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Steven in 1999

In their Stupid Dream review, Allmusic praised the songwriting and dynamics of the album, stating “Wilson as a songwriter and singer both sounds recharged and more ambitious, while the group collectively pours it on. The loud passages feel truly sky smashing, the calmer ones perfectly close, and the overall sense of build and drama — “A Smart Kid” is a fine example — spot-on.”

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Chris Maitland and Steven Wilson performing “A Smart Kid” in 1999

The track has become a fan favourite from the Porcupine Tree back-catalogue.

SW: “This is the first time where we’ve had a real budget to do an album. Signify was recorded for a total of 2,000 Pounds, which is a pretty pathetic budget. We had a lot more money for this, we spent about 15,000 Pounds on this album, which is still pretty small when you compare it to the budgets that some bands have. We can do a lot more with money than we used to be able to and one of the things we could do was we could bring in outside musicians, we hired the orchestra. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never been able to afford to do.”

Lyrics:

Stranded here on planet earth
It’s not much but it could be worse
Everything’s free here, there’s no crowds

Winter lasted five long years
No sun will come again I fear
Chemical harvest was sown

And I will wait for you
Until the sky is blue
And I will wait for you
What else can I do?

A spaceship from another star
They ask me where all the people are
What can I tell them?

I tell them I’m the only one
There was a war but I must have won
Please take me with you

Demo Lyrics:

Stranded here on planet earth
It’s not much but it could be worse
Everything’s free here, there’s no crowds

Winter lasted five long years
No sun will come again I fear
Chemical harvest was sown

[unclear]

A spaceship from another star
They ask me where all the people are
What can I tell them?

I tell them I’m the only one
There was a war but I must have won
Please take me with you

11. “Tinto Brass” – 6:17

  • Steven Wilson – guitars, keyboards, piano, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion
  • Terumi [guest] – voices

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Demo: “Tin to Brass” from the 1997 Demo Cassette

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Colin Edwin in 1999

The only song on the album written by the band, “Tinto Brass” is a monster jam on Stupid Dream that recalls the title track of the 1993 album Up The Downstair. A pounding groove is set by the rhythm section of Chris Maitland and Colin Edwin as a guitar melody trades licks with Theo Travis’ flute, which is everywhere at once. Crank the volume, this is an intense, blistering rocker. There’s even a pulsating dance beat portion. Steven has commented that the song is named after the Italian erotica director of the same name. Regarding the spoken word intro, Steven said, “Oh, yes, it’s spoken in Japanese! It’s my girlfriend who’s Japanese and she’s got a film book. I tell you it’s so difficult to find anything on Tinto Brass in England. He’s completely unknown… And then my girlfriend… found this little biography: where he was born, the films he made. So she said, ‘well, should I translate that for you?’ (because I wanted it to be spoken in the track) and I said ‘No, it’s great’ — I thought — ‘I’ll have it in Japanese’. So she just read it in Japanese. But it’s just a list of his films and where he’s from… It’s nothing interesting”.

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Richard in 1999

Interestingly, the track is titled “Tin to Brass” on the promo cassette demo tape that circulated in 1997 and was over 10 minutes in length.

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

12. “Stop Swimming” – 6:53

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – double bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums
  • East of England Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

Demo: “Stop Swimming” from the 1997 Demo Cassette and the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

The calm, introspective jazz that is the musical backbone of this track is exactly what is necessary to cap the narrative that’s unfolded before it. Fittingly, the theme of alienation in the modern music industry is where everything comes back to, although this time around there’s a weakness in Wilson’s voice. The jaded child of “Piano Lessons” has grown up into a man unsure of those early convictions; it’s easy to make fun of the greedy, shallow musicians who sell out for a buck, but when drowning while swimming against the stream you set to defeat, a sense of defeat is not far off.

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Photography from 1999

In a 2002 internet Q&A session, SW said, “The inspiration for ‘Stop Swimming’ was UNCOMPROMISING MUSICIAN VERSUS THE WORLD. Sometimes it’s a lonely place to be.”

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Photography by Lasse Hoile for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream

SW: “I found that when I was writing the music for this album a lot of the songs were about me and my relationship with the music industry and how I felt about where I was going in the music business and all that. Things like ‘Stop Swimming’… maybe it’s time to stop swimming… and this kind of whole impulse to just give up and go with the flow can be very strong sometimes. I mean I’ve never given into it. I never will. But sometimes it can make you very depressed. Y’know, you’re doing this very amazing… I think really important work, and it’s still selling comparatively tiny amounts compared to what I could do in an afternoon if I wanted to. And there’s also this whole thing about how when you’re writing music… when you’re being artistic… there’s this kind of purity to what you do. So you try to avoid any considerations to do with being commercial, oh is this the kind of thing the record company can release as a single. I don’t care. I don’t even want to think about that. But the moment you finish the album you suddenly have to go from being an artist to a businessman. And it’s a really tough transition to make. They’re two opposite extremes. This whole kind of idea that you’re supposed to be this artist but you have to do all this other bullshit stuff. Like sitting down with the record company to discuss how we’re gonna market this album. And at that point your record becomes a product.”

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Photography by Lasse Hoile for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream

From the liner notes of the live album Warszawa: “This is a very sad song, but if you’re like me, I always find the saddest music is also the most beautiful and this is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written.”

Lyrics:

This song leaks out onto the pavement
It could be a joke, it could be a statement
The more that I fake it and pretend I don’t care
The more you can read in to what isn’t there

Maybe it’s time to stop swimming
Maybe it’s time to find out where I’m at
What I should do and where I should be
But no-one will give me a map

I’ll leave now this can’t continue
But I forget which door I came through
And I know that the lift can be painfully slow
So I think I’ll leave by the window

Song Details: Outtakes and Non-Album Tracks

“Ambulance Chasing” – 6:32

  • Steven Wilson – guitars, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, mellotron
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion
  • Theo Travis [guest] – flute, saxophone
  • East of England Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Release: Originally released on the Piano Lessons CD Single and later released on Recordings, and the 2006 Gates of Dawn 2LP and Kscope DVD-A versions of Stupid Dream

Demo: “Ambulance Chasers” from the 1997 Demo Cassette

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Richard in 1999

This rocking instrumental was premiered during the 1997 tour, along with “Even Less” and “This Is No Rehearsal”. Propelled by a tribal tom pattern, “Ambulance Chasing” features a unique saxophone solo fed through a guitar amp with a wah-wah pedal courtesy of frequent Wilson collaborator Theo Travis. The track concludes with an intense slide guitar solo in which SW’s bottle neck sounds as if it’s shaving filings off the strings.

Here is some very rare audio from a 1997 performance of “Ambulance Chasing” with Theo Travis.

An example of the setlist from the 1998 tour:

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“You’ve contributed to several Steven Wilson-related projects. Describe his concept for integrating saxophone into his work and your collaborative process.”

Theo Travis: “Steven has integrated saxophone into his various projects in many, many different ways. He has used saxophone for ‘normal’-type solos such as ‘Don’t Hate Me,’ but has often experimented with some sort of sound processing to make the sax sound a little different. He has done things like put it through distortion on ‘Nailbomber’ and wah-wah on ‘Ambulance Chasing,’ transposed it down two octaves and slowed it down radically on ‘Drugged’ from the first Bass Communion album, made tracks out of multiphonics, alternative fingerings and strange sounds that a sax can generate, for instance on ‘Quantico’ from the Invisible Soundtracks CD, and probably lots of other ways that I can’t remember. It is always a pleasure recording for Steven. Apart from the fact that he makes me sound good, as his studio skills are incredible, he is very imaginative, tries all sorts of different approaches, and is always relaxed and positive. I consider him a friend and also just enjoy hanging out with him.”

By late 1997, “Ambulance Chasing” was considered as the title for the album (of course, it would later be called Stupid Dream, most likely after it was decided the track would not be on the album).

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

“Even Less (Full-Length Version)” / “Even Less (Part 2)” – 13:55 / 7:20

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano [second half], mellotron
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, piano [first half]
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion
  • Theo Travis [guest] – flute
  • Terumi [guest] – voices
  • East of England Orchestra [guest] – orchestra

Release: Part 2 was released on the Stranger By The Minute CD Single while the full-length version was later released on Recordings, and the 2006 Gates of Dawn 2LP and Kscope DVD-A versions of Stupid Dream.

Demo: “Even Less (Demo Version)” from the Four Chords That Made a Million Limited CD Single, “Even Less” from the 1997 Demo Cassette and “Even Less (Part 1)” and “Even Less (Part 2)” from the work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix

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Chris in 1999

Although Recordings states that Steven Wilson plays piano on the full-length version, this is incorrect because on Stupid Dream it is listed that Richard Barbieri plays it, and the first half of the Recordings version is identical. This means that SW must play on the second half, and so it is included in the personnel above.

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Porcupine Tree in 1999

Arguably the band’s most epic and powerful track, “Even Less” was edited to 7 minutes to open Stupid Dream. The second half of the track was included as “Even Less: Part Two” on the Stranger By The Minute CD Single. On the Recordings compilation, Wilson was able to include the full-length version of the track, which has since become a fan favourite.

The track revolves around concepts of loss, organized religion, and powerlessness as the protagonist struggles to come to terms with the reality of the world around him.

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Photography by Lasse Hoile for the 2006 re-release of Stupid Dream

After the complicated psych jam and pounding tribal drums in the full-length version found on Recordings (and the Stranger By The Minute CD single), Wilson attacks organized religion, spitting, “Fuck you and your book too / You can have it back”. In the chorus of the demo version found on the Four Chords That Made a Million Limited CD single, Wilson sings, “Jesus was crucified for doing nothing / And God is worshipped for even less”.

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SW in 1999

Although the protagonist makes it clear he would rather “waste away from doing nothing” than die in the name of religion (and become “a martyr for even less”), the chorus changes from “you’re a martyr for even less” to “I’m a martyr to even less”. This indicates that the protagonist seems to have an “a’ha!” moment, realizing the joke was actually on him, and not the “choir boy”.

Many subtle differences in the many sets of lyrics can be found below.

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Richard in 1999

Differences between versions:

  • Four Chords That Made a Million CD Single – extended 16 minute demo, has additional samples in Part 2 (similar to I.E.M.’s “Deafman” and the multiple “Disappear” demos)
  • 1997 Demo Cassette – 14 minute demo, same lyrics as the lyrics on the Four Chords That Made a Million CD Single version, but with shorter instrumental sections
  • Work-in-progress mix – the almost complete full-length version, split into 2 parts, the lyrics are a mix between the various demos and the Stupid Dream and Recordings versions
  • Stupid Dream – finished mix, first 7 minutes
  • Recordings – finished mix, full 14 minutes

“On Stupid Dream, Even Less changed enormously, especially the lyrics. Was there a deliberate reason for changing the lyrics from the “religious” lyrics featured on tour? Did you ever record a studio version with the alternative lyrics?”

SW: Yes – a demo was recorded with the original lyrics, but after playing the song live I felt they were too “preachy” and overblown so I rewrote them. I’d already explored anti organised religion themes on Signify anyway.”

Lyrics:

A body is washed up on a Norfolk beach
He was a friend that I could not reach
He thought I was cold but I understand
But for the grace of God goes another man

And I may just waste away from doing nothing
But you’re a martyr for even less

A choir boy is buried on the moors
Where we used to go dreaming when we were bored
Some kids are best left to fend for themselves
And others were born to stack shelves

And I may just waste away from doing nothing
But you’re a martyr for even less

Fuck you and your book too
You can have it back
When I’m gone these songs 
Will be my tracts

And I had a stupid dream that I could change things
But I’m a martyr to even less

I hate the ground that I have walked upon
Nothing I have done has ever mattered long

Demo Lyrics:

Four Chords That Made a Million CD Single:

A body is washed up on a Norfolk beach
Where I used to build castles in the sticky heat
A cyclone destroys an ancient site
A killer strikes twice in one night

But Jesus was crucified for doing nothing
And God is worshipped for even less

A choir boy is buried on the moor
A nine-year-old is forced to be a whore
Some kids are best left to fend for themselves
And others are born to stack shelves

But Jesus was crucified for doing nothing
And God is worshipped for even less

Sometimes I wander and forget myself
I’m just escaping while I stack these shelves

But Jesus was crucified for doing nothing
And God is worshipped for even less

1997 Demo Cassette:

A body is washed up on a Norfolk beach
Where I used to build castles in the sticky heat
A cyclone destroys an ancient site
A killer strikes twice in one night

But Jesus was crucified for doing nothing
And God is worshipped for even less

A choir boy is buried on the moors
Where we used to go dreaming when we were bored
Some kids are best left to fend for themselves
And others were born to stack shelves

But Jesus was crucified for doing nothing
And God is worshipped for even less

Sometimes I wander and forget myself
I’m just escaping while I stack these shelves

But Jesus was crucified for doing nothing
And God is worshipped for even less

Work-in-progress Stupid Dream mix:

i.

A body is washed up on a Norfolk beach
Where I used to build castles in the sticky heat
A cyclone destroys an ancient site
A killer strikes twice in one night

And I may just waste away from doing nothing
But you are worshipped for even less

A choir boy is buried on the moor
Where we used to go dreaming when we were bored
Some kids are best left to fend for themselves
And others were born to stack shelves

And I may just waste away from doing nothing
But you are worshipped for even less

ii.

Godly saviour 
Be careful 
With all these facts
When I am gone 
These will be my tracts

And I had a stupid dream, that I could change things
But I’m a martyr to even less

I hate the ground that I have walked upon
Nothing I have done has ever mattered long

“London” – 3:21 / 3:58

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land on January 22nd 1997

Release: Released on the Porcupine Tree website on October 20th 2000 and later on SW’s SoundCloud account on December 19th 2011

An early / alternate version of “Don’t Hate Me”, although different enough to not be titled as a demo. It was later uploaded to Steven Wilson’s SoundCloud account, but has since been removed. This version has an additional chorus at the end, bumping the time up to 3:58 (with the original being 3:21).

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Steven Wilson playing “Don’t Hate Me” in 2016

SW: “Recorded on 22nd January 1997, this was a simple acoustic guitar / voice demo recorded live with just one piano overdub. It never went any further, but the lyrics were recycled for “Don’t Hate Me” later that year.” (This is a rough translation from the Polish blog “Steven Wilson Live”)

Lyrics:

A light snow is falling in London
All sign of the living has gone
The last train pulls into the station
And no one gets off, and no one gets on

I search inside my head
Helps me remember the day
That the taxi never came
So I walk on in the rain

One light burns in a window
It guides all the shadows below
Inside, the ghost of a party
No one is left, just the cigarette smoke

“I Fail” – 4:10

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

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in late 1996

Release: Released on the 1997 promo Demo cassette.

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SW in 1999

This rare Porcupine Tree song was released on the 1997 promo cassette Demo compiled by Wilson to lure labels. Another critique of the music industry, some of “I Fail”‘s lyrics would later be used on the track “Buying New Soul” 3 years later.

SW: “A pretty good song, but I didn’t like the way I did it back in 1996, so I think I’ll save it for another version.” (This is a rough translation from the Polish blog “Steven Wilson Live”)

If it was indeed written in 1996, this means that “I Fail” was the first Stupid Dream-era track to be written (“London” was recorded in January 1997).

Lyrics:

You are sure because you are pure
I stand and I wave at the dots on the shore
Trying to reach out to a few dozen more
May as well bash out my brains a bit more

You know because you always know
You talk to god by fax and by telephone
Bitterness makes you a person
Lucky for you that you’re right for certain

I fail

I am wrong even in this song
I’ve been up all night flying kites in a vacuum
Only smashing things trying to make sense
Of the past and the present and the future and all of the rest

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Chris and Colin in 1999

Written and compiled by Quinn Downton