Steven Wilson. The Art of Doing Contrary


“I grew up completely obsessed with the magic of music.”

— Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson is one of my favorite musicians. I am very influenced by the music of Porcupine Tree and his solo project Steven Wilson. He is a lead vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, including playing bass on some of his songs, for example on the album Closure / Continuation (2022) by Porcupine Tree, on the track Home Invasion / Regret #9 – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015). It’s very interesting to look deeper, to better understand the creativity, why it’s so interesting to me, to take something for myself. I have highlighted the most important Steven Wilson’s quotes, supplemented with my thoughts.

Steven Wilson foto

The music industry, hits and Steven Wilson

I found a lot of useful information about Steven Wilson in the Rob Moore’s interview, August 29, 2022.

I wanted to be a pop star but I didn’t want to be a pop star at any cost. I wanted to be a pop star with integrity.

– Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson’s career has existed outside the mainstream. On the one side he was genuinely frustrated. He had no real hits. The prog-rock king’s stamp prevents him from making his way onto the radio, even if he writes more popular pop songs. Steven Wilson is up against an invisible brick wall. On the downside, he didn’t have an overly burdensome commitment to the listener.

There is the music industry and there is also the entertainment industry. … True creation is a very selfish act. You shouldn’t be thinking about what somebody else is going to make of what you do.

I’m making music to please me, not the fans, not you. And if you like it, that’s great, and I will do everything I can to push the music out there… to market the music.

– Steven Wilson

If the demand for actual music is analyzed first, and a song is written to satisfy it, that’s the entertainment industry. If a musician writes a song just to satisfy himself, that’s the music industry. Then the song can already be promoted, popularized. Those are the main differences. I think that’s a good explanation close to me. It’s about inner integrity. That’s probably the working tool for Steven Wilson’s songwriting. On the one hand the inner honesty to himself, sincere, on the other hand the rather large fan base who “Audience expect the unexpected”. They allow you to experiment with the music, even if they complain about the new material. 

What I would rather do is confront your expectation

Steven Wilson says he likes to do things contrary to the listener’s expectations. It reminds me of Sting saying that music should surprise you in the first seconds. With Steven it works on the level of form, of genre, while Sting does it on a micro level. 

Very good at adapting with the times

About Coldplay’s new album:

Does he want to be seen as this great artiste Tom York or does he want to be a cheering? And I don’t think you can … it’s a hard thing to pull off to be both.

– Steven Wilson

But there are examples who could, in Wilson’s words: Beatles in the 60s, David Bowie in the 70s, Elton John, Prince in the 80s.

I grew up believing in the power of music to be able to do that, to change the way people thought about the world whether it’s through lyrics or music or the way music was presented.

– Steven Wilson

Even though I’m younger than Steven, but I’m still part of the generation that was shaped by music. Nowadays music is no longer the most important thing in many people’s lives, and that makes me sad, too.

Give them the music right then

You have an incredible engagement for a very relatively short period of time and that period of time seems to be getting shorter and shorter.

– Steven Wilson

Singles and pre-order don’t work like they used to. There are a huge number of albums coming out in the world, and you don’t get the attention of listeners for very long. There is only a very short period during which you get attention. You have to give the music to the listener as soon as you reach them. You need to adapt to the new environment. 

Social media

I learned the lesson early on to not read anything because it doesn’t matter how positive 99% of people are, that one percent will ruin your week.

– Steven Wilson

It’s an interesting technique that Steven Wilson uses. Apparently a creative person is always vulnerable. If you can’t handle it psychologically, you can avoid it. Sometimes it is necessary to avoid.

Pop music

A lot of pop music to me sounds like glorifield playground chance. Playground chants that become memes, they become things that the kids chant to each other.

It seems to be to get people to engage from that very first listen

– Steven Wilson

Songs that Steven Wilson is proud of

  • The Raven That Refused to Sing – The Raven That Refused to Sing (2013)
  • The Future Bites – The Future Bites (2021)
  • Full album In Absentia (2002) – A good choice for the first introduction to Porcupine Tree music.

What was the biggest risk Steven Wilson has ever taken

The biggest risk Steven ever took was walking away from Porcupine Tree initially for the best part of 12 years. From his words.

Why Steven Wilson left Porcupine Tree? He explains it as follows

I wanted to do something different.

I wanted to work with different musicians.

I wanted to explore different musical styles.

I wanted to be able to hop from genre to genre without being told by “my band mates”… We can’t do that, we can’t do this.

– Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson’s favourite bands. What musicians influenced him

In general, we can say that Steven Wilson has a wide musical outlook. Besides metal and prog-rock bands, he is familiar with the works of many mainstream artists, he listens to popular modern music releases. Here are the names from the interview with notes.

  • David Bowie
  • Pink Floyd
  • King Crimson
  • Yes
  • Led Zeppelin
  • The Beatles
  • Frank Zappa
  • Radiohead
  • Coldplay, at least early
  • Neil Young
  • Slayer – album Reining Blood. One of the greatest if not the greatest trash metal album
  • Saxon – album Wheels of Steel
  • Lou Reed

Steven also likes pop music.

  • Prince – he was my idol
  • ABBA
  • Elton John – one of greatest pop artists of all time
  • Madonna
  • Bjork
  • Mickael Jackson

Steven Wilson’s best albums and songs

I’ll write my rating of albums and songs. I look at everything from the side of art rock and metal, rather than from the side of pop music. The Porcupine Tree discography is not mentioned here, I will write about it separately, only the solo works are here.

I consider two albums to be outstanding:

  • Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)
  • The Raven That Refused to Sing (2013)

That’s where I would advise you to get started. Not for the background, but consciously and the whole album. And then move on to the rest of the music. 

You can start with the live version Steven Wilson – Luminol (from the Get All You Deserve Blu-Ray & DVD)

Of the other albums I will highlight:

  • Pariah (feat. Ninet Tayeb) (track 3) – To the Bone (2017) – for fans of more mainstream songs.
  • And for those who like music in the spirit of Peter Gabriel – Personal Shopper (track 7) or King Ghost (track 3) from the Future Bites (2021) to start.

List of Sources

Disruptors with Rob Moore, August 29, 2022 – Steven Wilson Reveals Porcupine Tree Secrets & The Truth About Coldplay & Radiohead. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

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