First of all, I have to inform you that if my phone rings you will hear your “Synesthesia”: it’s my ringtone!
Yes, really (laughs) I'm very happy to find you together again and to talk about a new album. What kind of record is “Closure/ Continuation”? You said it sounds like a quintessential Porcupine Tree record…
Yes, I think it’s quintessential Porcupine Tree but it also feels like something fresh forward and that’s the key. We didn’t want to come back with a record that just sounded like more of the same of that we were doing 12 or 13 years ago, so there are things that have definitely taken the music into different areas, but there’s something about when the trio has worked together that will always sound like Porcupine Tree whatever that is and it something that comes from the combination of Gavin’s emphasis and interest in rhythmic complexity and polyrhythms. Richard’s had skills with sound design and texture keyboard work and atmosphere and there is my songwriting sensibility. And if you put all these things together it will always sound like Porcupine Tree which is a good thing, that’s what gives the band a unique identity. We have that, and I think this album proves that even though it doesn’t sound like the other albums it sounds like Porcupine Tree, if that make sense.
Why did you decide to come back together after all these years?
It wasn’t a definite plan. The intention was to try to write together and to come up with something and it was a gradual process, but in the end it was all decided when you listen to all the tracks together, didn’t you? And at that point it was a really strong work and the enthusiasm then was to go forward and finish the album which was easy to do because of lockdown we could concentrate more on that and if we didn’t have lockdown, maybe this album wouldn’t been ready here. But circumstances and a ten year gap, recording in a different way, just the three of us, Steve on bass, no pressure by deadline… it could inspire to make a different sound in album.
Is it a “one shot project” or do you think to go on with other works in the next years?
As the title can have implied, we actually don’t know, we don’t have a plan, we don’t know our sells, we never said that we have broken up, never said that we stopped, I mean: ok taking 12 years to make this record but we never officially said that we were stopping, we’ve never really quite seen the needs to do that anyway to just say the band broken up or stopped, so Porcupine Tree would continue to exist in the future whether would make another record or whether would tour: it would depend entirely on whether we think we have something fresh to say, because the one thing we never want to get into is this obligation to the fans or to the record commitment, the obligation to simply make music because people expect it. Of course there are lots of bands get into circle and that’s not a creative circle to be in. So to answer your question, we might release another record if we will have something fresh to say within the context of Porcupine Tree. If we might going on an tour, I think it would be important that anything we did would be aligned to new music, we thought excited about which is happening right now. We’re excited about this new album so we’re gonna go and play some shows to perform it.
In recent years you all have dedicated yourself to a multitude of projects: what of these have you brought to the new course of Porcupine Tree?
We’ve all changed in the past years, we’ve made a lots of works during that time and have taken on board new influences, essentially with the same musicians within the concept of Porcupine Tree. It just creates a sound. Steve is probably more interested in electronic music likely so much guitar, that’s a change, a huge change for the sound of the album. I think for me there is one specific thing though, to answer your question… 10 years a big experience fronting my own solo band under my own name and that’s a big difference for me, because I never felt completely comfortable with the idea of being the frontman of Porcupine Tree. I felt slightly uncomfortable with that role but now I had 10 years of being a frontman and being a singer, being a leadsinger and actually I feel a lot more comfortable with that role. I feel more comfortable as a singer and try different things with my voice and my singing and not feeling like I have to be a guitar player: I can just be a singer sometimes so that’s quite a big change for me from the time we last played to what we’re about to do. I think I can enjoy for the first time ever potentially being the guide standing at the front of Porcupine Tree. Gonna give some rock’n’roll!
What about the lyrics? Is there a main theme that unites all the songs?
No, and there’s a very simple reason for that, a practical reason, which is the album was having such a long period of time, so normally, historically speaking I would be working on an album and I’d write a bunch of songs and a bunch of lyrics to go on the album within a relatively short space time 12 months-18 months and like a lot of people, I go through my life with a lot of interests during that period of time, so I write a lot of songs about that particular thing or the circumstances of your life put you in certain state of mind and you write a lot of songs based on that. Here is an album where some of the lyrics were written 12 years ago, no, 10 years ago, and some of the lyrics were written the last year, so my life, between that lyrics of 10 years ago and the lyrics of last year, has completely changed several times over the things I’m interested in, the things I’m listening to, the things I’m watching, my personal circumstances. I got married three years ago, so my whole life has changed several times, so consequently my interests lyrically have changed during this period of time, so the simple answer to your question is no.
Your album comes out after a very difficult period with the pandemic and now also the war. Has all this influenced you in any way? After all, your lyrics have always been inspired by dystopian science fiction, do you agree?
Yes, I mean not in an obvious way, but of course the feeling of living through these times has affected the lyrics, as has the feeling been in a sort of dystopian Donald Trump era, the era of fake news, the era of truth, you know. Even before that we’ve gone through Brexit in England which was another like ...wow! You never saw that coming. So we have been living through this very kind of surreal dystopian thing you almost couldn’t believe were happening. Brexit, Trump, Covid and now we’re gonna through another global international crisis, so certainly the lyrics refer to those things but not in a kind of direct way, they were all inside me when I was writing.
However, there is a song that sounds more optimistic: the single "Of The New Day".
It is a song of rebirth, which emerges from the darkness. It sounds almost simple, a typical Porcupine Tree-style ballad. All this until you notice that the length of the bars changes constantly, from the traditional 4/4 to 3/4, from 5/4 to 6/4, 11/4, so the track never has a defined rhythm.
Steven, you have a parallel career in remixing classic albums across multiple genres. Could you pick out a favorite or two?
I mixed the last Tears for Fears record , the one just came on in February, it sounds amazing in Dolby. I’m really proud of that one, the Xtc catalogue was really great labour for me: they are a very underrated band and it was great being involved with them and other staff I’ve done recently which I can’t tell you about just because it has not been announced.
I especially love Ultravox “Vienna”, can you tell me about it?
I’ve done another Ultravox record, “Rage In Eden”, which is coming out in September. I did that one last year. I’m very lucky, I’ve fallen into it almost by accident, that I get to work on so many class records and work with people in them, which was amazing.
Richard, I’m a huge fan of Japan and I have always appreciated your entire career. How has your approach to keyboards changed during in these years?
I haven’t changed, my musical approach is not different really, it’s just the case of context, the genre of work I’m working in, the persons I’m working with, the amount of space within the track, it’s the context. I don’t think my approach is changed, it’s pretty much the same. I am always trying to incorporate a kind of abstract sound, sound design into a pop song, into a rock song, and the concept was the interesting thing to me. When I was a kid and I used to listen to music on the radio, the most interesting thing was when the radio was badly tuned and there were two things playing at the same time, and it would work.
What is your favourite Japan record?
I thing the best work is “Tin Drum”, but my favourite album is “Quite Life”…
Mine is “Gentlemen Take Polaroid”…
Ah, ok a lot of people choose it!
How was it working with musicians such as David Sylvian and Mick Karn?
What can I say is that we were all friends, there was a group dynamic I suppose it’s not that different from when we were working with Porcupine Tree sometimes during our career. David was the one bringing together all the elements that we brought into the band and fashioning all these elements into a song, into an arrangement making sense of all, giving a lyrical concept, the same process.
Porcupine Tree music seems to be guitar-oriented, but also incorporates a lot of keyboards and synths. And also drumming, of course, is very important. Can you tell us how guitar, keyboards and drumming parts enter the compositional process?
It’s hard, because it’s like trying to explain something that is unexplainable. I don’t necessarily understand the way works myself. This kind of magical thing somehow has created with the Porcupine Tree from the way that we work together. In a way, Richard and Gavin are the two extremes in the band in the sense that Gavin is very technically minded, very interested in complexity, and has very kind of intellectual approach to creating music, Richard’s approach is completely intuitive, it’s about textures and atmospheres an in a kind of non-musical way and I’m in the middle, I understand both approaches and I like both approaches and somehow I pull those things together and fill them through the songwriting and ends up sounding like Porcupine Tree. There is less guitar on this album. The guitar has been deemphasised on this record, there’s more space and I think Richard particularly has benefited a lot from that, but also that reflects my changing interests: over the last 10 years I have gradually moved away from guitar, more towards synthesizer myself. My studio is now full of synthesizers and you see that kind of progression in my solo records so I think in some senses that has played into Richard strength a lot more: keyboard texture, keyboards sounds, sound design… so maybe that’s hope for the best you know in that sense.
You are going to be on tour in Italy too, you will be in Milan (Assago Mediolanum Forum) on the 24th of October. What can we expect from your concerts?
All the new material from the album and a good selection from the past. We’ll focus primarily on two stronger albums we feel from the back catalogue, “In Absentia” and “Fear Of A Blank Planet”, in addition to “Closure/Continuation”. We will play a song from “Stupid Dream” and one from “Lightbulb Sun”. Maybe there will be a track or two that we haven’t played before. So it will be an evening with Porcupine Tree, with the best of Porcupine Tree. There won't be a particular visual setup, we think people want to see us, not our avatars!
So “In Absentia”, “Fear Of A Blank Planet” and “Closure/Continuation” are your favourite records?
Yes, they are our favourite three albums, so a lot of the show will be centred around those and I think slightly optimistically think that it will end up to be the fans favourite tour. And you know it’s something there we’re very aware of, because we haven’t played for 12 years live and a lot of people shouldn’t have seen us playing live before and young people have discovered us in the meantime. So we basically have emphasised the band, the performance of the band and I say that because in my shows, in my solo shows I tended to deemphasise the band sometimes and focus more on the visual and the production and with Porcupine Tree I think the balance is gonna be more in favour of just being able to watch the band playing instruments. So hopefully there’s gonna be a very strong sense of connection between the band and the audience, perhaps in a way we have never had in the past since the very early days we were playing in small clubs. It’s always a challenge to create a sense of intimacy with an audience when you’re playing in a very big venue, so we will be aiming to overcome those barriers and create a very intimate, personal experience possibly for the very last time, who knows.
Critics have always told about Porcupine Tree as a progressive rock band. Do you think it’s still make sense nowadays? Many barriers between musical genres seem to have definitively fallen…
We never talked about it, never talked about a music as being a particular genre. I never understood this notion of genre anywhere or as if I have understood it, I’ve never observed it, which is why Porcupine Tree music... I could care less what genre was supposed to playing. It’s clearly demonstrable that in our music there are electronic music, funk music, ambient music, avantgarde music even soul and jazz music, even industrial music. All of these things. But then I suppose it was in the nature of progressive rock that it was always about creating hybrids of different kind of music anyway, that was what progressive rock partly was, classical music with rock, jazz music with rock. So I understand they were in that tradition, but I can care less about the old notion of classic. Particularly at this stage in our creative, we’ve in the right to be seen as a band creating their own musical universe that has nothing to do with genre. I like to believe that.
Can we all agree that progressive rock is just a kind of “free rock” and that’s all?
It is the true sense. But a lot of people don’t think of it that way. They think is something that sounds like 1972!